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.
“I’m sitting in the middle,” she says, “because I don’t want you to kill each other.” They are quiet for a minute. Then, as she leans forward, they make ugly faces at each other behind her back.
“I know what you’re doing,” the nonna says. “That’s the end of it.”
She sits back to enjoy the ride, never thinking to ask where the driver, her son-in-law, is heading. In about an hour, he parks the car in front of a Cape Cod-style house with a sign on it reading: Model Home.
The boy runs to open the door. As the nonna and the family enter the living room, they see other visitors–all couples around the age of her daughter, all with children, racing around, grumbling, or just smiling. Her son-in-law leads the way. They walk through the kitchen, with its shiny big window and gleaming appliances. They enter the master bedroom, with windows set high enough to guarantee privacy. The children start to quibble as they approach a small corner bedroom. “This is the room I want,” the boy says. “No, I want this one for myself,” the girl says. They end the tour in the living room, with its small bay window.
It is beginning to dawn on the nonna that this is no simple Sunday excursion. Her apprehension is confirmed when her son-in-law approaches a man sitting at a desk in the living room. The man hands him a brochure and begins reciting a set speech about how safe the streets here are for children, how wonderful it is that the house comes equipped with new appliances, and how a sprinkle of grass seed is going to produce a magnificent lawn.
The nonna wonders if her daughter is planning on moving into a house like this with its clay lawn and shingle siding on a flat, flat street. She wonders if she is ever going to have a chance to walk the grandchildren to school again. And if her daughter is never going to call for her so they can walk to the novena together on Wednesday nights.
When they return to the car, the nonna is twisting her handkerchief in her hands. She listens closely as her daughter points out all the advantages of living in Levittown. Her son-in-law? Not so much. He complains about the distance of the commute to his job, the fact that most of their furniture won’t fit in the “dinky” rooms, and what they are going to do for babysitting when they move away from the nonna.
The couple in the front seat continue to discuss the pros and cons of a move. The children join in. “I said I wanted that room, but I really don’t want to leave all my friends,” the boy says. “And I like my teacher so much this year,” the girl says. “I don’t want to change schools.”
The nonna, fingers crossed beneath the knotted handkerchief, begins to relax. So maybe they won’t buy a house and move now. But she stops a tear from falling as she realizes it is only a matter of time — not only for her daughter and her family, but also for all the daughters on the block.
Crostata Marmellata — Jam Tart
- 2 cups unbleached flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- Mix flour, salt, and sugar together.
- Cut butter into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse corn meal.
- Work egg yolks into mixture, forming a soft, smooth dough.
- Wrap dough in plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 1 hour.
- 1 1/2 cups cherry or apricot jam
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon milk
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
- Roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness; cut in two, one piece larger than the other.
- Fit larger portion into 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
- Slice remaining dough into 1-inch strips to use for lattice to top tart.
- Spread jam over crust in pie pan; place strips of lattice on top.
- Blend egg yolk with milk; brush lattice to glaze.
- Place pie on rimmed cookie sheet or jelly roll pan to prevent spills.
- Bake in lower third of oven 1 hour, or until jam is bubbling and crust is golden.
- Cool on wire rack.
For leftover dough
- Place leftover lattice slices on cookie sheet around tart pan.
- Brush slices with glaze; sprinkle lightly with sugar.
- Bake 35 minutes, or until golden.
- Remove to wire rack to cool while tart contunues baking.