Professor at St. Francis College (retired)
Marilyn Ann Verna is a retired associate professor at St. Francis College and a former teacher and administrator in the New York City Board of Education. Her research specialization dealt with factors influencing exceptional students and has been presented at U.S and international conference. Her work is published in educational journals and books and Dr. Verna is also a genealogist specializing in Italian research. She is an active member of the Italian Genealogical Group and the Italian American Studies Association.
I fondly recall Christmas celebrations with my family. My only living grandparent lived in the same house with us, which was a great benefit in learning about life in Italy, plus family harmony and stability. We had the two kitchens set-up (upstairs and the basement) and the whole family – aunts, uncles and cousins gathered in the basement every Sunday and on holidays.
During the Christmas season, I enjoyed watching my grandmother make the special cheese cake typical of Campobasso. I also remember her preparing the homemade pasta, first assembling the ingredients on a large pastry board and she would then make a well in the flour and deposit the eggs for mixing. I found it amusing that the eggs never left the board; I always expected the eggs to roll off onto the floor, but in all of my years of watching, she never lost an egg! But back to the pasta; after cutting the dough, she would let the pasta dry on a special cloth that would be laid out on the bed!
Christmas was a time when extended family members would come to visit my grandmother. I always looked forward to their visits; the older cousins and great-uncles would always have a few dollars for us youngsters. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day the Sunday group would gather. The children were seated at a side table, separate from the adults for the meal that lasted all day. I smile when I think back to those days of drinking cream soda with a dash of Italian wine at our Christmas dinner.
On a typical day, opera would be heard throughout the house, but on these festive occasions the pianola rolls would entertain us with songs from the 1930s and 1940s. I grew-up with a love for all of these old tunes. My father played the piano and accordion, while other members of the family played the guitar and banjo. My mother and aunts would be the vocalists and the music was heard all day long. To this day, we remain a close knit family. I now make my Nonna’s cheese cake every Christmas and my cousins look forward to enjoying it.