Monday, December 18, 2006
The Present
A friend of mine recently remarked that I was raised “old country.” In my head, momentarily, I had mixed reactions. The modern career woman in me was a bit unarmed because apparently my secret was out. I was exposed for the old country girl that I am.

For the sake of clarity, let's make sure we are on the same page in respect to “old country girl.” I am not an old country girl like Barbara Mandrell (who incidentally was country when country wasn't cool). I am old country as in "from the old country." My family has roots in Italy. My father, though an American citizen, was raised in Italy. My mother's family came to the United States when her oldest sister was just a child. They were part of the big wave of European immigrants who came to the United States in the early 1900’s with my parents a part of the generation who experienced both the Great Depression and World War II. As the very last of the Baby Boomers, I was raised to turn off the lights when I left a room, to not be wasteful, to respect the institution of family, and, perhaps most important this time of year, to make traditional Italian goodies (from scratch) for the holidays. The old country in me is most prominent this time of year when nostalgia runs high. I find myself seeking out opportunities to be around people who value the same things and share the same culture, but each year it seems that opportunites to bring together old country Italian-Americans are dwindling. It seems this feeling of balancing old and new, past and future, are part of my present in many ways.

As I was decorating the Christmas tree this year, I was reminiscing about my first Christmas tree in my very first apartment. I bought my first tree without thinking about a stand, lights, or decorations. Details, details. The stand was a quick buy at the tree lot, but for the others I would have to be creative. Lucky for me I was a child of the 80’s (okay, perhaps not a child, but a young adult) and had a large selection of dangling sparkly earrings (though mostly neon colors – c’mon, it was the 80’s afterall) and filled in the rest with dried flowers, ribbons, lace, and other handmade decorations. Sometimes old country comes in handy.

As the years progressed I tried to create a designer tree with a color scheme and theme. I had collected all the decorations, made the tree skirt from a bridesmaid dress (there is a use for them after the wedding if you're crafty). Though it looked department store window beautiful, every time I looked at it I felt this distinct sadness. It finally dawned on me that nothing on the tree had special meaning. The ornaments weren't hand made and there were no fancy ornaments received as gifts. There was simply no tradition, no story. That was one of those moments when I realized the importance of tradition for this old country girl. Over the years I threw out the color scheme, the plain white lights, and the theme. I have expanded my collection of ornaments, mostly antique reflector ornaments, as well as a few special ornaments that were either made for me or given as gifts. The tree isn't complete without lots of multicolored lights and one of my old earrings just for nostalgia.

As I decorated my tree, I couldn't help but think about how time has flown sine that first tree. Each ornament from my collection tells a story of the past and the memories fill the house along with the decorations. More importantly than the past, this tree tells a story about the future. I haven't had a tree the last few years. After recovering from surgery each of the last two years a tree was the furthest thing from my mind. This year is different. This year it symbolizes the joy I have today and the hope I have for tomorrow. It is a big step in my journey, but one I have to take to continue moving forward. This year is different indeed. I don't always feel it one hundred percent, but in my heart I know that I am coming to terms with the implications of having had cancer and how it impacts my life each day. Most days I feel at peace with it and am ready to go about the business of living. Not living in the shadow of cancer, but living passionately, embracing the past, and greeting the future with a reserved yet optimistic enthusiasm. Not a bad start for an old country girl.

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Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
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Name: Jeannette
Location: Southern California, USA

This is my story about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. I thought I was out of the woods, but four years late it came back. This is my quest to be a two-time survivor.

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