Entering a holiday season as we do today, I can’t help but reflect on all those who have passed. They were important to the holiday spirit, they taught us how to celebrate, what to celebrate and why their spirit still does. We can pass the lessons and traditions down, but without them, we know we are not doing it perfectly. Somehow it’s not the same!
Was it Mom’s gentle kiss, or Grandma’s smooch that we can best recall? Was it an Aunt Tessie that bit your cheek or Aunt Angie that stuffed your pockets with money or candy, a finger to her lips admonishing you not to tell.
Was it Uncle Joe who teased you when he caught you and locked you in between his ankles as you struggled to get out, or was Uncle Frank with his pipe and thoughtful demeanor that you best remember?
Recalling Grandma’s giant kitchen, the arrival of cousins, the pasta pot smoking away as the steam rose to the ceiling, the Italian conversation as vivid as that in English, the laughter, oh the laughter, persistent, hearty and full. I can still see Grandpa with his jugs of wine, grandma’s orders as she captained the family gathering orchestrating the preparation of the meal. He baton, a wooden spoon.
I even remember once viewing grandma’s wooden spoon and wondered if it hurt like Mom’s did, a curious curiosity.
Thanksgiving was an Italian holiday in Grandma’s house. The tradition was a pasta lead followed by your Sunday courses and somewhere in between a turkey was slipped in, just to make the American in us happy. Grandma was not a turkey fan, she would rather have capon, so every year it was capon and turkey. She would put out the capon, and everyone would say at least once: “Grandma doesn’t like turkey, she eats capon!”
We all forgave of her un-American activity (eating capon) because she was so amazing. This little Italian lady ran a successful business and housing empire, owning a restaurant and vegetable and fruit store while running numerous apartment buildings on very little English.
Her kitchen was a meeting place for the appreciative and the desperate. Grandma was a sponsor for so many people that came to America from Italy, and a much-needed friend who had financial troubles or wanting advice about issues beyond their comprehension.
As I survey the scene today I notice I stand alone with these memories. They are all gone, all to hopefully a better place, home. Their laughter, their accents, their homey touch of love with gestures, so clear that you knew it was the universal language in a universe small in comparison beyond the walls of her kitchen.
I guess I am lucky that I lived when I did. I experienced the last of the Italian/American spirit. You sat with them and ate, and everything else followed. The hand gestures spoke volumes when it came to understanding, the joy of hearing them speak in both their native and adoptive tongues, their pinching of a cheek, waving their hands in a prayerful manner, their perpetual smile that said: “Ti amo!” And we knew it.
Someday, we too will go home. We will leave some kind of memory to our offspring and the generations to follow. I don’t know what the legacy will read, but I do hope that it is something about us that will warm a heart of two.