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  • One Man's Hot Dog is Another Man's Garbage
    Page 2 of 2

    by Flora Mitidiero Raehl

    So after everyone left I sat down with my late night cup of coffee and I started doing a little private reminiscing of my own. I started thinking what it was like growing up in Chicago with a father who was born in a different country, a mother who was born in America to Italian immigrants, a grandfather who lived with us, and seeing every extended family member every day. Truly, I saw all my cousins and aunts and uncles EVERY SINGLE DAY! My mother worked very hard at merging our Italian traditions, while making sure we also embraced everything American. We of course celebrated all the American holidays, and the Italian one's as well; for example, Fathers Day in June was always a fun summer day celebration, but the equally important feast of St. Joseph (Father's Day in Italy and my father's name day) was also a huge deal in our house. My father, on the other hand, was all about being Italian, from teaching me the language, exposing me to the old country traditions and festivals and surrounding our family with as many other Italians as possible. This days reminiscing takes me to all the Italian role models I grew up with and all the things I learned from them along the way. As I've said before, my Papa lived with us until I was 10 years old and every special occasion ended with Italian music. Papa played the tambourine, his brother, Uncle Ciccio, played the concertina, and my other grandpa played the bagpipes, so I learned to love the tarantella at a very early age. And when Papa wanted to dance, my dad took over the tambourine and that's how I learned to waltz – with Papa.

    Another time honored Italian tradition was making wine and for as long as I can remember the homemade jug was always front and center on the table. I'm not sure where the wine making equipment came from but to this day my father has the old fashioned wine press and wine barrels in the basement, in what he calls his wine cellar. And although I'm not a wine drinker (I know, sacrilegious for an Italian) I do have a love for the time honored tradition of watching all these strong Italian paesani getting together to make the wine. From the anticipation of the grapes being delivered, the picking out of the best ones, feeding them through the press into the barrels and the wonderfully earthy smell of the fruit. Which brings this full circle, because one of the most vivid memories I have is the making of the homemade sausage.

    Remember that relative that came to Chicago and told my father the hot dog story? It's quite possible he may have passed down this secret recipe so the Italians who decided to continue living in America would be able to have the real salsiccia instead of what he considered a sorry imitation. I remember going to the butcher with Papa to pick out the very best cuts of meat and the casings, carting it home to my mom who would start chopping it into pieces, mixing in the exact combination of "secret" spices, and feeding it through the grinder into the casings. Some of it would go into the fridge and some of it would get hung in the wine cellar to dry into something like a salami. It was a lot of hard, sloppy work, trust me, casings are slimy, but oh so worth it. All the while beautiful Italian music was playing in the background and the beloved jug front and center yet again. It didn't matter how long it took because it was all about doing it together and carrying on yet another tradition.

    What I have come to realize is that although the Italians are strong, stubborn, hard working people, they also have such a love of life and tradition and they embrace every day with fiery passion. From these strong people I learned to make every event a celebration. If you're happy laugh with all the gusto you have inside, if you're sad there's nothing wrong with a man crying and if you're angry it's okay to speak your mind, loudly of course, and then just move on with life. Nothing is more important than family and tradition and it's impossible not to get caught up in this amazing train of thought.

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    Article Published 6/24/11

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