Sunday, March 27, 2016


An Italian American holiday is what best describes Easter if you lived in Brooklyn during the 50’s. In those golden days, everyone dressed up for every occasion: it was a time to say that the long cold winter was over; I have new clothes, and let’s eat!

We would get sent off to Mass and sat with our respective classes, listening to the sermon as our stomachs growled interrupting the priest that it needed attention. We weren’t allowed to eat in those days before you went to communion, and once we were freed from the confines of our religious obligation, we walked two or three blocks home, smelling the sauces that everyone seemed to be cooking that morning.

I remember Easter Sunday as being a very festive morning; the Easter bunny had come and gone, leaving chocolate bunnies, jellybeans and colorful cellophane grass, I was in my new shoes and suit, fresh new tie and white shirt. You only wore white shirts in those days with a tie. My hair was combed cow lick struggling to rise and I was warned: “Don’t get dirty!”

If Mom wasn’t cooking, then it meant Grandma Frances was, and that meant cousins I hadn’t seen in a while, the long hallway that became the play area for all the kids while the grownups spoke in Italian in the huge long kitchen which sat adjacent to the hallway that could feed without exaggeration with two tables head to head about 30 to 40 people.

They showed up in droves, 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.

People think that Italians speak with their hands, they don’t: they use the whole extremity of shoulder, arm and hand with accentuated fingers. Sometimes right and left get into the act. If an Italian weren’t talking to you, he would put his hands in his pockets and just use words. Often the women would have issues with each other, and hold separate conferences in other rooms, murmuring low and careful to hold a pocket book or towel to disguise the conversation from a distance.

The dinners were elaborate, the china wasn’t and the conversations multi-subject, in all three languages. Grandma Frances would orchestrate the whole thing; run a travel service for the pilgrimages she organized, by answering the phone, meeting with visitors and cooking. That was with one hand, the other hand tasting, sampling, waving in emphasis and amazing her grandchildren with attention.

We had some real characters visit us in those days of family. There was the ‘smelly lady’ and her husband the communist, (at least that what they called him) there was a cousin from Italy, newly arrived and very handsome and married to an import from the hometown that was a striking beauty. There were distant cousins that all had the same hair color as Grandma Frances and spoke only two languages, (no English,) there was an uncle who complained that no one respected him, so we went out of our way as kids to make fun of him, and aunt who was married to him who had to be on something because she had everyone on the floor holding their sides from laughter, another uncle who felt he was Victor Emanuel the disposed King of Italy, and off course some crazy cousins right off the rack!

Dinner was a religious affair. Grandma was a great cook, having owned a restaurant and making it successful during the great depression, she had no cookbooks, but what an array of recipes she had stored in her head.  You started off and finished hours later. I think by now everyone knows how we ate in those days, so I won’t go into it, but I will say that unlike Chinese food you weren’t hungry an hour later, no, we ate right up to the hour later and took some home with you too!

Grandpa Ralph had a very important job on Easter Sunday. Actually it was two jobs. One was to stay out of the Republican club where they would smoke cigars, drink espresso and whiskey, and play poker or pinochle, and two: “Shadduppa, whata you say? Be a quiet Rafaello”! Grandma was the only one who could tell Grandpa these things, as they would bicker like tow little kids who in the end loved each other.

When Easter Sunday came to an ending, the kids would all be sleepy or sleeping on kitchen chairs, the parents all talked out, the table clothes stains from the sauce (gravy), the rich black espresso, and the scattering of nut shells and wine stains. Then one by one they would disappear into the darkened hallway and into the Easter night.

“A Appy East” to all!

“Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy, sunshine in my eyes can make me cry.
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely, sunshine almost always makes me high.
If I had a day that I could give you, I'd give to you the day just like today.
If I had a song that I could sing for you, I'd sing a song to make you feel this way.”

Everyone should have a little sunshine in their life. Me? Mine is a few thousand miles away in the most beautiful little angel I ever met: La Principessa, Darby Shea. Being her grandfather and holding this precious child makes me feel that life has some really pleasant events to share and live for. Suddenly I am a new man, engulfed with a love for such a beautiful little creature of God, borne out of love and conceived so the world will be a better place.

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy, sunshine in my eyes can make me cry.
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely, sunshine almost always makes me high.
If I had a tale that I could tell you, I'd tell a tale sure to make you smile.
If I had a wish that I could wish for you, I'd make a wish for sunshine for all the while.

Recently I had the privilege to spend some time with La Principessa at Christmas, and introduce myself to her again. She is nothing short of amazing, and the wonderful thing is she has captured this old man’s heart. I can’t stop thinking about her, her sweet smile, her dainty hands and feet,
her alertness and curiosity, not to mention at 2-years old her athleticism, truly the child of two very smart people. La Principessa and I ran around the house, as she nimbly went about her business of play and showing off for “Ba-ba”, her head turning this way and that, climbing the furniture, looking curiously and happily, as I sung to her a little tune. All her innocence, all her beauty and all her magic, was just for Grandpa, and it is something I will never forget!

“Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy, sunshine in my eyes can make me cry.
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely, sunshine almost always makes me high.
Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy, sunshine in my eyes can make me cry.
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely, sunshine almost always makes me high.
Sunshine almost all the time makes me high. Sunshine almost always:“


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