Posts Tagged ‘La Push’

Christmas Growing Up: Indiana 1960s

December 27, 2016

When I was growing up in Indiana in the 1960s, Christmas meant time off school, time to play in the snow and make a snowman. I always received Perfect Attendance Awards in school, mostly because I was healthy, but also because, even if I had a tummy ache, my mom ignored my complaints and sent me off to catch the bus. Unfortunately, as soon as Christmas vacation came around, I usually got sick and spent the first day or two in bed with the flu.

Christmas time meant a family drive to Chicago to see the Christmas decorations in the shop windows along the Magnificent Mile, a one-mile stretch of shops on North Michigan Avenue between Oak Street and the Chicago River. I loved my Dad fiercely as he fearlessly drove alongside big trucks and thick traffic to get us safely into the heart of the big city. We splurged on paid parking, but we saved on meals: mom packed her homemade impinialata (olive onion bread) and had prepared plenty of hardboiled eggs. In our family, there was no driving adventure without at least a dozen hardboiled eggs in tow. (Years later, the first time Rick went on a road trip with my family, when offered a second hard boiled egg, he asked me, “What’s with the eggs?”) In the big city, bundled up as I was, my little feet always got painfully cold and my dad had to give me horseback rides up on his shoulders! The Christmas decorations looked especially beautiful from up high.

Christmas meant having the whole family together. It meant dad coming home early from work at the Indiana Toll Road on Christmas Eve. He entered the house, bringing in snowflakes and a gust of freezing wind, holding a gigantic basket filled with jam, cured meats, mustards, nuts, various types of cheese, crackers, fresh pears, dried fruits, and deluxe chocolates. He proudly handed the basket over to us as we unwrapped it and inspected its rich contents. He won a gift basket year after year for being one of Indiana Toll Road’s best and hardest working employees.

We loved Christmas because it meant my dad had a few days off work and we got to spend every waking moment in his lovely company, all of us! We played his favorite opera and Sicilian folk music records on the turntable. He told us stories of the old country, he sang for us, and he smiled his beautiful contagious smile as he and mom made homemade sausage. The sausage meat mix was ground pork, flavored with salt, cracked pepper, oregano, aniseed, and red pepper flakes. I begged for bits of raw seasoned meat before it made its way into the sausage casings via the hand-crank machine. Again and again, mom and dad patiently swatted my little hands away. Those were the happiest of times.

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at St. Stephen’s was packed with other large Catholic families. Some families were so big, they took up a whole pew. My family -seven of us always arriving late- took the back row. Why were we late? Because mom always had one more chore to do, one more dish to prepare, one more item to put away, one more daughter to dress, one more door to lock. Dad waited patiently in the car. He sat rubbing his gloved frigid hands together and kept the engine running, the car warming up, the windows frost-free.

No one saw our new outfits at Midnight Mass. We kept our heavy coats on during mass because it was so cold. I felt like an Italian-American Eskimo, but at least I could snuggle deep into my coat and doze on and off, unnoticed, during the long late-night mass. The priest, rather than celebrating the many people attending midnight mass, scolded those who only showed up for the holiday masses. I counted the seconds for mass to end. Mom stood at her full height, which was not very tall at all, proud of her well-dressed, bundled up daughters and her handsome husband, proud of the fact that my family never missed a single Sunday mass throughout the year. We were not the ones being scolded. Dad had a smirk on his face as he remembered Midnight Mass of his boyhood at Santo Rocco back in Grotte, where he, the cute blond prankster, tied all the widows’ black shawls together so when they made to leave, their shawls fell off their shoulders in one big tangle! What a commotion! He dared repeat his prank every year and no one ever figured out who the prankster was!

After mass, we came back home and opened gifts under the artificial silver Christmas tree that we, as a family, had proudly assembled and decorated with tinsel and mom’s ancient Christmas ornaments from Grotte, Sicily. The ornaments were hand-painted, made of delicate glass. How carefully we handled them, knowing they were mom’s treasures. She’d certainly kill us if we broke one.

The other treasure was the nativity set my family had brought over from Sicily. On the days leading up to Christmas and for days after the holiday, I loved to say goodnight to baby Jesus before going to bed. I could stare at the tiny figures for a long time and study the faces of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the three kings, the sheep and the cows. The figures of the nativity cast a spell over me. Their faces held magic, a mystery that was too profound for me, a mere child, to understand. The nativity set, I knew, represented the rock that held my family in a steadfast knot of faith.

After midnight mass, we were each handed a wrapped gift from under the tree, while an electric light-gadget facing the silver decorated tree went round and round, magically casting colors and turning the silver tree and tinsel into a spectrum of red, blue, green, gold, and orange.

When I was little, my big sisters told me that Santa was a hoax and that the gifts from Santa actually came from mom and dad. I cried because what they told me was dreadful. How could they have come up with such a cruel story? I told my mom what I had heard. My mom sternly told me that if I continued to believe in Santa, I’d keep getting gifts from him, but that if I chose to believe that he did not exist, Santa would then stop bringing me gifts. It didn’t take genius-brains to figure out what I was supposed to do. I continued to receive gifts from Santa until I was 12.

I received dolls and toys until I lost interest in them. Most of the dolls came from Aunt Lily. Aunt Lily did not have children, so she splurged when it came to gift giving for her brother’s children. She was my godmother and adored me! She brought gifts for all my sisters, but I thought my gifts from her were always super special. I secretly believed she loved me more than anyone else in the world. When I lost interest in dolls, I started receiving practical gifts: underwear, socks, a winter coat, boots, a sweater, scarf, hat, mittens, flannel pajamas, slippers, and long underwear. We children received clothing items to keep us warm during long Indiana winters.

Mom cooked and baked for days before Christmas. We children were given the difficult jobs, like cutting onions and peeling garlic. Can’t believe I am divulging this embarrassing detail, but she made us girls wear hairnets in the kitchen! Serious eating began for my family on December 24 and continued for the next 24 hours. On Christmas day, Mom put a sea of fold-up tables together in the basement and then came the tablecloths, one tablecloth overlapping another. Out came her finest plates, the best glassware, and polished silverware. The concept of potluck did not exist in my family. If my mom was hosting Christmas, she made the entire meal. My dad’s sisters came over and helped with the finishing touches.

The gathering was no fewer than 20 people. We began with a pasta dish, usually lasagna or spaghetti with meatballs, followed by Italian Sausage with roasted peppers and onions. There was always a potato salad with hard-boiled eggs, a baked ham, salad, homemade bread, olives, and dad’s homemade wine. The meal went on and on. I will never forget those Christmas meals!

We ate with gusto and we all drank wine, including the children. Everyone talked and laughed at the same time. The noise level kept going up. My boy cousins could really tuck the food away into their bellies. Watching them eat pleased my mom to no end! The adults and the children all sat at the same table and we all interacted with one another.

At some point, eventually, my mom and the other adult ladies would clear the table, quickly do the dishes, and pull out the baked cookies! Someone started a pot of coffee. Even though I was allowed to drink wine, I was not allowed to drink coffee. A well-kept secret was that Aunt Lily let me drink coffee when I spent the night at her house. I kept my word to Aunt Lily and I never told my mother. I loved how the coffee made my heart pound! I always loved the smell of coffee. It smelled of comfort, warmth, of happiness. It smelled of home. My home.

And out came the desserts! Mom’s Sicilian Fig Cookies were the best. Mom called them cucciddrati. I think she made them from memory because I never found her recipe for them (recipes are below, just before the photos). The best part of cucciddrati is that they are topped with a frosting made of butter, confectioner’s sugar, and milk, and topped with colorful nonpareil sprinkles. Mom also made Anisette Cookies. Nonna Licata used to send a box of baked cookies for Christmas. The treasure in Nonna’s box sent to us from Grotte was the cobaita, a pure-goodness-almond-brittle that my grandmother made with sun-roasted almonds from her orchard. They tasted of Sicily!

Mom also made Sesame Seed Cookies, which are called giugiuleni in Sicilian. These hard cookies were delicious dipped in coffee. When in my mother’s house, I dipped them in milk. At Aunt Lily’s house, I dipped them in coffee!

Don’t forget we lived in Indiana, so a bit of the Midwest came into the dessert scene. Alongside the almond cobaita, the dried fig filled cucciddrati, and the sesame studded giugiuleni, mom presented her freshly made Hoosier delicacies such as potato chip cookies, or jello embedded with either cottage cheese or miniature marshmallows.

And NUTS! Christmas was not Christmas without a huge bag of roasted nuts. By the end of the evening, there were piles of nutshells on the table. My dad would crack nuts for me because I didn’t have the strength to crack a single nut. I couldn’t even crack open my favorite almonds and hazelnuts! As my dad cracked the nuts for me, he’d tell his stories!

After the gargantuan meal, the adults played card games. Sounds of coins, banter, laughter still fills my ears. It feels like yesterday when I watched the adults become as playful as we children were. Sometimes we all formed a circle or a train and did Sicilian folk dancing. We’d move the tables so mom and dad could dance the tarantella. They were so light on their feet. Sometimes we children played “chase” and if you got caught, you nearly got tickled to death. The adults told jokes not meant for children’s ears. We were sent off to play, but we hid nearby and listened. We had a hard time understanding the play on words and the various puns in their slurred fast-clipped wine-dipped Sicilian dialect. The jokes went over our heads.

My mom would tell her animated played-out funny stories for all of us to hear. Every year, her bawdy stories grew more embellished, more dramatic, more comical!  She told her entertaining stories about flatulence happening at the most inopportune moments.  One of her stories, which took place at the Italian-American picnic grounds, was about an unfortunate elderly Sicilian immigrant lady, about to sit on a toilet seat, surprising a bird that was taking a dip in the very toilet she was about to sit on.  Mom also had a pocketful of stories about the many colorful characters back in Grotte.  Her stories filled every corner of our humble home with resounding laughter. Every Christmas, our house became a palace, complete with a banquet hall, a ballroom, and a court jester!

My Christmases as an adult are now quiet, the way I have grown to love them. This year, Rick and I spent three exquisite days at La Push, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. The weather treated us well. We enjoyed cold crisp frost-and-sun-filled days, took long walks, enjoyed each others’ company, caught up on sleep, read books, watched the sunrises and sunsets, and savored life as it is today. I find I do not yearn for the Christmases of my childhood, but every Christmas I do say a silent prayer of thanks to my parents and my aunties for giving me the gift of Christmas memories I will carry in my heart for as long as I live.

And below are photos from our fabulous Christmas this year at La Push, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula.

Haystacks in the sea

Haystacks in the sea

Looks unreal. Color untouched, clear skies, cold day at La Push

Looks unreal. Color untouched, clear skies, cold day at La Push

My Winter Long Shadow against the frosted grass

My Winter Long Shadow against the frosted grass

Rays of sunlight spill into the forest trail on our hike

Rays of sunlight spill into the forest trail on our hike

Another long shadow selfie: shadow against unblemished sand

Another long shadow selfie: shadow against unblemished sand

Long Shadows Across Grass (color untouched, just as I saw it!)

Long Shadows Across Grass (color untouched, just as I saw it!)

The author of this blog (Fran) and Rick

Selfie: The author of this blog (Fran) and Rick at La Push

Ice Puddle I

Ice Puddle I

Ice Puddle II

Ice Puddle II

Eye: Quileute Nation Totem Detail

Eye: Quileute Nation Totem Detail

Mist and Sea

Mist and Sea

Pink Sand makes for beautiful art

Pink Sand makes for beautiful art

Rich Red Drift Wood Against Sand

Rich Red Drift Wood Against Sand (unbelievable naturally occurring colors!)

Reminds me of my family's "steadfast knot of faith".

Kelp Strand: Reminds me of my family’s “steadfast knot of faith”.

The road leading to La Push

The frosted curvy road leading to La Push

Sunset at La Push

Sunset at La Push

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599 and Counting

November 28, 2015

This is my 599th blog post.  And this is my post-birthday blog.  I was born on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1961.

My mother was very big on telling each of my sisters and me our birth story every time our birthdays rolled around. I think each time she told the story of my birth, it became more colorful.  I am told this skill of increased dramatization is called Literary License. My mother paid a high price for that license and she, the author of both me and my birth story, deserved every embellishment she thought up.

When mom was pregnant with me, she craved watermelon.  She was a newly arrived immigrant in America.  She and the family happened to settle in the Midwest, in Gary, Indiana, to be exact, and she couldn’t get over how delicious and refreshing the watermelon tasted!  In fact, she couldn’t get enough of it.  On some summer days, watermelon was the only thing she wanted to eat.  Watermelon made her happy.  In the days before air conditioning, watermelon from the ice box cooled my pregnant mother on hot humid Indiana summer days.

After work, my dad often stopped by  the numerous farmer roadside stands to buy a great big watermelon to bring home to mom.  This went on regularly during the summer months.  On the days he came home with a big fat watermelon, he was a star, a hero bigger than the mythological heroes we read about.  If he went to enough farmer roadside stands, he could find watermelon throughout the month of September.  But come October, Ma’s cravings could not be met as easily.  This was not good because, according to Sicilian old wives’ tales, pregnant women’s cravings must be met!  It was bad to deny cravings.  In fact, the child whose mother’s cravings are denied will come out always wanting this and that, never satisfied with life because basic cravings during pregnancy were not met!  Ugh.  In 1961, it was rare to have watermelon trucked in from California.  Fruits were eaten in season.  No one would dream of eating a strawberry at Christmas time, let alone a watermelon in late November!   Sadly, my mother went without watermelon in the later stages, the last two months, of her pregnancy with me.

The summer before my birth, Miller Lake, Gary, Indiana.  Mom is holding Zina and my other three sisters stand in the second row.  My Aunt Maria, wearing a white blouse, is next to mom.  Mom is pregnant with me.  I wonder if a watermelon is sitting in an icebox nearby.

The summer before my birth, Miller Lake, Gary, Indiana. Mom is holding Zina and my other three sisters stand in the second row. My Aunt Maria, wearing a white blouse, is next to mom. Mom is pregnant with me. I wonder if a watermelon is sitting in an icebox nearby.

I was my mother’s sixth birth.  Her first child was a boy.  I never met him because he died shortly after birth.  He was named after my paternal grandfather, Giovanni.  After my brother died and before I was born, my mom gave birth to four more children, all girls:  Onofria (Nora), Antonia (Toni), Giovanna (Jeanie), and Vincenza (Zina)  My mother said her pregnancy with me felt different.  She was convinced I would be a little boy, the longed-for replacement for the boy she lost 13 years earlier.

On the day of my birth, mom got up, waited for her sister-in-law, my Aunt Lily, to show up so they could prepare the turkey dinner together.  Aunt Lily had been in the states since 1949, so she taught my mom how to stuff the turkey and do up all the trimmings for the feast.  After putting the turkey in the oven, my mom calmly told my dad she was ready to go to the hospital to have the baby.  Off to St. Mary’s Mercy Hospital they went (which is, coincidentally the same hospital where Michael Jackson was born three years earlier in 1958 and which is sadly an old abandoned building these days, complete with lights that still work).

My four sisters, Aunt Lily, and Uncle Sam were just sitting down to enjoy the Thanksgiving meal when my dad telephoned to announce my birth, the first American born to the family, the fifth daughter, whose mother was denied watermelon for the last two months of her pregnancy with me!  My sisters told me how they danced around the table because they were so excited to have another sister.

I’m sure that if my sisters read this story they will have more embellishments, adding more dimension to my story.

Birthday for Franny...

Birthday for Franny…my cousin Joe stands behind me and my happy dad is to my left.  My sister Zina and cousins John, Charlie, and Sammy can’t wait to have a bite of my cake!  I see TWO candles for me so I must be two years old!

Rick and I were in La Push, Washington, for my birthday and Thanksgiving day this year.  Below are some photos from that lovely place.  I believe it is one of the most beautiful beaches on the continental USA.  Rick’s long-lived eccentric Grandma Glenda loved La Push and made her annual trek there, pulling an 18-foot silver Air Stream Trailer behind a canary-yellow Karmann Ghia.  There she beachcombed and enjoyed talking to members of the Quileute Nation.  She made this trip until she was well into her 90s!   We stayed at the same place she stayed at year after year, the Quileute River Resort, and we love it there.    It is a great place to celebrate one’s birthday!

Rick and me at La Push.  It was a mere 27 degrees out. Cold and crisp, beautifully sunny on the Olympic Peninsula, Big Foot country.

Rick and Fran at La Push.  It was a mere 27 degrees out. Cold and crisp, but beautifully sunny on the Olympic Peninsula, Big Foot country.

P1130574

54 Year old Warrior!

Thunderbird Art work.

Thunderbird, Quileute Nation Art.

Early morning frost at La Push

Early morning frost at La Push

So I took off my Icelandic gloves, hat, and scarf...and coat ,sweater, and boots and took a photo of myself using a self timer.  The camera was balanced on this magnificent piece of driftwood!

So I took off my Icelandic gloves, hat, and scarf… coat, sweater, and boots came off, too…and took a photo of myself using a self timer.

Using a self timer, I took this photo. The camera was balanced on this magnificent piece of driftwood! (in the foreground of the photo).

Using a self timer, I took this photo. The camera was balanced on this magnificent piece of driftwood! (in the foreground of the photo).

Beautiful La Push, Washington!

Beautiful La Push, Washington!

Sunset in La Push, Washington on Thanksgiving Day.

Sunset in La Push, Washington on Thanksgiving Day.  End of a wonderful two-night stay!

 


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