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October 7, 2016     Post-Gazette
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October 7, 2016

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-- ,: ? . ,-, L : :~ ( , ............. , / ) POST-GAZETFE, OCTOBER 7, 2016 PAGE 13 abb onno by John Christoforo A Nostalgic Remembrance The holiday season is ap- proaching -- first Halloween, then Thanksgiving, Christmas, and finally New Year's. As these festive times get closer, I like to think back to the way it was when Nanna and Babbononno were alive, and I lived as a member of an extended Italian family. As a result, I would like to add in a few ideas from an old Italian-American (Sicilian} short story, "No One Covered the Fig Tree." Here goes. "I was well into my teen years before I realized I was an American. I was born in America as were my parents, but somehow, it never occurred to me that just by being a citi- zen of the U.S. meant being an American. Americans, to us, were people who ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread that came out of plastic bags. I was 2nd generation and grew up in the '50s and discovered that there was a definite distinc- tion between US and THEM. We were Italian. Nanna, Bab- bononno, my folks, my uncles, aunts and cousins ... yes, we were all Italian. Everybody else was Irish, German, Polish, African-American, Chinese ... all "Mericani? There was no animosity involved in the dis- finction, and no prejudice. We just felt that our way was better. For instance, we had bread that was crusty and was bought hot at a nearby bakery every morn- ing. There were also many ped- dlers in our neighborhood and my grandparents would wait for their call or yell, and the shopping and bargaining would begin. The "Mericani," they had the A&P. Nanna would go to the local A&P to buy American cof- fee ... that was it. When Thanksgiving and Christmas came along, I was surprised that my school pals ate only turkey with cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes. We Italians sometimes had a turkey in the middle of the table, but it could have been made out of plastic and no one would have known as we didn't eat it. Our holiday feast started out with escarole soup with tiny meatballs, followed by home- made ravioli, accompanied by meatballs, sausages, gravy meats, mushrooms, stuffed artichokes, saut6ed beans, and at the end, garden salad. Of course, we sipped Bab- bononno's homemade wine with our dinner. Fruits, nuts, hot chestnuts, and after din- ner wine followed. Later, both Italian and American coffee was served with cannoli, biscotti, and every type of pastry that P had a vowel at the end of its name. When the fruit was served, Babbononno put orange and tangerine peels on the hot stove to allow the aroma to hit us all. I made a mistake, we ate like this every Sunday, not just on the holidays. At times, the Americans ate cornmeal mush ... we did, too, but we called it polenta, and it contained pieces of meatballs, sausages, or Nanna's favorite, spare ribs. And, when it was ready, it was covered with homemade red gravy. There was another difference between us and the Americans, the garden. They grew flowers, Nanna grew tomatoes, peppers, basil, mint, chicory, lettuce, and eggplant. Babbononno had his grape vines and his fig tree. The grapes were grown to make wine, not to eat, but when the figs were ripe, they were a deli- cacy. When the wine was ready, all the old-timers argued over whose was the best. The American kids visited their grandparents once a week, maybe, just on Sundays. We Italians saw our grandparents every day, and heard a different story each time about the old country or coming to America and how hard it was at the beginning. I especially remember the holidays and the Sunday get- togethers, when at night the men were in the living room stuffed to the gills, and the great uncles, great aunts, uncles and aunts showed up and sat down to coffee, while we cousins -- first, second, and third cousins -- were everywhere underfoot. Babbononno would sit back with a glass of wine on the table, a stogie in his mouth, his hands interlocked across his chest, and a keen eye on all the kids, silently saying in Italian, "This is my family." My grandfather was proud of his sons. All of them had good day jobs, and were musicians at night. His daughter, my mother, had mar- ried a musician who did well in the business. He dreamed that his grandson, me, would learn a good trade and play music at night like he and his sons did. He would look at my female cousins and hope they would marry well and make him proud. He understood that you had to learn a trade and work hard to earn your way in life. He did not understand the aspect of education and how it could take you to the next level. That would be the desire of my parent's generation for their children. Nanna was the first to pass Happy Columbus Day w.o 7:Y - MUSIC FOR ALL OCCASIONS u 781-648-5678 on and things began to change. Family gatherings were left up to the next generation, but we didn't get together as much as in the past. Everyone had their own families and most of them had relocated to the suburbs. After that, we saw each other a couple of times a year, and after Babbononno died, I saw soine relatives for the last time, ever, at his funeral, His old house is covered in aluminum siding, and there was no one to cover the fig tree for the winter ... so it died. And who knows what Nanna's garden looks like now? The population has also changed. The folks in the old neighborhood speak Spanish, not Italian. Don't get me wrong, we had our time there and moved on. Now, it's their turn. The food on Sundays and hol- idays has changed. The things we once ate are no good for us, too much starch, too much cholesterol, too many calories ... and nobody bakes any more. Everyone works and they are too busy to bake, besides pastry is fattening. Today, the difference between "us" and "them" isn't quite so defined. Nanna and Bab- bononno were Italian-Italians. My parents were Italian-Amer- icans. I am American-Italian, my children are American- Americans. When my sons began dating in their teens, no one questioned the ethnic back- ground of the girls that they brought home to meet us. My oldest son is married to a Heinz 57, and my youngest boy, who is still single, has never dated a girl with an Italian last name. From that first generation to come here, we have been Ameri- cans. The men in my family have fought in every war since the Spanish American War in 1898, and have been proud of their country. I am a flag-waver, and tell people that I am a proud American. I am ashamed of only two things that occurred in our history, the treatment of the na- fives and the concept of slavery. Other than that, I am proud. When I say proud American, I qualify this silently to myself, and say Italian American with- out the hyphen in between. Maybe someday, I will replace Babbononno's fig tree and cover it when the weather gets cold, who knows? GOD BLESS AMERICA Loved Ones :i~ The Post-Gazette accepts memorials throughout the year. Please call 617-22 7-8929 L'Anno Bello (Continued from ing the fruit's alleged ability to cure snakebites and banish frecklesl Nowadays, pumpkins are instantly recognizable as carved and illuminated jack-o- lanterns at Halloween, a hold- over from an old Irish custom of hollowing out turnips and placing a candle in them in order to frighten the evil spirits perambulating the world on this night. Italians love to cook with pumpkin -- known as zucca in Italy -- in savory dishes, such as pumpkin ravioli and pump- kin gnocchi, often accompanied by buttery sauces with sage. Yuml Pears: My mother loves pears, and eagerly awaits the arrival of these green-yellow fruits at the supermarket every autumn. Pears drizzled with caramel sauce or yogurt are simply sublime, as the sweet- ness of the topping brings out the subtle, slightly nutty taste of the fruit. I like to bake pears in cakes or breads, and they taste especially good when mixed with tart apples in a pie or crisp. Pears do not occupy as big of a space in folklore as some other fruits, but nevertheless sev- eral fascinating bits of folklore abound. In China, it is bad luck to split and share a pear with a dose friend or loved one. That is because the Chinese term for "sharing a pear" sounds like the word for "separate," and thus holds an ominous connotation. In Europe, it was bad luck for a pear tree to bloom out of sea- son, and such an unusual event portended calamitous conse- quences. Italians know pears as pere, and use them in many inventive dishes. Pears can form the main component of tarts or cakes, or can be enjoyed in sa- vory dishes like salads. Italians like to serve pears poached in wine or drizzled with balsamic syrup for a simple yet decadent finale to an autumnal meal. Chestauts: Finally, I am compelled to add chestnuts to this list for nostalgic reasons. Every fall, my father would bring home a bag filled with chestnuts, gleaming like pol- ished wood, straight from the supermarket or, even better, a small Italian grocery store. He would then cut an opening Page 4) at the top of each chestnut t0 release the stream and roast them in the oven. The warmth of the oven and the creamy aroma of the roasting chestnuts enveloped the whole house like a bear hug, and to this day chestnuts remind me of cloudy, drizzly fall days spent in the joyful company of friends and family. Superstition dictates that carrying a chestnut pro- tects a person from a whole bevvy of ills, and I am pleased that this veritable little nut has such a positive association in folklore. Italians harvest chest- nuts, or castagne, every fall, dropping them from the trees like a cascade of glossy marbles. The chestnuts may then be enjoyed roasted, as my father liked, their pulp soft and pil- lowy. They may also be ground into flour to make cakes or pie crusts. No matter how they are cooked, chestnuts remain one of Italy's best fall flavors. The fruits and produce of autumn teem with the very sen- sations of the season. They are reminders of communal gath- erings that honor the bounty of the Earth, of the rhythmic dance of the harvest, of family recipes that have withstood the flow of time and inspired each future generation. By exploring the folklore surrounding some of these fruits, we are recogniz- ing the importance of agricul- ture and sustenance for our ancestors. By delighting in their tastes, we have become part of living history, participating in the joys of each passing season. So go ahead and enjoy your apples, pumpkins, pears and chestnuts, and remember that these delicious treats belong to the tapestry of human culture and storytelling and holidays. Share them with others, espe- cially those who have trouble putting food on the table. Let us carry the pleasures of autumn and the harvest wherever we go, and delight in the blessings of the season that surrounds us. Ally Di Censo Symynkywicz is a Graduate Student in History at the University of Massachu- setts Boston. She appreciates any comments and suggestions about Italian holidays and folk- lore at Happy Columbus Day Fully Insured Lic #017936 Heating & Air Conditioning Sales, Service & Installation Ken Shallow 617.593.6211 kenskjs @ r Jlappy Columbus ay . ':'~ ii:::!~:~ MIC~.L CEMETERY 500 Canterbury Street Boston, MA 02131 617.524.1036 ] ! iJWWw, i ;e vling the Italian community for over 100 years/ i