I used to look at my little Grandma Frances and years later my mother and wonder, after they had cooked a whole meal for a huge crowd, how they weren’t dog tired from it all. Not only was there all this delicious food; they maintained such high standards! Then they sat and chatted with the company, keeping pace with the hum of the different conversations and the intermittent injection of English and laughter. Their aprons worn from the years of devotion to the family: the meals borne of love and tradition. Sometimes a casual drop of gossip that cleared the room of all other business, the aunts oohing or calling upon some saint to save them from the spicy news.
Looking back now, I remember all the people that sat for dinner, and just ate and enjoyed themselves, but didn’t think about how lucky they were to be in not only this country, but having these feasts, all because of a little old Italian lady, God bless her soul who came to America as a young girl on her own, and rallied those on the other side to journey to America and make a better life!
It was a challenge for grandmas to put out as much food as possible to see who would fall to their knees screaming: “Basta!” But you went to Grandmas for dinner to meet the challenge yourself, before you screamed: “Basta!”
But off I went, daring anyone and anything from stopping me from my grandmother’s pallet of culinary delights. But wouldn’t you know it, there was always some character who could stop you in mid-bite. An elegant dance of the hands, accompanied by a vocal syncopation of the beautiful language as no one else can do but an Italian, ‘passione’!
Watching an Italian tell a story, is like watching a Broadway production, somehow it is exciting, musical and dramatic, the rising up and lowering of the voice, punctuating each word, it made for good dinner theatre! The theatre as I knew it was an enclave of holy pictures, and statues, votive candles and more rosary beads than I can remember, spotted throughout the rooms and bedrooms, always a cause to pray for.
But eventually you got through your meal, having come for dinner, eating and smiling through the burps!