Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
In fact, named after Tolstoy’s work, the Anna Karenina principle postulates that in order to be happy, a family must be successful on each and every one of a range of criteria.
Failure on only one of these counts leads to unhappiness.
There are more ways for a family to be unhappy than happy.
Here are three, off the cuff, which doomed my family: poor parenting, lack of mutual affection, and financial insecurity.
So number mine among the uniquely unhappy families, that is unhappy in a unique way, not that we alone unhappy.
The population of the 1950s-1960s North End of Boston had a high proportion of unhappy families.
Honestly, I believe more of us were seriously unhappy than happy.
No happy pasta salad picnics by the lake for most of us. (Cf. Jack Nicholson in “Ask Good as it Gets.”)
What puzzles me, looking back at our Sundays, is how we got through the long repast that was Sunday dinner without second degree murder, committed in a “rit of felous jage.” Look up the reference.
Everyone did something to contribute.
Maybe that the secret.
Bitching and moaning, accusing, but setting the table. Or grinding the black pepper or tasting if the pasta was done.
At noontime we sardined into our tiny kitchen, my mother and four children, dad still out tanking up, a kitchen dining table, six chairs – dad would be back to add tension, coals to Newcastle, no counter space so no place to prepare the food except at the table, no room to sit until we all sat together: the pulled-out chairs precluded anyone walking around the table without someone else getting up and complaining.
We sat at the same time.
We were rude and mean to each other during the meal as we were at all other times.
We rarely had anything nice to say.
And I think that herein lies the appeal of Sunday dinner in the Italian neighborhood.
The work that my mother put into the meal was, on Sunday, making The Gravy, an act of love from a person or people who didn’t know how else to say “I love you.”
The grunts of approval and appreciation were reflexive responses from people who didn’t know how to say, “Thank you, mom.
“For all your work.
“For all your sacrifices.
“For doing the best you knew how.”
And I’m so sorry it took me so long to understand that.
But I don’t want these sadness’s to take away from the real story, “The Sunday Gravy.”
Let’s get to Today’s Post.
After these public service announcements.
Today is Monday, June 11, 2018
Good morning, my friends.
This is my sixty-fifth consecutive daily posting.
A lovely day is you like cool, crisp Junes.
On TV: “Top Hat,” Fred and Ginger’s most successful movie.
I’m at my desk.
Dinner is a second meal from that Long Island duck I made on Saturday.
I won’t call it ‘leftovers.’
I ate Saturday’s duck out of the oven, without gravy.
Today’s meal will be served with gravy.
Southern Italy’s response to its proliferation of tomatoes, olives, herbs and poverty was the creation of two justifiably famous tomato sauces: Marinara Sauce and “The Gravy,” although I think Italians call it a ‘ragu.’
What people from Italy call it means little to us, born in America.
The essence of Marinara Sauce is its lightness, herbal and olive oil flavors and versatility.
The genius of “The Gravy” is the complex meat flavor of its sauce derived from less costly cuts of meat.
Together with pasta, “The Gravy” produces a two-course meal of extraordinary richness, taste and satisfaction.
Italian immigrants brought these recipes to America and their children incorporated them into the Italo (Italian-American) sub-culture.
While these and other recipes became popular throughout the United States, “The Gravy” achieved a singular importance in the lives of Italos (Italian-Americans.)
Sunday mornings in Italo (Italian-American) ghettos all over America were uniquely wonderful.
Every apartment in the neighborhood had its pot of gravy simmering; and open the street door to any apartment building and it smelled of heaven.
Very difficult to get out to Church with that simmering perfumed pot of tomatoes and meat beckoning.
But we couldn’t eat if we were going to Mass and Communion – the Church proscribed it.
But we could rush right home after Mass to steal a meatball out of the pot.
Of course, every Italo or Italian mother knew enough to make enough meatballs to compensate for the disappearance of a few.
Our typical Sunday dinner consisted of three courses: the pasta, the meat from The Gravy, and a salad that was always served after the meat.
Dessert was unusual.
Almost as important as selecting the meat, was the selection of the pasta.
The holiday or special event pasta was my mother’s homemade, pasta which set the New World standard of excellence.
Despite the number of truly excellent cooks in our family, no one for the past 60 years has equaled her skills.
Olga’s homemade Cheese Ravioli was so good that, to this day, I believe that it was God’s apology to us for our deprivations. They occupied the top of everyone’s wish list.
However, her potato gnocchi were nothing short of brilliant.
However, both of those were reserved for special events, like birthdays.
When we ate boxed pasta, almost always, I lobbied for the very large pastas, my all-time favorite being cannoni, something like giant penne pasta.
We ate a great variety of meat and a great variety of pasta.
Our Sunday dinner was always the same, always different.
Ask any Italo who grew up in a ghetto and he or she will regale us with stories of the past that centered around that Sunday pot of The Gravy.
As soon as the kids went off to Church for the 9.00 o’clock Children’s Mass, those friends with phones were calling each other, the first subject, “The Gravy.”
“Did you make your Gravy yet?” one wife would ask the other.
“Ya, I woke up early this morning an’ I made it. I put pig’s feet in.”
“Me, too. I put some chicken feet in. I got them for free in the Chicken House.”
The Chicken House? Another day.
Nostalgia? Thy name is “The Gravy.”
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