For the next few months, Tuesdays on my blog will feature one of my fellow Martin Sisters Publishing authors. There are a bunch of us, and we all write in various genres, so enjoy the fun stuff included in these posts and maybe even check out the MSP website.
Today, James Dante, author of The Tiger’s Wedding, has sent over a guest post. Enjoy!
“Don’t Shake His Table”
On May 17, 1913, the French passenger ship La Provence docked at Ellis Island. Off walked twenty-two-year-old Cristoforo Danti from Malcesine, Italy. My to-be grandfather. His brother Steve, who was already living in New Jersey, awaited him.
When I look at tourism photos of Malcesine, with its medieval castle and tall cliffs that plunge into Lake Garda, I find it remarkable that someone could leave such a place only to paint smoke stacks and eventually mine coal. Of course, regardless of how magnificent the scenery, one cannot eat it.
I was eight when my grandfather died, so my memories of him have dimmed. I do, however, remember his ruddy face and blue eyes and how he liked to pour red wine into his morning coffee. “Don’t shake-a- the table,” he would say to me as he penned his letters in the kitchen. The stories passed down to me through my father were spare. I know that he survived a serious fall while painting one of those smoke stacks. In his youth he was handy with dynamite and used it to blast away the rock that was interfering with Pennsylvania’s new highway system. (From my father’s account, the era was definitely pre-OSHA.) And there was the Great War. My grandfather never forgot how the Salvation Army would literally go into the trenches with free donuts, coffee, and hot coco. Or as he would’ve said, “hot co-cow.”
Not until a few years ago, when I discovered his discharge papers in a storage box, had I realized the full nature of his time in the Army. On June 24, 1918, Cristoforo, his last name somehow changed to Dante, was inducted into the 42nd Army Infantry Division, A.K.A. the “Rainbow Division.” There were several notations under “Battles, engagements, skirmishes, expeditions” ending with the occupation of Sedan in France. He had taken part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which ended the lives of 26,000 Americans. It’s enough to make me wonder how much of my own existence is owed to the hand of God.
On May 8, 1919, my grandfather was released from duty at Fort Dix, unceremoniously it seems, and received his final pay of $87.70. It makes sense that every year on his birthday my grandmother, for as long as they were together, would bake a three-layer cake and would color the layers red, gold, and blue, representing the stripes of the Rainbow Division.
What is special about this story is that it’s not special at all. Most of us have immigrant family histories. Or perhaps you are the primary character in future stories. What we owe is more than gratitude or the act of chronicling. I can’t help but to believe that when people uprooted their lives, an implied bargain was formed with the following generations. The squandering of opportunities might be a breach of this deal. More important, we have to take a clear-eyed look at the nation and, for the sake of our own grandchildren, not screw it up.
All of the travel literature described Korea as the “Land of the Morning Calm.” So naturally when Jake St. Gregory, a thirty-year-old accountant from Burbank, California, accepts a teaching position in Seoul, he expects a serene escape. Instead, he finds himself in a chaotic relationship, hospitalized, scrambling for money, and then jailed. His pending deportation should come as a relief. But Jake can’t bear the thought of losing Jae-Min, the woman who is the one source of true happiness in his life. Jae-Min, the wife of an abusive husband, has her own turmoil to resolve. Torn between the old Korea and the emerging one, between kimchi and McDonald’s fries, she symbolizes that country’s lost generation. In this tale, set during a pivotal time, their mutual search for happiness draws them together. Ultimately, it might be a fracturing nation that keeps them apart.
Originally from Western New York, James Dante has lived most of his life in Northern California. After graduating from the University of California at Davis, he caught the teaching bug in South Korea. He is the author of The Tiger’s Wedding, a novel from Martin Sisters Publishing. His fiction has also appeared in literary journals such as Rosebud and Toasted Cheese. He continues to write and to teach adult learners.
Web site: www.jamesdante.com