Friday, May 10, 2013

Macaroni and gravy.

Growing up I associated Sunday with two things:


We were Catholic so church was an hour on the dot - bing, bang, boom - sometimes a little more sometimes a little less depending on which priest was giving the sermon.

Sunday dinner followed mass and was pretty much an all day event.

After church we would drive to Eastchester to Grandma and Papa’s house for "THE MEAL" which started around 2:00.

My brother Mike and I would fly out of the big brown bomber car, where Grandma was waiting on “the deck” or as Papa jokingly called it “the lanai” that overlooked their driveway. We were greeted with lung crushing hugs and loving hard kisses before throwing the screen door back and running inside.

Grandma, Papa, Aunt Carrie, Aunt Phyllis.
The smell inside Grandma and Papa’s house on a Sunday was nothing short of Heaven.

Aunt Rita, my brother Mike getting a smooch from me, cousin Valerie.

The stars of the show were the gravy (tomato sauce) that had been cooking all morning in a giant pot on the stove, and meatballs frying in olive oil that came in a giant square tin container that was as big as my head. Papa was famous for sneaking me one of his meatballs on a piece of white bread before anyone else got to try one, I was the “tester.” It was all sneaky, so I kind of became an expert in wolfing down a just-out-of-the-frying-pan-scalding-hot-meatball. I think I got second-degree burns in my mouth but it was worth it. I had to do my job.
I was the tester.

My other job was “macaroni picker.” All varieties of pasta was called macaroni or 'ronis for short. In the cupboard there sat nine-hundred different boxes of Ronzoni – ziti, bow ties, gemelli, spaghetti, rotini and my fave – rigatoni. Rigatoni is still my favorite of the pasta shapes – the gravy and parmesan fall into the little grooves on the sides of the ‘roni perfectly.

 We were usually the first to arrive followed by an onslaught of aunts, uncles, and cousins. There was my favorite aunt in the world, my dads sister Barbara. We never called her Aunt Barbara, she was and still is simply known as “Auntie” because no other aunt could ever come close (sorry all other aunts.) There were my grandmothers sisters, Rita, Ray and Carrie, My Aunt Phyllis, her daughter, my cousin Valerie and a variety of Johns who all required nicknames to identify them: Johnny Sigh, Johnny Blue, John-John Uncle Johnny, and Johnny Boy - who was not a boy at all - he was an old man so, I always thought it was weird that we called him that.

Grandma and Auntie.

My mom was the only non-Italian of the bunch with a pinch of Italiano in her veins. Blonde haired and fair skinned. My grandma used to joke that my dad had “broken the bloodline” with her. I think she was joking. Mom’s contribution to the meal was dessert – she was taking a cake decorating class (didn’t everyones mom do that back then?) and could make a rose out of frosting like nobody’s business.

I was also the "frosting rose tester."

Supporting roles in the meal included a platter of deli cold-cuts, a bakery tray of cookies and salad, or as my grandma called it, "lettuce." A sad bowl of iceberg swimming in olive oil straight from the giant square tin can from earlier, garnished with lots of salt. You had to have a vegetable, right?

Post-meal activities included watching the Yankee game, yelling at the TV, laying on the couch reading the Sunday comics, getting spare change from uncles pockets, eating salami and cheese slices from the deli tray and lots of loud talking about a variety of topics which included how good the gravy was today.

Gathered around my great-grandma, who I nicknamed
"Walkie" because she used one of those walkers to get around. 

As I neared my pre-teen years making the all-day trek out to Grandma and Pops house kind of lost its appeal. I remember sitting in the parked car in the driveway by myself so I could finish listening to American Top 40 on the radio while Grandma waited and waved from the lanai. I wanted to hang out with my friends, not my family. And I didn’t understand why we had to hang out there ALL DAY. I would eat and reluctantly sprawl out on the couch with my comics asking when would it be time to go – thank goodness there was no texting or cell phones back then or I would have been an even bigger anti-social jerk.

I'd like to send a long distance dedication to my young self saying,
"stop being an asshole, get out of the car."

Today of course, I would give anything to spend this Sunday with Grandma, Papa, Auntie, and a roomful of John’s.

When the discussion comes up regarding a “last meal” it a no-brainer for me, my answer has never changed.
It would be Sunday Dinner from Grandma and Papa’s house. And as the official macaroni picker, I choose rigatoni.
Ronzoni sono buoni.


  1. OMG! That could be our family. Even the olive green drapes and the chandeleir. We did get dressed up on Sundays and then my father (who worked in the family fruit and vegetable store on Sunday mornings)blew the horn and picked us up for the day at Grandmas.

    1. Grandma and Auntie are still in the same house and so is the chandelier!

  2. Isn't it wonderful we have the memories - I've heard from so many others how my family's experience mirrored theirs.