We live in times so different from those prior to the World Wars of the Twentieth Century that it is hard to realize what life was like before there was Television; or computers or, even, telephones. The vast majority of people lived on their own farms and, in many parts of the world, they had no news about the outside world except from traveling merchants. When my Grandmother left Calabria in 1909 with my mother Antonia who was about 9 years old, and my Uncle Gabriel who was about 11, in order to travel to the United States in order to live with her oldest son Carmen after her husband died, the first electric light they ever saw was seen in Naples.

In that environment, which had been the same since Noah and his family left the Ark, a very important person in the family was the story teller. In the evenings, after work and the evening meal, the family and friends would gather together around the fireplace and tell stories. My grandmother, Nicolina Pascuzzi, was remarkable for the stories she would come up with, to the delight of the children.

In almost every country there was a kind of professional story teller who wandered from village to village and farm to farm with a stock of stories. He would entertain whoever would listen, and the people would feed him and give him a place to sleep.

The wandering storyteller in the part of Calabria in which my mother was raised was named: Salomone. That, it seems to me, is a rare name for Italians.

Anyway, he would have stories with a moral to them that go back to very ancient times. There is one that my mother told me that a priest from Ireland told me he heard from his grandmother. So these stories go back to the early days of Christianity and even before the coming of The Lord.

I know you probably have hear this story but, since it has a great moral it bears hearing again.

It seems that St. Peter was guarding the gate of heaven, one day, when his Mother-in-law came. She had just died and her guardian angel excorted her to the gates of Heaven. St. Peter always was very nervous in her presence since she was sure that her daughter had married far beneath her.

So after a nice greeting St. Peter opened the Book and, to his dismay, he found that she had no merits at all. Her life was completely selfish. He, of course tried his best to find some way to let her in, but, alas, none could be found.

Very reluctantly (knowing he would have to face and explain to his wife), he sent his mother-in-law to hell.

As she slid down the chute and when she was rolling around in the fames she kept shouting: “But I’m your mother-in –law — get me out of here!!”

Poor St. Peter was distraught and, finally, he called Our Lord. He told the Lord that he had to send his wife’s mother to hell and that he felt terrible about it. He asked if something could be done.

So, out of the kindness of His Heart, Our Lord told Peter to exam her life carefully to see if she has EVER done a kind act. Peter read over the record very carefully and –VOILA — he found a kind act. Once, may years before a starving man had come to her kitchen door and begged for food and she had given him a single green onion.

So, Our Lord said: give the green onion to her guardian angel and tell him to go to the fiery pool and ask her to take hold of one end. If the guardian angel could draw her out of the flames by means of the green onion — she could get into heaven. Otherwise —!!

So, the loyal angel did as he was told and, hovering over the firey pit he told the mother-in –law to take one end of the onion — but she had to be very careful not to jerk or otherwise cause any stress the would cause the onion to break.

As you know, green onions are very tender, but the angel very carefully, and with extreme patience pulled on his end of the onion. Little by little, the Mother-in-law began to be drawn out of the flames!.

However , other damned souls saw her being drawn out of flames and they grabbed her skirts to also leave that place of tormnt.

When she saw them grabbing her skirt and also being drawn out — she kicked at them and said: “get away — this is my onion”.

Well the jerk she caused by kicking her fellow inmates, caused the onion to break and she sank back into the flames where she still is today.

Moral of the cautionary tale: “Selfishness makes you your own worst enemy.”