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  • jtbelangela

Sunday Dinner

What did you do last Sunday afternoon? Perhaps you watched your child’s soccer game, attended a church function or went to a movie? In our modern (translationhurried) life, it seems to me that Sunday is becoming a day that is synonymous with over-scheduling.

I’m not judging; I’m as guilty as the next person. I spend my Sundays trying to keep my life balanced; and what that entails varies from week to week. There are some things I don’t get away from; shuttling my children here and there; squeezing in visits with family and friends, making meals for the week and catching up on one of our 734 loads weekly loads of laundry. Usually as I’m standing at the washing machine, I allow my mind to wander. One of my favorite memories to get lost in are those of a time when Sundays were something completely different.

As a member of a large Italian family, it was ingrained in me that Sunday was a special day. It was a day for celebrating our heritage with all the things that meant the most to us: church, family, and of course, food. No matter what commitments you had, you were expected at Grandma’s at 2:00. You grabbed a seat at the ever-expanding table and prepared for great food, loud voices and memories that would last a lifetime.

The menu varied a little seasonally, but mostly you knew what would be served. Pasta, of course, in every shape under the sun, served with a thick covering of slow-cooked gravy. (Please don’t ever call it sauce.) The pasta was served in giant bowl large enough to double as a baby’s bath tub. On the side of that would be a bowl of assorted meats that were simmered in the gravy; meatballs, spare ribs, braciole, and an occasional chicken leg or thigh. To this dayand this is coming from someone who eats vegetarian more often than notI still dream about my great-grandmother’s meatballs. They were perfectly seasoned and light as air. I’ve never had another meatball exactly like hers, but in full disclosure, my husband’s come pretty darned close. I don’t know what the secret was, but I sure wish she had told me.

There was always an entrée to accompany the pasta course; some eggplant or chicken parm or perhaps a veal dish. After thatyes, people were still hungrythe salad course would be served in a huge wooden bowl. “For good digestion,” my grandmother would say. Finally, people were (mostly) full.

As the eating began to slow down, dishes would be cleared, and a fresh table cloth put down. It was almost time for the desert course, but not before a quick card game was held for the adults. The kids either ran around outside or took part in a game of Scrabble or Monopoly. By the time the entertainment was winding down, more food had appeared. A large bowl of fresh, whole fruits took center stage. To one side would be a bowl of whole nuts. A variety of incredible deserts would then hit the table. Cookies, cakes, and pastries were stacked high on special platters. My grandmother would take the orders for coffee, whether for American coffee or espresso brewed in a special double pot. Sambuca was optional, but always at the ready.

Most of my female relatives had a desert they were famous for. They were all incredible, but I was partial to one of my aunt’s spritz cookies and my great-grandmother’s honey balls and zeppole. I was not above pushing my brother down to the ground to be the first one to get to shake the brown paper bag used to coat those zeppole in granulated sugar. Hey, it was an honor to shake that bag! Plus, you got to eat the first one.

As the years slipped by, the once-bursting table began to have fewer and fewer seats. While some empty chairs were from marriages and moves, unfortunately the greater majority was due to loss. I try not to dwell on that though; I guess that’s how life goes. I was given wonderful memories, and I happily entertain my children with them on a regular basis. Whenever I need to center, whenever I need to be inside that warm, wonderful place with mouth-watering smells and the echoes of genuine laughter, I close my eyes and I’m there. Want to join me? There’s always room for one more at Grandma’s table.