In Brooklyn, New York, in 1936, my grandmother was around 10 years old. Her parents came from Sicily, like a lot of families did in that area of the city at that time and – upon their arrival – they stepped onto U.S. soil with many hopes, traditions and a love of good food (who doesn’t love good food, right?). Back then, a lot of families centered their whole lives around meals and church. Everything was about the meal, especially, if you were Italian!
My great grandfather worked very hard when he settled here in America, opening a small grocery store with beautiful fresh produce, Italian meats and different, tasty cheeses. My great grandmother spent many hours in the kitchen cooking fresh sauce and healthy meals for the family that included a lot of garlic and beans. From what I’m told, the aroma of the house was always filled with the smell of fresh basil and garlic. She spent many hours teaching my then 10-year-old grandmother how to cook and sew. Thankfully, her traditions stayed alive and have been passed all the way down to me.
My great grandparents had a beautiful garden in their backyard, and my grandmother used to tell me how fresh the tomatoes were. On Sundays, they would all gather and eat outside on a large farm table, eating fresh Italian bread with homemade sauce made from tomatoes in their garden. I have many pictures of my great grandfather playing the mandolin as smiling relatives drank red wine. They each had a laugh that could be heard for miles. I can feel myself sitting there with them now, as I share this with you. Oh, how I wish I was alive than! These were happier times for my family – before the war and when life was simpler. I think it was simpler for a lot of folks at that time no matter what culture you were from.
One family member brings to mind a story that my grandmother would share with me when I was a kid. A four-legged, furry member named Trixie – the family dog. I don’t know if Trixie was Italian, but from what I hear he sure acted like he was! Attitude and all. I think he barked Italian. Trixie was white and stood about knee high with floppy ears. From the old pictures, he had a contagious smile and a sparkle in his eyes.
Back then, Brooklyn looked more like the country. Trixie, in all his smartness, had free run of his domain around the outer parts of my family’s home. One day in the spring, my great grandmother was in the kitchen cooking up a fresh pot of sauce and my great grandfather was working happily in his garden. Trixie was soaking up the sun and enjoying another lazy day of bird watching, and looking forward to dinner. Like all dogs, he knew the schedule of the day, and always anticipated those extra scraps that great grandpa would toss under the table behind my great grandmother’s back. But, this day Trixie wasn’t going to settle for scraps – he had high hopes for something better.
My family had a neighbor a few houses down with chickens freely grazing on their property. They enjoyed fresh eggs every morning. Trixie knew the chickens well, and always had his eyes and his ears on them. The chickens knew him well too, and they were always ready for any of his tricks. Trixie was feeling daring this particular day. As my great grandfather kept his back turned and tended to his garden, Trixie decided to take a little walk over to the neighbor’s house. Within minutes, my great grandpa heard a gunshot. He turned around and Trixie was gone. Was it his Trixie?! He frantically stood up and looked around. He couldn’t see anything. He called for Trixie, yelling his name louder and louder. All of a sudden Trixie came running through the tall grass with a large object in his mouth. My grandpa had a sigh of relief that Trixie was alive, but didn’t expect the sudden surprise when he walked over and placed a very nice sized, fresh and organic chicken at his feet.
My grandpa was shocked, yet proud, of the catch Trixie made. He picked the chicken up and shook his head with a smile. He noticed poor Trixie was bleeding on the side of his hip, so he quickly picked him up and saw a bullet on his side. Not wanting to worry my great grandmother, or ruin Sunday dinner, he quickly took Trixie into his toolshed and performed a Sicilian operation – using his own tools to pull the bullet out, sow and clean him up, get both Trixie and the chicken all ready for dinner within minutes.
My great grandma never knew a thing and that Sunday dinner was special. Not a word was said about the day’s event, not even an Italian bark. No scraps for Trixie this night, he was getting the real deal that he worked for. Fresh, organic chicken served.
Do you have a Trixie grocery shopping for you? I wish I did! While food and the environment have changed, the need of nutritious tasty food hasn’t. In my next post, I’m going to share how you can shop (safer than Trixie!) for the wholesome food your body craves. Stay tuned!