Newspaper link: Say thanks, take risks to enrich your life
BY RITA WATSON/ Special to The Journal
The legend of the Easter Bunny evolved from the early 1500s with tales of rabbits laying eggs and hiding them in gardens. Eventually parents made nests out of straw hats, placed them in their gardens, and filled them with brightly colored eggs for children to find. The tales have little to do with the Christian holiday, but rather depict a springtime celebration, a time for rebirth. Using a basket, a beautiful vase or a painted flower pot, here are thoughts on how couples may create a “Happy Gratitude” tradition.
You can watch gratitude grow within your home by choosing a special holder to fill with ideas for catching happiness. Our mother, who ran her own antiques shop, was a basket collector. When she turned 92 she gave me two signed Longaberger Baskets dated 1992. Today one sits on a table filled with egg-warmer chicks made by our mother’s mother at the age of 81. And one basket is being filled with gratitude sayings.
How to start? Spend a half an hour one day and find quotes on gratitude and love, either from books or the Internet. You can type a group on a long sheet and cut strips of sayings or tape them to index cards so when one resonates you can put it up on a mirror or the fridge. Every few days add a new quote. Whenever you begin to feel joy slipping through your fingers, reach in to remind yourself to be grateful.
To strengthen relationships, a new article from the Greater Good Science Center, “Is Your Marriage Losing Its Luster,” suggests revealing yourself emotionally, taking an out-of-character risk, and starting a bedtime gratitude ritual.
To make your basket, vase or flower pot more couple-centered, each of you over time can add color index cards designated as “risk,” so that once or twice a month you can pull out a surprise. When you reveal yourself emotionally you are taking a risk by telling someone you love a secret, serious or silly.
A risk can also help spruce up your routines. Add to your gratitude holder such suggestions as going to a karaoke bar and singing, signing up for a couples’ baking class or taking dancing lessons. New experiences are bonding mechanisms and your brain remembers the excitement — which triggers the love hormone.
An offshoot of the gratitude plan is one of the easiest and perhaps the most fulfilling ritual that takes place at bedtime. Think of a different compliment each night that you will share with each other before turning out the lights. A gratitude tradition will plant seeds for lifelong memories.
Rita Watson is an All About You relationship columnist and an incurable romantic.
Coppyright 2014 Rita Watson
Published on 06 April 2014
Grandma’s kitchen was a sacred place where she tightly held her culinary secrets. Essentially she was “a little of this and a pinch of that” type of cook. While she often let us roll out the dough for her homemade pasta, only as Easter approached did she bring us into her flour-filled world. It was also the only season of the year in which Gram encouraged relatives to share a piece of their “pizzagaina,” the Neapolitan pizza rustica.
Although Gram was convinced that no one could compete with the texture, moisture, and meats in her treasured recipe (one that’s impossible to reprint since she measured by handfuls), she was always on the look-out to be certain that she remained unrivaled. On the Saturday before Easter her in-laws and cousins came by for the women’s brunch and exchange of their hearty pies. As they arrived, she would whisper to us, “No matter what the others taste like, be sure you say something nice.”
In one of our handwritten family recipes from her, you can see why Gram believed in the power of food. For this dish, she diced meats that included baked ham, prosciutto, capicola and pepperoni to go along with the requisite Italian cheeses.
After mixing the ingredients together and placing them in a large baking dish, she blessed herself before cutting a large Easter cross into the crust.
When the church bells rang out at noon on Saturday, Gram placed her prize on the dining room sideboard and waited for the family. As each one arrived with their dish, she placed them on either side her own masterpiece.
For Gram, the best part of the brunch came after the last relative had said, “good-bye.” Her twinkling blue eyes would light up. It was time for her pizzagaina critique. We can still picture her taste testing.
“Zia Agatha always uses too much mozzarella. I could tell this was hers with my eyes closed. Concetta’s is still too watery. This one is Aunt Gal’s. I don’t even have to taste. Just look how she skimps on the meat. And Antoinette, can you imagine she used boiled ham instead of baked ham? And look at this one. Millie claims she made it herself, but this is her husband’s. He always makes the crust too thick.”
As she went down the line tasting each version, Gram became ever more convinced that she still reigned as “Pizzagaina Queen.” Once satisfied, she would percolate a pot of demitasse. Then we would sit at the window seat watching for Grandpa to reclaim his home.
“We have a lot to be grateful for,” Gram smiled. “It’s a lot of work, all this cooking. But this is what keeps family together.”
Rita Esposito Watson, an All About You columnist, adapted this from her upcoming “Italian kisses: Gram’s wisdom.”
… Published on 31 March 2014
We have all witnessed a child’s tantrum in a supermarket, pharmacy, or even walking along the street. It might be over a candy bar, a toy, wanting to get out of the stroller, or just wanting to go home.
What is a parent to do? Jane Dennison, a Barrington pediatrician affiliated with Women & Infants Hospital and the Brown University clinical faculty, has practical advice for specific age groups. And Angela Stewart, a clinical psychiatrist at the Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center, talks about a research-based approach that focuses on building positive relationships.
“Praise and building self-esteem is a key aspect of our outpatient program at Bradley Hasbro for 5 to 12 year olds,” Stewart said. “It is a structured approach that helps parents come to see the value of ‘Let’s build positive relationships while building children’s self-esteem.’”
“Praise is the main teaching tool because children listen to praise; whereas, if they get too many directives, they shut down.”
Dennison raised four boys with her husband, a geriatrician. “Semi-verbal children have an overwhelming ‘need’ feeling,” she said. “When they want something, they want it now. What they are trying to do is to change adult behavior. Oftentimes this comes from overstimulation or hunger. And it probably occurs when a parent is trying to squeeze in one more errand even though both parent and child are tired,” she said.
What happens next is a familiar scene: The child throws a tantrum and oftentimes drops to the ground and screams.
Dennison’s suggestion: “In the home, walk away. If you are in a market shopping, and there are groceries in the cart, go to customer service and say, ‘I’ll be back, but I need to leave now.’ What a parent should not do is to give into a child’s tantrum for a candy bar.”
What about the child who throws food across the room? Stay calm and say, “We don’t throw food. If you throw it, you lose it. And there is nothing more to eat,’” Dennison says.
Tantrums begin to taper as children’s verbal skills develop. But for those children who continue the behavior, Dennison said, “Parents should not think at their child’s level. A parent’s job is to remain calm, perhaps saying, ‘I said no to the ice cream and that is not going to change.’ Screaming at children does not work because it turns parents into tantrum throwers.”
Some things do change with children ages 7 to 13. During the teen years and up to the early 20s, behavior becomes a bit more aggressive.
“They start slamming doors, hitting doors or walls and stomping feet,” Dennison said. “Hopefully parents have been though enough years of rational parenting to say, ‘I understand you’re angry at everything today,’ and then changing the subject, ‘Do you want something for dinner?’ It’s important for a parent to hit the mid-zone. Even with a teen who might say, ‘Get out of my life,’ a parent should not react because the next statement might be, ‘But first will you drive us to the mall?’”
When a teen is screaming, it is not helpful to scream back. Instead of saying, “You are never to the mall if you talk to me like that,” Dennison suggests something such as, “I’ll be unloading the dishwasher or putting groceries away. When you want to talk to me I’ll be here.”
Today we live in a text message society. When a teen cannot have a rational conversation with a parent, he or she might turn to texting. A parent might even say, “Write me what you are feeling and I’ll read it.”
Dennison pointed out that “kids today send long, multiple texts. It is their way of unloading.”
Every parent worries that their children will not outgrow tantrums, but they do.
“By 24, most have settled down because they have learned that tantrums are not a useful social technique,” Dennison said. “It turns people off and attracts adult attention. However, if tantrums continue — kicking or slamming doors, hitting fists against a wall — that is the transition to requiring anger management.”
With regard to families who seek treatment for tantrums, Stewart explained, “It is often those who are confused, embarrassed, disappointed and angry. Parents often feel a wide range of emotions and worry about their child’s future. It is important that they remain calm, whether their children can bring themselves back to a state of calm or remain in a heightened state; the main role of the parent is to reestablish calmness.”
She suggests time-outs, praise, special time, rewards and preventive measures to limit the tantrum.
Rita Watson, MPH, is a Thrive columnist reporting on health and spirituality.
Published on 24 February 2014
Gratitude has been in the health news because of scientific research looking at ways one might behave in a grateful manner, even if we are not feeling grateful.
Paula Martasian, Ph.D., has been teaching a course on gratitude for close to seven years at Salve Regina in Newport as well as heading a charity for her late father, Nick Vuono, a Jefferson Award winner who helped people with special needs. Her guiding principle is loving-kindness, wishing blessings to others. Martasian says, “I see loving-kindness as the practice of keeping hearts open for compassion. When we do this, it opens us to live with gratitude even for those people we may not like.”
Recalling the Dalai Lama’s visit to Salve Regina in 2005 she exudes so much excitement that he might have been there yesterday. “He is mesmerizing. It was a grand event, and the Dalai Lama talked directly to students, emphasizing that they should become the peace that the world needs and to bring that peace out into the world.”
With regard to her work, she said: “When practicing the attitude of well-being there is a shift in consciousness — and two key components are compassion and gratitude.
“I start each day with 20 minutes of loving-kindness. One does this by first focusing on yourself, then to those closest to you. Next onto the world. Then you even send blessings to those who annoy you.”
Martasian, an associate professor of psychology, has been collecting books that students and colleagues have suggested for her through the years. Of the first books to influence her were those by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.
She said: “My courses are based on the works of people such as Martin Seligman and his books, “Flourish” and “Flow” and the Dalai Lama’s “The Art of Happiness,” and loving-kindness authors Sharon Salzberg and Pema Chodron.”
She began teaching the course at the suggestion of her department chair. “I gave students two choices. They could write out three things that went well in their day and explain why. Or they could keep an Attitude of Gratitude Journal and write five things each day for which they were grateful,” she explained.
“Students have told me that by ending their day listing five things for which they are grateful or three things that went well, even on their worst days, peace and harmony was restored.”
While she is unable to give specifics due to confidentiality, she said, “Students dealing with personal challenges — health concerns of their own or a family member, or financial issues — told me that when they listed what they were grateful for, they could actually smile and felt better able to deal with their challenges.”
Martasian believes that the spiritual journey is entwined with daily life and one must keep learning to in order to grow.
“A new idea that I am incorporating into my work is based on the “Naikan: Gratitude Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection,” by Gregg Krech. I went though this entire book and did a summer workshop at Grace Yoga Studios in North Kingstown. It was one of the major influences in my ongoing development of living with grace, gratitude, compassion and happiness.
“Judy McClain, the director and founder, created a space to advance people’s awareness of mind, body and spirit,” she continued before explaining her nightly ritual.
Ironically, her nightly ritual reminds her that she is doing too much and overbooking herself between her commitment to students, heading up her late father’s charity, and volunteering to cook for the North Kingston Community Meal Program.
She said people come for meals to the FirstBaptistChurch in Wickford or the NorthKingstonUnitedMethodistChurch and also doing the cooking are volunteers from the First Baptist Church of North Kingston and St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church.
Each night she follows three steps, assigning five minutes to the first two and 10 minutes on the third, answering these questions:
1. What did I receive today?
2. What did I give today?
3. What trouble did I cause?
She said, “For me, the trouble I cause others is from overbooking. I’m on a cook team in which one of four churches cooks every Sunday. Sometimes I find myself in conflict because in addition to teaching and volunteering, I am president of the Nick Vuono Charity fund. He was my father and won the Jefferson Award for his work in providing adaptive toys, equipment and computers.”
In many ways it seemed her father lived the message of the Dalai Lama, who has said, “The highest good one can do with one’s time is to serve others.”
She added: “There is a service component to our Salve Regina curriculum. Our students and all those who maintain an attitude of gratitude and serve others are answering the Dalai Lama’s call — Be the peace the world needs.”
Rita Watson, MPH, is a regular contributor to The Providence Journal and a relationship columnist for The Providence Journal’s “All About You” section.
March 25, 2014
For a winter that does not want to leave, the reality of seasonal affective disorder, and the blues that many feel after Valentine’s Day, it may be time for a pair of rose-colored glasses.
A Twitter follower, author and Atlanta teacher Lisa Arends, summed up the sentiment, “Even my eighth graders are tired of snow days.” Indeed from children to adults, it is easy to feel cranky and out of sorts during a season in which we have shivered through too many cold and snowy days.
Rebecca Laptook, Ph.D., at the Hasbro Children’s Partial Hospital Program, has ideas to help children. And here also are the top five mood boosters for adults.
For young children through early teens, if you are stuck inside, Laptook said, “It is helpful to make a list of fun family activities to do such as board games, card games, Pictionary, and Charades, as well as baking or art projects. Activity helps improve moods so it can be good for children to get outdoors and play in the snow. While indoors put on music to dance, or play a family round on X-Box Kinect or Wii.
“And remember to keep some structure to each day,” she added. “Make certain to schedule time not only for family activities, but also for relaxation. And in addition to responsibilities such as homework and chores, this is also a good time for getting in touch with friends,” she said.
With adults, while we often read of the value of remaining positive, it is difficult to break the blues cycle when we start slipping into sadness. Here are top five mood boosters that might help.
Family and friends: The top mood booster is spending “time with family and friends,” says Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist and medical director for the StanfordCenter for Integrative Medicine, StanfordUniversity.
In an earlier interview with him he pointed out that being socially isolated “is of the same order of magnitude as the risk that accompanies smoking or having high cholesterol levels.”
Even if you are not in the mood to socialize – and few people are when they are feeling low – at least call a friend.
Exercise: The best-kept secret to chasing away the blues is exercise. Published research studies often report that exercise will help lighten your mood. How much exercise is enough? Start small, at intervals of 10 to 15 minutes, and you’ll feel better. Walking 30 minutes a day is good for your mood and memory.
Back away from anger: Sometimes when you are blue you find that everything bothers you. You have a short fuse. Watch it. “Anger Kills,” is the title of a recent books by Dr. Redford Williams, chief of the division of behavioral medicine, department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at DukeUniversity.
He said to me earlier: “When you find yourself in a situation that triggers hostility and anger, ask yourself whether the situation is important enough to be worth your continued attention, whether your reaction is appropriate to the situation, and whether you can change the situation.
“Most times, the answer to all three will be ‘No. So find alternative responses, and back off,” he added.
A happy face: Smile, even if you do not feel like smiling until suddenly you start to laugh. Put a broad smile on your face and take a walk. You’ll be amazed at how many people smile back at you. And eventually you will find yourself laughing.
Laughter increases the number and activity of cells that help us fight disease and decreases stress-related hormones. Laughter is contagious, according to longtime studies by Robert Provine, Ph.D., University of Maryland. Through his research he has shown that when you hear other people laugh, you tend to laugh as well, pointing out that laughter does something special to our brains to trigger the laugh sounds within us.
Try gratitude: When the blues linger, Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis, would remind you that gratitude is the answer.
He tells me that “Gratitude is an attitude, not a feeling that can be easily willed. Even if you are not satisfied with your life as it is today, if you go through grateful motions the emotion of gratitude should be triggered. It is like improving your posture and as a result becoming more energetic and self-confident.”
Emmons added: “Attitude change often follows behavior change. By living the gratitude that we do not necessarily feel, we can begin to feel that gratitude that we live.”
Smiling, saying “thank you,” sending thank-you notes, and making gratitude visits are attitude boosters.
Choose a mood booster that suits you, because, according to Punxsutawney Phil, we have a long winter ahead. It is time to take it upon ourselves to chase the blues away until we can take those long happy walks in the warm sunshine.
Rita Watson, MPH, is a columnist for the Journal’s Thrive section.
Keeping a relationship vital is about choices — the choice to love, to be grateful, and to forgive. While it is easy to be grateful during happy times, who wants to be grateful during tense and trying times? Although it seems unfair, learning to be grateful even during a relationship low point may be the secret to lifelong love.
A new research study has confirmed what we all know intuitively – love and gratitude are a potent mix. After volumes have been written on ways to enhance relationships and find the magic that contributes to lifelong love, questions asked of married heterosexual and monogamous couples indicate that gratitude is the “glue” that binds.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are collaborating with the University of California, Davis, on a three-year project for the purpose of “Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude.”
In the love and gratitude study, 77 partners answered relationship questions for two weeks at home. They then made two visits to the lab where they were asked to be specific about a situation with their spouse for which they felt grateful. They were also rated by four judges who were observing them.
After a thank you, they recorded and rated their feelings. Then they swapped roles so that each of the partners took part in different interactions; that of giving and that of receiving an expression of gratitude.
The results confirmed the work of Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the UC Davis, a leader spearheading gratitude studies from a scientific perspective along with HofstraUniversity professor Dr. Jeffrey Froh.
In an earlier interview with Emmons he said: ”Gratitude is an attitude, not a feeling that can be easily willed.” Even for those not satisfied with life as it is today, he pointed out, “if you go through grateful motions, the emotion of gratitude should be triggered. It is like improving your posture and as a result becoming more energetic and self-confident. Attitude change often follows behavior change. By living the gratitude that we do not necessarily feel, we can begin to feel the gratitude that we live.”
After the couples’ experiment saliva was tested for the gene CD38, the love hormone trigger, and it was found that “there is something about the genes that control our oxytocin system, which systematically predicts our ability to experience positive moments with someone close to us.”
Furthermore with expressed gratitude participants said they felt more loving. According to the report published in February’s Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience journal and Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center, “They also reported feeling more peaceful, amused, and proud. They perceived their partner as being more understanding, validating, caring, and generally more responsive.”
Gratitude is magic.
Rita Watson, MPH, is an All About You relationship columnist.
When women talk about their therapy appointments these days, many are referring to a visit to the hair stylist. Although valued for transformative powers of turning women from drab to bright, it is stylists’ listening skills that are often the draw. The mantra is simple: “My stylist will take secrets to the grave.”
As the new year approaches, families feel stress. “Holidays are a time when family dramas escalate,” says Cindy Gilden, who has been at Karezz in Providence for nearly 14 years.
“You can always sense sadness in women who feel neglected. They ask me where I am going or what I am doing for the new year and then say, ‘I wish my husband would take me out more often,’ and then they begin their story.”
Gilden says that sometimes while she is focusing on a client’s hair, they are so caught up in their own story that when she asks a question such as, “What would you like?” meaning mousse or gel, answers range from “more romance” to “less time with my in-laws.”
Then, as the holidays wind down and Valentine’s Day is on the horizon, a media-hyped worry simmers in women — infidelity. Stylists tell me it is on women’s minds. Stop worrying. Despite the hype we read about in Tinseltown, there is, in fact, good news for marriage.
W. Bradford Wilcox, head of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, says that infidelity rates have remained steady for more than 20 years. He analyzed research from the General Social Survey, which is by the National Science Foundation.
However, the new research on infidelity does show a problem — clingy attachment. When you or your spouse have high attachment anxiety, it is a predictor of infidelity, according to recent studies from FloridaStateUniversity. Psychologist V. Michelle Russell and her colleagues focused specifically on studies of married couples.
Essentially, infidelity is a betrayal of trust. As researchers note, whether married or single, if you are in a committed relationship, infidelity hurts. However, it may not be the end of a relationship; it may be a wake-up call. Forgiveness is a start.
Gilden says, “I can’t really help a woman going through a marriage crisis by giving advice, but I can listen. Most of the time, I find that clients don’t really want answers from me, what they really want is someone who listens without judging them.”
She noted that many women just want to feel better about themselves. “They come in, have their hair done, and talk. When they finally look at themselves in the mirror and I see them smile, it makes me smile as well.”
Rita Watson is an All About You relationship columnist who writes a health column for Thrive.
We grew up believing that meteorite showers were gifts from the heavens. For each star that fell into the arms of Mother Earth, we wished for love and kisses from our Prince Charming. The December Geminids would have glistened from the wrap-around porch at Gram and Grandpa’s, which sat at the water’s edge. From there we could see miles of ocean and sky while waiting for the magical stars to arrive.
Nights of falling stars were a ritual: Ravioli dinner, greens, and gobs of gelati.
Although the house was filled with rooms, winding staircases, and even a widow’s walk, Grandma lived in her kitchen which overlooked the grape arbor and the vegetable gardens. She was just under 5 feet tall and as wide. Her jolly body and print dresses were always covered by a large white baker’s apron that matched her hair — almost always dusted with flour as she brushed wisps from her face.
On nights of falling stars we camped on the porch, fell asleep, and our grandparents would wake us when the star shower began. On those nights we would talk about our wishes and dreams. The first time we told them about a Prince Charming for each of us, being a practical man Grandpa spoke up. He put down his cigar, looked at us intently and said, “When you marry, he should be a kind man with a good job. And, if he is Italian — ah Bravo. Bravo.”
Then Gram added that he should want at least four children and take us to church each Sunday even if he did not go inside.
When she was rolling out dough to make her ravioli one day, we asked her if her falling star wishes all came true. She put her rolling pin aside, wiped the flour from her hands onto her apron, sat with us and smiled.
“Sometimes you need to pretend that everything is all right with your husband. When Papa comes home bellowing, I slip up the back stairs and go to my sewing room. Then I imagine that when I come downstairs, he will be my Prince Charming. By then he is on the porch with his cigar. Instead of complaining about the smell, I kiss him and say, ‘I’m happy you’re home.’ He softens and becomes my prince,” she said. “Sometimes, I don’t even go to the sewing room, I just kiss him and act as if I didn’t hear his roar.”
Then Gram added, “When you know your husband is having a bad day, you are going to expect an old grump to walk in. Instead see him as your prince. Give him a big hug and a kiss and see how love wins out.”
Rita Watson is an All About You relationship columnist. This story is adapted from her upcoming “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom”
Published on 09 March 2014
The Zeppole, a San Giuseppe and Italian Father’s Day treat
Because Saint Joseph’s Day is Father’s Day in Italy, when growing up I spent the night before the feast at our grandparents’ house to celebrate. The next day, March 19, I helped at the pastry shop. For that entire day everyone made just zeppole di San Giuseppe, special cream filled fritters. Even if it was a school day, I was excused by the nuns as a favor to Grandma and Saint Joseph.
This was the only time that Grandma left her kitchen to work at the pastry shop alongside her sister-in-law, Zia Agatha. Shaking her head, she sighed, “I can put up with her one day a year to help Papa on Father’s Day.” In reality she looked forward to the zeppole bake-off with Zia and her cousin Concetta. Each had a special recipe for making the custard-like ricotta cream that filled the deep fried fritters.
The original zeppole recipe, recorded in the 1830s by a Neapolitan duke, was similar to Gram’s fried dough rounds which she topped with tomato sauce or, as a treat, sprinkled with powdered sugar.
At Grandpa’s shop the men whipped up fresh batches continually. Grandma liked her zeppole to resemble cream puffs. Zia and Concetta preferred the more traditional wider circle which they filled with a mountain of custard cream topped with a Maraschino cherry.
Gram put extra filling in her puffs and on the top were swirls of cream reaching for a dark Amarena cherry. Her secret ingredient was Limoncello, a liquor that her brother brought her from the old country. Zia used lemon zest with bits of candied fruit whereas Concetta favored orange zest.
Gram was so protective of her Limoncello that she poured it into dark brown cough syrup bottles which I guarded in my schoolbag. Once at the shop, I sat at an ice cream table in the front doing my homework, bringing Gram her prized liquor, and talking with customers in the long lines as I passed around trays of cookies.
Although Gram made the cookie trays, nonetheless, she whispered, “The way people waited for St. Joseph to work a miracle to break the famine in Italy, they can wait to eat a perfectly fresh pasty that honors him.”
By the end of the day all three women called themselves the bake-off winner based on watching people’s facial expressions as they tasted their miniature samples decorating the counter-top.
“Not a one left,” Gram smiled at Grandpa, “except for these.” Then while packing two dozen zeppole to bring to the convent, she reminded me, “When someone does you a favor, as the nuns do for me and St. Joseph, always remember to show them your appreciation.”
Rita Esposito Watson is an All About You relationship columnist. This story is adapted from her upcoming book, “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”
Published on 09 March 2014
Published on 23 February 201
We grew up with music. On Saturday afternoons, Grandpa would sit in his rocker with his glass of wine after lunch, turn on the radio, and become lost in the opera. During particularly dramatic scenes he would call Gram from the kitchen, where she would be rolling out pasta dough or making her biscotti.
“Nancy, Annunciata, why aren’t you listening?” And she would leave her table, characteristically wiping her hands on her apron, and sit on the window seat to listen. Then she would call us to join them. When we told her that we really didn’t understand the words, she said, “It’s about life, marriage and love agita.”
She explained that if we listened, we could hear the story through music without knowing the words — the sadness of strings, the doom from the oboe, the laughter of piccolos.
When I asked her about “love agita,” she reminded us of an incident in the pastry shop that Grandpa ran with his sister Zia Agatha. On that particular day Zia was supposed to be at home crocheting a wedding spread for one of her daughters. But she was called into the shop when a pregnant pastry chef found herself ready to give birth earlier than expected.
As it happened, Zia’s husband, a banker before joining the family business, came by with a young woman. People there said nothing, just rolled their eyes. As he and his young lady looked into the pastry cases to pick out some delights, his voice was barely audible, but then she began to giggle. Zia was in the back, and although she never heard Giuseppe, the giggle turned her into a statue.
Suddenly, in a flurry of flour, she grabbed a rolling pin and began waving it in the air as she dashed to the front. Ignoring the customers, she went into a tirade that sent the young lady flying out the door to escape her. Giuseppe stayed behind to soothe his sobbing wife.
“Zia is like those clashing cymbals,” Gram said. “She’s from the old country. She’s stubborn, hot-tempered, but forgiving of Giuseppe. And the next day he brings her diamonds.
“I never had those problems with Papa. This is the secret. Never criticize — men, they never forget an unkind word. Never raise your voice. And listen to their stories even if they tell them over and over again — you see how I do with Papa. I listen and I smile.”
While we never learned the words to all those Saturday operas, we came to hear the music as a reflection of marriage — high notes, low notes, clashes and a quiet expectation that in the end all the sounds would merge in harmony.
Rita Watson/ All About You colunmistkeep looking »