Growing Up In Brooklyn
Part 1 (Written 1997)
Sunday morning was my favorite time of the week! I would wake up from the smell of my mother cooking in the morning. The smell would be the frying of meatballs for the meat sauce ( not gravy) she would make every Sunday. She would do most of her cooking on Sunday and made sure she had leftovers for the week because she worked seven days a week most of the time. The smell would pull me out of my bed, sort of reminded me of a cartoon where the smell would dance in front of your nose while it pulled you dragging your feet across the floor. I would have to go to the kitchen and try one of the meatballs before she put it in the sauce. I would continue watching her and smelling the smells until it was time to go to church.
Food was a very important part of our lives and still is. My mother, as did all other Italian mothers in Bensonhurst (as far as I knew) expressed herself through her cooking. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it didn't matter. They were all big deals. Breakfast sometimes were frittatas or I don't know what you call it, but I was reminded a few years back when I had seen Moonstruck, the egg in the middle of the bread which was cut out fried in butter. After seeing Moonstruck, I started making that also. Lunch was always a big deal too! The Italian bread which I had to pick up coming home from church, had a thick crust which would leave your mouth sore inside, but what a nice soreness. The Sicilian olives , the caponata which my mother made ( I still make this), the fresh mozzarella which was still warm, and all those Italian cold cuts which will kill me someday made lunch a true feast. Dinner lasted forever, especially if we had company! The pasta of course would be served after we had an antipasto. Then the meat from the sauce would be served. Then the main course. The wine would flow, although I was too young to partake, I did notice and I definitely carry on that tradition!! Plenty of conversation because there was so much time allotted for dinner. This of course is one of the reasons why Italians are so close, everything is family.
This was a big part of growing up for me through the late fifties and sixties. When it was dinner time on Sunday, the streets were empty. Everyone had to be at the table. I still firmly believe that dinner time is family time. Hopefully I will see my sons come down the stairs one Sunday morning smelling the smells as I did. Now that's Italian!!!
Part II (Written 11/2000)
My grandparents were always an important part of my family. I was lucky enough to have both my Great-Grandparents on my mothers side. They lived in Ridgewood, Brooklyn and it seems like we traveled there from Bensonhurst almost every week to visit. Both my Great-Grandparents did not speak a word of English and the only Italian word I understood at that time was Stupido. Of course that was what they called me since I did not understand Italian. Still they always made us feel very wanted. My Great-Grandfather would watch the wrestling on TV every Saturday night with Bruno Sanmartino and believe it was all for real. He never said much but he left a lasting impression on me.
My Great-Grandmother made her own tomato paste. I remember seeing it on the fire escape in a short wooden milk crate with the cheese cloth covering it baking in the sun. She made the best tomato sauce! Whenever we visited I could remember food always on the table and opera coming from my Grandfathers tape recorder. I now have the old tape recorder as I also have his 98 recordings of Caruso etc. I don't think I paid much attention to the conversation as we were not allowed to get involved anyway. But I do remember the apartment with the Sicilian Cart on the mantle place which was in between the two statues of the Roman Guards.