What Ever Happened to Sunday Dinner?

Grandma Roasted a Pig This Sunday

Grandma Roasted a Pig This Sunday

When we arrived home from church, the doors to each of our three tenement home were open, and the smells crept into every corner.
Grandma was banging her wooden spoon on the rim of the pot.

The meatballs sizzled in olive oil and garlic. Grandma started her gravy, a rich tomato-based sauce with cuts of meat and spices, in the early morning because it took hours of slow cooking on the rear burners of the Barstow Stove.

Taking two stairs at a time, I went to her pantry, ripped the corner from the Italian bread and dunked it in her gravy. I blew on the bread as I cradled it with two hands, strolling into the dining room to peek at the mahogany table covered with its plain white cloth. Sun splashed on plain dishes surrounded by knives forks and spoons sitting patiently in front of each chair. In the adjacent parlor was a smaller table set the same way for us children.

I have no idea how grandmother did it. In a small tenement, she prepared dinner for her large family every Sunday. She sustained a long tradition of how we should enjoy Sunday; as a family lingering in conversation at the dinner table.
Grandma was a small, quiet, purposeful and efficient kitchen technician, buzzing from pantry to kitchen stove to dining room, a gravy-splashed apron skirting her waist. We sat.

The first course was an antipasto of meats, cheeses and roasted red peppers. Chicken and dumpling soup or chicken soup with tiny meatballs, some floating like land mines ready to explode on the way down, followed. Then came the homemade pasta. She served the meatballs, sausage and braciole in a side dish. Stuffed artichokes, salad and string beans accompanied a chicken roasted with crispy potatoes. Fresh bread came from the local Italian bakery. Desserts included fresh figs, fruits, cakes and Italian pastries. Nuts sat in bowls, waiting to be cracked. At each end of the table was Grandpa’s homemade wine. It smelled like his cellar where he made it

After dinner, the kids went out to play while the adults sat around to talk. I recall the same subjects discussed over and over…work, children, neighbors, gossip, etc. They laughed a lot. No one adjourned to a TV room. Rather, they enjoyed the simplicity and grace of the day and of each other.

The dinners, like my grandparents, grew old and eventually died, though my mother continued them for a while. My children had the opportunity to experience the love, respect, partnership and joy of extended family through my Mom’s Sunday Dinners.

I loved those Sunday dinners, but not until recent years did I realize how much. In some ways, life seemed better then. We enjoyed freedom from the slavery of the clock.

The dinners drew us to Grandma’s and family every week.

© 2016

By | 2017-07-10T16:10:08+00:00 March 7th, 2016|Family|23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. elaine March 7, 2016 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    Ed, I lived on Dover St and every Sunday as long as I can remember was Sunday dinner at what we affectionately call Russo Mansion. Once my grandmother passed, we moved in the house to care for my grandfather……and the dinners continued. Once my grandfather passed I am not sure if they continued or not as my branch of the family moved out of state with my dad’s job.

    There are many fond memories…..laughter, good food, fun, love….the memories linger and I am sad that my niece and nephew will never experience it.

    • Ed March 7, 2016 at 4:21 pm - Reply

      Beautiful, Elaine. Thank you. By the way, did not the Carroll sisters live on Dover? Corinne was my favorite teacher

  2. Al Apicelli March 7, 2016 at 3:07 pm - Reply

    AMEN!

    • Ed March 7, 2016 at 4:20 pm - Reply

      Yes, we prayed also. Thanks, Al. Wonderful days…

  3. Ann Storti March 7, 2016 at 3:34 pm - Reply

    Dear Dr. I:

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read your book entitled “What ever happened to Sunday dinner.” Just reading this brings me back to the good old days. As usual I find myself rambling about those days, so let me just summarize my feelings, we lived in the best of times where family and friends respected one another. We would never disrespect our parents, let alone our grandparents. So on Sunday’s we found our way to our grandparents for another day to remember. Not only did we find delicious food but the love and warmth of a large family united together. So “What Ever Happened to Sunday Dinner?” Unfortunately, our great-grandchildren will never experience this.

  4. Howie Weldon March 7, 2016 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    I read your story with fond memories of years ago at my Auntie Carmella’s house, where meals were cooked and families came and went visiting throughout the day. Howie Howie…. she would yell at me to go down to Valley Street and get 2 pounds of pizza dough. Auntie Carmella adopted me into the family and taught me many of her favorite recipes that I still use to this day.

    When I came back to Rhodes Island, after 30+ years in Minnesota, I went with my then fiance to visit her older sister. Mary was in her late eighties, Italian and very spirited in many ways. She lived in a five room tenement off Hawkins Street for over 50+ years. We got along famously and I loved to kid her and say……. Forget Anna and lets go down to the corner bar and have a few glasses of Anisette. But what struck me most and brought back so many memories was her kitchen table…. a monster of an old oak table. Three leafs in the middle and it took up half the kitchen. How many meals and memories were served at this table? Who needed anything else but that table, where all of life was discussed and families fed outrageous Italian meals. After Mass on the 1st Anniversary of her death, we all gathered in Mary’s apartment where her daughter now lived and we sat around the table remembering Mary’s life. I wished at that moment I had bought a bottle of Anisette in tribute to our private joke.

    The table symbolized to me, communion, in every sense of the word. I am single and yet my most comfortable spot in my apartment is at my table and not my recliner. I eat, read, contemplate and my thoughts always goes back to Mary’s table. An institution in and of itself.

    • Ed March 7, 2016 at 4:17 pm - Reply

      Beautiful story, Howie. Memories to cherish.

    • Ed March 7, 2016 at 4:19 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Ann. Yes, we were so lucky to experience those days when people gathered, talked…no cell phones, rare TV, no malls…just family. Days to cherish indeed. Thanks for sharing your stories.

  5. Richard Di Cicco March 7, 2016 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    Crunale used to deliver the Italian Bread to my Grandmothers house on Geneva St. She reserved the heel of the loaf for me.
    I was unser 5 at the time.

    • Ed March 7, 2016 at 6:41 pm - Reply

      Great bread. The heel was made for dunking in the gravy.

  6. Ray Penza March 7, 2016 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    Wow, memories of Dover Street! We lived on one corner of Carlton & Dover. My grandparents lived across the street. Sunday dinner was at their house every Sunday. You depiction of the ritual brought back memorable sights, sounds, and smells.

    • Ed March 7, 2016 at 6:40 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Ray I walked up that hill many days on my way to George J. West.

    • elaine March 7, 2016 at 9:11 pm - Reply

      We lived at Dover and Carleton too….I had to look at google maps to make sure my memory was not failing me! The house had 2 great porches and lots of love!

      • Ed March 7, 2016 at 9:50 pm - Reply

        Great stuff. I lived on Wealth Avenue, not far away at all. One happy neighborhood, Eh?

  7. Natalie McKenna March 7, 2016 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    I love your books and your articles from then newspaper. Brings back so many memories of such a wonderful time to have lived and the closeness of family!

    • Ed March 7, 2016 at 6:39 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Natalie. I am pleased to have rekindled your memories.

  8. Tom Conca March 8, 2016 at 9:59 pm - Reply

    ED,

    I grew up on Home Ave. Your story on Sunday dinner is a carbon copy of the Sunday dinners I grew up with in the 70’s

    and early 80’s living in a two story house with my Italian Grandparents living upstairs. Right down to the bowl of nuts

    on the table. All day Saturday the smell of my Grandma’s gravy cooking would permeate the house! And the big day,

    Sunday dinner after Mass at Blessed Sacrement! Just memories now, the last one, my Dad, passed away at the age of 94 last

    September.

    • Ed March 9, 2016 at 5:15 pm - Reply

      Just memories, but great ones, Tom!

  9. Nino Moscardi March 15, 2016 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    Hi Ed…we too grew up enjoying Sunday’s at Nonna’s, and to a large extent have been able to keep the tradition alive, now that Elaine and I are Nonna and Nonno (or in our case Poppy and Boomom). This is especially true during the Fall and Winter when football is on the tube and the meal extends through the entire afternoon. My Mom, Rosa, still manages to generate a family favorite dish each and every Sunday though Elaine (a marvelous cook) now does the heavy lifting. It is a powerful family ritual that our children and their families have come to value every bit as much as we did. And, the little ones look forward to Sunday’s at Poppy and Boomom’s with equal relish. Hopefully my children will carry on the tradition when we’re no longer able to. Thanks for sharing your experience…

  10. Alan Amaral March 28, 2016 at 10:24 pm - Reply

    Wonderful work, Dr. Ed! Similar memories of growing up in the small Italian Community near Columbus Park in Fall River are brought to mind with great fondness.With Mama and “Noni” as we called her, the Italian side of our family dominated and Dad was lucky to get a stick of Chourico once a year! He never complained though – how could he? With the homemade sauce, meatballs, sausage, pasta, chicken, biscotti, and numerous other Italian delights and boundless love, there was nothing approaching a complaint!

    • Ed March 29, 2016 at 12:10 pm - Reply

      Sounds wonderful, Alan. Thank you for sharing your precious memories.. Would that we could bottle them and those who made them.

  11. Ron Giangiacomo April 1, 2016 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    Hi Ed:

    As a kid, I grew up in the Mt. Pleasant area and one of my buddies back then was Lou Iannuccilli…..any relation? He lived on Rushmore Ave. I am still friends with his cousin, Alex Ondis. Al lived on Manton Ave. I had Miss Carroll as a Latin teacher at George J West Jr. High.

    Yes, those “were the days”!!

    Ron Giangiacomo

    PS: My wife needs a good GI specialist….who would you recommend?

    • Ed April 1, 2016 at 6:14 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Ron. I too had Miss Carroll for English. I will write a story about her for my third book, hopefully out in the fall.
      Will send GI recommendation to your e-mail

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