Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

NOTE: This is a wonderful holiday story from my good friend and brother, Fr. Joe Lorenzo.  No one can tell holiday stories like Fr. Joe can.  I share this with you to get us all into the spirit of this Thanksgiving week!  Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!!

Thanksgiving is one of the holidays that has national origins, and yet is very often treated with religious overtones. Although it is not a holy day in the church, and people do not feel the need to go to church on that day, it is still a day when families get together to celebrate around the dinner table, much like we would do on Christmas or Easter.

Growing up in an Italian family always presented a dilemma for us, especially around Thanksgiving time. After all, we asserted the fact that we were “Americans”, not Italians, and that we should be celebrating this holiday in American-style, like other Americans. (It’s funny how, as young people, we wanted to be Americans like everyone else- but as we grow older, we gravitate more and more toward our traditional ethnic origins). Today I would take a dish of mom’s ravioli over a turkey any day.

In those days, I think we were keenly aware that we were different- and didn’t want to be different. I remember the days after Thanksgiving especially, when our non-Italian friends would bring their turkey sandwiches to school for lunch- white meat turkey on white bread smothered with white mayonnaise. How we Italian kids envied them with our eggplant parmigiana, meatball, and sausage sandwiches on fresh Italian bread, oozing with gravy and oil. I remember one of the Irish Sisters that taught us remarking that she could always tell which homework was from the Italian children- it had grease stains on it! And we would gladly trade (with some candy bars thrown in) our greasy gravy-filled sandwiches for one of their turkey delights.

So we revolted. Us kids (cousins, etc) went to our parents, proclaiming, “We want a traditional turkey dinner this year for Thanksgiving. We’re tired of the same old Italian stuff.” And so, it was announced that this year we would have a traditional American turkey dinner for Thanksgiving. However, some concession would still be made to our Italian heritage, but, by far, it would be a turkey dinner.

We were delighted, thinking of the turkey sandwiches on wonder bread we would proudly display at school Monday morning.

Finally, the day arrived. We were all excited- it was like Christmas morning, opening our gifts. I remember going over Aunt Tessie Jr’s house in Park Slope. The table was set. We had so many people the table extended in through two rooms, using fold-up tables to extend the dining room table. There at each place was a half grapefruit, with the fruit cut in pieces, and a cherry on top. Yes, this was exciting.

We sat down for our Thanksgiving Day dinner, as Americans did all over the country. We started with a prayer, usually led by one of the younger cousins. Then we started. How delicious it was, that cold fruit sliding down our throats. After the grapefruit came out several large platters of antipasto- with Italian cold cuts, olives, peppers, artichoke hearts, cheeses, all smothered with olive oil. OK. This was still a turkey dinner, right? After the antipasto came a delicious bowl of hot turkey soup. Yes, we were back on track- Americans again. Then it started- our choice of lasagna, ravioli, or cavatelli, followed by sausage, meatballs, bracciola, pork ribs. What’s going on here? Don’t worry, we were reassured. Turkey’s on its way.

Then came what we were waiting for- a large turkey, sweet potatoes, turkey stuffing, turkey gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet corn. Our eyes bugged out of our heads. This was wonderful, until we realized that we were stuffed. We had filled up so much on the pasta and gravy meat, we couldn’t eat another thing. “You see?” my mother bellowed from the kitchen. “You wanted turkey and nobody ate it!”

Yeah no one ate it, not after all that other food. Our turkey was followed by Italian pastries, and pumpkin and apple pies, accompanied by black coffee (espresso, we say today).

Although the older folks got their way- we cleaned up on the Italian food and the turkey was untouched- we had tons of leftovers for the next few days- including a lot of turkey meat to proudly display at school the next Monday, on wonder bread, dripping with mayo.

Eventually, our American traditions won out- and now we have only our turkey with all the trimmings. But every Thanksgiving, when I sit down to give thanks to God for all his blessings, I remember them all- Mom and Dad, Aunt Tess, Aunt Tess Jr. and Uncle Happy, Aunt Rose and Uncle Nick, Uncle Joe and Aunt Marie- all the De Palo’s and Lorenzo’s, all gone on before us- and I wish I could trade in that big fat turkey for a nice bowl of ravioli with some wonderful meatballs.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Fr. Joe

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