December 11, 2013

Jerry's Ink


The first meal my wife, the beautiful Judy Licht, had at my parents' house was on a Christmas Eve 33 years ago.

Judy arrived with her mother and there was that uncomfortable awkward introduction time that we all have been through when introducing our parents to someone with whom we may be "serious."

Judy and her mother were ushered into the kitchen where, on the stove, eels were frying and squiggling. A whole octopus was swirling around in tomato sauce with the tentacles appearing with every boil.

Judy looked like she was going to be sick. Her mother was stunned and held on to a table and looked as though she was going to faint.

We survived that meal and it turned out everyone really liked each other, although I still remember Judy and her mom politely moving the eel and octopus on their plates from side to side with the speed and dexterity of Las Vegas blackjack dealers. They didn't eat a bite.

I thought of that when I received this column years ago from someone on the Internet. It's good writing. And I'm sure it's true. If the writer comes forward I'm ready to give him all the credit he deserves for surviving and living to write about it.

By Anonymous

I thought it would be a nice idea to bring a date to my parents' house on Christmas Eve. I thought it would be interesting for a non-Italian girl to see how an Italian family spends the holidays. I thought my mother and my date would hit it off like partridges and pear trees. So, I was wrong. I had only known Karen for three weeks when I extended the invitation. "I know these family things can be a little weird," I told her, "but my folks are great, and we always have a lot of fun on Christmas Eve."

"Sounds fine to me," Karen said.

I had only known my mother for 31 years when I told her I'd be bringing Karen with me. "She's a very nice girl and she's really looking forward to meeting all of you."

"Sounds fine to me," my mother said. And that was that. Two telephone calls. Two sounds-fine-to-me. What more could I want?

I should point out, I suppose, that in Italian households, Christmas Eve is the social event of the season – an Italian woman's raison d'etre. She cleans. She cooks. She bakes. She orchestrates every minute of the entire evening. Christmas Eve is what Italian women live for. I should also point out, I suppose, that when it comes to the kind of women that make Italian men go nuts, Karen is it. She doesn't clean. She doesn't cook. She doesn't bake. And she has the largest breasts I have ever seen on a human being. I brought her anyway.

7 PM – We arrive. Karen and I walk in and putter around for half an hour waiting for the other guests to show up. During that half hour, my mother grills Karen like a cheeseburger and cannily determines that Karen does not clean, cook, or bake. My father is equally observant. He pulls me into the living room and notes, "She has the largest breasts I have ever seen on a human being."

7:30 PM. – Others arrive. Uncle Pepe walks in with my Aunt Mafalde, assorted kids, assorted gifts. We sit around the dining room table for antipasto, a symmetrically composed platter of lettuce, roasted peppers, black olives, salami, prosciutto, provolone, and anchovies. When I offer to make Karen's plate she says, "Thank you. But none of those things, okay?" She points to the anchovies.

"You don't like anchovies?" I ask. "I don't like fish," Karen announces to one and all as 67 other varieties of foods-that-swim are baking, broiling, and simmering in the next room.

My mother makes the sign of the cross. Things are getting uncomfortable.

Aunt Mafalde asks Karen what her family eats on Christmas Eve. Karen says, "Knockwurst." My father, who is still staring in a daze at Karen's chest, temporarily snaps out of it to murmur, "Knockers?"

My mother kicks him so hard he gets a blood clot. None of this is turning out the way I'd hoped.

8 PM – Second course. The spaghetti and crab sauce is on the way to the table. Karen declines the crab sauce and says she'll make her own with butter and ketchup. My mother asks me to join her in the kitchen. I take my "Merry Christmas" napkin from my lap, place it on the "Merry Christmas" tablecloth and walk into the kitchen. "I don't want to start any trouble," my mother says calmly, clutching a bottle of ketchup in her hands. "But if she pours this on my pasta, I'm going to throw acid in her face."

"Come on," I tell her. "It's Christmas. Let her eat what she wants."

My mother considers the situation, then nods. As I turn to walk back into the dining room, she grabs my shoulder. "Tell me the truth," she says. "Are you serious with this puttana?"

"She's not a puttana," I reply, "and I've only known her for three weeks." "Well, it's your life," she tells me, "but if you marry her, she'll poison you."

8:30 PM – More fish. My stomach is knotted like one of those macramé plant hangers that are always three times larger than the plants they hold. All the women get up to clear away the spaghetti dishes, except for Karen, who, instead, lights a cigarette. "Why don't you give them a little hand?" I politely suggest.

Karen makes a face and walks into the kitchen carrying three forks. "Dear, you don't have to do that," my mother tells her, smiling painfully. "Oh, okay," Karen says, putting the forks on the sink.

As she reenters the dining room, a wine glass flies over her head, and smashes against the wall. From the kitchen, my mother says, "Whoops." I vaguely remember that line from Torch Song Trilogy. "Whoops?" No. "Whoops is when you fall down an elevator shaft."

More fish comes out.

After some goading, Karen tries a piece of scungilli, which she describes as "slimy, like worms." My mother winces, bites her hand, and pounds her chest like one of those old women you always see in the sixth row of a funeral home. Aunt Mafalde does the same. Karen, believing that this is something that all Italian women do on Christmas Eve, bites her hand and pounds her chest.

10 PM – Coffee, dessert. Espresso all around. A little Anisette. A curl of lemon peel. When Karen asks for milk, my mother finally slaps her in the face with a cannoli. I guess it had to happen sooner or later. Karen, believing that this is something that all Italian women do on Christmas Eve, picks up a cannoli and slaps my mother with it. Rally

"This is fun," Karen says. Fun? No. Fun is when you fall down an elevator shaft. But, amazingly, everyone is laughing and smiling and filled with good cheer – even my mother, who grabs me by the shoulder, laughs and says, "Get this bitch out of my house."

Sounds fine to me.

If you wish to comment on "Jerry's Ink" please send your message to jerry@dfjp.com.

  1. print email
    anonymous' story
    December 11, 2013 | 01:27 PM

    Karen sounds like a Jewish girl I once dated. Terrific story.

    Wally Littman
  2. print email
    December 11, 2013 | 01:29 PM

    Sounds like a Jewish girl I once dated. Terrific story

    Wally Littman
  3. print email
    anonymous' story December 11, 2013 | 01:27 PM
    December 11, 2013 | 08:17 PM

    Being half Greek and half Italian I can totally relate

    Mike Koulermos

    michael koulermos
  4. print email
    Your Italian story
    December 11, 2013 | 09:10 PM

    As an Italian American I can relate, not from my America-born parents, but from Italian born grandparents.

    Patti Pietschmann
  5. print email
    My Favorite Christmas Wish
    December 12, 2013 | 02:52 AM

    When I married my first ex-wife, a classically-trained Italian young woman (girl) from Brooklyn, I knew I was in for some change. Having grown up as an Englishman on beef, steak and potatoes, I was now entering new dining territory. My father-in-law from Sicily; and my mother-in-law from Naples. And it was like the "Hatfields and McCoys" on every family occasion. Always great and familiar pasta dishes from the south, but very weird fish things from the north. And with half the 30-person table (all wealthy, for sure) and each considering the others barbarians in manners and style - especially over the menu "" I was confused.

    But in the middle of it all for me was the octopus in the silver tureen. Which, like Jerry's "anonymous"¯ commentator, stopped me in my tracks. No way I was going to eat a purple and white thing, with its tentacles and suction cups beckoning to me from some kind of cream sauce.

    But then there was "Aunt Josie"¯, old enough to be my mother, sitting there in a simple, very low-cut dress, with a bosom as big as Jerry's "anonymous"¯ guy described about his date, Karen, and now smiling at me for noticing her charms. Simply humongous! And that was it! I moved the food around on my plate like Karen for a while; kept my big mouth shut; and just took in the sights.

    Needless to say, Aunt Josie and I made a lot of eye-contact that night and it was great for both of us! And just imagine the possibilities if Fellini was "directing"¯. LOL, BC

    Bill Crandall
  6. print email
    A New Meaning to "Eat Your Brains Out"
    December 12, 2013 | 12:55 PM

    When I first met my X Mother-In-Law, she was about to place an entire brain into boiling water. I nearly added my own stomach contents to the pot.

    When it was ready to retrieve, she insisted that I taste it. I politely refused while she had some on a fork trying to shove it into my mouth.

    As the years went by and I got to know her better, I wondered just whose brain she had been boiling. Probably my X husband's previous girlfriend.

    7.5 years later I found freedom. My life has been a wonderful adventure ever since.

    Bette Bryman
  7. print email
    great story
    December 12, 2013 | 05:27 PM

    Jerry,Life is a melon breasted women when her lips are red and full.Zorba
    I sang that line in the musical zorba the greek.Mike Boccio

  8. print email
    Holiday Food Verite
    December 13, 2013 | 03:59 AM

    On a slightly more informative and fun note, just to add to my earlier commentary ... The historic reason we all seem to eat such strange animals and their various body parts is because our ancestors didn't have the money or means to go to Zabar's or Stop & Shop.

    You ate what there was to be had in the neighborhood and nothing went wasted. Hence our continued and contemporary eating traditions of brains, stomachs, intestines, eyeballs - even bugs, depending on which part of the world your poor parents came from.

    But now we have given all these indigenous "peasant" by-products very fancy names; in very exclusive restaurants; and they're really expensive. Go figure that and why we might want to eat tripe or derma in the first place!

    I'll take a great ham or bottom-round roast beef sandwich, thank you! And OK, a bottle of Doctor Brown's Celray soda if I'm at Eisenberg's. Or a nice center-cut piece of filet mignon at Wolfgang's. Maybe a wonderfully cooked chicken breast at Sparks. Or my all-time favorite ! a beautiful, center-cut pork chop, on the bone, parmesan, from Campagnola restaurant in NYC, with their unbelievable tortellini Alfredo on the side, of course. Clearly, the best Italian restaurant anywhere.

    And, if there, no doubt you'll see a beautiful Italian woman, just like "Aunt Josie"¯, to make your night! LOL, BC

    Bill Crandall
  9. print email
    Christmas Eve Story
    December 13, 2013 | 07:41 AM

    Jerry....great I can see it all and so many parts of the story Bring back fond memories...miss you and happy holidays.James

    James D'Auria
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