Italian Gang

I’m sure for most second generation Italian American children who grew up in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s there was a definite distinction between us and them…We are Italians, everybody else, the Irish, the Germans, the Polish, they were Americans.

I was well into my adulthood before I realized I was an American. I had been born American and lived here all my life, but Americans were people who ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on mushy white bread. I ate the leaves my grandmother packed for my school lunch, artichokes. I had no animosity toward them, it’s is just I thought ours was the better way with our bread man, our egg man, our vegetable man, the chicken man, to name a few of the peddlers who came to our neighborhoods. We knew them and they knew us.

Americans went to the A&P. It amazed me that some friends and classmates on Thanksgiving and Christmas ate only turkey with stuffing , potatoes, and cranberry sauce. We had turkey, but only after ant-pasti, soup, lasanga, meatballs and salad.

In case someone came in who didn’t like turkey, we always had a roast beef. Soon after we were eating fruits, nuts, pastries and homemade cookies sprinkled with colored things…This is where you learn to eat a seven course meal between noon and four PM, how to handle hot chestnuts and put peaches in wine. Italians live a romance with food. Sundays we would wake up to the smell of onions and garlic frying in olive oil. We always had macaroni and sauce (gravy).

Sunday would not be Sunday without going to Mass. Of course you couldn’t eat before receiving communion. We knew when we got home there would be meatball frying, and nothing taste better than newly cooked meatballs with crisp bread dipped into a pot of hot gravy (not sauce).

Another difference between them and us was we had gardens. Not just with flowers, but with peppers, tomatoes, lettuce and basil. Everybody had a fig tree and grape vines. In the fall we drank homemade wine arguing over who made the best. Those gardens thrived because we had something our American friends didn’t seems to have. We had Grandparents.

It’s not that they didn’t have grandparents. It’s just they didn’t live in the same house or street with us. We ate with our grandparents and God forbid we didn’t visit them three times a week. I still remember my grandfather telling me how he came to America when he was young, on the ‘boat’.

I’ll never forget the holidays when the relatives would gather at my grandparents’ house, the women in the kitchen, the men in the living room, the kids everywhere. I must have fifty cousins. My grandfather sat in the middle of it all drinking his wine. He was so proud of his family and how well they had done.

When my grandparents died, things began to change. Family gathering were few and something seemed to be missing. Although we did get together, usually at my mother’s house, I always had the feeling grandma and grandpa were there.

It’s understandable things have changed. We all have families of our own and grandchildren of our own. Today we visit once in a while or meet at wakes or weddings. Other things have changed. The old house my grandparents bought is now covered in aluminum siding. A green lawn covers the soil that grew the tomatoes. There was no one to cover the fig tree, so it died.

The holidays have changed. We still make family ’rounds,’ but somehow things have become more formal. The great quantities of food we consumed, without any ill effect, are not good for us anymore. Too much starch, too much cholesterol , too many calories in the pastries. The difference between ‘us and them’ isn’t so easily defined anymore, and I guess that’s good.

My grandparents were Italian-Italians; my parents were Italian-Americans. I’m an American and proud of it, just as my grandparents would want me to be. We are all Americans now… Germans, Irish, Polish, all U.S. citizens.

But somehow I still feel a little bit Italian. Call it culture..call it roots..I’m not sure what it is. All I do know is that my children, my grandchildren, my nieces and nephews, have been cheated out of a wonderful piece of our heritage.

Author unknown.

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9 responses

10 01 2011
wittecisms

I love this story, Joe. It’s wonderful to remember that while we are connected to our past, we’re also creating lovely memories for the next generations.

10 01 2011
Bob Lewis

So far as I know I’m not of Italian descent, but ifa the wine, shesa good and the sauce, shesa red-then I’ma feela Italian. So whatsa matter you?

4 09 2011
Joann Nardo-Marsh

I am second generation Sicilian. Yes I remember all that you say. I cried a little, it brought back many wonderful memories. We always called it Sauce, never gravy. And I still make the Italian Cookies and breads at Christmas. Thank you for a wonderful trip down memory lane. Amore’

14 12 2011
Jenica

I love this, my Nonnie sent it to me 🙂 The artichoke and Italians live a romance with food made me laugh. So true

22 01 2012
Rosalie

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10 02 2012
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9 03 2012
Best Peanut Butter Cookies

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10 03 2012
Louis Badami

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23 10 2012
Joyce DiVincenzo

Love your journal!! Reading your post made me feel like I was walking those cobble stone streets and smelling all those great aromas… I remember my Mom telling us to stay away from those Italians… I guess during the 20’s, they had a bad reputation in Chicago. As life would have it, all three of her children married one… and she loved them all!

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