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Bel Paese

(by Christine Flowers)

I am half Italian, which means I am all Italian except when I’m sleeping. In other words, while I live and breathe and am conscious, the Bel Paese of my maternal family has a gravitational pull, making it impossible for me to acknowledge that my poor Irish-French-Swedish papa had anything to do with molding my soul. He did, of course, and in ways that I am just now at the age of 56 discovering.

But the rest of my body, my heart and my mouth and most especially my digestive system, were forever imprinted with the mark of Mamie. Mamie is short for Philomena, which is the name of a saint who was somehow decommissioned. My grandmother Mamie was never quite sure why her namesake was relegated to the B leagues of sainthood like Christopher, he of the dashboard, and she didn’t take kindly to the idea. I remember her raising calloused fists to the heavens and complaining to God. I am sure He listened, because no one ignored Mamie.

My grandmother was a force of nature, and I spent a good part of the first ten years of my life living with her. My dad was always working, my mother had four other kids to watch, and I was the firstborn favorite who lived with her on many weekends. We’d wake up on Saturday mornings, and she’d lay out the coffee (for her), milk (for me), and Stella D’Oro cookies (for both of us). But the holidays were especially wonderful.