"I think he would have liked her"-Christina points to the brunette-"more."
We hear the sound of our family out in the kitchen.
"Time for la festa!" I clap my hands together.
Once we're back in the kitchen, I give Toot the mozzarella-and-tomato salad. "I'll check on the table." Christina goes outside. I direct Toot to follow her. "Put this next to the antipasto. Thank you."
"It was nice of you to make this party."
"Could you see us cramming into Nicky's house?" I ask practically.
"Well, it was very generous of you." Toot turns and looks at me. "You know, I don't know what we'd do without you."
"You'd get along just fine. The napkins wouldn't match, and the china would have chips, and somebody, God knows, would burn the gravy. But other than that, you'd make do."
"No, I'm serious. You're always there for us. You make everything beautiful. I just want you to know that I notice."
"You're welcome, sis."
Doris comes into the kitchen carrying a Jell-O mold. "Where should I put this?"
"Take it right out to the table," I instruct her. "There's a bowl of ice in the center. Place it inside." She smiles and goes. "I like a girl who follows instructions. h.e.l.lo, Lonnie."
Lonnie carries a beer tap. "Anthony's putting the keg out back."
"Excellent." I pick up a platter of chicken cutlets. "I'll see you outside." I turn to open the back door with my hip and see Lonnie put his hand on Toot's ass and give it a squeeze.
I decorated the yard for the party. The Moroccan tent of bold black-and-white canvas stripes, with a circus-tent top, notched Greek key accents, and draperies tied back on four poles, makes a dramatic canopy. How luscious it looks with the ocean in the background and a clear blue sky overhead.
Under the tent, Ondine hands the baby to Doris, Christina tosses the salad, Amalia gathers the salad bowls, Anthony shares a joke with Nicky, and Two serves the beer. Ondine's parents and sister seem right at home. Amalia rings my grandmother's crystal dinner bell as Toot and Lonnie join us under the tent. I give my sister a subtle sign to fix her lipstick smear.
As we gather around the rough-hewn farm table made by my grandfather, I am reminded that my family has come together for generations in this same way. Summers were always our favorite times; we would eat outdoors under the shade of a tree-hand-rolled pasta with a sauce of fresh tomatoes and basil from the garden, cheese from Aunt Carmella, olive oil sent by our cousin in Santa Margherita, and wine from our own jugs. After having our fill of food and laughter, we'd pluck ripe figs right off the trees, peel and eat them until the sun disappeared into the blue. I can still taste those summer days, and will always do everything in my power to re-create them. This is what it means to be a di Crespi.
There was a time when family meant more than just a common name on a document. We actually had a shared goal, something to make together. When Mom and Pop were alive, the aunts and uncles and cousins (whether you could stand them or not) would come for the harvesting of the grapes to make wine. And in between all the stomping, straining, siphoning, and pouring, we'd play bocce under the arbor, a gnarl of branches, old veins now plucked clean of fruit. I remember feeling safe and wishing it would last forever.
When my parents died, Toot was determined to hold it all together, so come holidays she would cook enough for an army, hoping that if she fixed the amounts that Mama did, made them with the same ingredients, and served them on her dishes, somehow, magically, those who had passed on would show up again and it would be as it once was.
What we've learned, of course, is that no one comes back; the grief becomes a part of us in the same way a new baby does. No matter what, we find out if we grow old enough, we go on. Italy and her influence upon us seem to fade as each generation rises, much like a stamp saturated with ink, used over and over again, until the message finally is so faint it can't be read.
So we gather on summer Sundays at noon after Mass for family dinner or on special occasions like this one. Each sister, aunt, and cousin still makes a dish and brings it. We argue about the recipe, who makes it better, and who will make it next time. We set a table, we come together, and we make a life.
For those of us who are new to the scene, like Ondine-whose family isn't sure of their origins, knowing only that they've been in America much longer than we have-to those folks this ritual must seem silly. Why not grab a meal at a restaurant and call it a day? Why not make it easy and call a caterer? Well, that's not our style.
We have a way of being as a family that is purely Italian, beginning with the food we eat and ending with the regalia of our funerals. The care we take with our recipes, the slow preparation of the food, the retelling of old stories with the same familiar punch lines, bring us joy. Of course, there's also the dark side-the arguments, the freeze-outs, the Evil Eye. But eventually forgiveness washes away bad memories like clean rain. To an outsider, this may seem hypocritical. So what? We are what we are.
We even find a way every now and again to rewrite our family history. A comare becomes a friend of the family. Forget that she slept with Grandpop behind Nonna's back-she was there for all the big events, so she's one of us, a beloved aunt of sorts. The business deal that went south when money changed hands between uncle and nephew, well, it was only money. The c.o.c.ktail ring that Nonna left to her granddaughter wound up on the wrong hand after sister had a falling-out with brother, but what the h.e.l.l? It's only a ring.
What makes us different is what helps us stick together. We're Italian first and foremost; we can be wily and inconsistent, and to the outside world we may appear temperamental, moody, and clannish, separating ourselves from the greater culture with a cup of arrogance and a dose of superiority. But the truth is, we are bonded by all of it, the best and worst of ourselves, by what we are, how we walk in the world, and the way we hold one another close. We are the sum of all of it, the devotion, the blind faith, the disappointments, the slights, the hurts, the surprises, the insanity, and, yes, that passion that drives us to make love with careless abandon and hold a grudge with the same intensity. What would I be without them? Would I, given all I've seen and know, have picked up a brush to paint the picture differently? I wouldn't have. I wouldn't have it any other way.
As someone who sits alone and writes in a laundry room, I am always amazed at how many people work so hard to publish my books on time and beautifully. Each of the following folks are stellar at what they do, and without them, I would be nothing. So, my love and gratitude to Lee Boudreaux, my brilliant and graceful editor, and the team at Random House: Gina Centrello, a great publisher with an enviable bench that includes Libby McGuire, Laura Ford, Jennifer Hershey, Carol Schneider, Tom Perry, Karen Fink, Kate Blum, Jennifer Jones, London King, Jennifer Huwer, Cindy Murray, Rachel Bernstein, Allyson Pearl, Magee Finn, Christine Cabello, Avideh Bashirrad, Stacy Rockwood-Chen, Judy Emery, Vicki Wong, Beth Pearson, Beth Thomas, and Anthony "Z" Ziccardi. Kim Hovey at Ballantine is one of the all-time greats and I adore her.
Allison Saltzman is the divinely talented artist who designs my book jackets. You know the old saw "You can't judge a book . . ."? Well, in this instance, I hope the words inside rise to the glorious covers she creates. The audiobook for Rococo was recorded by the delicious stage and screen star Mario Cantone. Wait until you hear him! The Random House audio team is first-rate: Scott Matthews, Amanda D'Acierno, Sara Schober, Susan Hecht, Carol Scatorchio, Aaron Blank, and the great Sherry Huber.
At William Morris: Thank you to the hardworking, ageless, and delightful powerhouse Suzanne Gluck and the equally ageless Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, along with Cara Stein, Eugenie Furniss, Leora Bloch Rosenberg, Erin Malone, Judith Berger, Raffaella DeAngelis, Andy McNichol, Tracy Fisher, Candace Finn, Mich.e.l.le Feehan, Alicia Gordon, Bari Zibrak, and Rowan Lawton. And at ICM: my champion, the ageless beauty/brain Nancy Josephson and the adorable Jill Holwager.
My fellow writers, I remain in awe of your talent and thank you for your support and guidance: Jake Morrissey, Thomas Dyja, Ben Sherwood, Susan Fales-Hill (thank you for the French translation!), John Searles, Rosanne Cash, Sister Karol Jackowski, Robert Hughes, Charles Randolph Wright, and Russ Woody.
Michael Patrick King, you mean the world to me. Thank you for your daily counsel.
My dad, the late Anthony J. Trigiani, would have loved this story, as he was the first man to introduce tasteful flocked wallpaper to Big Stone Gap, Virginia. And my mom, Ida Bonicelli Trigiani, who has the best taste of anyone I've ever met, is my hero in life and home decor.
I thank my mentors: the late Ruth Goetz; George Keathley; at the Italian American Playwrights Forum: Donna DeMatteo, Rosemary DeAngelis, Theo Barnes, and the late Vincent Gugleotti; my teachers, Reg Bain, Fred Syburg, Max Westler, Sister Jean Klene, Theresa Bledsoe, and the late Greg Cantrell; and those who gave me great jobs in television: Bill Persky, Janet Leahy, Alex Rockwell, Laurie Meadoff, and Gail Berman. How lucky I am to work with the great producer Larry Sanitsky of the Sanitsky Company, Susan Cartsonis and Roz Weinberg of Storefront Pix, independent producer/writer Julie Durk, and the tireless Lou Pitt.
Ann Godoff, thank you for opening the door to my literary career.
In the UK, thank you to my dazzling publisher, Ian Chapman; my editor, the stunning Suzanne Baboneau; the darling Melissa Weatherill; and Nigel "Left to Carlisle" Stoneman.
Mary Testa, you're the best. Elena Nachmanoff and Dianne Festa, I adore you.
My thanks to Gina Miele, who provided Italian translations and a detailed knowledge of all things Jersey Sh.o.r.e; Helen McNeill of Saxony Carpets, the Queen of the D&D building; the eagle eyes of Randy Losapio and Jean Morrissey; Ellen Tierney and Jack Hodgins, for their vast knowledge of furniture and antiques; and Ralph Stampone, ASID, for taking me to Scalamandre's in the first place. Thank you, Debra McGuire, the dazzling designer who taught me about color and taking risks, and the megatalented B Michael, who taught me about shape and form. Father John Rausch, thank you for all Roman Catholic facts pre and postVatican II.
My love and devotion to Ruth Pomerance, Wendy Luck, Craig Fisse, Stewart Wallace, Catherine "s.h.a.g" Brennan, Cate Magennis Wyatt, Dee Emmerson, Liza Persky, Jim Powers, Todd Steiner, Sharon Watroba Burns, Nancy Bolmeier Fisher, Kate Crowley, Emily Nurkin, Adina T. and Michael Pitt, Maureen O'Neal, Eydie Collins, Pamela Perrell, Carmen Elena Carrion, Jena Morreale, Jim and Jeri Birdsall, Dolores and Dr. Emil Pascarelli, Joanna Patton, Danelle Black, Jeff Snyder, John Melfi, Andrew Egan, Grace Naughton, Gina Casella, Sharon Hall Kessler, Lorie Stoopack, Karen Gerwin, Constance Marks and James Miller, Denise Spatafora, Bill Testa, Sharon Gauvin, Beatrice Branco, Cynthia Rutledge Olson, Jasmine Guy, Jim Horvath, Jim and Kate Benton Doughan, Joanne Curley Kerner, Dana and Richard Kirshenbaum, Daphne and Tim Reid, Caroline Rhea, Kathleen Maccio Holman, Susan and Sam Frantzeskos, Beata and Steven Baker, Eleanor Jones, Mary Ehlinger, Drs. Dana and Adam Chidekel, Brownie and Connie Polly, Aaron Hill, Gayle Atkins, Christina Avis Krauss and Sonny Grosso, Susan Paolercio, Rachel and Vito DeSario, Irene Halmi, Hannah Strohl, Matt Williams and Angelina Fiordellisi, Karen Kehela, Sally Davies, Liz Welch Tirrell, Jenny Baldwin, Mary Murphy, Marisa Acocella Marchetto, Elaine Martinelli, Lorenzo Carcaterra and Susan Toepfer, David Nudo, Laura Sonnenfeld, Bill Goldstein, David Blackwell, Todd Doughty, Joe O'Brien, Greg D'Alessandro, Anne Slowey, Barry and Molly Berkowitz, Carol Fitzgerald, Deb Stowell, Eric and Denise Lamboley, Dona DeSanctis, George Dvorsky, Rhoda Dresken, Beth Hagan, Jim and Mary Hampton, Patrick Kienlan, Kathleen Sweeney and Bettye Dobkins, Mike Sieczkowski and Mark Yarnell, Rick and Laurel Friedberg, Nancy and Chris Smith, Iva Lou Daugherty Johnson, Phil and Patsy Vanim, Tom and Barbara Sullivan, Veronica Kilcullen, Madge Bryan, Amy Chiaro, Joanne LaMarca, Doris Shaw Gluck, and Eleanor "Fitz" King and her daughters, Eileen, Ellen, and Patti.
To the Trigiani and Stephenson families, my love and thanks.
I remember and thank the late Margarita Torres Cartegna (and her girls, Wendy, Cyndi, and Laura). I will always miss Monsignor Don Andrea Spada, June Lawton, Helen Testa, Ernest "Poochie" Felder, and Wayne D. Rutledge. Jim Burns, please continue to leave a light on for us in heaven. And to my husband, who can fix anything, and to my daughter, who can break anything, may you be happy, healthy, and mine all the days of your long, long lives.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR.
ADRIANA TRIGIANI is an award-winning playwright, television writer, and documentary filmmaker. The author of the bestselling Big Stone Gap trilogy and the novels Lucia, Lucia and The Queen of the Big Time, Trigiani has written the screenplay for the movie Big Stone Gap, which she will also direct. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter. She can be reached at www.adrianatrigiani.com.
ALSO BY ADRIANA TRIGIANI.
Big Stone Gap.
Big Cherry Holler.
Milk Glass Moon.
The Queen of the Big Time.
Cooking with My Sisters (co-author).