Monday, October 5, 2009

The Joy of Growing-up Italian - 3

As I promised you yesterday, the following is the 1978 version (and along with the very similar 1980 version); it was widely distributed throughout the United States by me and my friends. One of the words I changed frequently was finally MERICONS.
The Joy of Growing-up Italian
1978 Version
By Elvira S. Oliver

I was well into adulthood before I realized I was an American. Of course I had been born in America and had lived here 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 are people who ate peanut butter and jelly on mushy white bread that came in plastic packages. But I was ITALIAN.

For me, as I am sure for most second generation Italian-American children who grew up in the 40's or 50's, there was a definite distinction drawn between US and THEM. We were Italians. Everybody else....the Irish, German, Polish, Jews, they were the "MED-E-GONES". There was no animosity involved in that distinction, no prejudice, no hard-feelings....just, well, we were sure ours was the better way, For instance, we had a bread-man, a coal-man, and 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 to our homes or at least outside our homes. They were the many peddlers who plied their wares in the Italian neighborhoods. We would wait for their call, their yell, their individual distinctive sound. We knew them all and they knew us. Americans went to the stores for most of their foods. What a waste! Truly I pitied their loss. They never knew the pleasure of waking up every morning to find a hot crispy loaf of bread waiting behind the screen door. And instead of being able to climb up on the back of a peddler's truck a couple of times a week just to hitch a ride, most of the "MED-E-GONE" friend had to be satisfied going to the A&P.

When it came to food, it always amazed me that my American friends and classmates only ate turkey on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Or, rather. that they ONLY ate turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. Now, we Italians....we also had turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, but...ONLY after we had finished the antipasto, soup, lasagna, meatballs, salad, and whatever else Mama thought might be appropriate

for that particular holiday. The 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 and expresso with a bit of lemon or anisette. 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 four in the afternoon; how to handle hot chestnuts, and put peach wedges in homemade red wine. I truly believe Italians live a romance with food.

Speaking of food. 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 lay in bed, you could hear the hiss as tomatoes were dropped into a pan. On Sunday, we always had gravy. The Medegones called it sauce....and pasta, they called it macaroni. Sunday woud 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 when we got home, we'd find hot meatballs frying, and nothing tastes better than newly fried meatballs and crisp Italian bread dipped into 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, and jarred them, Of course, we also grew peppers (hot and sweet), basil, parsly, lettuce and zucchini. Everybody had a grapevine and a fig tree....and in the Fall, everyone covered the fig-tree and made home-made wine, lots of it. Of course, those gardens thrived so, because we also had something else our American friends didn't seem to have. We had a GRANDFATHER!! It's not that they didn't have a Grandfather; its just that they didn't live in the same house or on the same block. They VISITED their Grandfathers. We ate with ours...and God forbid, if we did not see them once a day.

To be continued. I'm tired. Goodnight.

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