Today is the Feast of St. Joseph so my husband Joe is celebrating his feast day. Since he had Sicilian parents and their heritage included a tremendous devotion to St. Joseph, the observance involved emptying the furniture out of a main room, constructing a huge altar with 3 tiers, draping it with the colors for that year (kind of like a prom theme) and then loading it up with all kinds of lamps, candles, flowers, statuary, etc. Once the novena began the house would fill up nightly with Italian ladies who would sit in the rented folding chairs before the altar, pray the rosary and singing feast day songs at the top of their lungs, all in a pre-WWII Sicilian dialect. At the end of the hour they moved to the kitchen and had coffee and pastries and chatted. It was a thing of beauty.
Small but Sincere!
The feast itself was a consummate tribute to Sicilian culture and cuisine. Maria’s version of Pasta di San Giuseppe was a marvel of cauliflower, fava beans, chick peas, and other ingredients that made a chunky, creamy white sauce served over homemade pasta. It was not for the faint of heart – you either loved it or hated it. (I loved it.) The rest of the dishes were largely seafood based (it being Lent and living in a fishing community) and side dishes included battered artichoke hearts and stuffed, sun-dried tomatoes – long before those became “popular” here in the U.S. It was no wonder my Irish heritage was largely ignored as St. Patrick’s Day got lost in the shuffle. As the years passed, and Maria did likewise, the festivities moved to other houses. St. Patrick’s got back on the map, but not in ways I ever anticipated.
I love my Irish heritage and I’m a bit of a purist. My grandma, Margaret Carroll McGill, was born and raised in County Kerry and she told me I never had to wear green on St. Patrick’s day because I had true Irish blood. (Somehow I got it in my head that my blood turned green on St. Patrick’s Day and I always wanted to prick my finger to see it bleed – and see if it was green.) My mother never made corned beef and cabbage because 1) she probably didn’t like it and 2) it really isn’t an Irish dish. Irish bacon and colcannon are more proper, and I”m not a big fan of any variation of colcannon I’ve ever made. My observance of St. Patrick’s Day centers around using my Belleek china or having a pint of Guinness (no proper Irishman would be caught dead drinking green beer). My husband? The Sicilian prince? Loves corned beef and cabbage. When I say “loves” corned beef & cabbage, I mean “would marry it“. He has a serious problem. This really happened:
Joe: I went to the store and picked up some groceries.
Me: Good, we were getting low. What did you get?
Joe: Well, I bought a nice slab of corned beef!
Me: Really? (Jokingly) Just one?
Joe: Well, actually I bought two and thought I would freeze one….
Me: Seriously? Two?
Joe: Well (pointing to the refrigerator) …. there might be three in there.
Me: THREE? There MIGHT be three? Are you serious?
Joe: Well, we never have leftovers to make corned beef hash and I know you like that.
Oh yes, I’m sure he bought it for me. He does that a lot. He will come home with a ham and say, “Look what I got you!” (Ham = oxygen to him.) In Sicilian culture, food is love. He shows his love for me by bringing home food he loves. Whatever. He cooks it (I refuse to) and enjoys it with as much relish as he does his feast day pasta. March is his favorite month.
These days our altar is small but very sincere. We used to have a little silver tray to hold the mass cards of people we had lost, but as years passed we graduated to a lovely crystal bowl. After this round, I think we need to find a bigger bowl. In twenty-five years we have collected a lot of those little cards. It is with great love and many tears we go through and review them, but we always try to remember how lucky we were – and still are – to have loved so many wonderful souls. We pray for them, for families and friends, and this year for the new Pope Francis on whom the future of the church hangs in precarious balance. He will need all the help he can get. I have set aside many of the beliefs taught to me in my youth, but I have hope in him. Besides, who better than the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi to guide us going forward?