By Rachel Hoeing

I am a freckle-faced, light-skinned, blonde-haired woman. You would never guess that my mom’s entire family is Italian. I seemed to get all the genes from my German grandfather. My sister got the dark skin and dark hair, but the only Italian gene I seemed to inherit is my love of food!

Growing up, my Italian Nana would constantly throw food in our faces and exclaim, “Mangia Mangia!” (Eat, eat!) And wow, was the food delicious. Homemade pasta, pizza, fried meatballs, bread, pitzelles, peppers & eggs, city chicken … you name it. Her kitchen always smelled like Olive Oil and garlic.

I can picture all of my Great Aunts like they were here yesterday. They were all large-breasted, Italian women, who wore their housecoats the majority of the day, always had some sort of flour or cooking ingredient on their clothes, and constantly seemed to be laughing, yelling something in Italian, singing Frank Sinatra, or running over to grab my face and give me a kiss.

My Nana and all of her sisters have now passed. As time goes by, I find myself yearning for more of the Italian spirit. I want to carry on the Italian legacy to my children, but it is tough. I find it hard to teach my children these customs when the ladies who truly grasped and lived this culture are gone. I now ask myself why I didn’t get all those fabulous recipes when they were alive and why I didn’t ask them what certain Italian words meant or who those people were in all the pictures.

The world we live in seems to have become too fast-paced and demanding, and the traditions of cooking all day for a huge family feast are seemingly slipping through my fingers. The world has changed … dual income families, microwaves, full-time sport activities, cell phones, the internet…it goes on and on.

I believe that our parents and their parents had simple roles and simple lives, and they embraced it. It didn’t matter to my aunts that the house was ridiculously small for large family gatherings. They celebrated what little they had and were proud of what they had – a home and each other. No distracting TV, no computer, no texting. It is the simplicity of these traditions that I hope I can hang on to and share with my family. I am glad that this was part of my childhood and I was able to learn what simplicity looked, felt, and tasted like. It was all simply joyous.

I encourage you to hold tight to the customs and traditions of our loved ones and embrace the heritage in which we were raised. Pass traditions along to your children so they, too, can learn the simple joys of life.

“Enjoy the little things. For one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” – Anonymous

(My Nana and her siblings are in the photo above. She is on the far right with her arms on the shoulders of a little girl, who is my mom’s sister. What wonderful times!)