Super Sleuth

Super Sleuth
Digging Up The Past One Relative At A Time

Sunday, April 24, 2016


Sunday dinner.  No matter how hectic or busy the work week was, Italian families gathered together on Sundays to share in the breaking of bread and catching up on the week's activities.  The table was packed with traditional dishes and the food flowed from usually 2:00 in the afternoon until well after 6:00 in the evening.  Course after course with the occasional unbuttoning of pants, a hearty belch, and several loud conversations that, to the non-Italian, would sound like arguing...but it wasn't.  My grandparents prepared the Sunday dinner for us.  We call it GRAVY.  This has been a long argument among Italians.  While some believe that "gravy" is brown in color, our family believed that as long as it was cooked with meat (which on Sunday, it was) it was called gravy.  
    Grandpa and Grandma had a special spice cabinet in their kitchen that, when opened, would engulf the house with the aromas of Napoli and Sicilia.  The gravy would have been simmering for hours by the time the family came over after Church.  Not a drop was left on the plate.  What wasn't consumed with the ziti, would be scraped up with fresh Italian bread.  Olives, cheese, marinated mouth is watering this early Sunday morning remembering the tradition.  Unfortunately, the tradition died when my grandparents did.  Grandpa, passed on in 1998 and Grandma followed in 2001.  Siblings married and moved away.  Some traditions, unfortunately, pass away and need to be mourned as if it was the passing of a loved one.   

What did we learn at our Sunday dinners?

   We learned that there wasn't anything Nonna couldn't turn into a masterpiece.  From homemade pasta to fresh pizza, she was the queen!
   We learned that a recipe wasn't necessary and recipes were rarely written down.  Just leave it to the masters.  Basil, oregano, garlic, oil.  Recipes?  No way!  You taste it every few minutes and adjust as necessary.
   We learned that no one would go hungry and if someone happened to drop over, they would be included into the fold and fed to their heart's content.
  We learned that Italian cooks had a lot in common with a famous Bible passage.  How else can loaves and gravy be multiplied a hundred times without some divine intervention?  Come many of your grandparents had holy pictures hanging in every room of the house?  The kitchen was no exception.  It was an extension of the Vatican!  The Pope hung out over the counter while Jesus' portrait was displayed on the refrigerator.  Every Sunday we ate as if it was the "Last Supper."  

     We learned about family joys and problems and the men would fall asleep somewhere between the antipasti and the dessert.  
     We heard the family stories over and over and, although we may have been tired of hearing the same things, as adults, we wish that we can hear them one more time from the mouths of our ancestors.
     These were the days where we heard about the journeys across the Atlantic Ocean, the moments when our ancestors became naturalized Americans, and the family members left behind in the homeland...
     These were the days when we became richer in our heritage.  These are the days that have slowly faded away.

     One of the first journeys my great-grandfather, Gaetano d'Angelo made to find employment in another country to better the lives of him, my great-grandmother, and grandmother was on the ship, "Roma".  He traveled alone.  In the photograph above, my great-grandfather is the gentleman with his arms crossed in the first standing row.  (Fourth from the left)  During our Sunday dinners, we heard about this story.  We learned that Nonno was unsuccessful in his first journey, but in 1920, tried again, bringing his wife and daughter with him.  This time, he was successful and obtained employment at the Ideal Doll Company.

     Above, please take into consideration the ship manifest from the Duca d'Aosta.  My relatives are located on lines 9, 10, and 11.  I first saw this manifest when I was about 21 on the Ellis Island website.  I was amazed at the information present in this document.  If you had relatives that came through Ellis Island, I recommend that you peruse this site.  The information is priceless, and I was able to learn the names of a 2x-great-grandparent under the nearest relative column.  I also learned the name of the street they lived on in Vizzini.  
     The Ellis Island website is a wonderful resource...I said it before and I'll say it again.  Well, I believe I have exhausted all of my thoughts for today.  I hope you enjoyed reading today's excerpt.  Thank you for your support and happy hunting!


  1. Great post! Very true, many lessons were learned and unfortunately the non-negotiable Sunday dinner tradition passed in my family when my grandparents weren't well enough and ultimately passed away. And yes, gravy vs. sauce is a big Italian debate! It's gravy in my family and sauce in my husband's. :)

    1. Thank you, Denise! We've ALWAYS called it gravy. There have been a couple of heated arguments when we are around sauce people! Thanks for posting!