Sterling was nervous as she was introduced to the Santo family. There seemed to be so many. She counted at least eight others. And the house smelled so wonderful.
“Hi Deb.” Rosa Dipoli had an apron on and some powdered sugar on her nose.
Sterling went with Dipoli into the living room with the Santo clan. Mrs. Santo pointed to a brocade parlor chair for her to sit. Carli Santo and Waxman smiled at her as they set up Waxman’s Fender Twin Reverb amplifier and the microphone.
Grandpa Santo smiled at her. “You a friend of Michael. Attsa good. Michael play for us and sing a little. We all sing. You know some Italian songs?”
“No I don’t. Not yet.” She blushed.
Victor Santo came in with a tray of glasses containing deep red Zinfandel wine. “We all sip on some good wine while dinner gets ready and Michael makes music.”
Sterling accepted a glass. She was used to the sweet kosher wine at home. Victor Santo waited until everyone had their glass and raised his in a toast. “I want to salute our guest Deborah Sterling and to the health of her family and our family.” Glasses touched with a slight “clink” and everyone sipped.
Waxman put his glass down, adjusted the knobs on the Twin-Reverb and went to the microphone with his accordion strapped on. “To grandfather Santo.” He began to play softly and the mellow introductory notes of “Oh Come to the Sea” filled the room. After playing the first verse, Waxman signaled the group to sing with him. He motioned Sterling to come to the microphone and look at the music on the illuminated stand. “The words are on the music Deb.” He began singing the first verse alone and gradually everyone joined in. Sterling began singing with the rest of the group and because she was next to the microphone with Waxman her voice carried above the others along with Waxman’s alto tones.
Everyone clapped loudly after the fourth and last verse. Grandpa Santo asked for Santa Lucia next and the same scenario went smoothly. Sterling was enjoying herself immensely. Santo’s mother came in after “Arrivaderci Roma” and went to the microphone.
“Michael will stop playing. Come to the dining room. We eat.” Mrs. Santo gave Waxman a kiss on the cheek as he put his accordion on the floor and set the amplifier to standby.
Carli Santo said Grace and everyone dug into the antipasto with gusto. Hot Italian Scala bread accompanied linguini garnished with a mushroom meat sauce to which a choice of meatballs, Italian sausage or spareribs could be added by preference from a large serving tray. Conversation centered about the Christmas season with its aura of friendliness, gift giving and gift-buying. Grandpa Santo turned to Michael.
“Michael, you are Jewish but your mother is Italian. How do you do Christmas?”
“We combine Christmas with Chanukah at our house. We go to my grandma Pistacci’s house for Christmas and my grandma Waxman’s house for Chanukah. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Carli looked at Deb Sterling. “Deb, can you tell us about Chanukah?”
Everyone stopped eating and looked at her seated next to Waxman.
Sterling cleared her throat. “I would be delighted.” Sterling told the story of Chanukah and the miracle of the lamp oil lasting eight days and nights and the symbolism of the “Festival of the Lights.”
Mrs. Santo smiled. “I think ittsa why at Christmas we also have many lights–on the Christmas tree and in the windows. Ittsa good the two holidays happen atta same time.”
Murmurs of agreement went around the dining room table as they resumed the meal. Mrs. Santo stood up. “We have a little rest while Victor bringa in the turkey.”
Sterling looked at Michael. “Turkey? I thought the pasta was the main meal.”
“Italians like a flow of food with time to burp in between courses.” He smiled.
Rosa Dipoli was next to Sterling’s other side. “Wait till you get desert.”
The meal continued and the conversation turned to teenage activities and teenage driving. Michael contributed to the talk about lack of a driver’s license being a real handicap. His father was giving him lessons and he was taking “Driver’s Ed.” classes at school with a bunch of other teens whose 16th birthday was fast approaching.
Hot coffee, Italian pastries including a huge plate of cream cheese cannolis arrived. Finally, Victor Santo signaled everyone to adjourn back to the living room.
Michael led Sterling by the hand and whispered to her. “I’m playing Christmas Carols next. Are you okay with that?”
“Oh Michael, I love Christmas Carols.”
The entire Santo clan sang along with Waxman and Sterling and the evening ended with “Silent Night”.
Victor Santo came over to Sterling. “It’s almost 6-o’clock. I promised your father you’d be home by seven at the latest. I hope you had a good time. We all enjoyed having you and you have a wonderful singing voice.”
Carli tapped his brother on his shoulder. “Sonny can you take Michael’s stuff to his house while I drive him and Deb to her house? We’ll be back in less than an hour.”
The El Dorado moved silently into the Sterling driveway. Michael walked Sterling to the door with Santo behind. She stopped at the door and gave Michael a kiss.
“I had a wonderful time, Michael. And Carli your family is absolutely fabulous.” She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek as the front door opened and Mr. and Mrs. Sterling appeared.
“How was your afternoon dear?” Mrs. Sterling asked.
Mr. Sterling was processing his daughter planting a kiss on the Italian ganiff and stared at Santo.
“I’ll tell you all about it. Bye guys.” She disappeared into the house.
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