Getting Together

My nephew Daniel with Cousin Marianne at our July family celebration
My nephew Daniel with Cousin Marianne at our July family celebration

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

   Tonight I had the good fortune of dining with my cousins.  The special occasion was a visit from Cousin Marianne’s sister-in-law, Mary Kay, from the Dallas, Texas environs.  Mary Kay’s husband, Cousin Tony remained behind in humid Texas [our Violi men traditionally dislike travel that takes them far from their homesteads].  Cousin Marianne’s sister Rita, her brother Donnie, his wife Jennifer, Marianne and husband Steve, and their daughter Chrissie were there too.  Having arrived 50 minutes late, due to a previous social engagement, I found I had just missed Zio Saverio and our Cousin Ned.  Our local Cousin Tony had to relinquish our company for football practice with the hometown Catholic team he’s coached for the past 20+ years.  The rest of us managed to make a spirited, noisy band of cousins. 

   Not only was the camaraderie exemplary, the food tasted mighty fine.  When I had the Violi Clan over in July, I served up baked rigatoni.  Cousin Marianne also makes a mean baked rigatoni.  Truth be known, we all love that rigatoni and ate it tonight con brio.  We can always count on heaps of Italian food, beverages, and family when we gather.  In the greater scheme of things, these are good to anticipate.

Cousins Tony, my brother Frank, Cousins Steve, Rita, and Zio Saverio at our Juy
Cousins Tony, my brother Frank, Cousins Steve, Rita, and Zio Saverio at our July

   No matter how much time has elapsed between our coming together en masse, we always pick up where we left off.  That is how comfortable we all are with one another; that is how long we have known one another.  Cousin Rita and I are the same age.  We grew up playing with our Barbie dolls together.  Our fathers were brothers, along with local Cousin Tony’s father. Our families met regularly and lived only a few blocks apart. While Zio Saverio is the lone living member of the original three Violi Brothers, I am grateful to have my cousins in my life.  They enrich my life immeasurably.

   Ciao for now.



Missing Mama

"Kitty" Violi in the middle, with her sisters Adelaide [left] and Agnes [right] circa 1943-
“Kitty” Violi in the middle, with her sisters Adelaide [left] and Agnes [right] circa 1943-
By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Eleven years ago today, June 20, 2002, my mother, Anna Catherine “Kitty” Violi, died.

She had complained of chronic weariness for some months.  As the sister to three IU Medical School graduates who had done their Residency at the Mayo Clinic, Mama was careful to follow the proverbial “doctor’s orders.”  She had regular checkup. Each morning she took her high blood pressure medication, thyroid medication, acid reflux medication,  multiple vitamin, and baby aspirin.  She ate healthy, as most Italians do, with little meat, lots of shade and dark leafy green vegetables, fish, fruit, and little processed food.  Mama also walked her neighborhood nearly every day. Granted Mama was 87, but she looked more like a 70-something with lovely, unlined skin, clear blue eyes, and silvery gray hair.

I loved her dearly.  She was my  mother, best friend, confidant, oracle, anchor, source of family lore, the dearest grandmother to my daughter, the lynchpin of our family.  Her laughter, sense of fun, delight in family and friends, merriment in the sheer joy of life infused those around her with added spirit.  An outstanding cook whose interest in new recipes piqued her interest throughout her life, we ate with brio at her table.

Emblazoned upon my memory is the warmth of her smile, the lilt of her voice, our daily kisses of adieu, of telling one another, “I love you.”  After eleven years, one would think the memories would fade, the sound of her voice would dim.  That has not, however, been the case.  She made me a better person, even after her death.  I strive to recall her feisty spirit, how she faced challenges head on.  I try to emulate her compassion, her kindness, her celebration of family.  Several years after my daughter Anjelica was born, I told Mama I had come to the realization that a great part of being a good parent is getting over oneself.  I said that while having a child was a humbling experience, it was also the most rewarding, how this toddler had enriched my live beyond measure.  Mama smiled, nodded her head, and whispered, “Yes.  Exactly,”  and she gave me a hug.  We both understood I had finally  grown up myself, finally, in my mid-30’s.

The 2002 Father’s Day weekend stroke that rendered her silent was deafening when her flame passed 72 hours later.

I miss her hugs, yet she is present everyday in my heart, and that makes me smile.

Ciao for now.

My Alma Mater, Part IV

The Oliver Winery, 1970's photo displayed in the Wine Tasting Room -
The Oliver Winery, 1970’s photo displayed in the Wine Tasting Room –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

As an IU college student in the 1970’s, I managed to attend classes and learned to cherish life in colorful Bloomington.  As I trekked to Ballantine Hall for my English literature classes, I was forced to tread lightly in my 3-inch wedge sandals worn with a maxi-dress.  My long hair was a halo of frizz since I braided my wet hair immediately after towel-drying it.  It was the ‘70’s; most of us had long hair parted down the middle, a’la British pop groups.

In 1972 buzz circulated about a new winery located 20 minutes outside of Bloomington.  A Professor of Law, Bill Oliver was the force behind a Heartland vineyard.  As the daughter of an Italian wine-maker, my curiosity led me to the Oliver Winery.  A  nondescript building, scrubby vegetation, a trio of stoned students banging on tambourine, small drum, and finger cymbals greeted visitors.  On the other side, I noted a petite vineyard, the first I had ever seen in The Heartland.  Friendly voices called us over to an enormous wooden vat.  Hippies ladled some kind of “wine” that I had never seen nor smelled before called Camelot Mead into plastic cups.  I took a swig and nearly choked.  After drinking the full-bodied, dry Italian red vino my father made, this brew was enough to choke an Italian horse.

“First time drinking Mead?” the hippie with a ladle asked me.

“[Cough, cough, cough, choke] Yes,” I spluttered, “and possibly the last.”

She laughed and ladled up some more of the brew into the cups of unsuspecting others.

I didn’t drink a drop of Oliver Wine until the late 1990’s when I was at IU Bloomington on business.  A wine-tasting evening at the Oliver Winery had been organized.  I begged off from the sunset field trip.

“C’mon,” the event planner argued.  “The Oliver Winery has undergone a metamorphosis since the ‘70’s.  Check it out.”

In front of the Oliver Winery -
Anjelica in front of the Oliver Winery –

I succumbed.  To say that the winery had changed was an understatement:  I didn’t even recognize it.  The evolved Oliver Winery now not only housed a classy wine bar inside a beautiful structure, it also offered an extensive selection of wines, along with its Camelot Mead.   I tried envisioning Beowulf and his entourage feasting, wenching, and pouring mead into their gullet, but even this literary allusion failed to overcome my dislike of honey mead.   When I asked the sommelier for the driest of the red wines, I purchased a bottle for my parents.  The following Sunday, my parents concurred that this wine smacked of an after dinner one.

On Mom’s Weekend in April 20, 2013, my daughter signed us up for her sorority’s wine tasting event at the Oliver Winery.  Anjelica prefers the mildness of the Oliver Wines. The Creekbend Vineyard Chambourcin 2012 tasted so good that I purchased several bottles at the winery, along with a bottle of Sangria for fun. But not the honey mead.  I’ll take my wine and my honey separately.  Salute!

Ciao for now.

Dreaming of Dayton, Part III


Fellini and Coco Chanel are dreaming of their two Persian cat cousins in Dayton -
Fellini and Coco Chanel are dreaming of their two Persian cat cousins in Dayton –


By Mary Anna Violi | @ Mary Anna Violi

I have two cousins in Dayton, Ohio whom I have known since they were babes in arms:  Ann Marie and Jimmy, though in their professional lives they now go by Ann and Jim.  They are both younger than I, but I adore them.  Ann is an accomplished, experienced social worker; Jim is a savvy, personable businessman.  No matter if several months or a year passes, the three of us always are able to pick up where we left off.  Our cousinship is seamless and strong.

Much of this strength I attribute to my mother, Catherine “Kitty”, to their mother, my Aunt Agnes, and to our Aunt Adelaide, the three sisters.  Those sisters were a close-knit trio, in spite of the geographical distances that separated them in their married lives.  Our three families visited over spring breaks, Easter, summer vacations, Christmas, and family milestone events such as baptisms, First Communions, anniversaries, and any other reason to gather and celebrate together.  Cousin bonds were forged during   childhood, nurtured throughout adolescence, and now into adulthood.   What is additionally gratifying is that we engage in the same family practices with our own children.  Our children know their second cousins and I must admit, it is most gratifying to observe this delightful next generation.

Dayton is a beautiful, tree-laden city with fine architecture, hilly residential areas, a winding river, universities and colleges, delectable eateries, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and excellent shopping venues. As a child, I loved Dayton and Kettering, where Aunt Agnes and my late Uncle Joe first lived.  With the wind in my sails from this most recent visit to Dayton, I am once again reminded of how dear my aunt’s family is to me.  How exquisite it is that my daughter feels likewise about her aunt and cousins.

Ciao for now.


Viva Las Vegas, Part II: Parla italiano!

Fountains show at Bellagio, Las Vegas
Fountains show at Bellagio, Las Vegas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After some days of hearing languages from around the world spoken at The Bellagio, I decided to speak only Italian.   This drove my daughter somewhat mad, but I explained to her that “Questa `e un’opportunita a parlare la lingua!”

She failed to see it my way.  She simply thought I was being “weird and annoying”.  However, my use of Italian in the Bellagio Art Museum only enhanced the artistic experience, at least from my perspective.

“Mama, people think I’m a mute because you are doing all the talking,” she complained.

“Parla italiano, cara mia.  La lingua `e bellissima!” I replied.

She likened my exclusive use of Italian to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.   She was making literary allusions, I observed.

While dining at Circo’s that night at The Bellagio, we were treated to a window seat by The Fountains.  In the midst of describing my delight at the wonders of the “cena deliziosa” at Circo’s, she snapped.

“Mama, I’m begging you:  Speak English.  I can’t keep up with the Italian.  You know I haven’t spoken it for months.  Per favore?”

“Va bene, cara mia.  Parliamo inglesi stasera.”

“Mama, hai parlato italiano ancora.”

I smiled.  “Certo!  E tu hai parlato italiano adesso.  Ecco il tiramisu!

“Mangia!” said Anjelica as she picked up her spoon and dove into the tiramisu.

My strategy had worked:  She was speaking Italian again.  Outstanding Italian food has that effect on our linguistic abilities.  To further sweeten the language deal, we went to see the new Woody Allen movie, To Rome With Love.  Che bella in its use of subtitles.

Ciao for now.

Italian Language Workshop
Italian Language Workshop (Photo credit: Context Travel)