PICTURED: SAINT AUNT MADELINE AND SAINT AUNT MENA
I've been thinking a lot about expectations. I was raised by a mother and father who expected a lot where family was concerned. After my Nonie died, my mother was expected to cook an Italian meal exactly like hers, every Sunday. She always did.
Considering that my mother was Irish, learning to cook like Nonie wasn't easy. It was an expectation that was fulfilled after the first year that my mother married my father and moved in to Nonnie and Poppy's house in New Haven, CT. My mom learned how to cook it all, from pasta fagioli to bracciole and she became, as she called it, "Italian by injection." She even acted Italian, flinging her hands in the air when she spoke, and often replied when asked what was for dinner, "Cappi cazzo on toast (balls on toast)."
When I married my first husband, Steve, at the young age of 18, my mother was expected to cook 600 stuffed pasta shells for 150 guests because my father didn't trust anyone else to cook like his mother. This was served in addition to prime rib, vegetables, potatoes and a slew of other foods. My mother was also expected each day to comb his hair, lay out his clothes, and wait on him hand and foot. This was something she did happily.
His wife and children were expected to go to church, even though my father only stepped foot in a church when someone got married, or had their first communion or confirmation. And then, he sat in the back of the church with his brothers and friends reading the racing form. But we went. We had no choice. My mother was also expected to convert from Protestant to Catholicism when they married. She did.
Being with family was a given. Every Sunday, we were all expected to be seated for dinner. None of us even thought of saying we had other plans. If we didn't show up, my father would hunt us down and bring us to the table. The same applied for all holidays, other people's weddings, funerals, birthdays, First Communions, Confirmations, anniversaries, and other various celebrations.
This might explain why my sister and I have expectations. Gina expects her in-laws to want to see her children and to long for them when they can't. We expect our brother to want to be with us. We want our nieces to miss us when they have not spoken to or seen us. We want everyone in our family to feel the way we do, to want to get together and hang out and eat and have fun. But times change, and that hurts. Mom is gone and we want her back. We want the family back, like it used to be.
We have our aunts in Connecticut who are the only ones left of this generation. They never forget birthdays. They send a gift to every single child in this gigantic family until they turn 18. When my Aunt Madeline was two days out from a stroke and a massive heart attack, I visited her. She looked at me and was trying to speak. "Hadel...Hadel," she said. "Hazel?" I answered. "Yeah, Hadel, it's her birday." This woman is facing open-heart surgery and can barely speak and she is worried that she had not bought her great niece a birthday present. My aunts exceed my expectations.
Gina and I wanted to believe that it is all the same in Connecticut, but it isn't. Nonie died and so did the family. With the exception of a few of my cousins, no one comes around anymore. The aunts sit for days on end with no visitors. Even the families and their immediate families do not see each other much. And I just do not get it. Since the reunion three months ago, hardly anyone has seen each other.
I find all of this sad. I want it all back, Nonie and Auntie El and my mom and dad, and the expectations. Maybe we all need to have something expected of us. Maybe they were all onto something. Maybe family really is all that matters in the end. As my Aunt Mena says, "You can't get it back."
Where do you think you're going? Nobody's leaving. Nobody's walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We're all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We're gonna press on, and we're gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse. -Clark Griswold
Posted at September 28, 2009 6:53 AM