Saturday, March 27, 2010



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.


  1. Arlene Reinhart Johnson11:50 AM

    Thank you for such a nice compliment Gail. Yes, I remember going to church at 7:30 with my mom and sister. My dad stayed home to cook the Sunday breakfast. He became a member of the church eventually.

    I know just what you are talking about with those large Italian holidays! Once I met and married Neil I experienced all that and it was so much fun, but a lot of work for Neil's grandmother and his mom. Great memories!

  2. Oh right, I forgot Neil is Italian. Yep I remember you and Dotty were always very stylish.
    Do you remember when they used to bundle us up in those huge snowsuits and walk us up there. I can remember walking in between my parents and they were holding my hands.

  3. Anonymous12:50 AM

    Oh this made me cry! I sooo remember beautiful these times. No we were not Italian but of German decent. Yet we lived on a street and town that might have been the United Nations. Mostly though it was Italian. Yet as I said each home in our town had a country it celebrated with pride coming from. Its own traditions and foods and celebrations...and all of them celebrated family. Lots of family. And if you were there You were Family too! Yet what they celebrated most was being an American now! I remember the cold Easters with our spring hats and dresses under our heavy winter coats and all the rest you said right down to the comment about the lack of a girdle on the women.!! I could have lived your life! Oh how I miss those people! They took pride in their families, their old and now choosen country, their churches, their schools, town and even homes. What happened to us? How many polished shoes do you see now? How many people talk good about America even? How many people do you know that will rake a neighbors yards for them....just because they are neighbors. How many little May flower baskets do you see children putting on neighbors doors May 1? How many people say thankyou to their clergy, firemen or policemen? People are so busy both rushing home after work and taking their kids to practices and driving in the garage and shutting the door. Do they even know their neighbors? We as kids knew people for blocks around. They knew us too and would report to our parents if they thought they needed to about our behavior! :) Our Pastor and teachers had dinner at our home. The Priest and Rabbi visited our neighbors. We all knew the mailman and his family by name, as well as the butcher and all the rest of the people we delt with. Life was good. We lived simply but stuff was not what life was about. People mattered more. I best not go on but yes I understand. Sarah

  4. Dear Sarah,

    Now look what you have done, you made ME cry! Thank you for such a beautiful comment. Regarding thanking people, yes, that is something we can do and let others witness our example. That is how things catch on. I live in a town that is heavily military and we are all very mindful of their service, and often do thank them. As far as all the other sweet, good and decent things we have both mentioned here - well, again we can each do our own best to keep these things going and to give people something to think about. So much of the empty, self-destructive behavior we see around us is a poverty of the soul. The older ones have forgotten, and the young ones just don't know. So, I think we have our marching orders. Keep the faith!


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