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Carol Ann Saraceno-Sackett: Memories of past mix with visions of future

Perhaps the passage of time has left me with idealistic childhood memories of family holidays, but I treasure and mourn the loss of those times.

As was typical of Italian families, we were close in more ways than one. I grew up in Buffalo. My maternal grandparents lived upstairs, my paternal grandparents were across the street and various other relatives lived just doors away. The other members of the immediate family lived within a 3-mile radius. Only one aunt dared to move far away – to Kenmore. She was the family rogue.

Anyway, I digress. This is about holidays and my family’s expectation that we all gather for every single one. My maternal grandparents had five daughters, so there were enough hostesses for the year’s celebrations.

Every occasion was held in the basement of the host family in an era before rec rooms. Each basement had a fully equipped kitchen so that the upstairs could be kept clean for company. The irony wasn’t lost on the youngest generation. Upon arrival, we each ritually circumnavigated the room until every relative was embraced. My grandparents expected this show of love and respect, and we all graciously complied.

Once everyone had gathered, all 23 of us would sit around a long makeshift table where we eagerly anticipated the special homemade Italian dishes that were an integral part of our celebrations. Even the youngest of us savored and appreciated the labor-intensive food. Back then there were no vegetarian, gluten-free, lactose intolerant or vegan dietary considerations. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

There was no pretense in our family. On the oilcloth-covered tables were mismatched china and silverware. Wine was served in juice glasses. The centerpiece was a bowl of fresh fruit and the decorations were crepe paper streamers left over from someone’s birthday party.

After dinner, while the women cleared the table, we all hung out together and talked. Uncle Paul was the raconteur who kept us laughing with stories about his youth in the old country. My mother was the bawdy one using naughty humor to shock our conservative family. Sometimes Aunt Olivia would serenade us with her lovely soprano voice. Uncle Gregory and Dad would continue their ongoing debate about the evils of socialism/capitalism, each respecting the other’s view.

Once dessert was served, the uncles gathered at one end of the table to deal the cards, the aunts giggled and gossiped, and the cousins gathered by age group – but we all shared this one large space. Eventually, our cousin Anthony took out his accordion and, with his father on concertina, played while everyone danced.

The other day, while reminiscing, I had a vision of future holidays. The Martha Stewart dining room is festively decorated. Then the kids arrive sullenly, already bored without their friends, but compensate by texting, talking or sending each other selfies. The men greet everyone with, “Happy Holidays, what’s the score?” then move to the man cave where ESPN appears on the wall-size flat-screen TV. The ladies hurry to get dinner on the table so they have time to shop at the mall. Dinner is secondary, as are the guests. And the grandparents? They’re alone in the living room playing Wii bowling. Hmm. Maybe not so futuristic after all.