My in-laws are Italian; loud, tan, espresso drinking, pasta eating, Fiat driving Italians. I relish in the fact that through marriage, this new dimension of culture has been added to my life. I have embraced gold-plated picture frames and soccer as if my name were Maria. Even my parents love my husband’s parents. Though we often joke that it is because of the language barrier that they all get along so well. My in-laws truly are “mi famiglia,” and it only took about 7.5 years to get to this point. Luckily for my daughter, she was born into it. Don’t let the blonde hair and blue eyes fool you, the girl can already hand-gesture with the best of ’em.
This past weekend my in-laws were having a party for 200 of their closest friends and relatives to celebrate the completion of their kitchen & bathroom remodel. (As much as I wish that THAT is what this post is about, you’ll have to just picture it: imagine food, lots of wine, and granite countertops.) AJ, my daughter, had taken the opportunity to practice being cute and sweet and sassy and various combinations of the three for this captive audience.
AJ was prissing between the groups of people, pushing her mini-stroller, kissing her babydoll, and saying “Ciao!” “Ciao, people!” They would “Ooo” and “Ah” and give her a “grissini” or an olive or some other snack, and off she would go to the next group of innocent by-standers for another treat. That is until she found Zia Francesca.
Francesca is my husband’s aunt. She is, I must say, my favorite of all my husband’s many, many, many relatives. She is rough and brusque. She cusses like a sailor and smokes like a chimney. She kisses really hard and it always leaves a red lipstick mark, also, her hugs hurt. I love her.
Zia Francesca had brought her famous, fried olive & pepper balls called “Pettole Pugliesi” as one of the appetizers for the party. Me and AJ were hanging around the food table when Francesca came over to ask about my current pregnancy symptoms. I told AJ (in Italian), “AJ say ‘pettole’ to your Zia.” She did, perfectly, in Italian. And then she oh-so-dramatically popped an olive ball in her mouth and goes, “Mmmmm, buono!” Francesca melted and hard-kissed AJ all over. AJ gave a little wiggle-dance while chewing the olive ball, then leaned right into Francesca’s face and said, “Grazie!”
Well, that did it. Francesca was overwhelmed with AJ-cuteness. “Bella! Ce bunedda! Vieni con me! Come here!” Francesca hard-hugged her, sat her down in a chair, and gave her 5 francs to put in her pocket. AJ realized, “Wow! Francesca flips-out way more than any of these other schmucks and she gives me shiny things!” So she pulled-out all the stops for Zia. She was doing “wink eyes”, she did the ole “bunny” with a nose wiggle, she did “nose kisses.” I mean, the girl was on a roll.
By the end of the night Zia Francesca had given AJ half the dessert tray, endless pettole, 6.70 in coins for her pockets, and an empty cigarette box. She had also taken AJ outside with her for smoke breaks, which I used to love to do with my own aunt growing up…especially if she gave me a cigarette to hold. I’m more than certain Francesca gave AJ a cigarette to pretend with. (Don’t sweat the small stuff.) When we were finally leaving The Kitchen and Bath Celebration of 2013, AJ turned to everyone, waved with both hands and shouted, “Ciao, people! Ciao!” I’m so proud of my lil Italian Bambina.