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Pizza, the Pipitones and Johnny Paycheck
a meditation on finding Christmas joy
Yesterday at church the pastor asked the congregation to meditate on advent. She invited us into a space of wonder, a space of joy, as we closed our eyes and opened our hearts. She told us to call to mind a place, real or imagined, that brings us this joy. You may know this meditation as it’s been parodied as a sort of go to your happy place. Parodies aside, it’s an excellent tool to calm the nervous system and bring yourself into a prayerful state. I always imagine myself standing on a beach watching the ocean waves gently lap against the shore. Or walking through the woods listening to the sound of birdsong. Listen, you don’t have to be creative or original to connect with the holy. Those trite scenes of tranquility do the job just fine.
But yesterday my mind had other plans. First I thought of my home, a sweet little micro farm in an island rainforest where I live with my sweet little family and all our animals. Then I thought of my grandmother’s farm where I grew up and where I wandered as a dreamy child. Both places bring me a deep sense of belonging and safety and I connect them with real joy.
And then because it is Christmas, I imagined Christmas trees. In northern Illinois the best place to get your Christmas tree is Williams Tree Farm. (This is not a hot tip it is common knowledge.) Growing up it was our annual tradition to hop in Mr. Williams’ tractor trailer and putter our way out to his magical forest of evergreens. I thought of my grandmother as she got older struggling to climb into the tractor trailer. She would giggle at herself and we would all giggle and maybe it’s just me, but when your grandmother giggles at Christmastime you never forget it. She liked to sing carols, too, and sometimes she giggled when she sang.
When we got the tree we would always go to Sam’s Pizza afterwards. Nothing is as joyful as walking into the steamy scent of pizza parlor after spending a couple hours in a freezing cold forest. Sam’s pizza was owned by the Pipitone family. I can’t remember which Pipitone I crushed on, but sometimes he was there, and sometimes he said hello. And as I sat in church yesterday meditating on my happy place, I could smell Sam’s pizza. I was right there amongst the flashing Christmas lights strung across the windows, and the yeasty dough smell, and that famous Pipitone smile.
One year both my grandmothers came with us and it felt like a big family celebration. My Italian grandma knew the Pipitones and we were all transported back to the old country, which is what happens when Italian American families say hello. I asked for two quarters for the jukebox and each grandma gave me one. We waited for my song to come on but it never did, so my grandmas said we’d dance to whatever song came on next. We gathered around the jukebox with my mom and my brother and the next song that played was “Take This Job and Shove It” by Johnny Paycheck.
We fell over one another and the jukebox, laughing and dancing, bumping hips and giggling as we shouted for the whole pizza parlor to hear that we ain’t workin’ here no more. Both of my grandmothers giggled until tears streamed from their eyes. I was ten years old and relished yelling the words “Shove it!” as loud as I could.
The pastor told us to look for joy because it can happen anywhere. In fact, when you look for it anywhere you find it everywhere. Holy joy is everywhere. I know this is true. Because when the meditation was over and we opened our eyes, I was still giggling.