Growing up, years were grounded in celebrations.
Easter at Aunt Josephine’s where we played Trouble in the basement. We ate old school Italian style. Homemade ravioli, crescia, and my all time favorite, Nonna’s chocolate torte.
Fourth of July at Aunt Pauline’s house where we swam until our fingers were pruned like raisins and our lips were blue. We passed the food through her kitchen window into the screened veranda. All the cousins played wiffle ball in the street. When darkness fell, we traded our bat and ball for sparklers.
Thanksgiving at my mom and dad’s house. The preparation for Turkey Day was just as big as the day itself in my memory. We coordinated with our church to borrow tables and chairs for the 40, 50, or 60 people who would show up for a sit down Thanksgiving dinner. My dad and mom and brothers and sister would clear out the furniture from the family room, piling it in other rooms so we could piece together the tables and jam in the chairs, banquet style. Aunts and Uncles and cousins would pour into the house with food in hand. I remember my mother sitting in the kitchen on the stool talking on the phone coordinating the menu a month in advance of the big day. I can still see her handwriting in a notebook, detailing who was bringing what. As we welcomed each family, the chatter grew louder and louder. We sang Bless this House, we said a prayer – sometimes it was the kids who were coerced by loving aunts to get up and read some special words, sometimes it was a spur of the moment prayer and thanksgiving. After dinner, cousins (there are 19) and aunts and uncles (the spry ones) would change their clothes and head out for some football. I remember playing on frozen ground and even in snow!
Christmas Day at Aunt Carol’s. After the chaos of Christmas morning with my own family, we would laze around and then head to Aunt Carols for some more Christmas and my cousin, Jason’s birthday celebration. I remember looking forward to the ride home down 95 to 195 because we passed a company that put out a glorious light display that was clearly visible from the highway.
But the best (ok maybe it’s a tie with Thanksgiving) celebration came in the middle of August, Nonna’s birthday. Aunt Carol had the pool so she hosted this mother of all celebrations. My dad and Uncle Bob were responsible for steak and lobster and steamers for the 40, 50 or 60 people who would show up. Again, just like Thanksgiving, everyone showed up with food and drink. Aunt Doris brought the malasadas and portuguese sweet bread (we are an Italian family, but who doesn’t love portuguese sweet bread). This celebration began at 11 am! This celebration included a family softball game. All the cousins and aunts and uncles would pile in cars and trucks and backs of trucks – seat belts optional – and head to a local school for family softball game. We would return and jump right in that pool and there we’d stay until dinner was ready. I remember sitting down and watching my aunts expertly pick apart and then enjoy eating the lobster. I loved going over to the big pit my Uncle Bob had made to cook the lobsters. At some point, my cousin Scot took over this celebration. We continued on despite the fact that we had lost Nonna. We knew we could and should continue to gather and celebrate, not just her, but us.
And then, life got the best of all of us. All my cousins and I began to have our own families, some of us moved a distance away. We found we only gathered at funerals and occasional weddings. But whenever we got together, we would all talk about getting together for Nonna’s birthday. There was a lot of jovial big talk over the year and when you hear big talk over and over, at some point you’ve got to act.
In May, Billy and I sent out invitations. We were going to take action in the name of all those celebrations I had growing up and hush all my big talking cousins. The Damiani Reunion would happen right here at our home.
This past Saturday, it happened. About 50 of my closest family showed up here at our home. Wiffle ball and softball were replaced with corn hole and badminton. There was no frozen ground for football but there was heated pool for playing dibble. The same cousins that I played with growing up, hung around and chatted and shared a few cocktails while their kids and my kids played and swam. When darkness fell on this celebration, the fire pit came out and we laughed and talked some more.
There were many that were not there, unable to travel, or no longer with us. But I can tell you, they were all here in spirit! It was as if it was yesterday. We ate, talked, laughed and ate some more and all these Italians shut up long enough to snap this picture.