Today is my paternal grandfather's birthday. When my grandmother was alive, we would all meet at their place for dinner. Each year it was the same thing--homemade raviolis, baked chicken, peas and mushrooms in butter and a salad made with peeled tomatoes, lettuce and onions. Grandpa had a bad set of dentures that made chewing the skins on the tomatoes impossible.
There was always a relish tray on the table with black olives and two kinds of pickles. They were cut so that you knew which were the sweet ones (they were cut across rather than on the diagonal). We drank lots of wine since we were old country Italian, with even the children getting a watered down drop in their own stemmed wine glass. Of course we had cake for dessert. It wasn't just any cake, either. It was Grandma's own concoction of German chocolate cake (made from a box mix) with a frosting of whipped cream mixed with a jar of Gerber's baby stewed prunes. Okay, wait, before you say "Ewwwww", try it sometime. It is light and wonderful. It took us many years of pestering to get her to divulge what went in this special treat. Knowing made us pause for all of a second before we dove into seconds.
His birthday dinner was really a lunch. It began at eleven and usually ran all afternoon. No one complained. We sat, we talked, we laughed, and, in the way of all good Italians, we argued politics with a friendly passion. No one took offense, even when we didn't always agree with each others' point of view. We always ended a hotly fought position with, "I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree."
I miss those meals and I miss my grandparents. They're both gone now. I'd give anything for just one more meal sitting time around their table. Much of what I am, I owe to them. Happy 104th birthday, Lorenzo Carlos Alloro.