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.

 

The Daughter of An Immigrant

The Pontifical Swiss Guards at Vatican City have been guarding Catholic Popes since 1506. - tangledpasta.net
The Pontifical Swiss Guards at Vatican City have been guarding Catholic Popes since 1506. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

The past days I have been following the visit of Pope Francis in the United States. Each day I watch the New York Times video footage and I read the articles chronicling this historic event. Hearing the Pope speak at the 9/11 Memorial moved me to tears. Hearing him address the United Nations and seeing Malala Yousafzai intently listen to him also brought a tear to my eye, as did the Pope’s service at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, and the one at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Throughout it all, I have envisioned my father and my mother with me, knowing how much Pope Francis would have meant to them.

I well remember when my parents took my brother and me to Italy and we stood in Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City on a Sunday morning. We were waiting for Pope Paul VI appear on is balcony and give us a blessing. The Square was packed with people. I recall getting pinched on my derriere by a handsome Italian man after the Pope had retreated from the balcony. As I turned to see who had had the impudence to violate my person, the Italian shot me a sartorial smile and disappeared in to the throng. Emblazoned too in my memory are the tears that streamed down the face of my father. He had immigrated to the United States when Mussolini was in power in Italy. This trip was his first back to Italy since he had left impoverished Calabria behind him. My mother too felt overwhelmed at the blessing of Pope Paul VI. Her paternal grandfather had immigrated from a village outside of Genoa, Italy. She too was conscious of her immigrant ancestors.

The media blathers about how Pope Francis refers often to being the son of an immigrant. Aretha Franklin, who will perform for the Pope in Philadelphia this weekend, said in an interview that she likes how he remembers his own immigrant roots. Well, as the daughter of an immigrant, I can say for certain that the immigrant and his family took little for granted. Aside from his wedding day, my father’s proudest day was when became a U.S. citizen. This was the country that gave him a new lease on life, one where he could realize his dreams of business, family, and college-educated children. Yet the pillar of these dreams was his Catholic faith. In spite of myriad obstacles thrown in his path, he never waivered from his belief that God would help guide him through these trials. That is why I shed tears over what Pope Francis means to me, and how my parents would have embraced him, how he too is part of a continuum of the immigrant experience.

Ciao for now.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

Mama's homemade ravioli Christmas dinner lives on with our family. - tangledpasta.com
Mama’s homemade ravioli Christmas dinner lives on with our family. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Early Christmas morning we drove south, less than three hours, to my brother’s home to celebrate in our usual laid back, cheerful style. We opened our Christmas stockings while we sipped tea. Our custom is to have each person discover what Santa Claus placed in each of our colorfully stitched stockings. Each small gift is wrapped in holiday paper, which never fails to bring a smile to my face. After stockings, comes brunch, which this year consisted of sausage-cheese strata, fresh fruit, Grand Marnier with Prosecco, and assorted homemade Christmas cookies. Anjelica made melting snowman cookies [chocolate with peanut butter]. I made my mother’s stellar, incredibly light fudge. All of this is eaten amid laughter, stories from our aged-twenty-something children, and goodwill. I look at them and remember how it was to be vital, with the grand highway of life lying before them. Frankly, I still feel that way, though I am years ahead of them on that road less travelled.

After the dishes have been cleared, we settle down in front of the fireplace, warmed by the roaring fire, as we eye the stacks of gifts underneath the enormous live Frasier fir with its brightly colored lights. My niece donned the official Santa’s cap, took the chair nearest the tree and fireplace. As Santa, she handed out gifts to us, in the order we were seated on the large, plush sectional sofa and side chairs. My nephew was the first to receive a gift. We all watched as he unwrapped this present. Out ritualistic present opening takes several hours because we love savoring the individual moment of joy of sharing. Intermittently, one of us gets up to refill mugs of hot cocoa, and offer another round of sweets and savories. We gather up the giftwra[, ribbons and bows, artsy gift tags, and momentarily disperse to delve into our books, electronics, and clothes. Our family is one of literary aficionados and cooks, and this year, books abounded under the giftwrap. My daughter presented me with Martha Stewart’s One Pot cookbook, for during the winter, I delight in making stews, soups, and slow-cooker meals. My niece knows of my travels and overall love of Italy. Her gift to me was Rosetta Constantino’s Southern Italian Desserts. My nephew tickled my funny bone with the book holidays on ice, by David Sedaris. All of the gifts I received from my family were great and good, and I am grateful.

My nephew, daughter, and I  had fun taking selfies. - tangledpasta.net
My nephew, daughter, and I had fun taking selfies. – tangledpasta.net

Later that evening, we sat down at the formal dining room table for my sister-in-law’s fabulous homemade lasagna, stuffed with chicken, spinach, and ricotta, and topped with my brother’s homemade, long-simmered pasta sauce and meatballs. This is our family’s traditional Christmas dinner. It is the dinner my mother and father lovingly made for us. The homemade ravioli bubbles warm memories of my parents to the forefront. How they loved us, and reveled in their grandchildren! For dessert, we had my homemade coconut cream pie with a four-egg merengue topping. Of all the pies, this is my brother’s favorite. Our dear Mama used to make homemade chocolate, butterscotch, banana cream, and coconut cream pies. We are coconut crazy, and my contribution for the Christmas, besides the fudge, is the pie. Yet my hat is off to my sister-in-law for making delicious ravioli for our annual Christmas feast.

When all is said and done, I like nothing more than celebrating Christmas with my family, for they are whom I hold nearest and dearest in my heart.

Ciao for now.

And Now a Word About Fathers…

My brother and sister-in-law, the best of people-tangledpasta.net
My brother and sister-in-law, the best of people-tangledpasta.net

 

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

First, I would like to extend a major shout out to all the fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and surrogates out there who are loving, kind, and have fun with their offspring.  Next, I would like to extend a major boo, hiss, and toss of rotten tomatoes to those fathers who have shirked their responsibility to their children.  All I can say to those is, “You have lost big, with a capital B.”  Maybe your children will want to look you up some day, but more often than not, they won’t.  Why should they bother about you, when you were too busy attending to your narcissistic self throughout their childhood and adolescence?

However, back to the fathers who do and did take note of their children by doing the fatherly thing.  I recall a conversation my brother had with one of our cousins. They were discussing their fathers. Our father was from Italy, and our cousin’s from Lebanon [well, he practically was since he was born shortly after his parents emigrated]. Both our father and our uncle had an incredibly strong work ethic.  Their sense of family equaled that too.  Yet neither our father, nor our uncle ever pitched baseball to their sons; they rarely sat through one of their sons’ Little League games.  What they did do, though, was talk with their sons, listen to them, help them, paid for their college degrees, laughed with them, and instilled in them both an unshakable belief in the power of family.

It occurred to me probably our father didn’t pitch ball to my brother because he didn’t know how.  In Italy he was apprenticed as a shoemaker at the age of ten.  He didn’t really have the idyllic childhood Americans like to fabricate for their children.  The only time I remember our father talking about any kind of play time was when he mentioned how he and his friends in their remote village used to take sticks and push around whatever they could find. My brother played with his children and with my daughter throughout their early years and during their teen years. In their undergraduate years, he rallied them for tailgating, took them for dinner at his favorite pizzeria, listened to them about their travails and their successes; no one looked prouder than he did at their graduations. I think my brother had a fine role model in our father because my brother Frank has an ironclad work ethic and an implacable sense of family.  My brother shines as an exemplary father model to follow.  So did our father.

Ciao for now.

 

 

A Mother’s Day

A Happy Mother's Day! - tangledpasta.net
A Happy Mother’s Day! – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Salve! Salve! Today is Mother’s Day, the meaning of which still perplexes me.  Should we not honor our mother 365 days of the year, instead of on only one day?  The common custom has become to take dear Mummy out for brunch, or lunch, or dinner on Mother’s Day.  This in itself requires a bit of quick-footed planning in the art of making the reservation itself weeks ahead of the Day of Dear Old Mum.  Flowers abound, children in their Sunday best, delays in seating at said restaurant, and we will not discuss the perils of parking the motorized chariot in which Mother rode with family members.

Whilst me thinks it a lovely gesture to set aside one day in May for we of Club Mother, I would like to give pause to contemplate these grandiose overtures on one Sunday each year.  If we honor our Mothers on this day with a lovely meal at home not prepared by our Mamas, and we lavish glorious flowers upon her, for our forbearers told us never to plant anything prior to Mother’s Day, and we surround our dear Mamas with love and affection, then I would like to ask, What are we doing for her the rest of the year?  If she has taught us well, then we should demonstrate acts of kindness to her throughout the year. Random acts of kindness to she who bore us that remind her of our devotion.  As Mother myself, I can attest that there is nothing more I cherish than spontaneous hugs from my daughter, her sweet kisses when she walks through the door, and her thoughtfulness at even making my bed or doing the laundry [tasks I loathe, yet are necessary evils, at least the laundry is].

My idea of a perfect Mother’s Day on the government designated day in May is simply to have nothing planned, beyond setting out and arranging the porch and patio furniture, and later sitting down that night to watch a movie with my daughter after enjoying a meal that she herself has prepared for us.  If Mother’s Day also includes celebrating the day with my out-of-town brother and his family, then that is always joyful too. I miss my Mother every day these past 12 Mother’s Days.  We should keep our Mothers in our hearts, and if flowers are included for her, all the better. I take solace in the fact that I did for my own Mama, flowers were always included.

Ciao for now.