At nine o’clock on the morning after Thanksgiving, the nonnas scurry to the homes of grandchildren, ringing front doorbells until the children appear. No child is late. The nonnas, with their charges in tow, meet on the corner near the church.
Little children holding hands with nonnas, older children holding hands with one another, they race down the avenue [...]
“In a quaint caravan, there’s a lady they call the Gypsy,” the song says.
In South Brooklyn at autumn’s end, the quaint caravan isn’t a brightly colored, circus trailer set up for temporary living. It’s a storefront. Any vacant storefront on an avenue can become home to the lady and her family – the Gypsies.
Heavy red and [...]
Friday after the nonnas finish cleaning the church, they visit the fish market to buy dinner. Whiting, cod, calamari, sole, shrimp, scallops, mussels. Each nonna has to smell each piece to make sure it’s fresh. If one sniffs a fillet that is less than fresh, she wrinkles her nose and invites the others to take a [...]
On a hot July afternoon, the nonnas are sitting on folding chairs at the curb, crocheting lace trim on linen handkerchiefs, and watching their grandchildren play in water spewing from a fire hydrant. “Too hot to cook tonight,” one says, “maybe I make sandwiches.”
The others almost in a chorus pooh-pooh her. “You know you’re going [...]
The nonnas cook using “a dash of this, a spoonful of that, and a pinch of whatever.” So on a rainy spring afternoon, it is surprising when they sit at the kitchen table and talk about recipes — American recipes — their daughters clip from newspapers and magazines.
“I don’t like the ones that use butter, not olive oil,” a nonna says. The [...]
The groundwork for an exodus begins on a sunny springtime late Sunday afternoon when a daughter invites her mother to join her family for a ride. With the dinner dishes put away after the big meal, and the remaining crostatta back in the refrigerator, the nonna accepts. In the car, she takes her place between her bickering 12-year-old grandson and his 10-year-old sister.
Holy Thursday, twilight is descending as the nonnas leave the seventh and last church they visit. They are eager to return to their neighborhood to shop for an essential ingredient– dried grain, or wheat kernels– for the pastiera, or sweet Easter pie.
“I’m getting the dried grain,” a nonna says. “I’ll soak it and bake the pie [...]
South Brooklyn, 1947, Palm Sunday afternoon. Palm fronds cover a kitchen table where the nonnas sit weaving strands into sculptures. Each twists and braids and ties the green- edged leaves into crucifixes, wreaths, and miniature crosses. They glance at one another’s creations admiring the braiding technique, but never saying so.
“Now we finish these,” one [...]
There are no flowery fields of clover in Brooklyn. So on hot summer nights, streets and sidewalks become living rooms and tiny backyards become campgrounds.
The nonnas’ grandsons gather their supplies for their campfire feast: a rickety four-legged metal burner that should hold a can of Sterno, twigs and newspapers to place on the burner, [...]
The nonnas leave their apartments to shop for food and fabric, to pay their respects at wakes, to have coffee with one another, and, of course, to make novenas and go to Mass. Oh, they also throw in a spare afternoon to clean the church. Aside from these obligations, they rarely have to walk out the front door, because much [...]