Summertime in Little Italy
Like most school children, I knew by the end of May classes would soon be over and summer was just a few weeks away. Baseball with the guys, riding my bicycle with cousins and friends, and hiking into the park were a few of many activities that would fill our days. June and July were seamless, but August was special because I was going on vacation. With bag in hand my father asked if I was ready to go. Yes, I affirmed. Because my father and I were alone in the car I was permitted to ride in the passenger seat, up front.
What a great start for my vacation. Dad and me dart through traffic, he pointing out landmarks he has pointed out myriad times, the last, and most important, being Lakeview Cemetery. With two left turns off Euclid Avenue we have arrived at our destination. Nana’s and gramps’ in Little Italy. Before dad turns off the ignition, I’m out of the car bounding up three steps to their door. Knock, knock and open. What a greeting. Kisses and hugs from all. What a glorious day. One by one each of four uncles who still live at home pick me up, snuggle me and express their joy at having me as company for the next five days. My father enters the kitchen last and after his greeting sits to talk to his parents. Coffee, biscotti and the smell of pizza and sausage. It’s a party waiting to happen. By now, I trust you have figured out that my vacation is in direct correlation to the celebration of the Feast of the Assumption, culminating on August 15th with a grand fireworks display. I must admit, not until my late teens did I understand why the feast was celebrated. As a young boy it was fun, games, and food in enormous amounts. Aunts and uncles, cousins and friends all gathered at my grand-parents home, off and on for days. The city closed Mayfield Road, the main street bisecting Little Italy. People who lived outside Little Italy but wanted to drive into the neighborhood showed the police paid utility bills with addresses within the closed off streets as “proof” they had a right to enter. The bills, from residents in the neighborhood, were sent or picked-up prior to the feast. Daily, one of my uncles would grab me by the hand and off we’d go. I would breakout in a sweat I was so anxious. Depending on which uncle was in hand, I would be allowed to pitch pennies at a game designed for adults, but uncle had an “in” and I became a privileged character. Old women stood behind makeshift stands hawking their homemade pizza and sausage, lupines, sauce and meatballs with fresh baked bread to “dinge”, to whomever passed within whispering distance. Hordes of people, elbow to elbow, moving en masse trying to locate their favorite food stand or game of chance. Homemade Italian ice purchased at Corbo’s Bakery proved, once again, it’s magic healing power for my excessive indulgences. Worming our way through the kaleidoscope of natives, at dark, was an indication that our day was coming to a close. I recall the tight grip of an uncle taking staccato steps so I didn’t have to run to keep-up.
Starting in the early 1970’s, I started taking my children to Nana’s for the feast. Their stories echo mine because time has not been allowed to invade our desire to profess our religious beliefs, or express our love of family, food, and celebration.
By Carlo Orlando©
Photo from family-images.com