Save Some Chicken Parm for Me

Posted: May 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Extended Family, Food, Little Rhody, Mom | No Comments »

Saturday night we had a dancing-on-the-coffee-table caliber throwdown at the house for my birthday. Our friend Randy DJed all professional-like, and some of my favorite straight men got fabulous in wigs that were the wrong colors for their skin tones but oh so right in so many other ways. Mark even got Mitchell’s Ice Cream cake. It was bliss.

And as happily wrung out as I am from all the fun here, I still can’t help but feel bummed to have missed a different party last week.

My Godmother, Mimi, turned 95 on Thursday. And when I called her in the middle of the day, her house was rockin’.

She’s bellowing into the phone to me that she didn’t know she had so many friends and could she maybe call me back another time? It was kinda hard to hear with all the action. Oh, and there’s the doorbell! More guests.


And is it wrong to admit that part of my sad-to-not-be-there feeling—I mean, how many 95th birthday parties does one get invited to, really?—has to do as much with the inevitably amazing food offerings, as it does with my desire to hold court as a long-standing member of the celebrant’s posse?

Ah, the food. These are the people who throw down a ham, a couple lasagnas (one meat one veg—as if a vegetarian EVER darkened their door), stuffed artichokes, fennel and orange salad, broccoli done guinea-style (cold with a little lemon juice), maybe something with shrimp or scallops, and no doubt a breaded cutlet of some sort. Really, Caligula ate worse than this, but these folks’ll still chastise themselves all through the clean-up and for a good day or two after that they forgot to put out the eggplant parm.

And by “them” I mean Mimi and her sister and ever present sidekick, Aunt Mary. The silly-she’s-so-spry nearly-90-year-old who lives next door, and who reigns supreme over the dessert realm of the food world.

I challenge you to not weep over her Better Than Sex Cake. And every time I’m lucky enough to have some I debate which is better, hearing Aunt Mary snicker with her friends about her cake’s superiority to sex, or the dark chocolate with coconut whipped cream frosting confection itself. You ask me, both are surefire crowd-pleasers.

Another reason it’s so tortuous to miss these shindigs—aside from my denial that there’s an inevitable limited time offer on them—is that parties that Mimi and Aunt Mary throw, even in their dazzling twilight years, are part of my DNA. Growing up next door to them (and their brother, who lived in the third house over and never I’d guess even knew how to boil water, but did an impressive Italian-style job of eating), growing up next to them they’d entreat my mother to host a “little something” for whatever event was taking place in our lives.

My first communion? “We’d love to just have a small party for Kristen.” My graduation from elementary school? Confirmation? My oldest sister’s engagement? “We’d be honored if we could have some people here to celebrate. ” And of course the standards: Christmas Eve, Fourth of July, Memorial Day? “You’ll be coming by, won’t you? It wouldn’t be a party without the Brunos here.”

They’d start cooking days in advance, filling our abutting back yards with a narcotic cloud of essence of garlic. When the party day arrived we’d be drawn zombie-like and Pavlovian out our back door to their homes. In hot weather we’d be on Aunt Mary’s glorious plant-filled patio or in Mimi’s large garage, which doubled as an airy screened-in porch in the summers. (Told you they were Italian.)

In that way that you don’t know what your life would be like otherwise because it’s not that way it’s the way it actually is, I never stopped to think that everyone didn’t have neighbors like them. I mean, Mimi, her utterly amazing late husband, my Godfather, Uncle Ant (as in, Anthony, pronounced ANT-nee, yo) and Aunt Mary—despite the Aunt and Uncle titles and all—aren’t even kin. They just lived next door.

For a while there many of the food fests took place around Mimi and Ant’s pool—an in-ground jobber they’d built when I was in Junior High. It was like the Pool Fairy had finally answered my prayers but delivered the goods one door down. No matter, since they didn’t have kids and I was at their house as often as my own. In fact, Mimi and Ant never swam in the thing themselves, preferring instead to sit at the edge dangling their feet in. (Ant often referred to the pool as “the world’s most expensive foot basin.”)

Between the vittles, the handy proximity, and the effusive Italian grandparent-like adoration, I was too young to know how freaking lucky I was to have so much love cooked into so many breaded chicken cutlets. (Come to think of it, they made great iced tea too.)

It really hit us when my mother eventually moved to a smaller house in town. She marveled that she’d never even seen the folks across the street, forget having been invited over for sausage and peppers and Scrabble.

My nostalgia for the old ‘hood drove me to dredge up an orange photo album Mimi made me years ago. Pictures of me through the years, posing in their clam shell driveway in the JC Penney clothes they’d bought me for back to school, showing off the stitches I’d gotten on my right eyebrow, snuggled up on a bench next to Uncle Ant drinking from one of their plastic orange-shaped cups with the built-in straws that I loved so much. (I’d kill to own one now.) And a bunch of me playing dress-up in Uncle Ant’s old Army hats and over-sized drooping uniforms. (He was a well-decorated Army man back in the day, and a devout fan of the show Hogan’s Heroes, having recorded every episode off of cable onto precisely-labeled VHS tapes.)

Anyway, I came across this Diary of a Catholic Girl photo from around when Mimi, Uncle Ant and I first started hanging out. (I’m the one in white. The one on the left in white, that is.)


I knew right away that Uncle Ant was a social force to be reckoned with. Anyone who wears sunglasses inside at church is my kind of bad ass.

Sadly, I’m bracing to miss another Mary-and-Mimi production next weekend, when Aunt Mary turns the big 9-0. They won’t be cooking for that one since Mary’s kids are hosting, but I still expect to spend some time that day feeling sorry for myself and wishing the Midwest’d finally just cave into the ocean to move the two coasts closer. (A favorite pastime of mine, despite the dear folks who I know and love in those middle parts. In my fantasy they’re all kept safe and are happily re-installed in homes along the new narrow peninsula-like strip of North America.)

We plan to be in Lil Rhody for July 4th, of course. (God sets his watch to it.) It’s my adored, most favorite, never-to-be-missed hometown holiday. And I can assure you that on that trip I’ll be setting aside some time and stomach space to party with Mimi and Aunt Mary. We’ve got some lost time to make up for.

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