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  • Family Still Means Something to Italians
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    JULY 31, 2005 - Some people say that the big extended Italian family seated around the table on Sunday afternoon is a dead cliché that might never have truly existed. But I'm here to say that the big Italian family that is always together is alive and well - in my home and in Italy.

    Just about every weekend, we have another family event, and we're always eating pasta, secondi (now that it's summer that usually means sausage or steak off the grill), fruits and nuts, pastries, and espresso. This year we had a sixtieth birthday, a first birthday, a graduation, a bridal shower, and a let's go crabbing down the shore and make sauce afterward party. It's the same when I'm in Italy - any excuse to get together and eat.

    I've determined it's all about the cousins in both countries. They are the main catalysts in driving a party - and they usually eat the most, too. I once read that after your siblings, your first cousins are your closest relatives - at least genetically. But in my family, cousins are your closest relatives period. In fact, they can be like a second set of brothers and sisters.

    I could go on forever about all the ways in which my cousins have helped my brother, sister and me. My cousin Fausto, who lives in Italy, introduced me to my boyfriend Antonio - and still remains a confidant of mine. Big John, a first cousin, has been like a big brother to me since the day I was born - even if he dropped me in the toilet when I was first getting potty trained. If I ever get arrested, I know he'll be the one to bail me out.

    My cousin Little Fran is the one to pretty me up - dressing me in skirts, making me do my nails and helping me accentuate all of my assets. Big Fran (we're all named Francesca, thus the absurd nicknames) is always checking up on me - especially now that I've been recovering from my knee injury. Because I have millions of cousins - truly so many around the world that I can't even count them all - I will quit boring you with all the stories of the wonderful things they do for me.

    Nowadays, it's the little ones - the children of my older cousins - who bring us all together. They think life is a series of parties that include pasta, barbecue and cake. On the rare weekend we don't have a party, they ask us to get together anyway - for their ballet recitals, baseball games or just because. And we usually do. Today is Sunday and a bunch of my cousins are down the shore - and they'll be hanging out at the ocean and then eating a big meal together. That's our life.

    My cousin Fausto will be doing the same with his family in Italy, and then he'll walk outside his house and see even more relatives. They all live right next door to each other in Ischia. My boyfriend Antonio is gathering around his family's table right now for a Sunday feast with his nieces, nephew, and all three sisters and their husbands. His mom will be at the head of the table and they'll eat and laugh. It makes me feel good to know that we both get to do the same thing every week - and even if we are apart for now, neither one of us is ever alone.

    Even though I was with a whole bunch of relatives at my cousin Anna's house yesterday and some of the others are down the shore and I'm back home, I still get to have company on this Sunday. My parents took my aunt and uncle to Connecticut to see other relatives this morning. But they'll all be back at our house for lunch. All of these gatherings are a celebration of love and family and our culture. If you're one of the ones letting people believe that the big Italian family feasts are a thing of the past, consider reviving old traditions. Send invitations to your cousins today for next Sunday. I better go cook!

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