Saint Peter’s mom, bless her heartBy
The period around St. Peter’s feast day (June 29) is notable for two things beside the annual bacchanale at the church, as described in my last post.
The two notable things are: “St. Peter’s pears,” which I haven’t been able to identify in any other way (maybe they’re here so briefly that Linneaus was never quick enough to nab them with a name), and thunderstorms. Everyone expects thunderstorms in this period (we’re still waiting, oddly enough, though this year the weather has been very strange; last week it snowed in the mountains. Maybe St. Peter is trying something new with water).
For the record, there is also a fish, not necessarily associated with the feast day, which is commonly called “St. Peter’s fish” (Zeus faber), known in English as “John Dory,” who wasn’t a saint as far as I can discover. This fish has a particularly gobsmacked expression which doesn’t resemble any saint I could ever respect, but maybe everybody in the Dory family has that look, not to mention the underbite.
Back to the storms. Around here, the ones that crash down around us in this period have long since been associated with the Big Fisherman; well-meaning adults reassure their little people that the scary thunder is nothing more than the sound of St. Peter cleaning the wine barrels.
But there is one folk-tale, recounted by Espedita Grandesso in her exceptional book on Venetian expressions (Prima de parlar, tasi, Edizioni Helvetia) that puts the blame squarely on his mother. As told in Venetian it has an irresistible back-porch-stringing-beans atmosphere, as if the speaker were talking about a fractious family known to everybody in the neighborhood. I’ll do what I can to render it here.
ST. PETER’S MOTHER
Well, St. Peter’s mother was so nasty and so nasty that when she died, even though her son was such a honking big deal as a saint, he had to send her to hell.
When she got to hell, she got up to so many shenanigans, busting everybody’s fishing lines [polite euphemism for “balls”] and complaining and whining and calling her son at all hours of the day and night, that the saint went to Jesus Christ to tell him He had to let his mom into heaven.
“Can’t,” said Jesus, “she’s just too bad.”
Saint Peter wasn’t very happy because, when you get down to it, she was his mother, and the Lord was so sorry to see this that he told him, “Well, you know, Pete, if, maybe, she were to have done at least one good deed…”
Peter was quiet for a while, because his mother, as far as good deeds were concerned, had never done one in her entire life. Then he remembered that, one time, his mother gave an onion to a little old man who was begging.
“Okay,” said the Lord, to make a long story short, “take this onion that’s got a few little roots still on it, and, if you can manage it, pull her up here with this onion.”
Peter went to the mouth of hell and said to her, “Mom, grab onto the roots of this onion and I’ll pull you up here.”
“Onion roots? You nitwit! How do you think they’re going to support me?”
“Don’t worry about that, just grab on.”
The old lady, grumbling, grabbed onto the roots of the onion and she started to rise off the ground, but she didn’t make it as far as the mouth of hell because a batch of other souls, who wanted to get out of hell too, grabbed onto her skirt and her ankles.
St. Peter’s mother started to go crazy, screaming “Get out of here, you disgusting damned souls, the onion’s for me, it’s mine, and my son is St. Peter!!!” [This is undoubtedly one of the best moments for the person who is telling this story to imitate the meanest, crankiest woman in the neighborhood.]
Seeing that the souls were still hanging on, she started to kick them to try to get rid of them.
At that point, the onion roots tore off, and St. Peter was left holding the onion while the old lady fell back down into the very center of the flames.
“What the heck have you done, mom?” St. Peter said. “All you had to do was have a tiny bit of charity and you’d have made it out and so would all those other souls. Now you’ve got to stay in hell forever.” [Pause for cheers from the kids who must all be imagining whichever of their relatives–obnoxious big sister? busybody aunt?–would most deserve this doom.]
BUT [the kids suddenly stop cheering], being that not even the Devil himself could stand to have this hellion among the damned souls, and also, well, it wasn’t exactly decent that the mother of St. Peter, he who carries the Keys to the Kingdom, would have to stay in hell, the old shrew got pulled out and stuck in a corner and given the task of washing the barrels of heaven before the season of new wine.