Sunday, January 10, 2016


With some olive oil capers and lemon juice of course.

Grandma Frances was a very devote woman. Grandma was like a general in the army, Jesus’ army that is. She belonged to the oldest Italian Parish in Brooklyn, maybe the USA, and often organized trips to upstate shrines by bus and to her hometown outside Naples Italy by plane. What made her look like a general was all the religious medals pinned on her bosom, the rosary somewhere always on her person and her barking orders at Grandpa.

She held a position of prominence at her church and a seat up front where she could keep an eye on the priest. She was not afraid, nor intimidated by any cranky priest, nun or lay teacher who dared to take her on, she was after all: Zia Francesca! There was magic in her veins in how she could get things done, yet she had no use for the Mafioso or stupid people!

Grandma had a shrine/house where she lived when she wasn’t on a bus or plane, or in church for that matter. Her friend’s list was the phone book of East New York, Bushwick, Brownsville and Bedford/Styvesant or in other words: half of Brooklyn.

If you watched her pray which was often, at the drop of a hat, in a car with Dad driving (I did too) or in her church, there was the silent lip movement closed eyes and constant kissing of the cross on her rosary. Candles lit the place and were so many that once I thought I’d close some lights by flipping switches and realized it was all the candles. Each room had a statue of a saint, with a candle and at the foot of the candle stood a holy picture usually obtained by her attendance at a funeral.

Once I went down into the cellar and among the wine and bottled peppers were holy pictures that were waiting their turn on the walls of Zia Francesca’s shrine.

She was a fun woman, her children were afraid of her, her nieces and nephews likewise took a cautionary stance when it came to her; one aunt smoked, and was afraid to tell her!

Often she held conferences in another room with one or two of her daughters, often to a whisper and these conferences occurred with her house, particularly this enormous kitchen she had full with relatives and guests.

If you visited her on a Sunday morning, while her gravy was percolating her doorbell would ring. In would traipse countless people paying respects to Zia Francesca, consuming demitasse cups of coffee, biscotti and shots of liquors. They would bring a payment of a certain amount for the next pilgrimage, as she raised money for the orphans in Naples.

Her praying amazed me, it was constant but so was her devotion and duty to what she thought was right, all of God’s children.

In between these excursions she would see me, squeeze my cheeks and smooth to the point that I needed a towel to dry off! She loved to slip me a few bucks, stick her index finger on her lips to tell me to keep it quiet, so Mom and Dad wouldn’t know.

I wish I could see her one more time. Just one more time to tell her how much I love and miss her, and how thankful I am that she had the guts and courage to come to this strange land and start the beginning of a wonderful opportunity for all her grandchildren. She was a true and remarkable hero, a saint and the best damned cook that ever lived!

Grazie nonna ed il dio lo benedice dovunque siate.


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