Growing up, Thanksgivings were spent at my grandparent’s house. Seventeen to twenty of our family members (depending on what year it was) would congregate in their small house for the day. While the adults passed the time in the kitchen and living room, my cousins, my brother and I would hang out in grandma’s bedroom. We had no games, no videos, no music, but we were never bored. We made up things to do – anything to keep ourselves entertained while we waited…
Let me pause here to say that I love my family. My aunts, uncles, and cousins are my favorite people. We’re close and I am truly thankful to have them. But I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that the highlight of the day was the moment my grandfather announced supper was ready. In a rush of euphoric glee, we’d drop what we were doing, gather around the extended table in the kitchen and watch as he placed the large, tan ceramic bowl in the center with the simple instruction. “Mangia!”
Under a thick haze of Camel cigarette smoke, and amid the threat of misdirected fork prongs, we simultaneously dug into that bowl and feasted on homemade, melt-in-your-mouth raviolis. There was no one serving us. We learned to fend for ourselves. I became a fork-wielding master at an early age. Over conversation and jokes, we inhaled in minutes what took Grandpa hours and hours to make.
That ceramic bowl was center of every holiday spent at that house. When that bowl came out, it brought the sun with it.
After every ravi was gone, we rolled ourselves from the table and in a self-induced food coma, continued our play. Two hours later, we were called back to the table for the traditional turkey dinner. Life in an Italian-American family.
I never went for the turkey. I’d sit at the children’s section of the table, still full, and pick on stuffing and potatoes, reminiscing about the beloved ravis I hadn’t yet digested. I also knew there would be desserts coming later. It was an eat-fest. It was wonderful.
When the sky darkened and the dishes were washed (no dishwasher mind you. As we got older we earned the coveted position as head washer or dryer), the children retired to the living room to watch The Wizard of Oz, while the adults stayed in the kitchen playing cards for money.
Every Thanksgiving without fail, this is what we did, until we lost our grandparents. I was twenty-five when my grandmother died. When my grandfather passed four years later, I stood at his casket knowing that life would never be the same. Thanksgiving would never be the same.
I was right.
While I stood at his casket saying my silent so long, one of my cousins stood next to me and she asked the question that was on all of our minds that somber day. “Who do you think will get the ravioli bowl?”
Of course, it went to one of his children.
I’m almost fifty now and I sit at a different Thanksgiving table with my husband and our children. Tomorrow, as I do every year, I’ll give thanks for the childhood I had, the family I love, my grandparents, who I miss terribly and for the raviolis I enjoyed for almost three decades. I have a replica of Grandpa’s ravioli bowl, sent to me a few years ago by an aunt who found it at a flea market down south. When I opened the box and saw it, I was overwhelmed with sadness and gratitude. I treasure the countless memories of my youth spent around this bowl. Laughter, tears, always love, and raviolis.
So, no turkey for me this year. I’ll be feasting on memories of times gone by.
I wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving.