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Cardella: My Roots

(I dreamed last night that I found an old family Bible that traced the roots of the Cardella family. It was only a dream, but somehow the story seemed true. I felt I should share it with you).

The first known Cardella to walk the earth has been traced to the Stone Age, some 800,000 years ago. Magnus Cardella. Magnus was the first Cardella to reveal the family trait of total ineptness. He was a good soul. But he couldn’t seem to do anything right. People were excited back then because fire had just been discovered. It seemed everyone was infatuated by fire. No matter where you looked, people were rubbing two sticks together to make a flame. Everybody but Magnus.

No matter how hard Magnus tried, he couldn’t get two sticks to ignite. His wife became extremely frustrated with him. And not just because when Magnus carried her on his shoulder to take her somewhere private to mate, he’d dropped her. That was just part of it. If her husband couldn’t start a fire, how could she cook his meals? Indeed — how could she respect him?

Magnus agonized over the problem. He confided in his friend, Amazon. The next day and for a fee — Amazon offered to not only hunt food for Magnus and his family, but to prepare it as well. He promised to deliver the meals to Magnus overnight for an additional small fee. Magnus never told his wife about the arrangement and allowed her to think that he was doing the hunting and food prep. They lived very happily the rest of their Stone Age years. Until Magnus dropped her again in a fit of passion.

Unfortunately, the history of the Cardellas is lost to us for the thousands of years until the time of Christopher Columbus. The history of my family picks up with Cosmo Cardella. Cosmo wanted to be an explorer, but Columbus hogged all the big exploration jobs. Some say that Cosmo fell into ill-favor with Queen Isabella when he called her “Izzy” one day at court.

Just when it looked as if Cosmo would never fulfill his dream of becoming a famous explorer, he caught a break. A few days before Columbus was ready to sail to India in search of spices, his navigator fell ill after eating some bad paella. Cosmo jumped at his chance to become Columbus’ navigator. Cosmo was assigned to sail with the good ship Pinto (named after a popular Fandango band of that era). Alas, it was Cosmo whose flawed navigation directed Columbus not to India, but to America.

Columbus grew outraged at Cosmo when he discovered his mistake (reportedly when Christopher asked a native where he could find a good tikka masala and received a blank stare in response). Cosmo was confined to the Pinto while Columbus and his men took out their disappointment on the poor indigenous people of that strange land they’d found themselves in. In a strange twist of fate, Cardella men throughout history have not been able to digest tikka masala without running for the bathroom.

History shows that Constantine Cardella came to America in the first large wave of Italian immigration in the 1860s. In the true tradition of the Cardellas, Constantine displayed all the skill of Laurel and Hardy trying to move a piano up steps. He was a well-meaning chap and the first Cardella on record to oppose slavery. However, Connie — as he was known to friends — always had a horrible sense of direction. Not surprisingly, he grew confused over which was the North and which was the South in the ongoing Civil War. Adding to his confusion was the fact that all men wore beards, and he couldn’t tell Ulysses S. Grant from Robert E. Lee.

Thus it was that Connie wound up at Richmond fighting for the Confederacy under Lee. He was and remains the only Cardella ever court-martialed while in the military because he once addressed Lee as “My dear General Grant.” Connie was held in shackles that fateful day when Lee surrendered his sword to Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse. In Connie’s only letter to his wife (also named “Connie”), he mentions he had a problem eating tikka masala.

The Cardella men were always ambitious, but rarely successful. Sadly, that was the case with Nunzi Cardella (not be confused with my Uncle Nunzio). Records show that in the 20th Century, many Cardella men were named “Nunzio”. No one in my family has ever given a satisfactory explanation for this strange quirk or for why the family just as abruptly stopped using the name. There doesn’t seem to be any historical precedent for naming all the men “Nunzio” … or “Nunzi,” as they preferred to be called. Someone in the family has suggested that it was just easier to remember male relatives’ first names if all the names were the same. That may be why Cardella men have always called females “Kitty.” Anyhow, Nunzio Cardella had this burning desire to revive the art of muckraking, popularized by Lincoln Steffens. Steffens was the most famous muckraker of the early 1900s — “muckraking” being the practice of exposing corruption.

Unfortunately, Nunzi took the name muckraking literally. He bought a rake and went in search of muck. Nunzi did make a name for himself cleaning manure off city streets.

There is nothing in the family history about whether he was able to enjoy tikka masala.

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