Saturday, March 15, 2008

Family Matters


What ever happened to big family gatherings? It seems that these days extended family only comes together for weddings and funerals. Even my family, which is Italian and holds family in very high regard, doesn’t gather anymore.
Growing up I remember getting together with much of my extended family on every holiday, birthday, baptism, communion and confirmation.

As the years passed, finding a time to meet might’ve become a problem because the family had to work around so many schedules. And then, once the family was assembled, everyone had to decide what to do, what to watch on TV and who was going to help clean the dishes.

Gatherings might’ve also died out in my family because Italian people in one group can sometimes be dangerous. Italian people are very, very passionate. And when passionate people gather, passionate opinions can ignite passionate arguments.

I’ve seen fiery feuds between my father’s side of the family and my mother’s side of the family regarding who had the better meat sauce recipe. And there was always someone who said, “It’s not called sauce, it’s called gravy,” or, “It’s not called pasta, it’s called macaroni.” That set off several other debates.

I’ve witnessed arguments that became louder than the space shuttle’s liftoff and lasted longer than the shuttle mission. Following some feuds would be “silence” standoffs. This person wouldn’t talk to that one, and that one wouldn’t talk to another. Some of these grudges exist to this day.

Regardless of past family gathering troubles, I thought it would be fun to bring my family together on a recent weekend to visit this year’s Feast of San Gennaro in Hollywood. The annual feast is a celebration of the patron saint of Naples, Italy, who worked tirelessly to help people.

For those who saw “The Godfather Part II,” you’ll remember the Feast of San Gennaro that took place on a New York street in the Robert De Niro sequences.

Once my family decided to meet at the Feast of San Gennaro, the drama began.

When were we going to meet? When we arrived, what were we going to do first, second and third? Some members got into arguments about the rules of bocce ball and whether Lamborghinis are better automobiles than Ferraris. Other festival guests who overheard the arguments added their comments.

I didn’t realize there were so many people of Italian descent in Southern California. They all showed up at the feast. And since Italian people are proud of their heritage and always happy to be with other Italian people, many of them felt comfortable joining my family’s arguments.

My family shared a sausage and peppers sandwich lunch with one particular family simply because we all got hungry while we quarreled.

Complete strangers asked to take pictures with my family because my family came from the same part of Sicily as their family. (The Neapolitans had to sit at another table.)

A vendor offered me a free cannoli because I agreed that Frank Sinatra was a better singer than Dean Martin. The Dean Martin fans in my family had a hard time getting service.

At the end of the feast, I don’t know if the hassles outweighed the good times. But I can promise you that my family will meet again at next year’s feast. I can’t wait.

-October 2006

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