My mom passed away last month. I am appreciative that she had the type of send-off that she requested, a celebration of life in the form of an Irish wake (not a drop of Irish blood was her. Not sure where she learned the expression). At her funeral, people were laughing, eating, and drinking as if it were an open house party. Okay, there were a few tears shed, but not until the very end at the actual service.
My first Thanksgiving without her will be a bittersweet one. Especially since when I was a kid, Thanksgiving used to be my mother’s holiday that we celebrated with her (Pecchio) side of my family. (Technically, there would be one Maselli, dad’s side, that’s because my dad’s sister married my mom’s brother). Mom would be cooking for weeks before Thanksgiving. When the day finally arrived, her siblings and their kids would arrive at 1 p.m. and depart around 8 p.m. in between these hours there was an almost unbelievable gluttonous feast.
Until my dad made an extension to the dining room table us kids would eat in the kitchen. We would start off with cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto. Though I do recall sometimes she also had a half grapefruit with sugar on top. The antipasto came next. If you’re familiar with the term “antipasto,” you’ll understand that is a lot of food. However, she kept it small because the first course would soon arrive, which was our usual Sunday meal. Homemade manicotti with homemade red sauce or what we called gravy. The pot was filled with meatballs, sausage and braciole. Until this day, I have a hard time eating Italian red sauce that comes in a jar.
The busy female bees would be scrubbing pots in the kitchen. The men usually watched football in the tiny room right off of the dining room that we called the den. When all returned to the table there was the turkey with all the trimmings; Italian stuffing, double-baked potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, a variety of vegetables, and stuffed mushrooms that rarely made it to the table because everyone would go into the kitchen and steal some. Plus, another mushroom dish that was referred to solely as “burnt mushrooms.” They were excellent despite the gross name.
The bees would go back to work, often to find a side dish that was forgotten to be brought out of the kitchen. Mom would next serve us roasted chestnuts, figs, and fruit. She would say, I kid you not, “to help you digest.” I believe that most other families would not be able to eat another morsel. Might even be feeling physically ill.
At this point, year after year, my cousins and I would take over the television and watch the
original version of “Willy Wonka.” But we would be back at the table, for my mom’s homemade pumpkin pie, Italian ricotta cheesecake, and the Italian pastries that the family members inevitably brought. Dessert would be served with regular coffee and espresso with Anisette. Would you believe me when I tell you, that not one of us at the table was overweight? I have absolutely no idea how we pulled that off.
Now the meal was finally over, and everyone’s pants buttons were open. Sometimes zippers were down too. My cousins and I would walk to the playground or go up to my bedroom to hide from the major cleanup. We played games. As we grew into teens, we would listen to records, and later escape with our spouses.
Then in the early evening, all went home. This was our typical Italian-American Thanksgiving. Looking back today as a senior citizen, I am not sure how we managed to eat that much. I have to ask my cousins if my memories are correct. These long-ago sweet holidays will stay we me until my own last days. Despite my sadness this year, I wish everybody a safe and Happy Thanksgiving 2021.