It is late in the afternoon on Easter Sunday. My children are playing nicely outside with their cousins in the warm spring air. They are running off the sugar that has charged their systems, a product of the always fruitful egg hunt. Some of the men in my family are playing with the children, others are resting after a full meal. Inside, the dining room table is cluttered with desserts. The smell of much needed coffee wafts from the carafe as mugs replace our now empty wine glasses. I sit with my aunt and my mother while nibbling on an Italian anisette cookie; my grandmother’s recipe. She’s been gone for over thirteen years now. It is impossible to taste that sweet sugar coating and not be immediately transported to my childhood days spent in her kitchen. Yet they still aren’t quite the same. For thirteen years they have never tasted exactly right, and I feel certain they never will again. Grandma, you left something out when you shared your legacy.
It is only a moment’s pause that I give to my taste buds, because I am now looking at the matriarchs of my mother’s family. She has become one of them. I marvel that it was not so long ago that I was one of the children running out in the yard while the elder female members of my family congregated around the circular table. Their discussions of relatives, politics, religion, and of our deeply woven roots in the Italian village of our small town where I was raised had no draw to me back then. I am unaware of when that changed. It was not a conscious decision I etched in my mind when I found myself taking up a chair to listen. Nor am I certain of the day in which I began to speak. When that day did come, however, the women of my family welcomed me to their conversation. There is no secret to joining the ranks; one only needs a desire to be here.
Here, is exactly where I find myself wanting to be, holiday after holiday. It is here that I am reminded of the history of my family. It is here that those who have gone before us are remembered and honored as we share their stories. Some stories are recalled fondly and others serve as lessons; reminders not to let history repeat itself in vicious cycles which would undoubtedly persist should they go unchecked. Opinions are expressed; differences though not always appreciated are respected. Our Italian blood runs deep. Animated hand gestures and passionate arguments inevitably make their way around the circle. Like a sonata our voices rise, conflict, and resolve in measured time. Always we are learning, and always we come together in harmony once more before reaching a restful state, a quiet pause for reflection as we sip our coffee and taste the treats of our heritage.
There used to be many more seated at the table. Some have passed on from this world, some moved away, and some have formed circles of their own. As I sit with my mother and my aunt, our numbers dwindled much more than usual; I pause to wonder what this table will look like in ten years time. Will we all be together? Will those who are missing rejoin us? Will the young take interest in our circle? How old will my daughter be when the stories of her great grandparents kindle her attention? Will she recognize the significance of the action when she sidles near to take up a chair and listen? If the women of my family, le donne della mia famiglia, can pass on one message to my daughter, I hope it will be this:
La famiglia è la patria del cuore.
Your family is the homeland of your heart.