That was a non-Italian-American roommate’s response after I asked her to hand me a mappina (dish towel). To be fair, her first response was to ask me what a mappina was. It was after I gave her the English definition that she asked me, “Why can’t you just say dish towel?” Her facial expression, however, said, “What the hell is the matter with you?” I don’t know, maybe my Italian heritage provides me with a genetic jerked upedness that makes me say funny words like mappina. The more likely answer is, it’s the word I learned to describe the object. Growing up, the word was so commonly used that one could argue that it’s a part of our English language. No one used the word dish towel, not even my non-Italian-American father. Dish towel sounds foreign to my ears.
Mappina holds a special place in my childhood memories. As a child, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house. Both my parents worked, so after school my brother and I would go to my grandparents’ until one of them came to pick us up. During that time the most vivid memory I have is baking cookies with my nonna, or Mom as she preferred to be called. The cookies were always made on her white kitchen table. Flour, eggs and sugar all poured on top of the table to be mixed by hand. My grandmother would then wipe down the table with a mappina that she had instructed my brother or me to get for her. When the dough was ready to be rolled into cookies, she threw down a bit of flour so it would not stick to the table. When she was finished rolling her cookies, a mappina was used to wipe down the table once again.
A mappina is not just synonymous in my mind with cleaning dirty tables. Dirty faces are cleaned with a mappina. Wet pots are dried with a mappina during the cleanup of a family meal. So why can’t I say dish towel? Because saying mappina for me is as natural as breathing. I don’t think about it or put any effort into it– it just happens. And because the mappina, though small and unimportant, was somehow always present in my most cherished childhood memories of the time I was blessed to have with my grandmother.
Written by OSIA National Office Administrative Assistant, Elisa Wilkinson.