Cousin Leslie, a professional writer, wanted some info for a piece she was writing all about a Sicilian Christmas done SoCal style.
So over the past weekend, I savored a brief escape from charts, bills, the property manager, and my troubled and troublesome right nostril. I took advantage of the chance to sit back and reflect on some days I’d re-live in a heartbeat. And what are relatives for, anyway?
My cousin Leslie is a professional award-winning writer and she lives in Santa Barbara. And now you why I was smart enough to get into dental school but not nearly as smart as Leslie.
Leslie is writing a piece on Siciliana Christmas traditions; especially those carried over to the U.S. (for our Blandino famiglia, by way of New Orleans, the Valley, and near Downtown LA on 23rd Street.)
And yeah, even though my last name’s Von Bulow, about 90% of my relatives (known and unknown) are Sicilian. I’ve actually visited the Blandino hometown in Piana degli Albanesi, only to find out no Blandinos were listed. My good buddy, local Albanesi Catholic priest Papa Steo (Papa took a business card and referred a Pasadena patient); explained Blandinos were like “Smith” in neighboring Altofonte. And I now have the visual of Blandino men stalking Albanesi young women so let’s move on to Christmas.
I’m not so sure what the Christmas traditions in Sicily were like but if the 2007 film “Golden Door” is any indication, I don’t think there were that many shiny blue Schwinn Corvettes standing next to the Christmas tree. I’ve often wondered about how things were for the Blandinos in Sicily and my pride for their courage, mental toughness, and determination is about as authentic as a sunrise.
Our Monterey Park Christmas days were epic. Everything about Christmas was about as American as baseball until we made it to Aunt Clara’s house shortly following noon Mass.
In its Blandino Christmas prime, three aunts, three uncles, and Great Aunt Kay and Great Uncle “Uncle” attended, in addition to wave upon wave of cousins. And in the Blandino tradition, I was supposed to kiss every aunt and female cousin (when I was in single digits, this was the challenge of Christmas).
The women hung out in the kitchen and the guys talked sports and politics out in the spacious patio. I’d love to think none of my uncles would have ever voted for Trump but I know for sure my dad is probably still tempted to come back and give him a piece of his vastly superior mind. My dad would allow me to debate my conservative Uncle Bill but always with respect.
Dinner was freakin amazing! Sure, we had turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry, and gravy. But we also had either lasagna or ravioli with meatballs, lamb, and sausage, not to mention several eggplant dishes and an artichoke heart casserole that I would devour right now if I had the chance. I had my first sips of beer and wine and it seemed like forever before I made the jump from the card table to the big-time. On one memorable Christmas, a lasagna dish spilled to the floor; my brother Jay and Cousin Herb saw it as an opportunity-first time I ever heard of the 10-second lasagna rule.
After finishing off all the big table had to offer, we’d have some fruit to cleanse our palates; talk about sports and politics, and take a little recovery time before dessert would be served.
We then indulged ourselves with a variety of pies and ice cream…plus Italian cookies, cannoli, and struffoli honey balls. I never did understand the big deal with the struffoli that would be piled up like a honey-soaked pyramid but my mom and aunts were major fans.
In the Sicilian tradition, some wings of the family never attended, some were temporarily excommunicated, and others always showed up just in time for dinner.
After dinner, I’d join my dad, Jay, and my uncles out in the patio around the coolest outdoor fire I’ve ever seen. My uncles Tony and Johnnie would have the same arguments (ala the film Avalon) year after year after year about stuff like who got here when and where. But sitting back and being part of the circle, I felt the warmth of the fire, my family, and a sense of safety that I’ve really never known since. I loved those moments and I love re-living them.
As in Avalon, my uncles’ back and forth reminded us all where we come from and who we are. And I haven’t forgotten for even a second.
Leslie, thanks for the memories.