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The College Magazine - Spring 2000 : In the Garden of Papa Santuzzun
In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu
A country of immigrants, willing or unwilling, knowing or deceived, is a country where everyone has a story to tell. America is replete with these individual creation myths, each citizen’s private Genesis. English professor Tony Ardizzone constructs his latest novel, In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu, out of this material, spinning together the stories of how each member of a dirt-poor Sicilian family came to America into one marvellous yarn. In the following excerpt, the oldest Santuzzu son, Gaetanu, describes how he was set free from indentured servitude to the moneylender who paid for his passage from Palermo to New York.

Even in my dreams I ran my machine, producing more and more machine parts, which grew in a mound at my feet and then fused together into more machines, which I then operated, caressing their levers, oiling their joints, staining their handles ebony with the sweat of my hands, never quite able to keep up as the machines produced more and more and even more machine parts, which grew in even bigger mounds at my feet and then fused together into even more machines, which I then operated, caressing their levers, oiling their joints, staining their handles ebony with the sweat of my hands, never able to keep up as my machines produced more and even more machine parts, which grew in even more imposing mounds at my feet, never able to keep up as the almighty machines produced even more machine parts which grew in even more towering mounds beside me and then fused together and rose up into more machines, which I furious operated, caressing the levers, oiling the groaning and terrible joints, staining the rough handles ebony with the sweat of my hands, impossible to keep up as the machines created still more machine parts, which rose up massively in a mountain alongside me, a fiercely smoldering volcano darkening the sky, suddenly spewing smoke and ash like a perverse snow, spitting rock and molten lava and scoria, rising like Sicilia’s mighty Mungibeddu, this ominous maze of terrifying whirling metal, demanding that I caress its flaming levers, oil its hands, never quite able to keep up, always falling behind as my legs and feet and now my arms and hands turn to sand and I can’t move I stumble, no—

yes, headfirst I stumble into the flames of the inferno, my mouth open trying to scream to make a sound just any sound to stop it but unable oh, matri di Diu, help me! Jesu e Mari, help me! O Madonuzza! oh, oh, povira matri mia! help! then screaming, screaming!

God’s blood, the factory burned to the ground that night, the night that my nightmare awakened the house. Already sparks from the blaze had reached our roof. No sooner had we all run out the door than the house went up like tender—poof!—like a basket of the driest leaves. One moment there was darkness, the next a blinding and explosive flame.

We ran from one house of sleeping workers to the next, rousing everyone from their nightmares and dreams. We outran the flames and in no time got everybody out into the street.

"Thank God for you nightmare!" Teresa shouted as we stood in the street. Around us everything was embraced by flame, even the last few trees struggling toward the sky above the blazing factory.

"Look," someone cried, "everything here is burning!"

The deep golden color of the flames hopped across our faces and hands and made the crushed rock on the roadway on which we stood appear golden.

"It’s finally true," another shouted. "Back in Naples they said I’d be sure to see it! They said the streets of La Merica were paved with gold!"

"Yes," another answered, "but as soon as we stepped off the boat we saw that not only were the streets not paved with gold, they weren’t even paved! And what’s more, we were the ones who’d been brought over to pave them!"

"And dig the ditches, lay the sewer pipe, mix the mortar, line up the bricks, hoist the girders, pound the rivets, toil in the sweatshops, the mines, the endless factories!"

"Mannaggia la miseria!"

"The only true gold here is in our hands."

"What flames! If they go any higher they’ll singe the sky!"

"Everything’s burning!"

"Yes, everything’s burning," someone yelled, "even the office with its wooden cabinets full of our papers and the totals we owe, the pittances we’ve paid the patruni against our debts."

"Then than means we’re free!" someone screamed.

Imagine a crowd one winter’s night standing out in their bedclothes in the midst of a huge bonfire, cheering.

"We’re without papers!" I told Teresa. "Now we’re really wops!"

The crowd laughed and chanted. "We’re really wops! We’re free! We’re without papers! We’re no longer slaves! We’ve become wops!"

In a few moments the fire brigade arrived, but it was far too late for them or anyone to put out these blazing freedoms.

From the book In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu Copyright © 1999 by Tony Ardizzone. Reprinted by arrangement with St. Martin's Press LLC, New York, N.Y.

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