I love Italian families. Having come from one, I can close my eyes and see my grandmother’s house in Brooklyn, hear my grandparents yelling at each other in Italian. And I can smell the menestra boiling on the stove.
After reading Mary Margaret Daughtridge’s exceptional blog about “Idea or Inspiration?” I thought back to the first spark of inspiration for
With the smell of sauce heavy with a good Cabernet Sauvignon filling my head, and wearing my “The Trouble With Italian Food Is 3 Days Later, You’re Hungry Again” apron, I sat at my computer and pounded out a scene written in a chubby Italian daughter’s POV. Rosalie Angelina Ronaldi stormed into my brain and took up residence. It went something like this:
“Christ, Ma! Do you think you made enough food? Are you expecting a third-world nation for supper?”
My Aunt Rose smacked me upside the head as she passed my chair and set a bowl of steaming broccoli on the table.
“Rosalie Angelina Ronaldi, that’s for taking the Lord’s name in vain!” She crossed herself and mumbled a few words in Italian asking for forgiveness for her puttana of a niece.
“Puttana? A whore? That’s a nice thing to call your goddaughter.”
“You’ve been dating Joey Manetti for two years and still no wedding. That tells me he’s not buying the cow because he’s getting the milk for free. Puttana!” She spat out the word, making it sound as bad as what it meant.
My sister, Annabelle, sat her skinny little butt on the plastic-covered seat and watched the light sparkle off her one-carat solitaire. “Aunt Rose, lay off Rosalie, already. It’s not her fault she’s got the Saldatti ass.”
Leave it to Annabelle to stick up for me by putting me down. True, I have the Saldatti ass. You know the one. It starts somewhere around the back of the knee and ends in the vicinity of the waist, but its beginning and ending are debatable. It just so happens that Joey loves my ass, all of it. He’d love to be married to it——I mean me. I’m the one who’s not interested in getting married, but if I said that, I’d be breaking the eleventh commandment——Thou shalt marry a nice Catholic boy (preferably Italian) and have babies.
I squirmed in my seat and peeled my thigh off the chair. God, I hate Sunday dinners. But unless you’ve just been given last rites, you’re expected to eat with the family. A supper, mind you, guaranteed to add five pounds of fat to each thigh. I tried the Atkins Diet, then found out no Italian has ever lived on a low-carb diet. Sundays killed that for the lot of us, since supper always has at least one form of pasta. It’s one of seven courses, so not only do you gain weight, but you’re stuck sitting with your family for four hours, which then makes you crazy and, in turn, you eat more, hence the weight problem to begin with.
I pushed the Genoa salami, provolone and decadent olives to the side and ate the lettuce leaves and artichoke hearts. No Italian in her right mind can resist artichokes. What can I say, they’re green. They must be nutritious once you get past the palm oil they’re soaked in. You gotta at least give me credit for resisting the damn olives.
Mama put down a tray of manicotti, wiped her hands on her apron, then smoothed the plastic lace-look tablecloth as she sat next to Papa. “Is Joey coming? Should I keep a plate warm for him?”
Papa grumbled about kids these days, always too busy for family supper.
“I’m not sure, Ma, we didn’t talk about it last night. He might be at his Nonna’s.”
“What do you mean you didn’t talk? What did you do?”
“Oh, come on, Ma, not you too? We saw a movie. I was tired. I went home.”
Bored is more like it. Why I’ve been seeing Joey for two years is beyond me. Maybe it’s because I’m lazy. Who has the time or inclination to go out every weekend trolling for guys? I’m not eighteen anymore. Come to think of it, I didn’t have the time or inclination then, either.
Aunt Rose sidled up to the table to take her seat. She smoothed her skirt over her big butt to cover the parts that stick to plastic and scooted in to the point where her large breasts almost covered the plate. She looked down, saw that they were too close for comfort, and scooted back, allowing just enough clearance. I wondered if that’s what I was going to look like in forty years. God save me from genetics. Though maybe I should be grateful. At least I’d lost my appetite.
That was the inspiration for Romeo, Romeo--the first book in my Domestic Gods series. The scene never made it into my final manuscript, which evolved from first person to third (my second assignment in the class), but the family, the internal conflict, and the voice stayed the same. It makes me wonder about the evolution of other novels…