Grandma always had a house full of food ready to be turned into a scrumptious meal. The family house was on the water and she cooked enough to feed the Navy should sailors drop anchor at their dock. She liked to be prepared. When she knew that she was going to visit someone on the weekend, she would make her homemade ravioli, one of her pies, or her secret biscotti recipe.
However, when our sister from Massachusetts made a surprise visit one day with her new daughter, Grandma had nothing prepared. Despite concerns — as she said, “making a visit empty-handed” — we convinced her to come see the baby.
As happens with babies, the little princess was sound asleep when Grandma arrived. Nonetheless Gram was surrounded by nieces, nephews, and her own children and grandchildren. Everyone pitched in and brought their favorite dishes. Our mother draped a tablecloth on the picnic table and then set up smaller card tables that held enough food to share with the entire town.
There were classic dishes that we could always expect from relatives. Our mother made an antipasto, which was in itself a meal. On a large oval dish she created a design of prosciutto, salami, pepperoni, hard cheeses and mozzarella, fresh tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, a variety of olives, roasted peppers and the traditional pickled vegetables.
Aunt Rose made her Jell-O squares. These were colored layers with a cream cheese filling in between. Aunt Chris was never much of a cook, but she always brought meatballs. Although they were always a bit salty, we would each take one and say politely, “These look delicious.”
Since it was a barbecue day, the grill was fired up for the braciola — tender thin slices of meat filled with chopped parsley, garlic, pignoli nuts and Parmesan cheese.
Grandma kept asking to see the baby. Although she had a peek, she wanted to hold her and hug her. We promised that as soon as it was dessert time, we would wake little Carrie. As we started to eat, the “thanks for making this” became generous and plentiful. Suddenly something happened. Grandma’s eyes began to water. “What’s wrong?” we asked.
Grandma said, “You made me rush out in such a hurry that I came empty-handed. And now, I have missed out on the blessing. We are grateful to everyone who brought food. They were blessed. You give. And you receive.”
We reassured her that she always gave and today it was her turn to receive. When we all posed for the photo with the little princess, Grandma took the baby’s hand, smiled and said, “Yes, she is the blessing. It’s good that I came here today.”
Rita Esposito Watson, a Providence Journal columnist, is writing “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”
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Copyright 2015 Rita Watson