By Antonino Matteliano
Both of my parents were born in
Sicily, my dad in Racalmuto, Agrigento, Sicily and my Mom in a town
called Montemaggiore, near Palermo. They came to America circa 1920s.
They brought every Sicilian tradition, all the old country ways with
them to the new land, America.
I was the third oldest son of four
sons, and two daughters. The second son and first daughter both died
in infancy. My siblings and I are first generation. Growing up in that
Sicilian household was an experience. The wonderful smells of Mamas
cooking filled the house. I watched my Mom make many things - pork skin
rollups, lasagna, pizza, steak. It seems she was always cooking, and
saying "Mangia, mangia."
I can still remember Mama preparing
for New Year's. She would tell us that "The Little Old lady"
comes on New Year's Eve and puts nuts and candies in socks displayed
for her arrival. I remember how happy we were as children to get a sock
full of toasted nuts. On New Year's Eve she always went through the
house swatting a broom into corners and at walls. She did it to chase
the devil out of the house, or that's what she would say when we asked
We had a "pot belly" coal
stove at that time and when we ate the tangerines that we always had
at that time of year, we would put the skins on the stove top, what
a wonderful aroma throughout the house. It was a time of complete family
closeness that I shall cherish the rest of my days.
Around the holidays, Dad was the
official sausage stuffer. Mom would mix the ingredients, and dad would
both grind the meat and stuff the casing. I remember sitting there,
intently watching every move and waiting to devour this wonderful thing
called sausage. It was and still is one of my favorite all time Sicilian
We would all sit around the kitchen
table. Dad would be getting the pork butt ready to grind. He would crank
the handle on the sausage /meat grinder and out would come the ground
meat. Mama would add the ingredients to the ground pork and mix it all
together. It would be such great fun watching him stuff the sausage
- all by hand - into a funnel that was strung with hog casing. After
the sausage links were made, mama would fry a sampling of the sausage.
The aroma would waft throughout the house, then dad would wrap the links
and store them in the refrigerator to age before freezing for a day
I have kept this tradition up in
my adulthood. The one thing that helps me remember is that Dad was visiting
his family in Sicily in December 1973. He called my sister, and told
her he would be home before Christmas. We were so happy to hear that,
and I had planned to tell my dad how much I loved him. A short time
later we received a phone call telling us he had expired there. For
me that loss strengthened the tradition of making sausage for New Year.
And I have ever since and one more thing:. "Dad, I love you."
My dad was many things to me, He
was a symbol of strength. At the dinner table he was the dominant figure.
My dad would occasionally bring bunnies home to eat, and also live chickens
that were for eating pleasure. Really, when I was a young man, the killing
of these things did not set well with me, but I would be there to eat
and enjoy them. I remember some good times with my dad. One thing was
for sure, he was a true Sicilian to the hilt.
Italians, especially those from
the old country, are earthy people, however. One bright sunny day, I
saw my dad turning the corner coming home. He was not alone - there
by his side on a rope leash was a good sized goat. There was a small
shed attached to the house in back, but one day Dad brought him into
the house and tied him to the handle of my mother's trunk. The goat
decided to luncheon on the metal parts of the trunk and ate the rivets
and hinges on the trunk. He was probably tied there a half a day with
heavy layers of newspaper on the floor, when my parents took him to
a date with destiny. My sister remembers that mom and dad led the goat
to the bathroom, tied its feet together, placed it in the bathtub and
slaughtered it. Needless to say we had goat meat for awhile to come.
On another occasion,when I was about
12-13 years old I arrived home after school and was greeted by a wonderful
aroma. I asked, "Ma, what is that good smell? What are you cooking?"
She went to the stove and opened the oven door. Behold, there laying
on a baking pan was a split calf head, hair and skin peeled off, staring
at me with one eye that was all glossed over, staring as if it was asking
me to get it out of there. Needless to say I was traumatized by this,
but not to the point that I would not taste and eat it. And you know
what, I liked it very much. Through the years when I have told people
this story, everyone squeals. But It was one of many experiences of
my youth. In Italy the calf and other animal heads were called "testa."