Cui Zappa Crita, Arricogghi Sita…

Filippo, my new buddy in Italy sent me the above Sicilian proverb. It turns out that he was born in Sicily as was my grandfather. Here’s the proverb and translation: Crita=Clay “Cui zappa crita, arricogghi sita” = Whoever cultivates clay, harvests silk. In other words provided also by Filippo… “Cultivate the clay-earth receives in return something very precious.” I love the sentiment and all the more because it’s Sicilian. Anyway, this quote got me thinking about my grandfather, who died when I was about 15. He came through Ellis Island around 1912 and settled in central NY state, where I grew up in the same house with him and my grandmother. Here’s a picture of him from when he was young and quite handsome, if I do say so. I totally dig his hairdo and always thought it was amazing that even though they didn’t have a pot to piss in, they would go to the photo studio and put on gloves and suits and pose for pictures…


Here’s a closeup of the same…


My knowledge of him is probably sketchy because of the amount of time since then but he loved, loved, loved to fish and we went to Ontario almost every year when I was a child and stayed in these wonderful rustic cabins with no electricity or running water. My parents wanted him to teach us to speak Italian but he would have none of it. This apparently was quite common and differs significantly from subsequent immigrant groups that came afterward. Apparently, America presented such an idea of a new life and fresh start that assimilation was paramount and many refused to teach their children their native language. Later on, being the mischief maker that I was, I cajoled my grandfather into teaching me Italian and I remember to this day that the first word was semente <– not sure of the spelling, which means seed and I thought later how apropos to start teaching someone a language with that being the first word. Unfortunately, and to my grandpa's great disappointment, my wanting to learn was a ruse to get him to teach me to say cuss words in Italian. I started with, let's say poop, 'cause I have a child now and after much persuasion he let go of "merda" and then the gates opened up. I was the oldest of 5 siblings and merda became the most frequently used word in our household for many years and there were, of course, many many variations… merda head, merda face, merda eater, etc. etc. I was also able to weasel 2 more words out of him, morbos and scurragia <– not sure of the spelling. These were rather onomatopoetic but never really held a candle to the universally variable merda. Back to grandpa, he used to eat raw onions on the porch and smoked non filter cigarettes for 62 years. He had a thriving rose garden that he tried to get me to become excited by. We used to go get crabs out of the creeks… they call them crawdads down here but we called them hard shell and soft shell crabs and my grandma would cook them up after we came home. One time we caught a particularly large one, about 7 or 8 inches long with large chelae (pincers). My dad picked it out of the pail and let it pinch my grandfather on his arm by his bicep… I remember my grandfather jumping back and mock scolding my dad and I was mesmerized by this scene. Next time we went crabbing, when we got home I got the largest one out and did the same thing as my dad. To my shock and dismay, grandpa didn't seem to remember the carefree attitude that he had expressed when my dad did it and everyone seemed to act like I had done something terrible. Maybe that's why I remember it so distinctly… because it didn't go down the way I expected. Grandpa died when he was 77 from emphysema and couldn't quit smoking no matter how much my grandma demanded. I found his cigarette stash early on and used to steal them for me and my friends knowing that he wouldn't be able to rat me out because he was hiding them from my grandmother. Here's a picture of him with my uncle Vic doing their favorite thing…


I think the look on his face says it all…


Even though us kids gave him a hard time (we gave everyone a hard time), my grandfather loved us all a great deal and knew we didn’t understand that he wouldn’t be around forever. I always wished he would have lived long enough that I could have related to him as a man but I’m also thankful that I was the oldest because my younger siblings have a less distinct memory of him than I do. I think he would love the fact that I’m working with clay and I think he would enjoy Filippo’s Sicilian proverb… Cui Zappa Crita, Arricogghi Sita!m

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10 Responses to “Cui Zappa Crita, Arricogghi Sita…”

  1. gary Says:

    Oh man, what a great guy. Thanks Jim.
    BTW, we’e back at happy hour 5:30 Thurs if you wanna join us….

  2. Filippo Di Giovanni Says:

    Ciao Jim,
    moving your story, meeting the affection that we have closed within us, that we have never delivered, and to write freedom this love, words that tell a man who still lives in us, the story with his photos makes him live again, and becomes part of a Common History, our History.
    Thank you very much.
    As a smal seed as a proverb may give rise to so great a remember. in my next post I will put a picture of my grandfather Filippo, carter in Sicily, great player autodidact of violin, lover of beauty(especially women), the pictures of our grandparents would be just fine near, to smoking cigarettes, fishing or playing cards.

  3. judy Shreve Says:

    Great story! Wish extended families still lived close to one another.

    And what a great proverb from Fillipe!

  4. Meredith Says:

    I love love love famliy stories! Thanks!
    He reminds me of my grandfather-in-law.
    He hid his cigars in his old car up on blocks, which he use to offer to drive us anywhere we wanted to go.
    He loved to fish as well and taught my husband the art of fishing.

    The pillow pot is only about a 4×4- small one- I have a long one coming up more like 8×5 or so….

  5. Meredith Says:

    I love love love famliy stories! Thanks!
    He reminds me of my grandfather-in-law.
    He hid his cigars in his old car up on blocks, which he use to offer to drive us anywhere we wanted to go.
    He loved to fish as well and taught my husband the art of fishing.

    The pillow pot is only about a 4×4- small one- I have a long one coming up more like 8×5 or so….
    P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

  6. Michael Mahan Says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Jim. My grandfather smoked filterless Camels all his life. The first thing I always recall when thinking of him is sitting around the table with some Lebanon baloney and other luncheon meats. He called it “slappin’ baloney.” When you asked him why, he’d pick up a slice and slap your face with it and burst out laughing.


  7. Eugene Hon Says:

    You should seriously think about writing a book – how about a weekly on your blog. A daily would be too much to expect (the blog fulfils that already) . It could be a novel that is written intuitively. Any topic you find interesting, mystery and crime, science fiction and or a love story?. A survey to determine your fan club’s fancy might be the order of the day. Just joking – you really have a way with words that transforms even the most mundane event into something special, that everyone can relate to. Heart-warming stuff. I salute all grandparents – they are very special indeed. the hon

  8. Esperanza Says:


  9. Linguistics… « Sofia’s Dad’s Pots Says:

    […] with certain words… the most fascinating one being poop. I do remember as I retold in this post getting my grandfather to tell me the Italian word for poop and also remember saying it for years […]

  10. Buckskin Nostalgia… « Sofia’s Dad’s Pots Says:

    […] is more how I remember grandpa than the picture in the post I did about him here. The day after I noticed this picture I went to my cousin’s house for a day of beers which I […]

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