Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sketch of My Italian Grandfather

My grandfather used to cook dinner on Sunday. He'd get up at 5 am and by 6 he was in the kitchen washing one lettuce leaf at a time and spreading them out across paper towels lined on the table. Then he'd roll them up like a bathing-suit in a towel at camp and put them in the fridge for later. He would wash each shrimp by itself like he was giving it a bath and he would grate piles of parmesan cheese five inches high. He worked in silence and no one was allowed in the kitchen unless he called you. (I say this like it was a rule but I'm pretty sure we were in and out of the back door all day long. Like mice.) If he was mad he wouldn't talk to you directly he'd just say Jesus Christ! or Ling, would you get these kids out of here? (he called my grandmother Ling; her name was Lillian) He always wore an apron. His fingers were fat and short but he was patient when peeling the garlic (though later he liked to buy the ones that were already peeled). His Sunday outfit was a guayabera shirt with comfortable slacks and old brown leather slippers that he had forever. He wore pinky rings. For a few years he was so heavy he probably could not see his feet when he looked down.

He cooked all day until 2 or 3, and then he'd go stretch out on his bed or sit in the den with a part of the newspaper. He had two gears: sweet and loving or agitated and annoyed. (Agita!) He loved children but he definitely had a time limit. He loved to tell the same joke over and over until it was so annoying it was funny again. He didn't laugh, he giggled. He could cry from laughter at the word hiney. He was always proud of himself. Always. He came to Ellis Island and graduated from an Ivy League college that he paid for himself. He took care of his family. Sometimes he'd call his girlfriend from the phone in his room. Sometimes she even came to dinner. She sat at one end of the table and my grandmother sat at the other. We all knew. He knew we knew. That's how it was.

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