Good Neighbor Jim

The sort of meal Jim liked, The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island
The sort of lamb meal Jim liked, The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

I met Jim and Angie 23 years ago when I moved into our 1928 bungalow the week before Christmas, newly separated from my husband and two months pregnant.  My father had introduced me to Jim and Angie.  Within a short time, I loved them too.

Jim’s father Vic had started the family plumbing and heating business, and now Jim and three of his five sons ran the business.  They were master heating and plumbing specialists.  They had installed the gas-water heating system in our house.  More years down the road they installed a new compatible gas-water heating air conditioning system.  Getting rid of window air conditioning units proved a welcome relief. Throughout the years, Jim checked on our a/c, our boiler, and offered helpful advice on home maintenance.

Of German extraction, Jim had a dry, wry sense of humor that always brought a smile to my face.  He reflected a “calls ‘em as I sees ‘em” sort of attitude.  Throughout the seasons, Jim could be found hovering over his large gas grill.  He and his family remain the largest group of carnivores I know, and I say this most affectionately.  Nearly every Saturday night his five in-town children and their families would pull up in front of our houses for a family dinner.  This generally consisted of Jim’s grilled chicken, or pork, or sausage, or ribs, corn, Angie’s pasta and meatballs, a daughter-in-law’s salad, another’s homemade pies, and the sons’ drinks.  Invariably, Jim would hand us a plate of grilled meat and corn over the fence. His own recipe for barbecue was finger licking good, and I am not even a barbecue connoisseur.  We became excellent friends with his son Terry and his family.  My daughter and Terry’s daughter have been close pals almost since birth.  We have also shared many a birthday cake with Jim and Angie’s family.

What impressed me most these past years was Jim’s sense of family, which reminded me of my own.  He and Angie became like grandparents to my daughter.  Our families became intertwined throughout the years, and I reveled in having such tremendous neighbors of kindness, joy, and integrity.

In the past years, Jim had become increasingly hard of hearing, though I’m sure he wouldn’t admit it.  He persisted in climbing up a tall ladder to work on his second-story windows.  In fact, last week he had climbed up that ladder to paint cedar shingles white.  Some may have viewed him as irascible at age 82, but my perception was that he’s “got a lot of livin’ to do!”  He was always a man in a hurry, an active citizen, a tireless Catholic Church champion, and an inveterate golfer.

Last Sunday afternoon sirens shattered the Sunday serenity.  EMS and a firefighter truck pulled up.  Men hurriedly entered Jim and Angie’s house with a stretcher.

Jim died Wednesday night from a massive stroke.

We took the baked rigatoni, Chianti, and chocolate chip cookies we made to Angie this afternoon.

Jim’s champagne-colored sedan is still parked in front of the house, but it still feels like the world tilted

Ciao for now.

The Wedding, Part 4: Dance, Dance, Dance!

Lauren's bridal bouquet with my mother's cameo and her mother's wedding dress lace -
Lauren’s bridal bouquet with my mother’s cameo and her mother’s wedding dress lace –

 By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Indeed, my niece Lauren and her Romeo [Justin, actually] tied the knot on June 8, 2013 at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church.  Happy tears, smiles, and wishes for wedded bliss abounded after Father Mike pronounced them “man and wife”.  After the pews had emptied of wedding guests, the photographer herded us back to the front of the Sacristy for family photos with the newlyweds.  The wedding planner and the photographer shepherded the bride, the groom, the five bridesmaids, and the five groomsmen on to the wedding trolley for photo shoots all over downtown Indianapolis.

I returned to the hotel on another trolley.  As I entered The Conrad’s foyer, I spied my aunts, uncles, and some of my cousins placing drink orders with a server.  Hastily I placed an order for a ginger ale just to whet my whistle, for the temperature had reached eighty-one degrees accompanied by humidity.  Cocktails were to be served in the Rhythm Discovery Center, across the street from The Conrad.  It was a most fascinating venue of rhythm history with spontaneous rhythm performances and flashing lights, which jarred me out of any weariness I might have otherwise felt.  After drinking a Sprite, at least I think that’s what it was, I gathered my aunts, uncles, and cousins, and we walked to The Indianapolis Artsgarden [this is the correct spelling!] for the wedding reception.  It had been three hours since I had last seen the bridal party.  However, they emerged from their extensive photo shoot intact, hungry and thirsty.  After the speeches and toasts had been made, the 250+ guests settled into a delicious sit down dinner, followed by cake and coffee.

Several weeks prior to The Wedding, Lauren phoned and asked me if I would let her use my mother’s cameo on her bridal bouquet.  The florist assured her that if the cameo could not be fastened securely, it would not be used.  I thought about how much my mother had loved Lauren, how she would have embraced Lauren and her new husband, how touched she would have been that Lauren wanted to include this exquisite cameo in her bouquet on her Wedding Day. Of course, I said yes.  Actually, I was moved to tears by Lauren’s request, for my late father had purchased the cameo for my late mother on a momentous trip to Italy our family had taken when I was sixteen-years-old. We had visited a cameo fabbrica outside of Naples, on our way to Pompeii.  Mama had been enthralled by the craftsmanship. The cameo was a prized possession of Mama’s.

Then the dancing began en force.  The live band, Endless Summer Band never stopped for breaks, though they did rotate their musicians in and out throughout the night.  We all danced like possessed maniacs; the music was that good, that foot-stomping, that adrenaline throbbingly great!  I haven’t danced that much since my graduate school days in the early 1980’s.  While there was an open bar, I imbibed only the soft drinks before the reception, a glass of champagne, and half-a-glass of vino.  Throughout the night I kept hydrated by downing glasses of water.  I simply was having fun to the hilt on the dance floor with multiple dance partners to fuzzy it up with alcohol, though I would have loved a Cosmopolitan!

Finally, my daughter-the-bridesmaid and I retired for the night, past the time for the end of the reception, only because after four hours, my dancing feet were screaming for respite.  I forced myself to shower and wash my hair, thinking that would help me sleep.  Besides, we had to rise and shine on Sunday for the 10:00 a.m. family brunch at The Conrad.  I must confess, when my iPhone4 alarm sounded at 8:30 a.m., I wanted to pound it into silence since I was so comatose I couldn’t find the phone right away.  My contact lens held my eyes open for the brunch.  Last hugs, kisses, and smiles were offered among us, as we scattered our separate ways hither and yon with the memories of a fabulous Wedding Weekend.

Ciao for now.

The Wedding, Part 3: “Goin’ to the Chapel…”

Lauren's getting married -
Lauren’s getting married –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

The wake-up alarm sounded all too soon last Saturday morning.  Yet the day dawned with golden sunshine set in dazzling blue skies.  On the late night heels of the rehearsal dinner the night before, came this morning’s call for scheduled professional makeup and hair appointments in Broad Ripple.  It is a rare day indeed that I imbibe coffee but I felt I had better partake of potent caffeine.  I wanted to be cognizant when my niece exchanged wedding vows with her worthy groom.  Fortunately, friends of the bride’s mother had provided nutritious breakfast food to help us jump-start the long wedding day.

We all emerged from the salon airbrushed and glamorous.  After scrutinizing myself in the mirror, I contemplated how an airbrushing device might not be a bad investment since it could, like vintage wine, help me improve with age.  The bride was the belle of the salon, as she should have been, for my niece, a beautiful young woman by any standard, glowed with happiness in her enhanced airbrushed state.  The wedding planner hustled our entourage back to The Conrad in Indianapolis to change into our wedding finery.  My daughter donned her JCrew Newport Navy bridesmaid dress, nude patent leather shoes, jewelry, and stuffed salon lip-gloss, brush, compact, and tissues into her new ivory jeweled dress clutch.  Off she went to the suite where Lauren the Bride and the bridesmaids were gathering for photos.  Soon the bridal party would board the wedding trolley to Saint Mary’s Catholic Church for the 2:30 p.m. nuptials.  The professional photographer had been snapping photos at the salon, in the suite, in the classy foyer of The Conrad, and now of the bridal party on the wedding trolley.

Alone in our hotel room, I savored the silence as I carefully pulled the new black tea-length dress with side slits over my head.  I stepped into my stylish black leather shoes with the black patent trim.  The black and white lace jacket I put on added a dash of panache to my dress.  Lovingly, I placed my late mother’s double-strand of pearls around my neck.  How she and my father would have relished their eldest granddaughter’s special day. After placing my pearl earrings in my pierced ears, I put tissues, lip-gloss, and pressed powder into my black dress bag with the jeweled accoutrement [borrowed from Anjelica], t glanced in the mirror, said a prayer for this happiest of happy days, and descended in the elevator to catch the second wedding trolley bound for Saint Mary’s.

I took my place with family members near the front of the church.  Soon enough, the bridesmaids began their walk down the aisle.  When I saw my daughter, tears welled in my eyes, but a smile also took over, for it struck me forcibly that she was an elegant young woman, on the brink of graduate school, who could easily be making this same walk in the bridal gown within a few years.  And the enormity of it all took my breath away. Suddenly, the music change heralded the arrival of the bride and her father.  Lauren’s elegant gown, veil, flowers, joy, coupled with my brother’s dapper appearance in his tux and, gasp!, his well-polished black cowboy boots, made the tears appear again.  Had I not been so afraid of mascara running down my face, thereby ruining the airbrushing, and fearful that my makeup would not last the dinner and reception that night, made me take a series of deep breaths to regain my composure.  After all, I had to read the second Epistle!  As Aunt and Godmother to my dear Lauren, I had to pull myself together and rise to the occasion.  All of those years of musical performance provided a discipline that had taught me how to rise above emotions and focus completely on the task at hand.

The sheer beauty of Saint Mary’s was a magnificent setting for this splendid wedding.  Yet this was all secondary to what transpired there that day.  I had rehearsed reading Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, 12:3 -13:8a, the one where most people remember only the line, “Love is patient; Love is kind…” A dear friend, Sister Marie Morgan, of the Order of The Sisters of St. Francis, had sent me not only the text of the passage, but our Bishop’s commentary on its significance.  As I read and re-read Saint Paul’s words, I wanted to stress the significance of how Love transcends romantic emotion, how Love affects all relationships, “For without Love, we are nothing…without Love, we gain nothing…It [Love] bears al things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.”  So too is this my wish for my darling newlyweds, for my beloved daughter and nephew.

Ciao for now.

The Fish of Lent

By Mary Anna Violi |@Mary Anna Violi

fish & chips
fish & chips (Photo credit: David Ascher)


Friday night dinners in our household consisted primarily of fish.  Good practicing Roman Catholics my parents were, Fridays throughout Lent were peppered with hearty portions of dried cod, a’la` Calabria, with a generous portion of olive oil, onions, fresh lemons, a handful of fresh parsley, a hearty portion of potatoes, all covered with water.  Mama used to explain that to cook baccala, the aforementioned cod dish, “First, you soak the cod for a week, and then you cook the cod for a week, and then you throw it out!”

She had a point.  Dried cod smelled like a dead fish that had been floating on its side for an undetermined length of time.  I incurred Daddy’s icy stare whenever I held my nose to take a bite of this Southern Italian “delicacy”.  Baccala was, however, a most economical Lenten repast, for in those years, cod was cheap [before upper-middle-class folks decided fish was “hot” and meat was “not”]. Years later, I concocted a way of making baccala with fresh cod that tasted delicious and lacked the appalling bouquet of dried cod.  My parents were proud of my culinary baccala achievement.

We also feasted upon filleted blue gills, courtesy of relatives who liked ice fishing; tuna fish and noodles; tuna casserole; shrimp cocktail; and my brother’s favorite:  Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks.  If we were lucky enough to be served fish sticks on a Lenten Friday, that also meant made homemade French fries and another relative’s coleslaw recipe, which I could have dispensed with.  I enjoyed simply noshing on lemon-saturated fish sticks while chasing ketchup around my plate with chunky French fries.

I thought about those Lenten dinners of yore last Friday night as I prepared linguine with shrimp scampi for dinner.  Admittedly, I abstain from meat on most Fridays beyond Lent.  Fish and Fridays just go hand in hand in my Italian world.

Ciao for now.



Ash Wednesday Denial

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Stained glass angel church window -
Stained glass angel church window –










Ash Wednesday is the kick-off to the Lenten season in the Roman Catholic Church.  This year Ash Wednesday fell on February 13.  On Mardi Gras, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, I tried to muster up enthusiasm for a New York strip steak, or at least a cheeseburger, preferably from Five Guys.  However, on Mardi Gras, meat did little to entice my taste buds.  Ergo, I feasted instead on roasted garbanzo beans, couscous, and broccoli.

At the 12:05 p.m. Mass on Ash Wednesday, I was the Reader for the two Epistles [one from the Prophet Joel; the other from Book 2 of the Corinthians, for those reading this blog with an inquiring mind].  As I finished reading from the Corinthians, suddenly, a Five Guys juicy cheeseburger with sautéed onions and mushrooms blazed across my mind.  I tried to focus on Monsignor’s sermon about Lent not being necessarily about forsaking candy for 40 days, but about doing good deeds, a’ la` random acts of kindness.

While the advice was sound, I envisioned that charbroiled cheeseburger burning brightly before me on the marble altar railing.  “Sacriligious!”  I silently chastised myself to no avail.  “Focus! Focus!” I mutely yelled to myself.

Fasting in-between meals on Ash Wednesday and on the Fridays during Lent has not been historically troublesome for me.  In fact, fasting, instead of indulging in my daily grazing in-between meals, should decrease my waistline [which it usually does not].

My Lenten albatross remains abstinence from meat throughout the remaining Fridays of Lent.  It is ironic because I rarely think about or crave meat; salmon and bay scallops, yes, pasta with seafood, yes, but meat in and of itself, no.  I fear each Lenten Friday I will fixate on either a cheeseburger or a strip steak, which I do not crave on any other day during Lent, except for Ash Wednesday.

Sigh.  It is going to be a long 40 day-road to Easter Sunday.

Ciao for now.

Che sara`, sara`

Dining al fresco -
Dining al fresco –











When I was a young sprig, my parents were the harbingers our Italian community’s news.  They knew who was ailing, in the hospital, had died, was visiting from of town or country, or was traveling, to name areas that incited Italian interest.  My father, who owned his own shoe business, kept me abreast of these and other Italian news breaking events.   My mother, whose community service and Catholic Church work brought her in touch almost daily with cutting edge events, also kept me informed.   From my earliest years, whether or not I believed myself to have a vested interest in the day-to-day hot-off-the-press-informal-Italian-Gazette news flashes, I as made aware.

And then a funny thing happened:  As I matured, the elders in my family began to die off, like great Roman gods.  With my own mother’s death and my father’s increasing dementia, I became the point person for hot-off-the-wire family updates.  There was a problem with this role suddenly thrust upon me:  Not only was I working full-time, I was divorced and raising my daughter without any help, financial or otherwise, from my ex-husband, in addition to overseeing my father’s care.  On most days I functioned on autopilot.  The immediate needs of my child and my father were in the forefront, as they should have been. Well-intentioned family phoned me constantly in the evenings after I returned from work, and on the weekends.  Finally, I had Caller ID installed to screen calls as a survival mechanism.

As the months and years rolled by, it became more challenging to know what was going on among Italian families, beyond my own, for my friends were also experiencing the deaths of their Italian shamans.  My full-time working friends became increasingly engaged in elder care while attempting to juggle complex lives.  We all coped, not always in exemplary fashion, but always honoring our parents, keeping them at the forefront of our efforts as we also attended to our children.

A dear cousin of my father’s died last Saturday.  His funeral was held on Ash Wednesday, an odd day for a funeral among Roman Catholics.  I did not even know of his death until late Wednesday afternoon.  I grieved alone, for not one of my local relatives called to notify me prior to our cousin’s funeral.  What I used to jokingly refer to as “The Italian Twilight Bark” has perished.  Yet I prefer to contemplate our late cousin dining sumptuously above with my parents on a hearty repast of Italian food.

Ciao for now.

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi