Thursday, October 4, 2012

THE KITCHEN TABLE





  After supper on certain fall evenings, the family gathered around the kitchen table where we cracked open nuts for the coming holiday baking. These were usually walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. Each of us, Grandma, Mama and my older sister, was armed with a nut cracker. Grandpa, however, always used his hammer for his nut-cracking. We’d sit at the table and work for what seemed to be hours until all the nuts were opened. I remember seeing the word “Diamond” printed in red on each walnut as I handled each one. I had no idea what it stood for and thought maybe it meant walnuts were so precious they were like diamonds.


  Other communal chores revolved around our kitchen table, which was made of wood and had a slick oilcloth for a cover. The oilcloth was quite colorful and had designs of brightly colored apples, oranges and bananas throughout. It was easy to clean because all Mama had to do was wipe it with a wet cloth and it became brand new again. I remember my grandmother at the same table showing me how to roll gnocchi on a fork and how to make cavatelli by rolling the dough with a knife. Then we would all sit around the table and each was given a share of dough and was expected to proceed accordingly. For me, it took a while to make decent looking gnocchi instead of fat little balls, and to roll perfect cavatelli, little ears Grandma called them.


  On many Saturday nights the table was entirely covered with long strands of pasta on a white bed sheet. These were called tagliatelli, long flat noodles that resembled fettuccine. This particular chore was not a family project because Grandma and Grandpa would have already made the dough and cut them out earlier in the day. They did this for the big Sunday dinner. At the table I also remember our family playing a game called Lotto, sort of like Bingo, where Grandma was in charge and called out numbers in Sicilian while we quickly scrambled to find them on our cards. Sometimes we played Italian card games, scopa or sett’ e mez’ with Grandpa as our instructor.


The table was also used as our meeting spot besides our work place and our recreational area. In the morning we drank our coffee and ate our rolls there. At noontime we’d have our soup, sandwich or maybe a froscia of potatoes and eggs. And in the evening we gathered again for supper at the table. On Sundays and holidays, however, the table was only used to hold the food which would be served in the formal dining room, the only time we would not congregate at the table.



    Over the years I did homework at that same table, first when I was little, writing with large fat pencils and then later on when older, with adult fountain pens. On winter evenings it was where Grandpa taught me the enigma of mathematics. It was also where he read his Italian paper, the Progresso, and where local and world affairs were discussed with Grandma. Sometimes, the conversations became heated, especially concerning the decline of morality among the nation’s youth.


  One fateful rainy afternoon disaster had struck! On that day after coming home from school the table was gone! It had disappeared! No more! In the center of the kitchen there was now a small yellow table with shiny metal legs. Around it were four metal chairs with yellow padded seats. What happened, I asked, almost in shock. “How do you like it,” my older sister snapped back, with her hands on her hips. “It’s a dinette set!” My grandmother, with a tortured look on her face, slowly moved her head from side to side while my grandfather, arms crossed, looked on and smiled proudly. It was Grandpa, I knew it, the one that had betrayed us all! We soon learned that he had actually given the old table to a junkman and bought the yellow monstrosity at a second-hand store on Fourth Avenue.



  This happened around the same time that television entered our lives, when families were gathering around ominous consoles with small screens. They watched almost everything the networks offered until the flag, the Star Spangled Banner and the test pattern came on before signing off. Antennas had quickly sprouted like weeds after a spring rain on most of the roofs in Brooklyn . Surprisingly, Grandpa was quite pleased with the new technology more than any of us, especially when he watched Antonino Rocca wrestle. My grandfather would sit upright in his easy chair and twist his body from side to side, kicking his feet out and moving along with Rocca as the wrestler threw his opponent to the mat.

  Gradually, the new table was used less and less for communal activities and except for meals we stopped congregating in the kitchen altogether. It seemed as if the center of the universe had forever shifted from the kitchen table to the living room television set. And so apparently had our lives.

1 comment:

Lyn Horsey said...

Mr. Rini,
I just happened upon your blog (searching to see if the word "airyway" is still appropriate for the passage between rowhouses; I'm in Baltimore). I hope your younger relatives appreciate what a treasure you've created! You have a real talent for creating a sense of place. Lovely, lovely blog.
Lyn