Jack and Pearl

The curse of the Evil Eye...



En su boka no se kaygas
May you never fall into his (or her) mouth.
Ladino Saying

It was all about honor. In my family an elder’s feelings got hurt just about every five
minutes, with a serious incident occurring at least once a week. For instance, my maternal grandmother, Benvenuta, used to sit in front of the building on the Grand Concourse sunning herself, winter and summer. Once, when cousin Nissim was a boy, he passed by with a group of friends and ignored the old lady. Not only did Nona notice, but she retaliated. She froze Nissim out for two solid months, refusing to speak to or even look at her grandson.

Allegre’s middle child had committed the crime of Not Greeting Your Nona—with a
kiss! This was expected, not just when you were little, but forever, no matter who you walked down the street with, boyfriend, boss or betrothed. Deeply offended, Nona Benvenuta cut him out of her life until, after weekly apologies and begging her forgiveness, she one day relented and nodded at the boy. It took another week before he was back in her good graces, promising never ever to ignore his grandma again.

Children were expected to stand, as a sign of respect, when an adult entered the room,
especially during parties or gatherings. “Get up!” your mother would whisper, through clenched teeth. You could get away with not doing it only if she wasn’t in the room. It was a matter of proper behavior; there was a “correct” way of doing things and the lonso’s, or fool’s way, and feelings were easily hurt.

The whole idea was not to bring shame on your parents’ household. I remember having to say hello to all my aunts and uncles, as well as their friends, when I entered a room. And if you forgot their name they made fun of you in front of the company:

No me conoces, hija? You don’t know me?”

Well-behaved children were constantly brought up to me as examples of how to act. These were decent children. And still, even if you got through an entire week without criticism, there would be some thing you did wrong that earned you “the look,” if not a smack from your mother or one of your aunts.

Excerpt from "Honor," Chapter 2, Knife at the Crossroads
by Brenda Serotte
all rights reserved

Also check out "Blackout," a chapter excerpt from "Knife at the Crossroads," work in progress! (Link is on the right.)


American Lives: A Reader, edited by Tobias Wolff

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Growing up Turkish in the Bronx
Poetry about the value of family, poetry, the mystery of Peru, and more...

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