Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Family History through Song: Abbatte i manine

My grandfather, Frank Gatto, passed away on October 7, 2015. He was 88. My son was 17 months old. I'll be forever grateful that they had the chance to know each other.

Grandpa was a bit of a one-trick pony when it came to babies. He sang the same Italian clapping song, to every baby, every time he saw them.

These days, whenever my son sees a picture of his "Pop," he starts clapping his hands. I love that there's such a physical way for my not-quite-verbal toddler to tell us he remembers. (Of course, I had to run out of the wake in tears the first time he did it at the funeral home.)

As far as we could tell, the song was mostly nonsense. After spending 8 years studying Italian and a semester abroad, I could pick out a few words here or there, but couldn't make sense of the whole thing. Neither could any of my other relatives, no matter how much Italian they'd studied. (Grandpa was the last native speaker in our family, but spoke a Brooklyn-ized dialect.) Grandpa translated the lyrics as "Clap your hands/Daddy's coming home/He's going to bring you candy."

As best I could pick out, Grandpa's song went like this:

Abbate i manine
Cadame ne tata
Annuzhe a lica bette
A do e da li da!

Clearly, that translates to:

Clap your little hands
Something Something [papa?]
Something Something Something
Something Something Something

But in the past month, as we've spent a lot of time clapping hands in memory of Grandpa, I finally googled, and learned that there are apparently dozens of variations on this song sung in Italy. They typically mean pretty much what Grandpa claimed: "Clap your hands/Daddy's coming home/He's bringing candy/And [Baby's name] is going to eat it all!"

The last line, where you sub in the child's name, appeared consistently in the versions I found online but is missing from Grandpa's. This may explain why the last line of Grandpa's song sounds so particularly nonsensical.

The online version that I liked the best came from Yahoo Answers user Antony96, who says that he is from Bari (as is my family) and gives the lyrics to the song he knows as:

abbatte i manine
ka vène papé
annushe i bonbon
è tutte è tutte è tutte ( u nome d'a menénne) l'ò mangé!!

It's the closest version I've found to my grandfather's version. The second line starts with "ka," which isn't, to my knowledge, an Italian word, but which is what I always heard when Grandpa sang. Same goes for "annushe," a word I'm not familiar with but which my grandfather clearly sang. It is, somehow, incredibly validating to know that all these years, we were wrong when we thought Grandpa was making up or mangling the words.

A few of my cousins have talked about trying to learn how the song "really" goes, but I will proudly sing it the way I always knew it, and I will teach it to any future kids and grandkids I have that way, too.

Grandpa wasn't singing nonsense, he was singing dialect.

1 comment:

Nancy said...

What a sweet story, precious for so many reasons. As I began reading your post a children's book came to mind, My Grandson, Lew, about a little boy whose grandfather died when he was very young but a few years later, speaks to his mom about his grandfather. I hope your son will remember his grandfather when he's 2 and 3 and 4 and beyond.