Like many of you, my family has fixed locations for holidays. They are different now, but growing up they went like this: Christmas and New Year’s at our house, 4th of July and Thanksgiving at Aunt Mel and Uncle Ray’s, and Easter at Aunt Mildred’s. Now, you were getting a good meal no matter the holiday and definitely gaining a few pounds in the process, but it was at Aunt Mildred’s that the scale of the meal and the poundage gain achieved the stuff of legend.
We started with antipasto and Aunt Mildred’s shrimp scampi. Next came the first of the two main courses, the Italian main course, consisting of lasagna, meatballs, sausages, and bracciole. After the plates were cleared and a short time passed came the second main course, the non-Italian, consisting of ham, lamb, turkey and all the trimmings. Finally, we ended with pastries, desserts, and coffee (not that there wasn’t coffee available from moment one in an urn the size of Montana).
It was an immense amount of food, but you probably already guessed that. It also influenced our wardrobe for the day: The kids dressed for Easter; the adults dressed for comfort. You wore your loosest pants and at that, still had to undo the top of them to keep from bursting. A button down shirt was better than a pullover because you could keep opening buttons both to make room and release heat, although midway through the second main course, it looked like 1970s disco with all the men having their shirts open to their navels.
Lest we run afoul of the fitness police, it wasn’t one big eating fest. No sir, we had an exercise element to the festivities. It was that time after the first main course when the entire family did a lap or two around Aunt Mildred’s block to make room for the second main course. Considering this was New York City, da Bronx to be exact, it wasn’t a small block which was good because it certainly wasn’t a small first main course to work off nor a small second main course waiting for our return.
Now like all good stories, there are stories within the story and this one is no exception. It comes in the unlikely form of the making of the shrimp scampi. For those unfamiliar, shrimp scampi involves shrimp and garlic. You obviously knew the former and, being an Italian dish, you should have guessed the latter, but not everyone has seen Goodfellas so we make allowances.
When Aunt Mildred made her shrimp scampi, it was more than just making the dish. What really went on was that most of the women in the family gathered around her in that postage stamp of a kitchen she had while she held court alternating using a knife to cut the garlic and gesture toward one or more of them when making a point. I happened to witness one of these taking my friend’s wife to the kitchen where I knew she’d be right at home growing up in a similar Italian family. She was quickly welcomed in as Aunt Mildred called on her just as she did with the other women using the knife to inquire, “What do you look for in a man?” and scoffing the same, “No! Next!” The answer, according to Aunt Mildred, is not for this space, but it was memorable and hysterical, and my friend’s wife bonded forever with everyone in the laughter.
So was it just about food, food, and more food? The answer, of course, is a resounding no as the holding court while making shrimp scampi story within a story attests. Easter at Aunt Mildred’s was about family and love. Love for each other. Love for our Lord Jesus whose resurrection the day is really about. We celebrated that day like we celebrated everything in my family with tons of food and tons of love. That’s what makes holidays so special. You eat, you laugh, you love, and you do it again and again. With family. With friends. With family and friends.
Buona Pasqua, mia famiglia e amici!