“Course One: Escarole Soup. Course Two: Salad. Gina, what is this – Sunday dinner or an Italian wedding?”
My girlfriend Gina showed me a copy of the menu her mother had planned for dinner. It was a seven course feast! “Do you eat like this every Sunday?”
“No, silly – only when we have company. This week it’s my dad’s side of the family. There’s a lot a people and mom always says it’s better to have too much food than not enough.”
“Wait a second. There’s going to be other people besides your parents? Like how many?”
Gina started counting on her fingers. “About 18, maybe 20.”
“I’m going to meet 20 strangers and you didn’t think to warn me??”
“Oh, don’t worry. They’re gonna love you.”
“No. They’ll be employing Italian interrogations tactics. They’ll chew me up and spit me out. I’m Irish – I don’t stand a chance!”
Gina laughed. “Oh stop exaggerating. We’re not the mob, ya know. Just a mob!”
And she was right. I couldn’t believe the number of people that descended on her house. They were loud, funny and very welcoming.
Gina’s mom set the table extravagantly, using the best plates, utensils and glasses. And the food was incredible. Besides the soup and salad there was an antipasto, homemade pasta, a huge platter of meatballs and sausages, two roasts, a bunch of vegetables I couldn’t pronounce, fennel, fruit, nuts, desserts and coffee. Gina’s uncles and male cousins ate like there was no tomorrow and no one stopped talking the entire time – except for Gina’s grandmother who didn’t utter a sound and stared at me with beady eyes the whole day. Honestly, that tiny woman dressed in black from head to toe scared me to death.
As the coffee was being served, Gina’s dad got up, went to the cupboard and returned with a miniature dower chest made of highly polished wood with the finest Italian marble inlay. Placing the box on the table, he opened it to reveal an assortment of expensive imported cigarettes. All the men lit up and a bottle of anisette appeared out of nowhere.
Gina’s Uncle Vito produced a deck of cards from his vest pocket. “Ya know how to play Red Dog, Stan?” he asked me.
“Um … it’s Dan, sir. And no, I’m not familiar with the game.”
“Hey, no problem, Irish. We’re gonna teach ya. And don’t look so nervous. We may rob ya but we ain’t gonna kill ya. For some reason our Gina likes ya and if she likes ya, we all likes ya.”
While we played cards, Gina’s cousins Louie and Frankie played their accordions and the women danced; it was the most surreal experience of my life.
Suddenly grandma rose from her chair. Slowly she walked right over to me and looked me square in the eyes. She grinned and pinched my cheek till it was beet red. And la famiglia howled.
I swear 50 years later her mark of approval is still on my face.
NAR © 2019