Monday, August 23, 2010
I received an impromtu invitation last night to join the family party a friend of mine was hosting as a farewell to her cousins from Italy. They come from the same area of Italy as my paternal grandmother (Avellino), the setting for part of my novel, Dancing on Sunday Afternoons.
It was pouring rain and approaching darkness when I decided to take her up on the invitation. I threw on a raincoat, grabbed an umbrella and headed across town. It wasn't hard to find her mother's house--dance music was throbbing, the backyard was lit up and a tarp extended from the garage to protect guests from the rain. I was instantly embraced, kissed, dragged to meet all the relatives and handed a glass of homemade wine and a plate piled with gnocchi, meatballs and green beans sauteed in olive oil with wild mushrooms.
Three generations filled the backyard; my friend's brother, a musician, acted as DJ; everyone was dancing or singing. I looked around and felt as if I had been transported to my grandmother's house. Overhead was a grape arbor. Half of the backyard was a vegetable garden. In the basement, a second kitchen--not unlike the ones my grandmother, my mother and my aunt each had--served as the center for preparing meals for a crowd. As the evening wound down, someone pulled out an acoustic guitar. A father played while his daughters sang.
Everything about the evening was an affirmation and a reminder of my heritage. It echoed a scene from my book, Across the Table--a graduation party for Rose and Al's oldest son. When I went back tonight to read the passage, I was struck by the similarities:
"What a party! We received permission from the city to use the vacant lot behind the building. We strung Christmas lights and hired a band to play live music. Al's cousin welded some oil drums together and made us big grills to cook the sausage and peppers. We had all of Al Jr.'s favorite foods--lasagne, eggplant parm, sfogliatelle, even big tubs of lemon ice from Mike's Pastry Shop...The kids danced. My aunts sat on their plastic beach chairs, fanning themselves and pinching Al Jr.'s cheeks as if he were still a little boy. Papa and my uncles sat at a back table playing pinochle."