Jerry Seinfeld once said that relationships are the only thing we have to keep us from thinking about food all the time. Is he not embarrassingly right? The role of food in our lives has moved way beyond a source of fuel for our bodies–it’s an activity. And I love it. But sometimes, I will admit, the whole food thing is a bit much. Last week I looked around my kitchen counter at one point and almost felt despair: Coconut cupcakes, Apple pie and leftover Carrot Raisin bread. Various take-out containers in the fridge. It had been my birthday week, true–so that does tip the scales a little bit (Oh. Horrible pun. Horrible. Sorry) But still. It was a lot. And if I’m honest, my birthday week leftovers are not all that different from my regular week leftovers. Truth is, my mother is Italian, so this explains a lot. I’m not trying to lay blame here, but if you have an Italian mother, are an Italian mother, or know an Italian mother, then you could just stop reading right here because you already know how the story goes. It’s a wonder we’re not all 300 pounds…
Here is an excerpt from a real life conversation my mom and I had this week when I stopped in at her house:
Mom: Are you hungry? Can I make you a salad? Sandra and I just got back from the Farmer’s Market. There weren’t a whole lot vegetables there, but we bought some amazing cheese and some gourmet coffee and some bread. What can I give you?
Me: No mom, I’m good. Really. I just ate lunch.
Mom: Oh but you have to try this cheese. Just try some. It’s not like regular cheese.
Me: Really mom, I’m full. I really don’t want any.
Mom: Why don’t you want any? It’s so good. How about some of this bread?
Me: I really am actually full, mom. I just don’t want any. ( This I said as I put a bite in my mouth.)
Mom: Then have some of this coffee. Will you have a cup of coffee? You need to drink more– all the running around you do.
Me: Ok, Mom. I’ll have coffee.
Moments later, as I’m stirring in my cream, she slips into the dining room and I already know what’s coming. She comes back in the kitchen and sets down a foil wrapped square of dark chocolate and smiles at me. “This is just a little sweet thing to have with your coffee.” Oh, to be so loved. To be so taken care of. To be so full at every moment of the day. As a mom myself, (and obviously, a part Italian mother) I do relate to this. This need to feed my children, this feeling of nurturing them through food. The older they get, the less you have to do for them– but eating is one thing we never outgrow.
My husband has come to affectionately refer to the size of my mother’s servings as “Pat Servings.” This means regularly unbuttoning the top button of your pants to make room for the obligatory 2nd piece of cake. And if she’s trying to finish up another dish, you have to help the cause. In other words, you can have cake, but it comes with a free serving of fruited Jell-O. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t ask for the Jell-O or said, “No thank you.” We’re trying to finish it up and you have to help. Why are we trying to get rid of it? Why did we make it if no one really wanted it? It doesn’t matter. We have to make room for what’s coming next. And don’t think you’re leaving without leftovers. No sir. No one gets away easy. One night, after much protest, my brother once told my mom that he was going to throw the food out the window on the way home. That’s how much he did not want to take it with him. And here’s the crazy part–she didn’t care! As long as it seemed like he was taking it with him and she didn’t have to have it in her fridge, everyone’s happy.
Or crazy. But one thing’s for sure–we’re full.
Now, all of this is regular food fodder in my family, but there is one Italian Mother Food Story that takes the cake, so to speak. My girls and I had gone along with my parents to visit my much-loved and missed Italian grandmother’s grave. It was a beautiful sunny day and they were going to be planting flowers and cleaning up around the stone. As my parents were digging and planting, the girls and I were just sort of roaming and looking around. After a little time had passed, I wandered back over to them, and low and behold, it was snack time. There sat my youngest ON TOP of my grandmother’s stone, legs dangling above my father’s head as he was weeding, eating brownies and Twizzlers. Evidently, my mother had brought snacks along because, well, that’s what she does. You know how hungry the cemetery can make you. For real. Does it ever end? But Granny was no doubt smiling from heaven, and like a true Italian grandmother, loving every minute of it.
There’s a side story to the cemetery story that has to be told–while I’m recovering from the shock and awe of the snacks, my other daughter, who is a sensitive and deep thinker, had been reading nearby family stones that said things such as, “Father, Angelo. Mother, Katherine” and so on. But she came upon one that she was not expecting–it read “Father, Frank. Mother, Theresa.” Running back to me, hand to her chest, she gasps, “Mother Theresa is buried here!” What could I say? It was like a circus. All I could do was smile. “Yep. That’s right Sweetie. All the way from Calcutta, India to Niagara Falls, New York. Here, have a brownie. They’re good for you.”