Mixing Politics and Pastry

Posted on February 23, 2016
Filed Under Italian Kisses, Providence Journal - Relationships | Leave a Comment

Rita Watson’s grandmother was always suspicious of pastry shops that did not have windows filled with trays of cookies

Special to The Journal

Before moving to what we called “The Water House,” my mother lived briefly in New Haven, Connecticut, with my father’s parents. She was quite displeased by the arrangement. She said Grandpops spent too much time with his politics and drinking buddies in a neighborhood of Italian pastry shops and an Irish pub.

Grandma, on my mother’s side, was convinced that the pastry shops were a front for bookies involved in the numbers racket. We never quite understood what that meant and no one cared to explain it to us.

owever, Grandma said it was a great relief to our mother when the 14-room home on the water was renovated. Then she and her sisters, while waiting for the men to return from the war, moved in.
About the same time, my mother’s father and his family started a pastry business in the Italian neighborhood of the city. Much like Federal Hill in Providence, Boston’s North End and New York’s Little Italy, it was a cultural treasure. Nonetheless, Grandma did not like the city and so trips there were infrequent.

One rare day during election season fever, Grandpa drove us to the city. I was about 8. As we drove along, Grandma eyed the pastry shops and the men lined up posing for pictures with their new cars. She said, “Look closely. You won’t see any pastry in the windows of those shops. And inside, all that you’d see in the cases are trays of stale lemon drop cookies, the anginettes.

“Stale cookies. Stale politics,” Grandma sighed.

Grandpa piped up, “Nancy, stai zitta.” But instead of being quiet, Grandma said, “Don’t shush me, Anthony. You know it’s the truth.

By then we had arrived at a great white house overlooking a park, the funeral parlor. “We came to the city because I have to pay my respects. Tonight is family night,” said Grandpa.

Heavy drapes hung on all the windows. And when we peeked through a door, we saw a real casket with a real body inside. Grandpa joined the men.

Mrs. Undertaker brought us to a den for cookies and milk while she and Grandma shared tea. That’s when she said, “Nancy I know you don’t like your husband involved in politics, but this is a close election. The gentleman in the casket is Sonny’s uncle. We are hoping Sonny is the next mayor. Tomorrow the viewing is open to the public. There will be lines around the block. We need Anthony to bring us enough pastry to keep the men here talking and working together.”

Grandma rolled her eyes. She was not happy. But when she heard the words, “Your husband’s pastry will help us win this election,” Grandma just smiled.


— Rita Esposito Watson, a Journal columnist, is writing a family history called “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”

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