Family Traditions

by Kellie Bramlet (Marquette University)
I EAT GNOCCHI every Thanksgiving. Not turkey. Not stuffing. Those dishes are always there, but I typically bypass them. My great-grandmother was from Italy and so in true Italian style, my mother's side of the family celebrates all occasions with pasta, and typically artichokes too.

My great-grandmother passed away years ago, but her Italian heritage continues in the dishes my family makes each holiday. And now that I'm in Italy and learning about the culture first hand, I'm discovering that her background survives in many of our other family traditions and cultures as well.

My great-grandmother was a true believer in the bella figura. She was always well-dressed and the white Keds she wore around the house each day were always spotless. She always focused on the positive. Even in her later years, while suffering from dementia, she made sure to complement my sister and I. I've learned now that this is a part of Italian way of life. She never liked to dwell on the negative or the ugly sides of life - the brutta forma.

We have a rule in my family: no one eats alone. If someone decides to eat lunch later, then my mom will stop what she's doing and sit down and talk with them while they eat. This too stems from Italian culture. Italians don't like to be alone. Whenever I run into Cafe d'Italia and grab a panini, Jake the owner, will gesture across the piazza and point out my other classmates that may be sitting nearby. That way I know they're there and I can join them. I won't have to sit alone. Each morning when Jake shoos us away from the counter, signaling that he'll bring our breakfast to our table, I'm again reminded of my great-grandmother and how she would never let us pour our own coffee.

I never realized how many of my own traits and traditions stem from Italian culture. While my great-grandmother passed away years ago, I'm discovering that so much of her isn't lost. For me, learning about life in Italy isn't just learning about another culture. It's learning about my family and myself.