Introduction to the
Festa Italiana: An Appreciation of All Things Italian
Penn State McKeesport
Sunday, October 24, 1999
Many times over
the last six months, during the planning of this event, I have been asked,
“Why would someone with the last name Beech become involved in program
on Italian heritage?”
My response to this was. "In questo mondo chi sono donne italiane che non sposano uomini italiane!" And this is my case my Italian mother did not marry an Italian.
I want you to know that I love my father and his side of the family dearly but because I grew up two blocks away from my maternal grandparents and almost on a daily basis I was in the house of my Nonno and Nonna. These daily visits provided me with a wonderful experience. And from those days I have many warm and pleasant memories of the Italian side of the family.
I would like to share some of those memories with you:
These are not only my memories, for if you grew up in an Italian family these are also your memories! This is what connects us to Cadore, Calabria, Lazio, Abruzzi, La Campangia or Sicilia. This is what makes us who we are. These are experiences and memories we need to pass on to our children and grandchildren. Without these experiences and memories the Italian American experience is lost for the generations to come, and our children will be Italian by last name only! So it was for this reason I felt the need for this program and for other programs like it. Not only to refresh my and your memories but to make you want to share those memories with those you love and to bring those traditions and experiences alive to a new generation so they will have memories and experiences of their own to pass to the next generation.
- Sundays, after church, going to Nonna’s for home-made soup;
- the family gatherings, especially during cold winter days, to make home-made gnocchi, ravioli, and pasta and meals of tripa, risotto and polenta con umido;
- awaiting letters from Italy to hear the news of i cugini Silvio and Beppino and their families and of Barba Angeline, Nene Lea and Nene Pia and then being able to collect the colorful stamps from those letters;
- walking into the house and seeing Nonna at the kitchen table writing her letters to Italy and knowing you had better not disturb her;
- getting live chickens from the poultry farmer, beheading them, plucking them and having a really fresh chicken dinner;
- looking forward to the month of October because a truck would deliver crates of grapes to the house and the family would gather to make wine;
- the wonderful family gathering and the dinner before the pressing of the wine;
- walking through the neighborhood in October and getting a whiff of fermenting grapes and knowing which families were Italian, the Cellerini’s, the Drago’s, the Tassone’s, the DiMeo’s and the Coccia’s;
- Summer walks with Nonno, through the neighborhood, to visit all the little old comares;
- Summer visits by Nene Maria from, Niagara Falls, who would sit on the front porch and talk with Nonno and Nonna for hours all the time knitting, making a winter supply of knit "footies" for the entire family;
- Seeing Nonna’s face when she was sent a new pair of scarpete;
- Watching Nonno in his workshop making a new pair or repairing his shoes and the smell of his pipe;
- Watching Nonna beat eggs to make either french toast or spatovin;
- Hearing a different language being spoken, from the day of your birth, that has a beautiful sing-song rhythm;
- The little songs which were sung to you as a child that you now pass on to your children;
- Seeing Nonna spend countless hours in the garden, tending the vegetable garden and the patch of colorful zinnias and roses;
- Awaiting early spring to go and pick dandelions and having a special delicacy in your salad;
- Cooking steaks in the old coal furnace and getting a taste of the new wine;
- Walking into the wine cellar seeing and smelling the aroma of sausage, salami’s, cheeses and proscuitto hanging from the ceiling;
- The holidays when the family would gather together and Nonno would recount his stories of how he would trudge through the snow to visit Nonna before they were married;
- Hearing Nonna talk of, when she was a young girl, how she would take the cattle to the summer pasture in Razzo;
- Monday morning visits by Nonno for his cafe buon-buon;
- The visits to see Nene Pina and Barba Jerry and his grabbing you by the cheek as of his way of saying hello;
- Visiting the house and hearing the sounds of the daily, Italian, radio program and seeing Nonna enjoy the voice of Carlo Butti;
- Seeing Nonna get a tear in her eye when, contained in a letter from Italy, she would receive a Sella Alpina;
- and then finally visiting Italy and Il Cadore and putting it all together. Seeing Il Piave, Il Tudiao, la Croda Medodi, being on the pasture of Razzo, seeing Lorenzago (la piccola Venezia, where the Pope spends his summer vacations), staying in the house Nonno and his brothers built and where Nonna, Nene Eugenia and Nene Iris lived during the German occupation of WW1, meeting and spending a wonderful time with all the cugini and zie whom you’ve heard of for years and finally had the chance to meet, and really feeling that you are at home.
I hope you enjoy the program we have
planned for you today. Listen, talk and share.