What did I get for Christmas?
Simple: fat ... or in my case, fatter.
That’s the drawback coming from an Italian family when the holiday season is centered on getting with family and family gatherings are surrounded by food.
I grew up living a romance with food at family gatherings – holidays, weddings, funerals, baptisms, birthdays, and of course Sunday dinner all had great quantities of food we consumed, without any ill effects or anyone pointing out the potential long term hazards. Too much starch, too much cholesterol, too many carbs, too many calories were not a concern.
The types of food bring back so many memories with the unique aromas and the feelings that go along with it.
The family would be gathered and my grandfather would share stories about his growing up with relatives who “came over on the boat” or putting together barrels for the “shine” in the attic for the bootlegging operation my great-grandfather had or his working on the Bay Bridge when it was originally built.
Now as I’m older, with a house of my own and two grown kids with spouses, my house seems to have replaced what my parents or grandparents had hosted in years past.
My wife, God bless her without a drop of Italian blood, has picked up where Nana and Mama left off. Because of her good work, it still takes days to get the smell of garlic and frying onions in olive oil out of the house after a gathering.
Sure, at Villa Paloma we have turkey and ham for holiday dinners, but only after the gabagool and some wine before we sit down then AFTER the soup, salad, a couple of pasta dishes with meatballs and sausage, and of course the coponata.
After all that we’ll have the turkey and ham with real mashed potatoes (nothing from a box or plastic tub in this house) with gravy and stuffing. (It wasn’t until I was 18 years old that I knew there was something other than green turkey stuffing.)
At dinner the meal is full of yelling, screaming, hand gestures and it isn’t because anyone is mad at someone. That’s just the way the conversation is around the table. There’s no such thing as the art of quiet, reserved conversation – which especially afflicts me at The Leader when I’m reminded that I have to use my “inside voice” around the newsroom.
After the meal come the desserts. Everyone who arrived usually brought something for the dessert. Cannolis if I’m lucky, tiramisu, a host of Italian cookies, pies, and maybe some sort of cake.
I’ve broken the cultural tradition of being able to take an hour nap with the rest of the men while the women in the family did the dishes.
Robin made that clear after we were married that she wouldn’t go for that after one Sunday dinner when my dad scooted back his chair and exclaimed, “OK, ladies, now’s the time to do dishes.”
With my son now living in the Pacific Northwest, we also made the most of our time together during his holiday visit as we frequently gathered with all the kids in some food or meal centered event.
Lobster on Christmas Eve, the big family get together Christmas, out to a nice restaurant New Year’s Eve and a family prime rib New Year’s Day.
A bocce ball outing came of course with a calzone for me.
A trip to the Napa wine country for the day had snacking on gabagool and was finished up with some carpaccio and cioppino at dinner.
Of course the ravioli roller that my wife received as a gift had to be tried out with my daughter-in-law at her side one night resulting in a plethora of raviolis with different fillings used.
There was no carb, calorie, or trans-fat passed up during those 10 days.
Call it culture ... call it roots ... I’m not sure what it is, but it is something I plan on continuing with the children and future grandchildren for years to come and not let them get cheated out of the joys of the gathering, the food, and the memories.
Richard Paloma is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.