For the last 20 years, during the last week of July through the first week of August, my Great Aunt has cooked for a fund-raiser for her church. For the last 10 years my mother has joined her in making what we know as “fried dough” and this year for the first time I was able to participate in what is now a family tradition. I was so curious and nervous to do this. These Ladies and Gentlemen who cook and coordinate this Italiana Fest at Mount Saint Peters are passionate. They know what they are doing and if you are new just be quiet and do what you are told! Doing this will serve 2 purposes, the first is you will learn a lot. The second is you won't make anyone mad which when you are dealing with Italian women is a good thing, trust me you do not want the evil eye on you!
My great Aunt and Uncle have acted like grandparents to me, my grandmother, MiMi, was my great Uncle Mario's sister. She died when I was very young, her husband Lloyd to whom I was very close to, died 14 years ago. I miss them both very much, especially when I look at my kids and think about how much my Papap would have loved them. I don't think you ever quite get over losing your grandparents, especially if you are close. I only had 5 years with my grandmother but she was a huge part of my life, I remember so much about her and I have always hoped that she was looking down on me with pride.
I have always been very grateful to have Mario and Angie for taking on the role of grandparents with me, they are truly amazing people. They never ever miss a birthday, Angie always, ALWAYS makes me my favorite foods when we come to visit and they are both always eager and willing to help out in every way possible. I love them with all my heart. Then they took on the huge role of being great grandparents to my children. A task that they have always taken on with as much love as they can give and it is something that they do beautifully. In the last year though my dear Uncle Mario has developed dementia. It has been devastating to watch for my husband and I. We try to know who he is today and not think of who he was in days past so that we don't get too upset about it. I believe in enjoying those that are with you for as long as you can, so that is what we do. Things have had to be altered a little this year which has been hard on everyone. My mother and aunt especially, but we now have no choice but to adapt and create a new normal and that is exactly what we have done. Besides, if we hadn't done things differently this year I would not have had the opportunity to help out like I did!
When you are allowed or asked to help out at Festa it is a great honor. At least that is the way it should be looked upon. Many of these people have been doing the same tasks that create this fundraiser every year for 30 or more years. They have their way of doing it, and they act and execute their jobs perfectly and they should be highly respected. Unfortunately, there are what some would refer to as “The Younger Ones.” These are people that come into this Festa World and want to do things their way with no regard to the way that things have been done in the past. This was true most recently with the fried dough at Festa. As we were mixing and measuring, stories of the years past were coming out and by the end of it I was so mad I could have spit nails. The last group of people to help had not respected the role that they had been given. They were younger, they were there to do their job if they even did that and leave. What they didn't understand was if they had just stopped and listened not only would they have learned some invaluable cooking tips, but they would have heard the stories from the past 30 years.
That is what makes this time spent special, the memories, the undocumented stories and the glances between these 2 ladies as they shared only what they thought was respectful to share, but there was much more to some of their stories, you could just tell. I find myself now having such a deep respect for this generation of people. They speak their mind and you always know where you stand with them but they really do keep the illicit details to themselves. With the media's influence and the way that it is now we are expected to share 100% of the story and if we do not know the whole story our opinion is used to fill in the gaps. Even if our opinion is not based on factual information. Those opinions become fact thus false history is written. Gone are the days when someone had cancer the word was whispered and really did you ever know the exact type of cancer that was being discussed? I never did. Gossiping to these ladies is today as it was back in their day, an art form. You didn't say too much because that made you a true gossip you said just enough to prove that you knew something that made you in a way, special.
I was eager to help by doing the heavy work, lugging the bags of flour, pulling the dough filled bowl off the mixer, it seemed that was where I was most needed and appreciated. This was their show and I was merely sweeping the stage! Two 80 year old women measuring, mixing, tweaking and telling stories. When I am around these Italian Ladies of Mount Saint Peters, I always think of my grandparents. This had been their church, they had brought my mom to it when she was a child, I had gone with them when I was very little. That church and the people there are a piece of my heart that I hold very dear. To me they are a gateway to my past that some days I long for and mourn with all my heart. As I mentioned, my grandmother died when I was 5 but she is in all of my memories as a young child. I remember more about her then just about anything else. My grandfather and I had a wonderful relationship through out my life. The one time that I was really truly angry at my grandfather proved to teach me a big lesson in life.
I was getting married, my thought was to have my grandfather walk me down the aisle. Not to give any disrespect to my Step-Father but honestly he was less then thrilled that I was going to get married at the age of 22 and did absolutely nothing to hide his dissatisfaction. I will never know exactly what happened, I have heard stories and have pieced things together from those stories but I truly do not know. What I do know is that he didn't come to my wedding. His only grandchild, he didn't come. I was devastated beyond words, its still very hard for me to talk about. I was so hurt I didn't call I didn't write I didn't ask any questions. Six months later he was dead and I never got to say goodbye or tell him I was sorry for being mad. This was a harsh way to learn that if there is a problem resolve it, as quickly as possible, life is too short.
I looked around the marble hall on the last day I was there helping. I watched everyone bustle around yelling back and forth to one another with the gentle ribbing that friends give one another. The cookie ladies were laying out the most beautiful table and excitedly talking about the bakery that was going to donate more the their cause that evening. The friend dough was rising quickly spilling out of the containers that we had used to fill it with. The pots and measuring cups had been cleaned the mixer was all clean and put away, it was time to go. Soon there would be people by the hundreds descending on Mount Saint Peters Italian Festa. Getting their fill of home made pasta, meatballs, lasagna and of course fried dough. To me and to my family it is so much more then the food, it is the memories made and reliving the days when life was in albeit hard, it was a simpler time. More importantly it is as it should be, it is about family and continuing family traditions.