I got an early start this morning with my day of cooking. I got my pasta sauce (from scratch) going that will cook for several hours. We are hosting the birthday party sleep-over at the Addams-Melman House tonight for one of our local friends who is turning 15. She's having a bunch of friends over for dinner and slumber party. She requested my spaghetti so I decided to make enough sauce that I can freeze. It's always good to have some sauce in the freezer.
While cooking I've been listening to a CD of Italian music that a friend made for my 60th birthday party. I listen to it often when I cook. It reminds me of the early years when my Italian mother used to sing all the time when she was cooking - particularly to Mario Lanza records. As the years rolled by she sang less and less until she pretty much stopped. I'm trying to reverse that trend in my life.
My grandmother was born with polio and lived in a nunnery in Italy for many of her young years. She was a bit of a religious zealot who used to throw shoes at us from her wheelchair. It felt like she got more bitter as she got older. When I was around 14 my grandfather gave me a bag of hand sewn Yarmulkes and told me "these have been in the family for generations. I want you to have them." No other word was said.....no one wanted to talk about how my grandfather Vincent's family had dropped their Jewish identify and culture to become Northern Baptists. He was an ambitious immigrant.
My grandfather would cook on Sundays, rigatoni with meatballs or sausage or chicken or beef ... and always a wonderful small soup to start.....and the kids all drank wine (mixed half-and-half with water) that Vincent made from the grapes in his garden in Shelton, Connecticut. We'd visit this big house on the hill between our military moves. Angela was the Italian immigrant maid that worked at the house for years. I loved her the most because she was kind and the most authentic.
My mother and her sister and two brothers were taught at school the American dream - make money, leave home, become a city slicker, cut loose and fancy free...and consume. Then at home they were taught the culture of La Famiglia, deep sense of responsibility and reverence for the elders, frugality, the old ways. Conflict arose between the immigrant parents and the young first-generation Italian-Americans that was my mother's group. They questioned but had no clue where they were going. They had a hard time deciding which was their true identity, their "new American" identity, so they become extremely neurotic. Then as parents these 1st generation folks had a hard time telling their own kids (my generation) what was real and what was not.
While taking a sociology class in college I ran into a book called "Blood of My Blood: The Dilemma of the Italian Americans," by Richard Gambino. He taught college and was astounded at how many of his Italian-American students had no sense of grounding - they were at times adrift in this culture because of the disconnection from their traditions. This book helped liberate me in many ways as I stumbled through my own neurosis that has often engulfed me but the story helped me see the bigger picture so I could fit the pieces of my family puzzle together. I had to find my own mind and place in the world. In our family time no one talked about anything real - the real world was not either known or allowed to be discussed.
I always think of the immigrants today....they bring the good from the old world with them and the dominant American culture either rejects or absorbs some of these new gifts - but those who immediately suffer from the great loss of the goodness from the old ways are stunned by the experience. I feel for them all the time.