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National and Global, United States

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Italians...


My maternal grandfather Dominic, split his time between brick laying and wine making. The latter was his passion. The former his need. My paternal grandfather, Rocco, was an anthracite coal miner, who probably had little time for wine making. They both made babies on a regular basis. It was either the wine or the loneliness of coal. Perhaps both. More then not, it was probably more the beauty of my grandmothers, Concetta and Anna.

All told they had about 20 children combined, I guess in an effort to add more Italian kids to an already very Italian neighborhood.

Most of all, I recall Sundays. Every Sunday for as long as I could remember. There were probably about 30 cousins within a four block area. And every Sunday, they would all visit my grandparents during the course of the day... after Church. That event would go on until at least 10PM...And my grandparents were always ready. Always welcoming. Always social... on their terms.

As I recall, it would start around 6am on Sunday. Grandmothers in the kitchen. Preparing 'gravy' for spaghetti sauce. Now, not your normal stuff. All started from scratch. Fresh Tomato from the yard, fresh garlic (again from the yard), home made pasta from guitar strings, fresh meatballs. This stuff took all day to simmer and cook, interrupted by Church. Everyone went to Church around 8am. We'd watch for you, making certain you were there. Dressed in ties/suits and dresses. No one got away from it. Show up or repent the consequences later in the day.

So, around 1pm on that Sunday, the cousins and the aunts and the uncles would all start to filter in. Not all at once mind you. In-and-out during the course of the day....and into the early evening. Sometimes we would visit multiple houses of aunts and uncles...every time getting a meal. It seemed to just last forever...and it did.

My maternal grandfather would sit on the front porch in his rocker. White shirt with no collar, gabardine gray pants, white socks, and black ankle high shoes. He always had his gray pants rolled up to the calf (don't know why). In one hand, a glass of his homemade red wine; in the other...an Italian stogy dipped in that red wine.

He would welcome everyone. Cousins, aunts/uncles...even strangers. Ciao e benvenuto alla nostra casa.

The on going meal of the day was always homemade pasta, veal or pork added. Fresh fruits, nuts of all kinds... figs from the fig tree out back...and red wine. Sometimes just mixed with ginger ale. Sometimes not. Then Cannoli...lots of it.

My grandfather would finally retreat to the basement, after a long day of socializing. Sometimes he would walk over to the Bocce field and trade his wine for Bocce games. Other times, he would take my hand...and direct me to the basement. This was indeed his 'quiet place'. There in that cellar would be his wine barrels, and his beloved chestnuts. There would be his coal-fired furnace. And then, he would simply place those chestnuts on that open fire, place his red wine in a glass that was formerly filled with peanut butter...roll up his sleeves on his white shirt...lay back in his chair, and speak to me in Italian. It was Norman Rockwell stuff, but with an Italian twag.

I had no idea what he way saying. But out of respect, I listened. I nodded my head in agreement. And there we were. Two generations apart, understanding each other. As his smoked his stogy and sipped his wine, and told me of days long past on an Italian countryside.

And now, these Sundays for me are no longer filled with that family and extended cousins, aunts, and uncles. Church is an option. Family presence is not a block away. It's hundreds, if not thousands of miles.

And as the 'family' itself continues to expand from what was already a significantly large relationship, the fact is, that the 'presence' has indeed has been minimized, if not totally become part of an unintentional indifference, fostered by new horizons and new dreams that go far beyond those four square blocks. Still, I miss them. I miss the Bocce court, the red wine, the chestnuts, the cellar, the cigars. I miss the waxed mustache of my grandfather. I miss "Chopper", "Jimmie the Chin", The Rock. I miss my grandmother's wooden spoons.
I can still always smell the scent of tomatoes and garlic cooking, whether they are or not! Olive oil still gets placed on just about everything.

I can only hope that my grandparents set a more progressive example, and that I was indeed an integral part of their hopes and dreams, even if today, I am not.

Potete lungo in tensione, prosperare, godete dei vostri bambini e siete saggio... or something to that effect!

1 comment:

  1. Don’t miss them, enjoy such wonderful thoughts everyday! It’s a wonderful ability we have to continue to live, love and share such joy.

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