WHO IS DEBBIE CAWLEY?
My Italian Family
Instead of the writing about myself, I’ve decided to write about my family. I grew up under the influence of Italians all my life. I’m a fourth-generation Italian. My great grandparents are 100% Italian as well as my grandparents and parents. My Italian beginnings probably goes back in history pretty far but for the sake of this blog I am talking about my parent’s family members, the ones that I know and love. My parents’ surnames are Napoleone and Parise. My mother’s family is from Minturno and my father’s family is from Abruzzi and the following is their history…
My father, the oldest of the 3 siblings made the voyage to America all by himself on a ship named Conte Biancamano in 1955. At age 15 he came to stay with cousins he did not know who lived in PA. In those days there were a lot of Italian immigrants living in rural PA. Since my father was a naturalized citizen already (his mother was born in America but moved back to Italy soon after she was born) so he did not have to become a citizen. While living in PA he went to school to learn English and after school he worked several odd jobs making money to send back to Italy to help his parents. The years went by and a friend set him up on a blind date. That’s how my 100% Italian father met my 100% Italian mother. My mother lived in rural PA with her family. My mother was the oldest of 4 siblings. They lived on a small street with family members living in nearby homes all on the same street. My father took to my mom’s family as if it was his own. My parents dated for a while and were married in August of 1962. They lived in PA for a few years but were happy to follow other family members that were moving to CT to follow the dream of a better life.
Family life is an extremely important value for Italians and with that being said I had a normal childhood growing up. We were always going to visit family on any given Sunday or holiday as it was just another excuse to eat in grand fashion. For Italians, food isn’t just food - its life - and every gathering usually centered on food. We would gather with our extended family (and boy we have a lot of them) for dinner at 2PM with lots of eating and drinking. The homemade wine was always flowing while the elder family members gathered in the cellar or outside in the yard to play cards or smoke cigars. These family dinners were an essential part of my life growing up. The gatherings didn’t happen every weekend, but were definitely more often than not because when you have a big family, it’s always someone’s birthday or anniversary. And don’t get me started on the holiday festivities that were always celebrated with food.
The big holiday I remember most is when we would travel to my grandparents’ home in PA for Christmas Eve for the feast of the seven fishes. The ladies would gather in the kitchen to make the homemade pasta and sauce and the men would gather outside to fry the fish. I had my favorite dishes like homemade linguini with clam sauce, fried shrimp and Baccala antipasto salad. There were also a few least favorite dishes as well - like smelts and octopus - yuck! After dinner we would have the best homemade desserts and, of course, the Italian coffee…some liked their coffee with Sambuca and some without. We would eventually attend Midnight Mass then come back home to eat more dessert before trying to get a couple of hours sleep before we would wake up to open presents. Although we didn’t always travel to PA for the holiday, my mother would make the same feast of the seven fishes menu on Christmas Eve for us in CT!
As I get older and I see my own family growing up and apart, it seems that the old family dinners/traditions that I once had don’t make sense anymore in this new world we live in. Though new traditions are being formed, it doesn’t mean I can’t be sad about what isn’t there anymore. I will keep those memories that I have close and always cherish the times I spent with the older generations in my Italian family. I appreciate the effort made by my family to keep my Italian heritage alive because…Italian families rule!