Eating Lemons With Mom

by | May 17, 2012 | Family

My home has always been a very special place to me and the kitchen has always been the heart of my home.

I can remember the day before I left for college, August 1967, sitting at the old red and white Formica topped kitchen table with my mother, Mary.

Every Sunday afternoon each of us had a small dish with a big fat fresh lemon, a knife, and a shaker of coarse salt. Sometimes the lemons were picked from our own lemon tree and sometimes they came from the store. But they were always the biggest and the juiciest that we could find. My mother’s old world wisdom was, “If life hands you lemons, sit down, consider the situation, take out your paring knife, peel away the problem, sprinkle it with coarse salt to make it more palatable, and eat them. Your life will always be better.”

And she was right. My mother had come from Sicily in the 1920s. Her dreams of becoming a high school English teacher never materialized. Due to financial circumstances she was forced to work in a garment factory to help her family with expenses.
But aside from being an expert leather coatmaker, she also became the best cook in her family even outshining her three sisters in Italian cuisine.

There wasn’t anything she couldn’t cook — three-meat lasagna, Italian bread, pizza from scratch, soft-breaded veal cutlets, and an array of different vegetables and fruits — most of which came from my father’s garden.

She was also a real whiz with a pressure cooker. My father would bring in ears of corn fresh picked from the tall cornstalks in the back yard and in minutes we would have steaming hot sweet corn drizzled in fresh homemade butter. Each meal was different and each was just a little bit of heaven.

Often our neighbors witnessed my mother and her sister, Tina, on their hands and knees manicuring the lawn with a small knife and a large brown paper bag. What they were really doing was rooting out the dandelion greens from the grassy yard. We would have big plates of salad made from dandelions (a great source of vitamins and iron) saturated with a homemade Caesar dressing made from red-wine vinegar, anchovies, and extra-virgin olive oil. And this was all free for the taking with Mother Nature providing the ingredients.

In addition to feeding her immediate family, mother always made sure the animals were fed and we always had a lot of animals. Though we lived within the city limits, we had chickens, rabbits, cats, and a dog.

When I was a teenager, our family dog, Butchy, passed away at the ripe old age of 16. It was absolutely devastating to everyone because she had grown up with me and she was a real member of the family. She had been my protector and my companion for all those years.

My mother knew in her heart that my father could not stand the sight of the empty dog house for long. One day without telling anyone, my father went to the animal shelter and adopted a 2-year old Collie-Shepherd mix and named him Pal.

Pal was my father’s dog. He listened to him and to him alone. He obeyed my mother because she always brought the food dish but he was always at my father’s side.

Pal had to learn to eat like an Italian. We never fed our cats and dogs “bagged” food. They always ate what we ate and there was never a thin dog or thin cats at our house.

Because I was their only child and the only family member to have gone to college, there was a real celebration the night before I left. For a going-away treat, my mother made her Sicilian country-style Italian meatballs with homemade pasta. It was a divine meal that would remain in my mind and my heart forever.

The next day, we stood in our front yard waiting for my ride to college, the old 1919 three-story gray frame house dwarfing us as we stood silently. Although I am not a very tall person, I towered over my parents who were barely 5-feet tall.

As the car approached we said our “goodbyes” and I shook hands with my father. It was the Italian-thing to do.

My mother grabbed me, hugged me, and whispered in my ear, “Go make great memories, but make sure you make them with dignity so you will always be proud to look back on them.”

As the car pulled away I turned and looked back.

There they stood — the smallest couple in size, but in stature they held the biggest part of my heart.

James Colasanti Jr.


Eating Lemons With Mom