P.C.Pop with Pablo

Mia Famiglia

In Family, Food, Italian, Malavenda, Pablo Malavenda, parenting, Summer for Renewal, Tradition, Uncategorized on July 26, 2012 at 3:44 pm

What I did on My Summer Vacation: Rediscovered My Family through Food, Kids and Tattoos


The family was an art…and the dinner table was the place it found expression. 

Don DeLillo, Underworld


Coco

Coco

This summer we drove 850 miles to be with our family in the homestead. My childhood home was the center of our family gatherings and holidays for many years. Now it is just my mom and her dog, Coco. Although I have kids of my own now and everyone is 30 years older; we were able to recapture the magic of our weekly Sunday family get-togethers again.

From the turn of the century through 1935, many Italians migrated to the United States of America — including my family. On my father’s side, my grandfather and grandmother’s parents were born in Italy. On my mother’s side, all of my great-grandparents were born in Italy. Although my father only had one brother,  my mother’s family was quite large. I grew up attending weekly Sunday family gatherings and became very close with my aunts (not pronounced “ant”), uncles and cousins. We met every Sunday at my maternal grandparents with the rest of the clan numbering 15-20 relatives. When my grandfather passed away, my mother, the eldest of her siblings, was asked by my grandmother to host the weekly get-together. It made sense because we had a home with a large backyard, in-ground pool, and enough room to seat everyone (albeit tight) for dinner. So, in the early-1970’s, my family began hosting. Like many family traditions, we were going strong until the kids started growing up and eventually having their own kids, families, in-laws, other cousins, etc.

On a recent visit to the family homestead (we now live 850 miles away), we were able to re-create the magic of those American-Italian family gatherings — and it sort of happened spontaneously. We let everyone know we were coming in advance, and many family members generously shared their days-0ff and vacation days with us. Family was coming together like old times. It was a welcome and wonderful treat. We caught up on everything going on with everyone, but honestly we spent most of our time reminiscing about old times. One surprise was how many of my family had tattoos. My sister, her son/my nephew and two of my first cousins had tattoos. Perhaps I noticed them this visit is because it was summer, and we were swimming and at the beach. It struck me that all of the tattoos had something to do with family. My sister has a tattoo of my nephew as an infant and another memorializing my father. My female first cousin had, in script, on her foot, perfectly aligned with the curve of her left flip-flop, simply, “la famaglia.” I thought nothing of it at the time — I was just surprise that they all had tattoos.

Part of the fun was also telling our family stories to the newest generation, aged 4 to 14. It was wonderful how curious the kids were, and amazing how vivid and similar all of our stories were. We also were fortunate enough to hear stories from a few of our great aunts two of whom are 90 and 92 year old sisters. What a hoot. Our shared experiences brought us closer and closer as a family in just a few short hours. As a family we have been lucky. Yes, we have had our losses, our tragedies, but all in all, we had a closeness that others have envied. over the years, we have also created  many traditions that focus on family and also honor our heritage. The constant with any gathering, holiday or family tradition was the FOOD. Preparing a meal together and eating as one big family as always been central to all of our get-togethers. And if your birthday fell the week of the Sunday family gathering, there was a home-baked cake in your honor. Birthdays were about family. Today we plan our kids’ birthdays  at the movie theater, nail salon, country-club pool — with lots of their friends. My birthdays through the years were with family — and I loved it. On this visit we even had an old fashioned birthday celebration for my son (see photo above).


So here’s the story we told our kids recently. The meal for Sundays was always the same. Homemade marinara sauce (not gravy), homemade meatballs, Italian sausage, and pasta (which we called macaroni). Typically the pasta was rigatoni but occasionally we would get crazy and have penne or ziti — but never spaghetti. My mother (my grandfather pre-early-1970’s) would get up at 5 a.m. to begin making the sauce and meatballs because the sauce needed to simmer for 4-6 hours. A big tossed salad was also a part of the meal prepared with olive oil and red wine vinegar and various Italian herbs. Whoever was closest to the Italian bakery was responsible for bringing the Italian bread. It is a meal to die for. An old fashion Italian feast.

The family would begin arriving at 11 a.m. and munch on whatever antipasto that was prepared or carried-in. Swimming began right away and the ball game of the day was put on the TV downstairs (usually either New York Giants or Yankees, depending on the season). Vegetables for the salad were prepared by 1 p.m.; at 1 p.m. meatballs were put in the sauce to simmer for an hour; at 1:15 p.m. the water was put on the stove to boil; and once this enourmous pot of water was at a raging boil, 4-5 pounds of pasta were dumped in to cook. Then the kitchen was cleaned, the Italian bread was cut and buttered, the salad was dressed and tossed, and the sinked was scoured in preparation for draining the (al dente) pasta. Around 2 p.m., my mother would be making plates for everyone and we would eat. She knew exactly what everyone wanted whether it was both meatball and sausage, no meat, extra sauce, light on sauce, etc. For a few minutes it was chaotic until everyone was seated and eating.  Once everyone finished grabbing bread, adding parmesan cheese and/or hot crushed red pepper, it was silent, for a moment, for the first time all day. Once everyone finished their pasta, the salad was served typically in your pasta plate. One or two ate their salad with their pasta but most ate their salad after their meal. (Italians believe it helps settle your stomach after a big meal.)

After Sunday dinner, there was more swimming and potentially a softball game in the front yard. When the sun started to go down, we would go indoors and play Setback (cards) or backgammon. My maternal grandmother was very serious about her card game. Usually by this time everyone would begin getting hungry again, and we would started making sandwiches.  If there was a birthday or anniversary to celebrate this was also the time to bring out the cake and coffee.  Speaking of coffee, there was hot coffee available all day and all night long.


During our recent Summer visit, once the meal was served, all of our wonderful memories of our family through the years came flooding back. The special Italian feast is the one thing that we share as a family.  My maternal grandfather would tell you that at the turn of the century, Italian immigrants had to be frugal.  The food we ate was the food of the peasant in Italy. It was absurd to even think of going out to eat for Italian food. First, we made the food better, more authentic with fresh ingredients; second, our grandparents and parents refused to pay for a meal that they could make for pennies.  We also never used “jarred” sauce. To this day, I feel funny about going out for Italian food or buying sauce in a jar. Not only do I have family memories about food but also specific foods for specific holidays, events, and seasons. Some of these food memories are as follows: chili dogs and homemade ice cream on July 4th; stuffed breads, baked ziti, and lasagna for special occasions like showers, bachelor parties, Christenings; fried dough with powdered sugar for holiday breakfasts; for events that need really special desserts – cannoli, rum cream cake,  pasticiotti, New York cheesecake; for family events like birthday parties – homemade pizza; for special Sunday gatherings – gnocchi or cavatelli; linguine with clam sauce on Christmas Eve; lentil soup on New Year’s Eve; and pasta e fagioli, for some reason, I remember it as the perfect food for the reception after funerals.


If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.

Bernard Shaw, preface, Immaturity


We are all getting older and wiser, and during this visit we all realized that nothing is more important than family. No matter what drama we have dealt with in the past and regardless of what issues we are dealing with today, family members love you and accept you and make it right. As a family we are not perfect, but this recent visit was filled with so many wonderful memories. More importantly we have shared our stories, history and traditions with a new generation. We laughed loudly, we hugged, we danced, we swam, we took lots of pictures, we chill-axed, we ate. Our Family connections are stronger than ever. We were able to be ourselves, we were comfortable and content, and it was easy and natural. This is the beginning of a new era. And we are committed to keeping this family together and continuing to create new memories while honoring our Italian and American heritage and our established traditions.

And I can’t help but thing of those TATTOOS — especially “la famiglia.” How profound, yet simple – and perhaps this one word, in Italian, was inscribed permanently on my cousin’s foot not by accident but rather with focused intention. I am convinced in our own silent ways, we all wanted this; and we made it happen. Thank God.


Benedici la Mia Famiglia!


This PC Pop Blog post is a part of a series called the Summer for Renewal. Read the other Summer for Renewal posts too.  They are as follows:


 

Read more stories about growing up in my family and our traditions, check out these PC Pop posts:


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  1. Love it!! It was a great trip that I will remember for a long time…thanks for writing about it :0)

  2. Don’t forget about the raisin meatballs. Your mom knew everyone who liked them and who didn’t and would ensure that she kept them seperate from the real meatballs. Great memories.

  3. Great story !

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