Author Archives: Natalie Strom

Christmas Fishes

Sarah grew up in a traditional Italian-American Catholic family. Traditionally, she knew that it was usual for Italian people to make many fish dishes on Christmas, as they are not supposed to eat meat during that time. As Sarah put it “hardcore like Biblical Christian Italians” do eleven fishes. She couldn’t remember the reasoning behind that. “Normal intense Italians” do seven fishes. But her family doesn’t do that anymore, sometimes they get up to five, but her mom now works full time and doesn’t have the time to make seven different fish dishes. When her grandmother was still in charge of Christmas dinners she made all seven. No matter how many were made, Sarah never ate any because she doesn’t like fish and prefers other Christmas dishes.

I believe that Sarah is mentioning her family’s interpretation of the “Feast of the Seven Fishes,” (in Italian “Festa dei setti pesce”), a tradition of eating fish on Christmas Eve that arose from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstaining from certain types of foods on the days surrounding certain holy days. While the tradition is of seven fishes (that would be what “Normal intense Italians” do according to Sarah) since the tradition came to America with Italian immigrants it has been known to have as many as thirteen different seafood dishes. The number seven has been speculated to represent the seventh day on which God rested from creating the Earth or simply because the number is the most repeated in the Bible.

For further discussion of the Feast of Seven Fishes in Italian-American culture, see: Penna, Joanna Della. “Italian American Holiday Traditions.” Italian America 2007: 6,7,29

The Snipe Hunt

My father was in the boy scouts all throughout his childhood. He’s very proud of the time he spent and the fact that he was the youngest Eagle Scout in the state at the time. When we found a box containing his old boy scout badges and uniform, he told me this story.

When there was a group of two or three “Tenderfoots,” the youngest boy scout members, on a camping trip, they would be taken out of the camp during the night. Their scout leaders would direct them to collect one metal wash basin (that was traditionally used to clean dishes) and return to the clearing. As the boys were collecting these wash basins, every other person in the camp knew what they were being directed to and was in on the joke.

Once the boys returned, they were told about the “snipes.” Creatures that ran very fast through the forest at night but they were drawn to light and shiny things. The boys were directed to hold their wash basins just so towards the moon so that the light reflected off of the metal and the snipes would run towards them. Once the snipes arrived they could simply drop the wash basins on them and they would have caught their first snipe!

The boys who would be around 10 or 11 years old, were left out for around thirty minutes, mostly terrified and waiting for a speeding snipe to approach them, until the leaders came and collected them. Then the boys were told the joke and they were officially done with their first snipe hunt.

For another person’s experience with their first snipe hunt, see: A Snipe Hunt Robert D. Tollison Public Choice , Vol. 120, No. 3/4 (Sep., 2004), pp. 241-246

Shoe Throwing

Josh described an initiation trust ritual that used to be performed in his fraternity. The group would stand over a cliff or near a canyon and ask a new member for his shoe. An already initiated member would pretend like he was going to throw the shoe over the cliff, although it was secretly tied to a string. The idea was to make the guy choose between the frat and his shoe.

Interestingly, Josh said that most guys chose their shoe. He explained “Cause some kids have really expensive shoes, like ‘I don’t want you to ruin my shoes and throw them in the canyon.'”

The Trolls in the Backyard

I am four years younger than my older cousins. When we were younger I used to worship them and take every word they said as truth. They lived in a big house in the middle of nowhere with a big backyard full of plants and dirt which scared me, probably because I grew up in a city with a bricked in backyard. I hated bugs and didn’t want to encourage them to crawl on me by going into “nature.”

They used to tell me that there were trolls living in that backyard (which there might have been because I was too scared to go very far into it) that would give you giant diamonds if you found them. Of course, my cousins knew exactly where they were and could get diamonds all the time. They thought that the story would encourage me to look around in the backyard but as much as I loved sparkly things I was still too scared of the backyard to venture very far inside.

Be careful in the attic!

This story about my grandfather is told at almost every family gathering. Even my cousins who have heard it millions of times still request it, especially if there is a stranger at the table. It has only grown in popularity in the family since my grandfather passed away. Usually it is my dad who tells it because he was the one who was there.

My father and grandfather were up in the attic trying to set up a speaker system for the new television. When they got up there my grandfather turned to my dad and very seriously told him not to step on the plywood between the roof beams and only to step on the beams themselves, because he would fall through if he stepped on the plywood. My dad was standing with just his head sticking out into the attic from the stairs and my grandfather continued on into the attic. Then my dad asked him a question, he turned around and stepped right onto the plywood and fell through the attic, just like he’d warned my dad not to. Luckily he threw out his elbows and was able to brace himself against the floor to keep from falling all the way into the basement which would certainly have ended up with him in the emergency room. In his position he was now face to face with my father who just had his head in the attic. He looked at my father who was at once scared and about to crack up laughing as his father had just made the exact mistake he had warned him of. He said, “It’s OK, you can laugh.”

This is one of a huge canon of “Grandpa stories” that, as I previously mentioned, have only grown more popular in the year since my grandfather died. Lots of these stories consist of him warning his children not to do something and then proceeding to do it himself. I enjoy hearing them because my grandfather was very old and frail for my entire life so I like to hear stories about the way he was when he was younger and more active.