It’s an exciting time of year and when better to be able to share a wonderful Guest Blog from an amazing woman who I consider a big sister (in the truly inspiring sense) a mentor and also a dear friend. Sally Bartolameolli a coach, teacher and consultant. She has worked with individuals and groups using powerful bioenergetic and emotional healing and release techniques that restore balance to the body, mind and heart. She runs courses for women both online and in Texas where she lives. She is a certified Shadow Work Coach, Holistic Health Counselor and Yoga teacher and is also author of Blessings from Mary and Co-Author of Relationships: From Addiction to Authenticity. You can find out all about her offerings at www.blessingsfrommary.com.
I did not grow up with grandmothers. My mother was the last of eight children born when my grandmother was in her late 30’s. My mother was in her early 40’s when pregnant with me. I was the last of 26 grandchildren born to Italian immigrants on both sides of my family. Unfortunately, all grandparents were deceased by the time I arrived. Still, the village was there to meet me, greet me and have their hands in my upbringing. I had 11 maternal and paternal aunts. We lived upstairs of my Aunty Ann and I shared meals with at least two other aunts and families each week.
From the Italian women in my family, I learned about strength, perseverance, drive, accomplishment and generosity. Several of them owned businesses; started in the 1940‘s and 50’s. In addition to running any businesses or outside work my aunts and mother had, they cleaned and cooked for their families, tended to the summer gardens, canned for the long winters, caught-cleaned and cooked their own fish and attended church every Sunday. Whatever stories of impoverishment they shared growing up during The Great Depression, there were always others less fortunate and when you had enough, you gladly shared your surplus. While I could expect to be fed well at every meal, while being reminded of children starving around the world, I was also expected to contribute to the clean-up afterward. Memories of standing on a chair at the sink rinsing dishes next to my mother, an aunt or cousin, brings joy and a sense of cooperation and belonging. We were a family and we worked, played, laughed and cried together.
My experience of food and cooking in our Italian family taught me a lot. I was shocked to go away to college and see “canned ravioli” in the cafeteria line. Before my freshmen year at college, canned pasta and ravioli were only a dream, advertised on television by Chef Boyardee. It was even more shocking to me to see that my fellow classmates loaded up their plates and ate them. This was my first call home to my mother explaining what I had seen with the hopes of making sense of the shocking reality I had witnessed. Growing up Italian with a dozen aunts in any direction, every holiday preparation involved making homemade red sauce and both cheese and meat ravioli from scratch. We didn’t use a food processor or mixer to make the pasta. There was a mound of circular flour and eggs broken in the center that we stirred together with our hands until dough was formed. We kneaded until it was “soft like a baby’s bottom”, as my Aunt would say. Then we rolled the pasta out by hand, laying the small pile of meat and cheese in row upon row upon row. It was a two day process with at least five sets of hands. At the end of it all, each family would have over a hundred little pockets of scrumptiousness for the holiday meal and then another hundred or so frozen to be used at the discretion of the woman of the house.
I stood as high as the card table that the floured ravioli were laid out upon and there was always a fork in my hand. It was my job to gently but firmly press the three sides of the ravioli to seal them so that they wouldn’t open and lose their filling when boiling. If I got too close to the actual filling, the pocket of cheese or meat would be punctured and that was not a good thing. These were labor intensive delicacies and do overs took precious time. Still, the sense of community comprised of such a harmonious symphony of chefs, was art and science all in one. These were women who were focused and on a mission.
It’s interesting now for me as I write this and reflect on this part of growing up. I learned so much from making ravioli with my mother and aunts. Somehow a sense of dignity and honor came from cooking. Our heritage and legacy was passed down in these times of coming together. Their energy gave witness to their generosity, commitment to family, precision in their craft and the sense of pride in their own ancestry. Funny how sealing a ravioli with a fork can create such a strong sense of belonging, generosity, connection and community.