It’s been two weeks since my father passed away and I’m still having trouble coming to terms with it. I know it’s been a little dark around here lately but I’m working on it. Things are getting a little better and a little more like they were before all of this happened. Telling stories about my family is helping me a lot so I hope you don’t mind if I pull out one more sentimental story from the archive. I promise that next week I’ll pull out some of the funny stories and the “now it can be told” stuff.
For today I’m sharing a story that many of you have seen before because it involves my great-grandmother, who passed away 16 years ago today, and the last gift she ever gave us. The story also connects back to my father in a neat way that illustrates the way our relationship evolved as I got older (if you already know the story you can skip the italicized part and just read the postscript).
A Reason to Give Thanks
Despite being 35 years old I have had turkey on Thanksgiving only a few times in my life, there are two reasons for this. First from the age of 21 until 31 I didn’t eat meat, mostly this was because of a joke that got out of hand. Second, from the first time I celebrated Thanksgiving until I was 19, usually went to my Italian great grandmother’s for thanksgiving dinner where after the salad, soups, breads, and pasta the turkey was an afterthought, saved for sandwiches the next day or carved and sent home with us in care packages. My great-grandmother would never think of sending us home without food and she would stay up all night to make sure there would be enough for everyone.
On any holiday I think of the care packages we were sent home with at the end of the day. Carefully wrapped in foil and placed in plastic bags was something for the next day because it wasn’t enough to just feed us once. My great-grandmother was active and strong well into her 80’s but even as she slowed down and delegated some of the cooking to her daughters she insisted that there was enough for everyone to have at dinner and also for the next day.
I also remember how she used to make pizzelles, which are traditional Italian cookies made with a press that is similar to a waffle iron. Pizzelles are thin, anise flavored, fancy looking and can be made by the hundreds which was the only way to make them according to my family. Needless to say when my great-grandmother made them, she did so in huge quantities so we could take them home with us. I would watch her in the upstairs kitchen pouring batter and pressing down the iron again and again. I had to watch from across the room though because she was very concerned for my safety…after all that press was hot.
Eventually the little woman who was strong enough to hold an entire family together became ill and while she fought bravely she passed away in October of 1993. After the funeral the family gathered at her house because that was the place we always gathered and while the house was the same we knew we’d never be the same again, we had all lost our caretaker and guide. No one would tell us to stay away from the coffee pot because it was hot and no one would send us home each week with packages of pasta and cookies. However, we wouldn’t go home empty-handed that day. In the kitchen upstairs someone opened the freezer and found them… dozens of carefully wrapped packages of pizzelles. Sometime in the final week of her life my grandmother stayed up all night cooking one last time, and carefully wrapping up packages of cookies for us so that we didn’t leave her house empty-handed, even if she wasn’t there anymore.
Postscript – I first posted this story around Thanksgiving a few years ago and my father called me to tell me how much he liked it. When dad enjoyed reading my blog posts about our family and sometimes he would comment or email me about them but when he really liked something he’d call me and we’d go through it while he filled in bits of back story I wasn’t aware of. This was a phone call kind of story and we had a nice long conversation the next day. About a week later a package arrived at my house and inside was a pizzelle maker. Before I could even call to thank him I received an email containing my great-grandmother’s pizzelle recipe with a warning to be careful because the press gets very hot.