IF YOU RECALL SOME OF THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE BY WHAT KIND OF FOOD WAS SERVED, YOU MIGHT BE ITALIAN (AND ARE ALSO FAT, PROBABLY)
I remember Easter Sunday at my house, particularly when my Grandma Bernardina blew into town with two huge pans of lasagna or home made manicotti on the back seat of my uncle's Cadillac. If it was manicotti, her homemade sauce would be full of meatballs and sweet and hot Italian sausage. Accompanied by a big green salad. When the second course came, which was my mother's ham, sweet potatoes, asparagus, corn, apple sauce, black olives, rolls, and heaven knows what else, people would have to strain to make room for it. This would tick off my mother, who would twist up her face in that pained look she'd perfected, and exclaim with precision each year like she was reading from a Hollywood script, "Oh Ma, why do you always ruin my dinner?!"
My grandmother would never reply, but just sit there looking tres smug, maybe stuffing a roll into her mouth (she always did love bread, and while people were yelling at her to stop eating it, would lean in towards me and say with a big bread-eating grin, "Me like-a dis! Mmm!").
Of course, there would be wine and beer, as well as soda, but I never remember anybody being drunk. Except drunk on excess dinner. To add insult to injury, dinner was followed by Italian Easter pies, coffee and cookies, and finally fruit and nuts. And ye olde Easter basket. Sometimes they would have expresso in those little demitasse cups, explaining that it was very good for your digestion. Maybe that is why they lived through washing all those dishes afterwards.
Interesting that I can click off the menu like its remnants are still clinging to the back of my hand, but I do not remember any of my Easter outfits. Usually we were covering up our bright pastel dresses with winter coats anyways, because Easter comes way too early up north for one to make a definitive fashion statement. At least not a positive statement. Since one's Catholic church was usually in one's Catholic neighborhood, most of us walked to Mass in our finery, shivering but joyful just the same. I had the added pleasure (since I've always been insufferably curious about everything and everyone) of living a few houses away from the church, so I would get to check out all the people walking to and from Mass (since we had several each Sunday). I think my best friend, Arlene went to the 7:30. She always was dressed like a perfect doll. And the Bernard's next door (they anglicized their name from Bernardi, I think) went maybe at 9:15, so I would sometimes glance out the window and pass the time watching them and other ladies mince by in their high heels, with their outfits fitting beautifully because they were all wearing girdles back then. Never a vulgar jiggle or outline of cellulite beneath the dress. In fact, the first time I noticed a woman (older and a bit chunky) without the benefit of a foundation garment, we were walking behind her on the way to church, and my mother whispered in horror, (committing a venial sin, I'm sure), "That woman isn't wearing a girdle!"
"How do you know?" I whispered back. And then she pointed out the reverberating cottage cheese, inadequately obscured by polyester (not a good choice, either). Somewhere in the recesses of my young mind a tiny alarm bell sounded, a bell like fancy people used to ring in movies when they were calling for their maid, but this tinkling little bell announced that someone had taken a beebee gun and shot the tiniest hole, all but unnoticeable, really, but a hole nevertheless, through a window in the fortress of Western Civilization. You know you're in trouble when the middle-aged start throwing off restraint.
I also remember that we always had pretty hats, our Easter bonnets, and pastel or navy blue dress shoes. Never white of course, because back then it was considered gauche to wear white before Memorial Day. Who made up this stuff? Yet following it made everyone more relaxed, because we knew what the rules were. Speaking of rules, the rules were pretty easy for the men and boys: Thou shalt wear a suit, dress shirt and tie, or at least a dress shirt, dress pants, and tie, and thou shalt not EVER go to church with unpolished dress shoes! But men seemed to love to polish shoes. My father had a little shoe shine kit, with Kiwi brand shoe polish, buffing rags and boar bristle brushes, and he seemed to relish the weekly task. I know I liked the smell of the freshly polished leather, and was fascinated by watching him polish away at that shoe leather until you could almost see your reflection when you looked at it.
Back in the kitchen, all of the women would be wearing aprons, as they did every day anyways. They never wore much, if any makeup, and they all had Easter corsages which would be safely stowed in the refrigerator right after church in hopes of keeping them fresh for another run or two.
The food was always eaten loud. Do you know what I mean? Hot, too, of course, but Loud. With gestures. Laughing, or scolding, and with joking and teasing, perhaps, and lots of opinion giving, in not one, but two languages, all LOUD. It was always fun to me to be outside the house when we had company, standing under the windows and listening to them talk (because crazy Italians who live up north are notorious lovers of fresh air and get overheated by the cooking and the shouting and leave the windows open, even if its just a crack). If the talking was in Italian and you didn't know what they were saying you would bet that they were having a big argument, but no, it was just a discussion. Discussions themselves seem to have gone out the window nowadays, because nobody is home to cook, eat and discuss with each other. And the Internet, the tawdry replacement, seems to be only for endless arguments and name calling, which is really bad for the digestion.
I told my family that this year we are going out for Easter dinner, because I am singing in the choir, and cleaning after church, and some people have to work early or later, but now, as I think about it, I am changing my mind. Because I want my children to have a continuing tradition of holiday dinners at home. I want them to be able to look back and be built up in their spirits as they reminisce, the way I am when I think back. I may not be wearing a girdle that day, but I will at least go for the control top panty hose AND slip. Though they cannot be here physically, I trust and pray that all of my co-revelers of holidays past will be in the kitchen with me, part of that vast cloud of witnesses, the Church Triumphant, cheering me on. Loudly.