La famiglia al tavolo – Family at the table / by Bo Gerard

Sometimes bad, homemade wine and mediocre accordion playing is just the ticket for a fond family memory.

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You know those pictures on the walls, in the hallways of all of the Maggiano’s restaurants? – That’s my family!  My mother and father, and their parents and siblings, all emigrated to America from Italy in the late 40’s, and they brought with them deeply ingrained traditions.  Foremost of these traditions was the Sunday family gathering.  Every Sunday, without fail, they would all gather to cook, drink homemade wine, sing, play cards and just hang.  This group included cousins, aunts, uncles and paesano as well.

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This was an all-day affair, with the cooking starting at 9am, and family gathering around noon or 1pm to snack on antipasti and continue setting up for dinner.  Dinner itself was a six-hour event, starting with some sort of pasta dish, then meat and vegetables, then salad, then fruit.  Everyone wallowed for a while, waiting for coffee to be made and served; with the inevitable question being asked, “Do you want black or brown?”  Black meant espresso, usually served with some lemon rind and a splash of Sambuca in it; and brown meant regular coffee (Maxwell House).

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Then the desserts came out.  Some homemade, and some in white boxes wrapped with string, from local Italian bakeries.  Now it was time for a game of cards, or some singing.  The men were on one end of the long table, playing Briscola, and the women were on the other end of the table talking and laughing about the men.  The kids were running around playing, while the teenagers slunk around together outside.  Around 4pm the dinner reappeared, mostly the meat and antipasti, and the eating resumed.  Around six or seven people started saying their goodbyes, which usually took around and hour, because they would stand by the door with their coats and talk, and eventually end up sitting again for a while.  This was repeated four or five times before anyone finally left.

All this happened every Sunday.  EVERY SUNDAY!!!  So, as we remember our fathers and their fathers today, I recall with great fondness, the noise and song and bad wine we all shared, and am very thankful, indeed.