Posts Tagged ‘Tata’

Grandfather of Fedoras

On this day four years ago, my grandfather passed away.  I think about him and my grandmother all the time.  Often when I am cooking I think about her and every time I garden with Yim I think about my grandfather.  There is so much to say about this man in remembrance and celebration of his life.  My intent was to write something long and moving about him on his birthday.  But I let it pass without a word and now on this day I feel more somber than celebratory.  Here is an old picture of him that could have been taken on any day of his life because he is prepared to work the earth, shovel in hand. 

By the way, this picture reminds me of a phenomenon I discussed with friends recently.  In our fair city there is a high number of old-growth trees beautifying many of the neighborhoods.  By old-growth I mean the towering, thick-trunked oaks, sycamores, and elms.  But in Little Italy there are almost no old-growth trees.  The Italian immigrant population of Little Italy rid their yards of trees that only produced shade and leaf-drop in favor of fruit and nut producing trees, which generally remain small.  My grandfather’s trees produced peaches, plums, figs and chestnuts.

Five years before he died he suffered ill health to the degree that I thought I was losing him.  It was not his time, yet, but I wrote this poem in the midst of his struggle.

I’ve Known You Since You Were Small

But we met when you were fifty-five.

You still look like Clark Gable

all these years later,

and you’re still just as dapper.

After eighty-seven years

your hair and moustache remain blacker

than this December night.

But black has two shades.

There is a black pain rising

into my throat from the deep

part of my heart tonight.

On your return from the hospital

I am finally afraid.  I think

about the shadow that will fall

across your chair when it is empty.

Will it remind me of your hair?

My sorrow?

Or both?

Grandfather of the garden.

Grandfather of wine.

Grandfather of fedoras, maps,

discipline, newspapers.

Engineer, inventor, politician,

Grandfather of the cellar.

Grandfather, we are a hard people,

but I promise that tomorrow

when no one is looking

I am going to hold your hand.

Your boyhood exists in full color for me,

though the pictures are black and white.

I fear the time it takes for your stories to fade

from my memory will not be long enough.

It seems that everyday you were breaking rocks free from the soil

you meant to farm.  Every winter you beat your brother

downhill on wooden skis.  In the war you marched everyday for three years.

I bought a ticket for the seat across from you,

but I will still be paying for the days I did not use,

once you get off this train.


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Italian Potato Dumplings

The main event the day before Easter was the gnocchi.  Gnocchi has long been a favorite dish in our family, made ever more desirable by the fact that it takes a day of labor to provide the hungry with about a half an hour of devouring the scrumptious dumplings until they are but a memory one is left longing for until the next time.

(Are you tired of Easter posts already?  Well, life takes precedent over writing a daily journal, uploading photos to share, and organizing said journal and photos into a comprehensive article that can be shared with the interested and dearly loved.  Certainly the dearly loved still anticipate a recap of the holiday, yes?)

Zia got started early at her own place and then UB chauffeured her down to the Estate where she continued to work.

For those who don’t know, gnocchi are Italian potato dumplings.  Here Zia is removing the skins from the boiled potatoes.  It is essential to use a good potato like an Idaho.  Nonna always insisted upon “eee-da-ho patate.”  Speaking of Nonna, all of my life I can remember yearning for her gnocchi, but you know, as with any pasta dish, it is the sauce that makes or breaks it.  Without a good sauce, you cannot clinch the blue ribbon.  Fortunately, Zia mastered the sauce before Nonna died and we are still able to enjoy our traditional Italian dishes just the way she used to make them.  Also, while Zia made the gnocchi we all conversed about Nonna and Tata.  When we are all together and collectively remembering them and talking about them, that is exactly when they are still with us.  And why wouldn’t they be?  In my opinion, that is the meaning of eternal life; i.e., that when you have lived, laughed, and loved well, you will live on as long as the lives you touched are still feeling the effects of your existence.

When Nonna was alive, she taught me to make gnocchi.  Zia taught Rock to make gnocchi.  But if Zia is around and there is gnocchi to be made, you’ll be lucky if she lets you help.  Yim asked her to teach him for my birthday dinner, but she mainly made him watch!  This time, though, she put Luvy to work.

Once the potatoes have cooled and are peeled, they are pushed through a ricer.

On the night that Luvy went into labor with Rockwell, we were all together at their house.  That day, while Luvy and Rock were at work, Zia, Mummy, and I made gnocchi.  We were sure that baby was going to come sometime soon and we were in a celebratory mood.  By the time Luvy got home from work the table was set with heaping bowls of gnocchi ready to be eaten.  But Luvy went straight to her room to lie down.  By the time Rock got home from work and checked on her, she was moaning in pain.  Rock came out of their bedroom and announced that we’d better eat quick.  That little baby smelled our gnocchi and was trying to push his way out.  Of course Zia let Gnocchi Rocky help, as well.

Once the dumplings were made there was time to relax, regroup, and do the dishes.  Rockwell watched a video while the womenfolks set the table.

The day stretched on towards mealtime and we gathered to the feast.

When Zia and I host an Italian Ladies Social Club get-together, we should make gnocchi.  But half of the members are going dairy-free vegan on me.  I may be forced to serve lettuce and wine.

After dinner the menfolk sat around looking at YouTube while the gals colored Easter eggs with Rockwell.

A late evening banana makes for a good night’s sleep for little Rockwell.

And everyone dreamt of the baskets filled with chocolate goodies the Easter bunny would leave that night.

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Remember the garden that Yim and I planned?  Well, we got it started, and Yimmy called me tonight with the most incredible news: WE HAVE SPROUTS!!  I can’t believe my own excitement, but it’s true; I am so happy over our little radish and lettuce sprouts already.  As Tuesdays are our gardening days, I would have been out on the land with him today, but alas, Lord Mycol and I both had dentist appointments.  What good is good food if you don’t have good teeth to chew it with, right?  Also, the day was mostly drizzly, and with the early crops in, there isn’t much to do until the weather turns.  What I do want to get done before week’s end is sow a second crop of lettuces in planting boxes at the Estate.  If I time succession sowing properly, we could have fresh salads every week for a good bit of the summer.  Secondly, I want to get out to Yim’s and put a protective net over our plot so the varmints don’t bite our little shoots off at the quick.

Last month all we had of a garden was a bag of seeds.

And a plot of land.

Then, on March 30th we finally broke ground.

Digging up the sod was harder than I expected.  Yim vocalized what was going through my head when he asked, “How many times do you think we’ll ever have to start a garden from scratch again?”  I said, “At least once more.”

We filled the wheel barrow with the clumps of sod and Yimmy hauled them to the corner of the yard where we are creating a compost pile.

He said that by the end of the day he estimates we moved about a ton of dirt and grass.

I use the term “we” loosely, since Yimmy is way stronger than me and able to work at least twice as fast.  Note the size of the plot he has cleared compared to the smaller one on the right, which is the area I was working. Eventually, we got it done.

By the end of the day we thought we’d be exhausted and sore.  On the contrary, we were exhilirated and our muscles were warm and loose instead of tight and tense.  Our garden plot measures about 10 x 15 and it is too small!  We want more, more, more.  The problems we’ve run into are rocks and shade.  Little did we realize that less than 6 inches below the surface in some areas there is a shelf of sandstone or shale.  It is easy enough to shatter with the pick-axe, but then you are left with 2 inch pieces of rock by the dozens throughout the soil and just when you think you could rally the patience to sort it all out by hand, you realize there is another shelf of stone another inch further down.  The shade problem is something we are anticipating.  See the shadows from the tree?  Well, the tree has no leaves as of yet, and so the garden plot gets plenty of sun.  Come summer, that tree will be full of foliage and maybe our little vegetable garden will be strained for sunlight.

The solutions are simple.  We did the best we could to rid the soil of stone to a deep enough level for our roots.  We are planning carefully which crops will go where, depending on the nature of the ground.  We called someone to come see about trimming or removing the tree before it starts to shade our crops.  And for expansion, we are going to build an above ground box-garden on the other side of the yard.  Since hot weather crops won’t go into the ground for a bit, we’ve still got time.

Believe it or not, our small garden area boasts the shallow, rocky spot, a rich, loose, digable area, and the far end is very clay-ey with tendrils of the tree’s root system reaching over for more moisture.  Spending the day in the dirt, digging with my spade, pointed my mind to thoughts of my grandfather.  When I felt frustrated over the difficulties of ripping into the grass’ root system and the rocks, I thought of Tata and everyone in Roccacinquemiglia or anywhere else, for that matter, who had no choice but to try to work the land they were given, despite the conditions, because it made the difference in whether they would feed themselves and their families or not.  The soil in R5M is filled with large, heavy rocks that had to be dug out and removed.  I have always admired my grandparents for their lives, their lifestyles, and what they’d endured.  Working for merely one day in the garden I share with Yim, because I wanted to, not because I had to, was enough to remind me of the virtues of a slow and peaceful life, without the stress of do or die, that makes a frugal farmer a wise man and a role model.  To be outdoors with the birdsongs floating in my ear, the breeze in my hair, the sun on my back and the sweat on my brow, working side by side with a man who wants this just as much as I do; that is joy.  We hardly speak while we work and I suspect it is because we are both consumed with thoughts and memories of everything that is good now, was good then, and was good before we ever were.  I watched a terrible Italian game show with my grandfather once.  Beautiful, full-breasted women paraded onto the stage in bathrobes and one by one they dropped their robes to the floor.  The camera lingered on their nude bodies before they climbed aboard massage tables to get rubbed down by female massage therapists in white clinical jackets.  My grandfather said that people who worked from sun-up to sun-down in a field never needed a massage; only people who sat at desk jobs all day needed massages.  And that is how his mind worked.  He focused on the truly shocking.

To own a bit of ground, to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds, and watch the renewal of life — this is the commonest delight of the race, the most satisfactory thing a man can do. — Warner

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