For all her pride in our shared Italian ancestry, my late, beloved Grandma Bonavita was wrong.
"Tu!" she used to say, grinning toothlessly while painfully pinching my cheek hard enough to lift me off the ground.
"Tu, Dennootz!" Grandma had trouble with many English pronunciations, including my first name.
To complete the sentence, with due disrespect to proper Calabrese (toe of the boot of Italy) dialect: "Tu, Dennootz, tu TUT-TI Italiano! Ha ha ha!"
Grandma was proud that I, a son of her third son, also had a mother who had both of her parents as immigrants from Italy.
So I grew up being taught and told to be proud that, while all of my grandparents were thrilled to have become American citizens, I am "full-blooded Italian." What else could I be, with four born-in-Italy immigrant grandparents?
You know where this is going, don't you?
You are correct: DNA.
DNA is "deoxyribonucleic acid, a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes. It is the carrier of genetic information."
Analyzing that thread-like chain of nucleotides does not produce certainties. DNA deals in probabilities - but not "10 percent chance" or "50 percent chance." Most DNA probabilities of being genetically accurate are something like "between 99.9999999 percent and 99.99999999 percent," at least for everyday conversation. So we accept DNA's probabilities as certainties for practical purposes.
I found my DNA ancestry strains through a saliva sample spat into a tube, mixed with a fixing agent, and sent to Ancestry.Com. There are more than a dozen genetic analysis companies available on line, with Ancestry.com the largest - and Ancestry was having a sale: Regular $100, get it now for ONLY $59. So my wife and I cobbled together $132.90 via a credit card, spat and sent the samples via postal mail a month ago in pre-supplied packages.
Last week, we got the results.
DENNY: 79 percent Europe South, southern Italy. No surprise there.
But Grandma must have rolled over in her grave, or at least blamed Mom's parents. There were strains that are 12 percent Caucasus, 8 percent Middle East, and even European Jewish — 1 percent.
For me, there was no surprise there, either. Italy is at the same time one of the world's most conquered countries and, via Etruscans and Romans, one of the most conquering countries. Slavery abounded. So did sex. Be it rape, concubinage or just plain old boy-meets-girl copulation, people regularly get together and produce children across DNA genetic lines.
MARYELLEN: Pretty predictable and in line with her family history, she says: Ireland/Scotland/Wales, 34 percent; Scandinavia, 27 percent; Great Britain, 17 percent; Europe West, probably French, 9 percent; Iberian Peninsula, 6 percent.
That was fun.
"WE ARE JEWISH!" I typographically screamed in the subject line of an email in a (vain) attempt to shock my children and some grandchildren.
They responded with "Oh," and a yawn. Today's young adults and students are much more genetically casual than we graybeards. They were not shocked. My only surprise, given the proximity of Italy's "toe of the boot" region of Calabria to North Africa, is that no strains from Africa proper turned up.
But I am delightfully mongrelized, genetically. I am not "this" or "that." "They" are "I."
I want to run up and hug an Arab, a Turk, a Persian, and a Kurd. Instead of screaming, "Allahu Akhbar," I want to shout "Cousin!" followed by "We are coming to your house for dinner!"
Some of that 8 percent Middle East could be killing each other along the Israel-Gaza border today. That is sobering. Then again, Italy aligned with Nazi Germany during World War II, and the aforementioned Roman Legions were not exactly choirboys. So my ancestry has its grim aspects.
But y'know what? Scratch just a bit below the surface, and we all share genetic material with murderers and monks, possibly with murderous monks, e.g. Knights Templars, who also produced saints.
I continue to have fun with the DNA results. Maryellen's son Evan reports his results are consistent with results from her and from his father, Jim Greene. Neither of my parents are alive, but my oldest son, Chris, reports more detailed results from another company, 23andMe, are similarly consistent.
So I am Jewish — too.
That is not an acceptable reason for cracking the kind of Jewish joke that portrays Jews as "them," somehow below "us." But it does allow me a small slice of pride in seeing religious/ancestral Jews celebrate their Holy Days, or admiring the discipline of Middle Eastern Arab Muslims in observing the dietary restrictions of Ramadan.
I will always be proud of my Italian heritage. Being so is as instinctive as breathing.
But I revel in the connections to the wider world, in its richness of culture, history and speech.
Denny Bonavita is a former editor and publisher at daily and weekly newspapers in western Pennsylvania. He winters in Apalachicola. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org