Growing up, every Sunday afternoon was spent at my aunt and uncle’s house with all the rest of the family who also “happened by”, as expected. Italian families have strict codes of conduct. They are the unwritten “rules” that everyone knows and abides by despite any personal inconvenience.
We laughed and ate. The adults played cards, discussed business and gossiped. The kids, and there are MANY in an Italian family, played and watched TV and generally tried to stay out-of-the-way.
There was always the smell of some version of sauce brewing and brewing until just the precise moment that my Uncle declared it finished. Then, it was a “first come – first served” stampede! You better hurry up because NO ONE was watching out for you, making sure you ate. When it was gone, it was gone. Hope you liked it.
Then, there was more card playing and talking and, well, a kid could get pretty bored. If you had not yet reached the age of card playing ability, but were too old to want to swing or ride a bike, you were pretty much stuck. What to do?
Somehow the TV always found its way to – now get this-Italian family – the God Father right? No, oh, that we were so lucky! No, what the older kids who controlled the dial gravitated to was: The Beverly Hillbillies. And, thus, began my education of all things Southern. We did, with the advent of the VCR, eventually come to know and quote the GodFather by heart, but in those formative years, it was all hillbilly!
So, there we sat, all 15 of us, gathered around a 27 inch console TV with a color tube ready to go out at any moment, soaking up all of the Ellie May we could digest. In the midst of the culture that ensued was always a candy dish. There are two flavors of candy in Italian homes- anise and lemon. Everyone I knew growing up had a candy dish and that one was ALWAYS full of anise candy. Sometimes it was the hard red kind and sometimes, the black mints, but always anise.
In my mind I can still smell the distinct sharpness of the dark red pieces. It was so pretty, all wrapped in red cellophane, like Christmas all year. Anise is an acquired taste. My own children have probably never had it. It’s licorice, but not exactly, and dark cherry, but with a peppery bite to it. The smooth, tongue numbing square was exactly enough to get you through a thirty minute episode as long as you sucked on it and never crunched it up. We ate a whole dish each week and had contests to see who could make their piece last the longest. I could beat them all!
As I sat writing this Sunday night, I so wished I had a piece, but there is none to be had here. I’ve looked. Add it to the list of groceries I need to pick up next time I’m “home”.
Maybe what I really wanted was just a piece of that family time. Although it was simple, and I didn’t understand it at the time, it played a large role in making me who I am today. Add it to the list of things that are Just Me.