Everybody Needs an Uncle Rocky - Food e Famiglia
It is Sunday. And in my family, Sunday meant pasta. While the rest of America was sitting down to the aroma of a good roast, my family was sitting down to pasta (or macaroni as we called it - even if it was spaghettini, linguine, penne - it was all macaroni). Bones had been sauteed Sunday morning (with a little olive oil garlic, onion,maybe some basil, maybe a little fennel) - each according to their mother's recipe or their current whims. Meatballs were fashioned with a drop of milk - or water (t0 make them light). Each Gresio sister, brother and sister-in-law developed their own recipe. Each was the lightest, most flavorful and each would query from time to time as to which meatball/sauce/lasagna was the best - if you were smart you remained mum. ("I couldn't possibly choose!")
Sunday was for visiting. The gas stations were closed. Stores were closed. The hours loomed ahead with nothing on the agenda but hope that you might go for a drive or someone would do the drive to visit you. There would often be a congregation at Aunt Rose's(true to Italian family style - all of four blocks away). There was nothing to celebrate - just people coming and going because they had to get home for dinner preparations. And dinner preparations meant "pasta." As Uncle Rocky said his good-byes (very noisily and very, very quickly) he would inquire as to what they were preparing dinner. With each family announcing their plans for a Sunday pasta dinner - he would approve and exclaim loudly, "Aren't we the luckiest people in the world! Some people are having a roast. But we are sitting around a table having macaroni. Everyone should be Italian! Everyone should have macaroni for Sunday diner!" And with a flash he was gone. Or rather - he would be sitting in his car for fifteen minutes waiting for his wife. Aunt Annette did not make her round of good-byes as quickly as her husband."Everyone should have macaroni for Sunday dinner" was a rule I agreed with - heartily. I must also add that "Everyone should have an Uncle Rocky."
Unflailingly positive, he would show up at my performances unexpectedly. He would make the drive from Long Island to Staten Island (not the easiest commute) to see me in a play. I would quickly know he was there. Nobody laughed more heartily or more loudly. Even in a drama. Afterwards, he would greet me. I was always by far "the best thing in the play." The others were fine but it was his niece who stood out. The fact that this was proclaimed rather loudly would sometimes affect my seventeen year old sensibilites. But later that night, I slept the sleep of someone who had been given unwavering approval. Something a seventeen-year-old also needs.In my early twenties I was a spectacularly unsuccessful actress in New York. I had artsy jobs that paid nothing and two waitress jobs that paid the bills. Uncle Rocky was ill and hospitalized "in the city." Not far from my apartment (using the term "apartment" loosely). I took to visiting him at odd times. We discussed the world, family, pasta, wine, family, pasta, wine, my career, family, wine. In my twenties I was just getting to know the person that was my uncle. I suddenly appreciated his fierceness and loyalty to his family and heritage. The way he embraced it all and never looked back. On the morning that he was being released to go home, I called to say I would try to see him on Long Island. What I really was calling to say, "I appreciate our talks." There was no answer and the phone was passed from nurse to doctor and to another doctor. I knew there would be no more conversations. I had had them just in time.
Bereft, I called a friend. A friend who patiently listened to every story I had to tell about my relatives. Over and over. A friend who had truly listened to them. Because she said, We're going out. I'll meet you at the Trattoria. We're going to have pasta tonight. For Uncle Rocky."