My mother never spoke English. She knew how to speak English, but spitefully she wouldn’t. I got to tell you, she was very spiteful. It was her will or no will. Growing up, where my mother had a lot to say and a lot to do with us. And we obeyed her. No saying no to Nana. She didn’t know that word. Her word or no word. She lived to be a hundred. Her name was Assunta, which means “risen”. When Nana was born, everyone had a religious name. All my siblings too.
My two aunties – Little Aunt, and big Aunt, one was Matilda and one was Clementina. Even though they had different names, we would always distinguish them as Little Aunt and Big Aunt. Big Aunt didn’t have too much to say. Little Aunt had a lot to say. They would talk about something and Little Aunt would say, “Well, this is this!” – and that would be the end of the sentence… But, remember, my mother was boss! My mom, the last word. My mother was the oldest. Then Clementina, then Matilda, and then Uncle Joe.
We would see them at family events. The family would come over to the apartment. We had a very small apartment, we didn’t have a lot of money. That was definite, we didn’t. And the playground was the street. That’s where we learned how to ride a bike. And oh my God, it was loaded with Italians.
The Eggplant Festival
When I was a child, we used to have big family dinners. In the summertime, we had the cookouts, and we used to have the cousins from Portland, Maine. Well, everybody knew we loved eggplant
Trays and trays of stuffed eggplant
And we’d have an eggplant festival with the cousins coming down from Maine…[Judy: And my Auntie Mary would make trays and trays of stuffed eggplant, and all the cousins would come down. They had a big backyard. Auntie Mary had a big backyard. It was really fun. Yeah, we did have a lot of fun.
Cooking with Grandma Assunta
My grandmother also used to live with us. I used to do so much with her. I would say, “Grandma, can we go to the store?” She was Italian, and I spoke Italian with her, and we used to go out together and go shopping.
I used to help her with cooking. That’s what made me a great cook today. I saved mostly her pasta recipes. My favorite childhood food was pasta!
My favorite pasta dish to make is lasagna. We used to make it layer by layer, with sausage filling, or meatball filling. You baked it until it was high. You’d cut it piece by piece. I really didn’t have a recipe, I would just cook on my own.
I just cook what I want to cook, and how I want to cook.
The pies she used to make, I could never make. She used to make a lot of pies for Easter. Grain pie, egg pie, sausage pie. She’d do at least 4 pies and she’d do them all herself.
For Christmas, we used to make chicken, ham, and a roast beef. And of course all types of vegetables and potatoes. We’d make some feast. Our holidays with the family, they had to be done the right way. We did so much cooking, when you have to cook for a whole family.
It’s because of my grandmother too that I became who I am today. She taught me respect. That was the most important thing. I taught my children the same values. I also grew them up to respect each other and all people.
Religion was a great part of my life. I kid a lot around how Nana was very religious. Always had rosaries in our hands and everything. But she meant her religion, and so did I. It meant a lot to me. I went to Catholic school, and it was not just Catholic school going, it wasn’t just being Catholic – it meant something to me.
We used to have a feast every year in the summer. It was called the Saint Anthony Feast. That was the big one, and that was known as, “You don’t leave town on that one.” The streets would be full of Italians. With bands, and food, and stuff like that. Some people from New York, some stars, they’d come in and perform. It was a three-day feast, it was huge.
When your mother was a little girl I took her every year, it was in August. I didn’t like going, but I didn’t want her to miss out on!
Do you remember the angel?…
In Watertown, I was very involved in the kids’ elementary school, Rosary Academy. It was a private Catholic school right down the street from the house. There was another Catholic school in the area, but I just looked around, looked at the curriculum and all, and it was so close. It seemed like a good fit.
I did a lot of volunteering there. I washed dishes every Monday, and I ran the fashion show and the Christmas Bazaar. It closed when my second daughter was a junior. She had to graduate from somewhere else.
Many of my friends came from Rosary, and we volunteered together. It was hard, hard work, but we did have a lot of fun while we were doing it. My other friends were a group from church and my neighbors, of course.