How sad that today’s kids will never know the thrill of waiting until the sixth time their mother screams their name to actually get moving, then blame it on not being able to hear her. Cell phones have taken the excitement away. Thank God batteries still die, so there’s hope for today’s youth. But nothing can replace the way parents used to have to muscle their kids into coming home, using only their voices. My mother could have been a professional, her voice could have struck fear into Luca Brasi.
As you know, my mom was not like most folks in the neighborhood. Her guerrilla warfare hostessing and the Italian aromas coming from our kitchen gave you an inkling that was true, but the way she called me home left no doubt.
Kathy Pfleghar, my childhood best friend, always got the same sort of slow, drawn out, “Kaaaaathy,” from her mom. If it was urgent, her mom calmly telephoned and asked my mother to send her home in a nice, civilized, TV mom manner.
My mother preferred a crescendo approach – her own twist on Ravel’s “Bolero.” She’d start out sweetly, with a “Fraaancy,” or two. Then she’d call, “Sweetheart, dumpling, lovable, sweet, sweet, sweet!” Then louder, two octaves higher, and with less patience, came “Fraaaaanzes.” Then she’d add a nice dollop of bitterness and even more volume to the next “Fraaaaanzes!”
By the next call, she lost any semblance of sweetness and screamed, “Zoccola…puttana, viene qua!” In my mother’s dialect, that meant, “Sewer rat, whore, come here!”
Thank God the neighbors didn’t understand.
Her ability to go from sweet to serial killer, in seconds, is a trait that runs in many southern Italian women. I think Vesuvius’ volcanic ash contaminated our ancestral bloodstream, causing sudden eruptions of emotion.
It certainly explains why one minute my mother could be hugging me and calling me, “Da best a lilla gailla inna da whole a world,” and the next minute smacking me on the head screaming, “I’mma gonna choke a you when a I getta holda you! You lilla stronzolla.” (You small female turd.) Stronzo is the normal way to say turd in Italian, but stronzolla is decidedly more feminine.
I’m just grateful none of our Anglo-Saxon neighbors spoke Italian. In her defense, she always said curse words never sounded as bad in Italian as they do in English.
When I finally heard her cursing me in Italian, I’d poke my head up, like a prairie dog, and bolt toward home. I’d yell in explanation to Kathy Pfleghar as I ran, “My mother’s gonna kill me!” Sure enough, she’d be waiting, large metal spoon in hand, ready to smack me as I flew through the door.
She had two favorite spoons, the one in the photo and another spoon for draining liquid that had small holes in it and left an interesting pattern when it came into contact with skin. (Where was child protective services when I was a kid?)
Mrs. Pfleghar would have never done that.
She’d swing and miss as I bobbed and weaved past her, then yell, “Aaaaaaay, ha come a you donda come a when I call a you? What’s a matta…you deef (deaf)?” I’d yell something pathetic like, “I didn’t hear you Ma, we were playing!”
Then I’d continue trying to scramble up the stairs, dodging blows as I went. (I just realized this could be why so many Italians become incredible boxers.)
The good news is she rarely got me — I was much smaller and faster than her. And once I got home and helped her, she’d forget she was ever mad, serve an awesome meal and I’d go back to being “da best.” I’m including one of her favorite one-pot-meal recipes for chicken with oregano, onions, potatoes and carrots. I just had it last night and it was great.
If your mom had a unique way of calling you, or a favorite torture device like my mom’s spatula, please share, so we can compare war stories.
Chicken with Oregano, Onions, Potatoes and Carrots
1 package of chicken fryer parts or 1 whole chicken cut up
2 large red or Idaho potatoes
2 medium onions (sliced lengthwise or in circles
Olive oil (two to 3 tablespoons)
Salt and Pepper
Rinse and pat dry the chicken and place in a large 15 x 11 pan. Slice the potatoes lengthwise, then into 1/2 inch slices and place them in the pan. Add the sliced onions and peel and slice the carrots into 2 inch lengths and add them too. Drizzle olive oil over all the ingredients and sprinkle liberally with oregano, salt and pepper. Toss to combine all ingredients. Add additional oregano so every piece is well seasoned.
Cover pan with aluminum foil and cook at 350 degrees for 3 hours. Remove foil, turn chicken and let it brown in oven for 20 minutes to 1/2 hour or until nicely browned.