On weekends,  the nonnas often take the grandchildren to the movies. One Saturday, the women and children enter  a local theater.  The children laugh as they race down the aisle. Even though it’s ten minutes until the feature begins, the matron stops them.  Her flashlight beam would be at home reflected on a prison wall.   

“Leave the kids alone,” a nonna says, warding off the beam of  light with her open palm. “Go watch those kids  in  the balcony. Smoking ! What are they, eleven years old?”

The matron adjusts her hairnet,  points the flashlight at the floor, and  races up the stairs to the balcony.

The nonnas have as much trouble keeping their voices down as the grandchildren do. “I never sat in the balcony,”  a nonna says. “All that smoking. Bah! ”

“Ssh, quiet!” says a  woman, sitting in the row behind them.

“Eh,” the nonna says, “It’s only the coming attractions. We stop talking when the movie starts.” she waves her hand in the air. “I used to go to the movies only when it was  Dish Night.  That set in my china closet? I got each piece at Dish Night just for the price of a ticket.”

“Oh, Dish Night, those were some movies,” another says. “Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers , Spencer Tracy,” she pauses, “as a priest!”

“A real priest?   Bing Crosby  in The Bells of St. Mary.”

A man, sitting in the row behind them,  says, “If you don’t keep quiet, I’m going to call the matron — and then  the usher!”

Now, right  before the movie is about to begin, the kids are quiet. But the nonnas start crinkling waxed paper, as they remove it from each wrapped sandwich, and form the paper into little boat-shape holders for the children’s lunch.

They begin to distribute the food.  “Here.” “Eat.” “Drink?” As they talk, the feature comes onscreen.

“Matron,” the man sitting behind them, whispers loudly. She’s not available because she’s still trying to gain control of  tobacco row in the balcony.

Silence descends.

The movie ends, and the newsreel comes onscreen. “You want to stay for the double feature,” one nonna asks?

“No,  it’s almost time to get to church and  go to confession.” (See The Bride’s Getting Out of the Car.)

As they troop up the aisle, the  chatter of the nonnas, the  giggles of the grandchildren,  and the rustle of  the waxed paper from lunch cause those in aisle seats to take notice with “Shushs.”  Pleas begging for “Quiet.” And loud-enough-to-be-heard expletives.

“Oh,” one nonna says, “you people are so rude.” 

In the light of day, all, including the nonnas, use their outside voices — their everyday shouting voices — to discuss the movie, the time they’ll meet at church, and, of course, the dinner menu.

It’s a given: on Saturday night, the nonnas serve — an American meal — steak and potatoes.

“Tonight,” says a nonna, “I’m making steak, but steak pizzaiola.”

The others are impressed. One, it’s cheaper than sirloin. Two, they kick themselves for not thinking of it first.

Steak Pizzaiola

Serves  four

  • 1 1/2 pounds shoulder steak , 1 1/2-inch thick 
  • Sprinkle oregano
  • Sprinkle salt
  • Sprinkle red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, diced
  • 3 ripe tomatoes, seeded, diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Additional oregano for sprinkling
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Dry steak  on paper towel.
  3. Rub meat thoroughly with oregano, salt, and red pepper flakes.
  4. Over medium heat, in a large skillet, saute garlic until golden in 1 tablespoon olive oil.
  5. Remove garlic; set aside.
  6. Brown steak on all sides in the garlic-flavored oil; set aside browned meat .
  7. Add remaining olive oil to pan; saute onion until golden.
  8. Add tomatoes, bay leaf, salt, freshly ground pepper, and sprinkle of oregano.
  9. Saute tomatoes  about 7 minutes until they are softened.
  10. Place steak in a heavy, nonreactive casserole; add reserved garlic.
  11. Spoon sauce over meat; bring to boil; cover; place in oven.
  12. Bake 1 1/2 to 2 hours,  or until meat is fork-tender.
  13. Remove meat to serving dish; spoon sauce on top;  tent with foil.
  14. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.
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