In 1947, in the Italian region of Calabria, in the small town of Siderno, a boy was born.
This boy was born in a house as opposed to a hospital, by a midwife as opposed to a doctor, because back in the day they kept it real. Especially in Siderno, which had only zero hospitals, and the only way to get to a hospital was to ride your donkey into Rome, which took eight years. There was no time for that.
The delivery was a success, unless you count the fact that the boy was not breathing. He was turning blue, deprived of oxygen.
The midwife thought maybe he was choking, so she held the boy upside down as a means to remove the obstruction. This did not work. Everybody was, as they say in Italian, straight trippin’.
Time was running out, but the midwife had an idea. She screamed, “Vai a prendere un pollo da zi Rosina!”
This means, obviously if you consider context, “Go get a chicken from Rosina!” Rosina was the neighbor. She had chickens. By the way, almost everyone in Calabria at the time owned a bunch of chickens, and other animals, and a farm probably, and grew their own cheese. It was no biggie to be readily available to grab a live chicken at any given moment. “Get a chicken” in Calabria in the 1940s is the equivalent of saying “Please pass the potato chips” in present-day America.
So anyway, someone went and got a chicken from Rosina’s backyard. The midwife took the chicken and did the only sensible thing a person can do in such a situation: She stuck the chicken’s beak right up the baby boy’s butt. The thought process behind this was that the breath from the chicken would travel up the baby’s anus, directly into the lungs (biology 101). Without access to a wind-generating module containing a point tiny enough to enter a newborn child, the beak of a live, breathing fowl would suffice.
I like to believe the last thing that went through that chicken’s mind was “Here goes nothing!”
It worked. Breath was returned to the boy’s lungs, and everyone else exhaled as well. Except, that is, the chicken, which did not make it. It was a sacrifice any family would make, albeit one that few families would be aware they could make under those circumstances.
The midwife said, “Il bambino e salvato. Il pollo e morto.”
This means simply that the baby was saved, and the chicken died, but implies that the sickness or bad spirit of the choking child had transferred from the boy to the chicken, killing it and saving a human life. In the Bible, Jesus removes demons from a man and sends them into a herd of pigs, which promptly run off a cliff. Let us then conclude that animals are totally not the beneficiaries of the removal of bad spirits. That is not the thesis of this book, but warrants mention.
Although modern medicine and science may be unable to account for what happened that day, I suppose it’s possible that air was literally breathed into the body, resuscitating the child. It’s also possible the pure shock of having a chicken in his ass awoke the baby out of his stupor. That would certainly do it for me. Regardless of the process, the miraculous result does honor the ancient axiom “Never underestimate an Italian midwife with a plan.”
The reason many of our close-knit group of family and friends are here today, either physically or in our present position in life, is thanks to that brave chicken and the man it saved. I think the chicken would be very proud to know about the man for whom it sacrificed its life. They named him Antonio, and he went on to see the world, leaving the region of Calabria for, eventually, America, where he became just the 1,272,486th “Tony” to call Brooklyn home. In some way he has influenced—good or bad, but mostly good—darn near every person he’s ever come across. He has accomplished some amazing feats in life, including the acquisition of many traffic violations, and he’s nowhere near finished. He is a patriarch, and his family both loves him and is often mystified by him. He sells real estate, and he doesn’t take “no” for an answer. Sometimes he doesn’t take any answer because he’s not listening. Also, he likes to golf.
He is a great man from humble beginnings. Those humble beginnings being, specifically, taking his first, gasping breaths in the arms of a midwife, in a small Italian home, while a dead chicken lay on the floor.
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