Thursday, December 15, 2011

Kicked by a Donkey

"Sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see." - from The Polar Express

How many times have you almost made an ass of yourself in front of a group of strangers during the holiday season? (Emphasis on the word ass. Explanation to follow.)  I came very close last weekend.

You never know when emotion will grab hold of you and not let go. At least, I never do. I almost lost it during what was an otherwise wonderful Christmas memory, perhaps our favorite event of the season and possibly the start of a new annual tradition. We took the Peanut on a train ride last weekend complete with Santa and Mrs. Claus, a sing-along with a guy playing banjo, and cookies and hot chocolate.

Santa gave her a bell just
like in the movie
It was festive and adorable. Peanut absolutely loved it. She wore her pajamas even though the train left at 3:30 in the afternoon because she wanted it to be like The Polar Express. She told Santa what she wanted for Christmas. (A Rapunzel baby doll that My Director manipulatively planted in her mind earlier that day because it's already purchased and hiding in the attic.)

So why was I nearly overcome with emotion, you ask, that I was ready to sob in front of a train car full of strangers, their children, and my in-laws? Were they tears of joy because we had made our child so happy and she was enjoying herself so much? No. It was because of that damn banjo player. How dare he? He had the nerve to play "Dominick the Donkey," that ridiculous song about the much-celebrated beast of burden that helps Santa deliver toys to the children who live in the "hills of Italy."

Seriously. I got choked up over "Dominick the freakin' Donkey" You see, Dominic (correct spelling) is my dad's name. He died almost nine years ago, shortly after Christmas. (I often still refer to him in the present tense. I explain why here.)

Did he like that silly song that bears his name? Absolutely not. He hated it, in fact.

I recall one Christmas Eve when it came on and my mom was merrily singing it to him while we all prepared the traditional feast of the seven fishes. I noticed his face turning red. Then purple. Mount St. Dominic was about to erupt in a lava flow of masterfully crafted witticisms, insults and expletives. My mom, the only person in the world who could get away with poking the hornets nest for this long and live to tell the tale, then actually fueled the fire.

"C'mon Hon," she pressed. "Why don't you like this song?"

Now it was dad's turn to unleash the fury, "How would you like it if your name was in such a stupid song?" Then he began to sing mockingly, to the same tune as "Dominick the Donkey:"
"Chingedy Ching. It's Judy the Christmas Rat...the Italian Christmas Rat."
He then punctuated his retort with, "Do you like that? Do you like your name being used like that, with a dirty animal?" ("Rat," of course carrying a very negative connotation to Italian-Americans, even those of us not 'involved.')

Instead of getting upset back, my mom stated the obvious. Smiling incredulously, she said, "You're crazy." And that was that. She's right. His irrational rants are what made him so amusing to us.

Peanut took this herself (If you look closely,
you can tell I'm slightly teary-eyed.)
Fast forward a decade to that train ride with Peanut, My Director, and my in-laws. I was with three WASPs and a half-pint half-paisano, singing that ridiculous song. The moment that banjo player began playing it My Director started singing like it was second nature. Then she explained its significance to her parents, who had never heard it before. (Forgive them, they're WASPs). Regardless, they caught on quickly and joined in. It just got to me.

It brought me back to my kitchen on that Christmas Eve. To a time when he was still with us here in person. And it linked all of us, especially the Peanut, to my dad. I try so hard to keep him alive, to make him a part of her life. It's easier said than done. Sometimes I forget or don't have time. That upsets me.

Then on a magical train ride, the opportunity presented itself just like that. Now she knows that song, and the story about Popsie not liking it. But she'll never know I almost lost it. Until she reads this of course.


  1. it's amazing what can trigger moments of realization and sadness and even tears of joy. You shared of yourself here and I'm so glad. Peanut is lucky to have you to share your history with her. That song is wonderful, and now I have another reason to smile about it. xo

  2. Thanks, Katy! I kind of always liked it BECAUSE it made my dad mad. :-)

  3. I really like the song that your father sang to your mother. He should have written more verses!

    JJ – The Dude of the House
    Twitter: @DudeOfTheHouse

  4. Hahahahaha I love that song! I can understand why you don't since Dominick was your dad's name though. My dad's name is John and his mother always called the bathroom the John. A little different from your story, but still an example of one's name being used in an unpleasant way. lol.

    I'm glad the train ride was fun for you and Peanut!

    For Love of Cupcakes

  5. Really @Dude? I think you just insulted me mom a little.

  6. Never heard this song before. Isn't it crazy how songs prompt a memory? It is wonderful to share stories such as this one with your kids. :) Great post!

  7. Thanks, Shan. I think it was a radio song played mostly in the NY and Boston areas. Glad you could relate even though you never heard it.

  8. Just curios? How is it possible for Santa to climb the alps/Rockies/Himalayas but to Italy? Lol I hate this song too, though nay because it is mostly annoying. And by msotly, I mean completely.


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