They showed up in two’s and three’s, the doorbell ringing constantly as friends and relatives arrived, paid their respects to Zia Francesca, with a: “Appy East” and spoke their native tongue. They were able to speak three languages, Broken English, Italian and what I call ‘Mano-Italiano,’ making multi-syllabic statements in two to ten fingers, depending on how poetic they were. These statements were often a collection of Broken English and Italian words to accompany the conversation. Facial expression was key to understanding a conversation. Someone made a point without expression meant that they were not happy.
I’m talking about Easter Sunday growing up in Brooklyn, and the festive atmosphere that pervaded the family. During those golden days of living in Brooklyn during the 50’s, attitudes were different, the mores of yesterday conflicting with today’s. In those days you didn’t just roll out of bed and off you went. Today you see people in stores early in the morning in their pj’s! No, for the holiday or any Sunday, you dressed for church and dinner, then as the day wore on, you relaxed. No one ever got on a plane without dressing, or had a business appointment without shined shoes, neatly combed hair and a freshly starched shirt with tie and jacket.
Of course we also had other hang-ups that made up our collective psyches but at least there was some sense of order and respect.
Easter was THE holiday for the Italian-Americans. In spite of what we did on Christmas Eve, this was THE day: it signified many things. You were getting a meal at grandma’s, a big old-fashioned meal, grandpa would be nagged to death to stop playing cards at the Republican Club and come home to eat, I got a chance to see these Napoli cigars, all knarly and stinky, popped in Zio Felice’s kisser, and pinochle games or poker, depending on what was the prevailing mood. Grandma on the other hand got to preside over her huge family, which today would be unbelievable to her, as she would see what her sacrifice to come to this country paid off in!
|Easter pies like Ricotta Cheese pie|
Hope did spring eternal, from the Eternal City to the new world, spring was in the air and this made Easter Sunday joyous and special. It seemed to be always a bright, sunny and warm day, warm enough to go about in a spring jacket, not an overcoat. But that might just be my memory and not fact.
But the best part of Easter was seeing all my cousins from Patchogue come out to Brooklyn, and plans were made for my older sister Tessie (much older) and me to go out to Patchogue for a few weeks in the summer to free us from the grime of the city streets.
It seems that living in the city or borough of Brooklyn was special. It meant tradition was followed because most of our grandparents “came over from the other side” as they said. Coming over from the other side was crossing the pond in today’s lingo, and be it Italian, Irish, German or Slavic, it meant that the traditions of your grandparents were held sacred and followed as a religion.
I am grateful to have lived through all that tradition. It was special and it was wonderful, it connected me to my roots and made me also appreciate what a great place I now live in. No matter what the traditions, we all experienced: I think we can be happy with that part of our lives, and come together in a common cause to create new traditions for our children to build upon.
“A appy East” to all!