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The Joy Of Growing Up Italian American

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  • The Joy Of Growing Up Italian American

    We have yearly family reunions and this was in one of our books early on. Rubelishous reminded me of this when she posted Sunday Dinner for Italians.

    The Joy of Growing Up Italian American

    I was well into adulthood before I realized that I was an American. Of course, I had been born in America and had lived there all of my life, but somehow it never occurred to me that just being a citizen of the United States meant I was an American. Americans were people who ate peanut butter and jelly on mushy white bread that came out of plastic packages. ME?? I was Italian.

    For me ... as I am sure for most second-generation Italian-American children who grew up in the 40s or 50s, there was a definite distinction drawn between US and THEM. We were Italians. Everybody else 末
    the Irish, German, Polish, Jewish 末 they were the "MED-E-GONES." There were no hard feelings, just
    末 well 末 we were sure ours was the better way. For instance, we had a bread man, a coal man, an ice
    man, a fruit and vegetable man, a watermelon man, and a fish man; we even had a man who sharpened
    knives and scissors who came right to our homes, or at least right outside our homes. They were the
    many peddlers who plied the Italian neighborhoods. We would wait for their call, their yell, their
    individual distinctive sound. We knew them all, they knew us. Americans went to the stores for most of
    their foods 末 what a waste.
    Truly, I pitied their loss. They never knew the pleasure of waking up every morning to find a hot, crisp
    loaf of Italian bread waiting behind the screen door. And instead of being able to climb on back of the
    peddler's truck a couple of times a week just to hitch a ride, most of my "MED-E- GONE" friends had to
    be satisfied going to the A&P. When it came to food, it always amazed me that my American friends or
    classmates only ate turkey on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Or rather, that they only ate turkey, stuffing,
    mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. Now we Italians 末 we also had turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes
    and cranberry sauce, but 末 only after we had finished the antipasto, soup, lasagna, meatballs, salad and
    whatever else Grandma thought might be appropriate for that particular holiday. This turkey was usually
    accompanied by a roast of some kind (just in case somebody walked in who didn't like turkey) and was
    followed by an assortment of fruits, nuts, pastries, cakes and, of course, homemade cookies. No holiday
    was complete without some home baking, none of that store-bought stuff for us. This is where you
    learned to eat a seven-course meal between Noon and 4:00 p.m, how to handle hot chestnuts and put
    peach wedges in red wine. I truly believe Italians live a romance with food.
    Speaking of food 末 Sunday was truly the big day of the week. That was the day you'd wake up to the
    smell of garlic and onions frying in olive oil. As you laid in bed, you could hear the hiss as tomatoes were
    dropped into the pan. Sunday we always had gravy (the "MED-E-GONES" called it "sauce") and
    macaroni (they called it "pasta"). Sunday would not be Sunday without going to Mass. Of course, you
    couldn't eat before Mass because you had to fast before receiving Communion. But, the good part was we
    knew that when we got home, we'd find hot meatballs frying and nothing tastes better than newly-fried
    meatballs and crisp bread dipped in a pot of gravy.
    There was another difference between US and THEM. We had gardens, not just flower gardens, but huge
    gardens where we grew tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes. We ate them, cooked them, jarred them.
    Of course, we also grew peppers, basil, lettuce and squash. Everybody had a grapevine and a fig tree, and
    in the fall everyone made homemade wine, lots of it. Of course, those gardens thrived so because we also
    had something else it seemed our American friends didn't seem to have. We had a Grandfather. It's not
    they didn't have grandfathers, it's just that they didn't live in the same house, or nearby. They visited
    their grandfathers. We ate with ours, and God forbid we didn't see him at least once a week. I can still
    remember my Grandfather telling me how he came to America as a young man "on the boat." How the
    family lived in a rented tenement on Thompson St. in New York's "Little Italy" and struggled to make
    ends meet; how he decided he didn't want his children, four sons and five daughters, to grow up in that
    environment. All of this, of course, in his own version of Napolitano/English which I soon learned to
    understand quite well.
    So, when he saved enough, and I could never figure out how, he bought two houses in New Jersey. The
    house in Hoboken and the house at Long Branch at the Jersey shore served as the family headquarters
    for the next 40 years. I remember how he hated to leave, would rather sit by the window and watch his
    garden grow and when he did leave for some special occasion, had to return as quickly as possible. After
    all, "Nobody's watching the house." I also remember the holiday when all the relatives would gather at
    my Grandfather's house and there'd be tables full of food and homemade wine and music. Women in the
    kitchen, men in the living room, and kids, kids everywhere. I have a lot of cousins, first and second. And
    my Grandfather, his fine moustache trimmed, would sit in the middle of it all surveying his domain,
    proud of his family and how well his children had done.
    He had achieved his goal in coming to America and to New Jersey and knew his children and their
    children were achieving the same goals that were available to them in this country because they were
    Italian Americans with that strong Italian work ethic. When my Grandfather died years ago at the age of
    89, things began to change... Slowly at first. Family gatherings were fewer and something seemed to be
    missing, although when we did get together, I always had the feeling he was there somehow. It was
    understandable, of course, everyone now had families of their own and grandchildren of their own.
    "Everyone's a star and deserves the right to twinkle"

  • #2
    Re: The Joy Of Growing Up Italian American

    Very nice, brought back some nice memories.
    I organize chores into catagories.
    Things I won't do now; things I won't do later; things I'll never do.