For Maureen

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

            I still cannot believe we will never have our two-hour phone conversations, or laugh and enjoy ourselves with her parents, my aunt and uncle, over delicious entrees at Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano. It had become our custom to get together days after Christmas, to continue our holiday cheer with our families.

            Maureen and I were first cousins. Her father was the youngest in a family of nine; my mother was the third eldest in that same family. My mother loved all of her brothers and sisters; we visited back and forth with eight of her siblings often, even when Maureen’s family moved to Germany with the Army for some years. Her father was a radiologist, and the military had funded his medical schooling at Indiana University. After his military medical service was up, he moved his family to Fort Wayne, about 75 miles from his hometown. The close proximity meant our families interacted frequently, especially when my grandparents were still alive.

            Some of my fondest recollections are of Maureen and me riding her horse up and down the hills of her family’s subdivision. To say the lovely horse left hoof prints up and down the grassy knolls of neighbors’ well-manicured lawns would be an understatement. While there was hell to pay later, Maureen and I whooped it up riding all over the forest-like area as we encouraged the horse to go faster. We screamed and laughed and felt as carefree as could be. Free from the yolk of adults, we were masters of our hours of freedom with the horse! The horse had too good a nature to throw us off, but I am sure he neighed sighs of relief when we returned him to the barn, brushed him down, fed him, and gave him cool water to drink, and left the stable.

            Aside from our questionable equestrian fun, Maureen and I shared a love of classical music. Her mother sang beautifully, so Maureen’s musical gifts were easy to track. In fact, her brothers and sisters were equally gifted in music, languages, humor, and all round good times. I loved the energy in their family home, the laughter, and the food; especially that Italian torte a patient of my uncle’s gifted them each year!

            I shall miss my conversations with Maureen about films, books, food, and art. She urged me to get back in saddle, so to speak, and finish writing my novels, to pursue my online business plan, and to get back to the Catholic Church. She was aware of my on again, off again relationship with Catholicism. Knowing how much she treasured her own renewed relationship with God and with Catholicism, I’m working my way back to it again. I swear she is still nudging me along, like the cheerleader she always has been for me. I take heart in knowing she loved my cheering her on with her eclectic paintings and writing gifts. 

            Perhaps Maureen isn’t that far away after all. Every time I think of her, I smile and feel better about life in general. We both despaired of the tragedy of the Syrian people, and of those detained at the Mexican border. We cried out for humanity to step up and overcome xenophobia and racism. Maureen and I both prayed hard for justice for the oppressed. We wanted to believe our prayers didn’t fall upon deaf ears.

            I will keep on praying and continue to offer up prayers for Maureen’s peace and that of my aunt, uncle, and cousins’. It’s the least I can do to carry on Maureen’s legacy of goodness and kindness and joy. My love for Maureen and those she left behind is boundless.

            Ciao for now.

            Mary Anna

Thanksgiving Day

Imagine all the potential pumpkin pies! – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

As we near the end of November, we turn our attention to that laudable holiday: Thanksgiving. In the spirit of breaking bread, or Parker House Rolls, we sit down at the table laden with roasted turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, creamed corn, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, pumpkin, or pecan pie, or apple pie, or my homemade coconut cream pie. We toast with wine to get the family and friend meal underway. The eating then commences amid the clatter of plates and the cheerful chatter of goodwill.

Small wonder we reach for an anti-acid after pushing away our chairs from the table.

I have read several articles in the past week or so about how to avoid conflict over the Thanksgiving meal. This has to do with inquisitive relatives hitting upon flashpoints of personal matters such as Why aren’t you pregnant? You’ve been married nearly two years! Don’t you want to take off that extra weight? You’d look so much prettier! What made you retire at 64? You could go until 70 or at least 67! Why did you go back to work? You retired! You must have been bored! Don’t you want to get married again? You could have companionship and even sex [wink, wink]! Have you found a boyfriend yet? Childbearing years have an expiration, you know. Finally, there is the dreaded political and sexual harassment and/or rape discussion. I am not even going to dignify this blog post with the degenerative and outrageous behavior that is bringing this year to a close, God help us.

I have told myself that all those who make whatever inquiries mean well, that they are attempting conversation, and that they are trying to find some sort of common ground in which to engage in dialogue. In the end, I cannot fault them for their efforts.

Instead of Making Turkey, They Make Reservations, Pete Wells of the New York Times explores why families often opt to dine out on Thanksgiving Day. The reasons run the gamut from not having yet made friends in a new town, to avoiding explosive dinner conversation with families, to wanting to simplify Thanksgiving and letting chefs create the dinner and leave the staff to do the cleanup. My family once dined out on Thanksgiving. We had a delicious meal at a cozy corner table in a fine restaurant where my then-toddler daughter could play with her non-noisy toys without getting in the way of the servers or other patrons. While we pronounced it a success, we lamented the lack of leftovers. The following Thanksgiving saw us at home collaboratively preparing the feast, setting the table with one of my Italian linen tablecloths made by my aunts in Italy, using the “good china”, and wine glasses from the cabinet. All felt and tasted right again with the world.

My darling parents have since passed away, and close family member have either relocated to the coast, or share holidays with in-laws. We now dine with dear friends who honor their Italian and French heritages, as we do our Italian lineage. We have a common bond in that we are also rampant foodies, literary aficionados, and we relish conversation encompassing wit, humor, and insight. Thanksgiving is the holiday where we friends can come together. While we wish we could meet more often, our lives are filled with work, visiting our children in other cities, and attending to elderly family members. We are close friends who function like family, and we cherish this bond. My dear family extend heartfelt invitations for us to join them for Thanksgiving, and I am most grateful, while I hold dear sitting down with them in the past.

I take heart in the mirth and joy of Thanksgiving, whether we partake of the meal with family or with friends. Let us advocate to give thanks for family and friends, and let us raise our glasses to honor the blessings derived from delicious food and the company of those we love.

Ciao for now.

 

 

Houston, Part 1

 

 

Bouquet of fresh flowers for the wedding ceremony.

The bride’s colors were purple and light pink. Her dress had long lace sleeves, a v-neck, and layers of sheer white, and a cathedral length veil that flowed like a poem. The bridesmaids wore long gowns with purple sequins on the top, and layers of sheer lavender organza on the bottom. The groom looked dashing in a charcoal gray tux and vest with a pink bow tie. His groomsmen were decked out in purple ties with matching vests under their gray tuxes.

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

We spent a memorable week in Houston with dear friends Juliet and Mark. We celebrated their daughter Ann’s wedding with their family. I rejoiced in returning to a city and friends who are like family to me. The rehearsal dinner proved lively and tasty with chicken and shrimp as the main events. The next day, the bride was stunning and the groom handsome, the service sweet, and the reception rollicking, in the best of Texas traditions! The weather smiled upon the bridal party and the rest of us, with blue skies, sunshine, and 80-degree weather. We had shaken off the cold, dreary, grey northern Indiana skies the minute we landed in Houston. We readily embraced all that Texas sunshine!

We spent an afternoon several days prior to the wedding, placing white linens on the reception’s 28 tables in the Clear Lake Methodist Church’s Hall. We then arranged the silky purple and pink runners over each round table. The soon-to-be bride and groom spend copious amounts of their free time playing games with their friends. Board games, card games, bingo, word games, you name it, the couple and their friends play it. Therefore, in lieu of traditional floral arrangements, games were the name of the centerpieces! We arranged large and small die that Juliet had hand-painted and decorated, and assorted games on the center of each table. Sheets of Wedding Bingo and word games were handed out after the Wedding Luncheon.

Saturday morning arrived and wedding verve permeated the air. At 11:30 a.m., classically trained musicians began a 30-minute concert of sumptuous music. Thereafter, Miss Patsy, the grandmother of the bride, Juliet, the mother of the bride, and the mother of the groom were escorted and seated. The groom and his groomsmen assumed their positions, the bridesmaids, and matron of honor Janelle processed into the church. The flower girl and ring bearer played their parts without a wrinkle. The music then swelled, as Mark proudly walked his daughter Ann down the aisle. The minister has known Ann for years; he gave a fine sermon about marriage and commitment. When he pronounced them man and wife, and said to Karl, “You may kiss the bride,” Karl gave Ann a Hollywood kiss! I was proud of them, for I had suggested such a kiss several nights before the wedding as they were practicing the kiss at Ann’s family home. Whether he remembered my suggestion, or they Googled “wedding kisses”, the kiss sealed the deal.

The pork loin tasted moist and delicious, as did the side dishes at the luncheon. In high spirits we participated in the games, noshed at the Sweet and Salty snacks table, and danced to contemporary tunes the DJ spun. I conversed with old friends and met knew people at this joyous wedding reception. Later, we lined up outside and blew little bubbles with pink wands and cheered as Karl carried Ann to his big, shiny, white truck. Their faces wreathed in smiles, the newlyweds set off on a two-week honeymoon amid heartfelt wishes for a long, happy life together.

Ciao for now.

All Hail Aunt Agnes!

IMG_5327

The photo is of a floral arrangement from Aunt Agnes’ birthday party. Her daughter Ann Marie made the tabletop arrangements. She kindly gave me one of them. One of our cats decided to re-arrange the flowers one night. I tried to put them back together, alas , with less baby’s breath, thanks to the feline attack. – tangledpasta.net

Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

This past weekend the maternal side of my family celebrated my beloved Aunt Agnes’ 90th birthday. Her children planned a festive party in Kettering, Ohio, which did not disappoint. The birthday resulted in a fun-filled family reunion!

My mother and her two sisters, Agnes and Adelaide, remained close as close could be throughout their lives, in spite of any geographical distance between them. When my mother worked in Washington, D.C., the three sisters penned letters back and forth. When Aunt Adelaide and her family moved to the Detroit area, numerous trips back and forth ensued among the sisters. Aunt Agnes lived for some years in Philadelphia, and then later in Kettering and in Dayton, Ohio. Never did the letters writing and drive trips cease.

The sisters and their families convened for summer vacations at the family cottage the three sisters jointly owned on Eagle Lake in Michigan. Those riotous summer days remain emblazoned in my memory. The three sisters could have been chefs at uptown restaurants such amazing cooks they were. When Aunt Agnes obtained her degree in Home Economics from the University of Dayton, her two sisters affectionately dubbed her “The Home Economist”. We clamored for her recipes, too, for she knew her way around a kitchen. Aunt Agnes is also beautiful: with killer blue eyes she is stylish, smart, funny, and kind. Her sisters told me she was always the Belle of the Ball. I doubt it not. She has kept me in thrall of her talents, and of her unique take on life.

What I cherish most about my darling Aunt Agnes is her kind, sweet nature. Yet make no mistake: she is a velvet hammer. Passionate about her beliefs, causes, ideals, and family, she puts forth sound arguments and logic. As the eighth of nine children, she learned early on how to hold her own with her brothers, and with my mother, Kitty (Catherine) who had twelve years on her youngest sister. Aunt Adelaide, my Godmother, is seven-and-a-half years older than Aunt Agnes. She too delighted in this family event for her younger sister. Uncle Jim, the youngest of the brothers and sisters, had a grand time and beamed his dazzling smile throughout the party. Older brother, Uncle Barney, was forced to miss his kid sister’s 90th due to his sudden hospitalization (he is now fine). Out of the original nine, live these four fabulous aunts and uncles of mine at ages 97, 95, 90, and 88. Let’s hear it for longevity!

We reveled in honoring Aunt Agnes. Good wishes abounded, drinks flowed, and high spirits combined to make her 90th birthday a memorable one. As we say in Italian, Cent’ anni (a hundred years), yet in this case, I toast her Vent’ anni più [20 years more) because 100 years is not long enough for my dear Aunt Agnes.

Ciao for now,

A Big Birthday

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Various kinds of pizza are needed to celebrate a birthday! – tangled pasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Yesterday we honored my paternal uncle in celebrating his 98th birthday. He is the last of my father’s siblings, a family of three sisters and three brothers. My Italian immigrant father passed away just shy of 96, long after he had later brought his two younger brothers to the U.S. For various reasons, his three sisters remained in southern Italy. From 1933 onwards, my father’s family became geographically divided. Yet they always remained in touch throughout those many years.

Last night at the pizza party my cousins held for their father, I thought about how brave my father and his brothers were to come to a foreign country without having learned any English prior to their arrival, and with little money in their pockets. Granted, my father had a cousin who encouraged him to come to his newly adopted town, but to take that ship from Naples and sail to New York’s Ellis Island required a great leap of faith. Yet the three brothers all built new lives here, married, raised families, practiced their faith, and prospered in their own ways.

Last night my uncle looked on cheerfully as we circulated among one another, talking, laughing, and having a fine time. I thought about how much my late aunt, his wife, would have loved having the family together. Her good nature would have embraced the festivities. We all miss her very much, especially my uncle. Sometimes when I visit him, he says, “I don’t know why I’m here! For what?” I answer that he is now the patriarch of our family, that we need him to lead us. He tells me that I’m crazy, that no one needs him anymore. But he is wrong: he is the living link to our past, not that we think of him as a museum specimen, rather to know that we can turn to him for our family history and anecdotes. He reminds us from whence we came, of the struggles, the milestones, the essence of what makes us, for all intents and purposes, us.

Ciao for now.

A Memorable Thanksgiving

Pumpkin orange candle surrounded by various Autumn items

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

On this cloudy, chilly Thanksgiving, the weather fails to dampen my spirits. Not even a backed-up double kitchen sink that flooded last evening, nor the non-stop deluge of rain yesterday, nor the three-hour wait to retrieve my daughter’s car that malfunctioned in a city an hour away, nor my damp jeans that the umbrella failed to keep dry could deter my Thanksgiving happiness. These unexpected events prevented us from traveling out of town for Thanksgiving, but that did not prove to be an insurmountable obstacle.

Unfortunately, the seals on the garbage disposal were kaput, rendering the running water and the dishwasher, which is filled to the limit, off limits until Monday. My daughter’s #4 cylinder and valve have been replaced, the cylinder head completely cleaned, as was some other under-the-hood stuff. My car even got a new pair of windshield wipers, which gave me a clearer visibility driving in the rain: I could see! Upon arrival home, I changed out of my rain-soaked jeans and into comfy, flannel lounge pants, and then drank herbal tea.

After the erstwhile plumber attempted to detour the kitchen sink’s water, and then realized the under-the-sink flooding situation once the cabinet doors were opened, it was several rolls of paper towels to the rescue. I kept saying, “It’s only water!” as if repeating this would make the water go away. On the upbeat side, we cleaned out everything under the sink. I will now have room to store appliances that clutter the countertop!

Although I could not make neither my family-famous coconut cream pie, nor my Silver Palate crackling cornbread, we struck out again in the rain last night and drove to Whole Foods. Our contribution to Thanksgiving dinner is an apple pie and a bottle of Prosecco, the Italian champagne. We are sharing Thanksgiving with our good friends, my plumber with the M.B.A. and his family.

This morning I received happy news: My dear friend sent me a photo of his newborn niece. She was born last night, in Washington, D.C., shortly before midnight. Now that is a blessed, special Thanksgiving gift.

Ciao for now.

 

Golden Years

My aunt's proclivity to violets and purple came to mind with this painting in our room at The Grand Hotel, a place she cherishes.-www.tangledpasta.com
My aunt’s proclivity to violets and lilacs came to mind with this painting in our room at The Grand Hotel, a place she cherishes.-www.tangledpasta.com

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Over Labor Day weekend we visited my darling Aunt Adelaide. She is now 97 years of age, yet she still sparkles with vivacity. Her blue eyes twinkle with laughter, and her hugs continue to melt my heart. While her health waxes and wanes, my cousins take constant care of her, diligently overseeing her medical care with love.

Aunt Adelaide holds a special place in my heart as my Godmother. As my mother’s middle sister, she shared adventures with Mama. My mother, Catherine “Kitty” loved to travel, and travel she did, inviting her younger sister along. Long after both sisters had married and bore children, they took along their offspring on trips. We traveled annually to Edge Grove, Pennsylvania, near McSherrystown, kind of near, but not terribly close to Gettysburg. My maternal grandfather’s three blissfully eccentric unmarried sisters lived in a two-story house with an outhouse wreathed in perennial flowers in Edge Grove. Those flowers attracted an endless stream of bees. One didn’t dawdle in that privy. While my grandfather offered them indoor plumbing time and again, his sister refused. The sisters, Rose, Anastasia “Anna”, and Mary “Molly” were close to their nieces Kitty, Adelaide, and younger sister Agnes. Driving from our hometown with my mother, younger brother, and grandfather to Detroit to pick up Aunt Adelaide and her two younger children, off we all went in our big blue Chevy on a lively road trip. Once with my great-aunts in Pennsylvania, we cousins roamed relatively freely in the hamlet perched on the mountainside, among extended family and friends. Mama and Aunt Adelaide’s laughter rings in my ears from those carefree visits. Reminiscing over bygone days of my great-aunts and their four brothers over copious bowls of corn chowder on warm summer nights lulled me into believing these idyllic times would last forever. Naturally, they didn’t, for the Grim Reaper ultimately demanded the last word.

One memorable road journey entailed chauffeuring Mama and Aunt Adelaide to Virginia. We had so much fun on that vacation! I had completed my undergraduate degree at Indiana University Bloomington in August. Off we drove in late September amid the early autumn color. I did all the driving, for I love the open road. We toured historic Jamestown and delighted in its pottery and artists. Williamsburg fascinated, but for me, the pièce de résistance of the trip was Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home set in the majesty of the Southwest Mountains adjacent the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding Charlottesville. Jefferson’s inventions, Palladian design of his home, and the flower, fruit, and vegetable plantings were all the work of a man ahead of his time. We also travelled down the mountain to the plantation next door: Ash Lawn-Highland, the estate of James and Elizabeth Monroe. We also visited Orange, Virginia’s plantation home of James and Dolley Madison, Montpelier. Three U.S. Presidents who lived in Virginia intrigued me, as did the peacocks roaming Ash Lawn-Highland!

Although Aunt Adelaide is spry no longer, in spirit she is. Remembering our annual summer respite together at our family cottage on Eagle Lake with my mother’s sisters and their families, our annual Christmas and Easter gatherings, and the humor, creativity, and love of my mother and her two sisters reverberate with me still. Visiting with Aunt Adelaide last weekend only heightened the joy we shared. Her golden years continue to beam gold over all within her orb.

Ciao for now.