Thursday, March 4, 2010

No Sneezing on Thursdays!

Let’s pretend it’s a Thursday back in 1974. My family is visiting relatives in Harrison, New York, my father’s hometown. We are all gathered in the house my grandfather built (literally), and all of a sudden … I sneeze! “No sneezing on Thursdays,” my Grandma 2-28-2010 3;33;03 PMMarietta says! Or if it was a Tuesday and I coughed: “No coughing on Tuesdays!” It makes me smile just to think about it.

My grandmother died in August 1994, 11 years after my father. She lived to see many people in her life – her parents, her brothers, her husband – die, but bearing my father, then witnessing his life from start to finish – that was the most heartbreaking event of her life, she once told me. I’ll never forget that.

I’ll also never forget how beautifully she crocheted and cross-stitched – many pieces of her handiwork are scattered in family homes throughout the northeast. She crocheted this quilt for me:


…and this doll quilt:


…and she cross-stitched this tablecloth:


Yes, Gram was focused and talented, but she also liked to have fun. Her favorite game was 500 Rummy, probably because she always won. My cousins and I used to say that she cheated, but really, she wasn’t afraid to hold onto a handful of cards for when she might need them later on. I believe she could have won in one hand if she really wanted to.

Her long fingernails were always painted bright red, perhaps to distract from her terrible arthritis. But those fingers worked just fine when one of us was staring at our draw of cards trying to decide what to do. Gram would quickly, but methodically tap her fingers – one at a time, starting with her pinky and working her way to the pointer – over and over again on the tabletop, causing distraction and tension all at the same time.

My mom also reminds me that my grandmother made the best salads ever. The reason: the nail polish, they teased. Gram always tossed her salads by hand, and surely tiny flecks of red nail polish were the secret ingredient that made her salads stand out among all others.

The last time I saw Grandma Marietta alive was when I took my husband Dave to meet her in the nursing home two years before he and I were married. We had a nice conversation, the three of us, and Gram seemed to think him a nice guy. I remember knowing when we left that I’d likely never see her alive again. It made me cry then and makes me cry now. She died not long after, at the fair age of 85 … but as we all know, memories never die.

Every grandmother has one signature dish. My niece’s grandmother on her mother’s side made the most interesting meatballs I’ve ever had. On the outside, they looked like every other meatball, but hiding inside were pine nuts and raisins. I rarely like raisins, but the sweetness and added texture made these meatballs unique and flavorful – and some of the best I’ve sampled in my 45 years.

As for my grandmother, in my book her signature dish is her meatloaf. Again, from the outside, it looked like any other meatloaf, but hiding inside were hard-boiled eggs. Gram must have liked hard-boiled eggs – she also added them, chopped up, to her lasagna, along with pieces of sausage.

I’m not a grandmother yet, but I know having both of mine around into my 20s was a real treat. Grandmothers have many things to offer that as mothers we are sometimes too distracted to remember – things like:
  • Children like when the adults in their lives say silly things on purpose.
  • Children really can handle the truth … and in fact, they come to cherish that you shared it with them.
  • It’s important to leave hand- and heart-made items behind for your loved ones to hold onto.
  • Children need to learn to take chances, and though sometimes they may fail, more often they will not.
  • Red fingernails are pretty … and never forgotten.
  • And most importantly, children love surprises! 
We journey on without our grandparents and eventually our parents, but to the end, they live on in what we say and do and make and believe. They are where we come from … and even if only in spirit, every day they help us move forward to where we want to go. Sapendo questo mi conforta.

(Click here to view
and print recipe)

Also highlighted in this blog:
Lasagna, Marietta-Style
(Click here to view and print recipe)

Meatloaf, Marietta-Style on Foodista


uncle soupy said...

beautiful, maria.

stephanie said...

Maria, that was so lovely! I have tears in my eyes! Certainly made me think of my nana (also Italian)!

stephanie said...

Forgot to tell you. You so look like your grandmother!! :)

Jolyn said...

I just came to your blog from another new blog I was visiting. After reading your post about your Grandma I knew I had to be a follower of yours.I 'm 1/2 Italian and I had a wonderful Aunt full Italian that was so much like your Grandma. we have our Sunday meals there...Oh so good. I look forward to reading your posts and trying some good authenic Italian recipes. Have a wonderful week.
seasons of life/Jolyn

Allie and Pattie said...

Hi Maria, Glad I found you! My daughter and I recently started blogging and it's mostly about my Italian heritage and cooking. I love the story of your grandmother! I recently posted on my family's polpettone which is the Italian meatloaf with eggs-LOVE it! We'll be followers!
xoxo Pattie and Allie

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

I love this meatloaf's just like my mother-in-law's!

I became a follower of your blog.

linda said...

Just stopping by via Wendy...

What a beautiful post! Your grandmother sounds wonderful and one of a kind, like grandmother's should be!

I missed out on the grandmother thing (on both sides unfortunately) but my mom is a fantastic grandmother. My two kids are very lucky. They will have enough memories to last a lifetime!

Sarah @ Mum In Bloom said...

Just stopping by from Wendy's too. Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing this memory with us, red fingernails, her crafts, recipes. How sweet a Grandma is :)

Natasha said...

I have just come to visit via Wendy too! Your Grandma sounds just lovely!

That would be a great recipe for Easter wouldn't it! It would be such a nice surprise to find a yummy egg in with all that meat.

Best wishes,

Deb @ Confessions of an Ugly Mom said...

Keeping grandparents around until we're adults is definitely a treat. So glad to hear the nailpolish flecks are a good thing, and love the hidden food idea.

Wendy said...

What a great post! I loved reading this and learning about your grandmother! This would be fun for Easter :) Thanks for helping make our heart smile and joining in on the party :)

Mindy said...

Maria, This is beautiful...