first appeared on ciao pittsburgh May 8, 2015
I was so nervous to meet my future mother in-law. I knew very little about her other than she was Italian. I will be the first to admit this, Italian women are tough, especially when it comes to their sons.
In Italian families, there are euphemisms thrown around like “first born Italian males, the baby boy of the family, and Italian sons love their moms”. These are not in jest I can assure you, they are all very real.
Are Italian boys treated like royalty in a family? I can neither confirm nor deny this fact because I am now an Italian mother of a son.
These moms are fiercely protective and devoted to their sons. Unconditional love is just implied, it goes without saying and no need to state the obvious. Think of it in terms of lioness in a pride on the Serengeti, except Italian mothers will make lion moms looks like simple house cats when it comes to the area of dating their sons.
Trust me when I say I have witness this first hand. I watched it when my older brother began to date. When a potential “girlfriend” is brought to a house to meet an Italian mother for the first time, it is like that of an interrogation process.
It begins with everyone sitting around the kitchen table with some biscotti or other Italian pastries and some coffee. It is the Italian momma, her son, several family members (because we are all there to watch this onslaught) and the young woman. The kitchen is the mom’s home territory you know, it is the home field advantage for the lady of the house. The mother has arranged it this way, it may seem unfair to the unassuming party but it is just the way things happen.
The conversation starts with the mother asking the poor girl “so tell me about your family”. And then it begins, the questions will come fast and furious. Each answer scrutinized like and IRS auditor looking for a fraudulent error on a tax return.
It’s not a pretty sight, but in order to date an Italian boy it was something that had to be done. If you date an Italian boy, it is comes with the territory.
Knowing full well what I was in for, I flew in to meet her, SJ. That is what I call her, it is her nickname.
I had a flown in with gifts for my mother in-law. Remember, Italians never show up to a person’s house empty handed. This is one of the many unwritten rules that we live by, kind of like an Italian code of ethics. We just abide by these “laws” and don’t question it for fear that the maloik (evil eye) will strike where we are standing.
The gifts weren’t bribes mind you, it was just showing respect to my future mother in-law. If I didn’t do this, it would have upset my family and I would have brought shame upon them. According to my own mother, “it would have proved that I had the manners of a barn animal”.
When I came to SJ’s house and met her, she welcomed me opened arms. She is a beautiful woman with a great smile. She graciously accepted the gifts and we began to chat. I met the rest of the family later that day and she introduced me as “Bill’s girlfriend who talk’s real funny”. I just laughed at this.
Yes, I have a New England accent. It isn’t a thick one per say, but my diction will tell you that I am not from Western PA.
Apparently my accent was particularly strong on this day and certain words just came out sounding quite funny. Let’s face it I still mutilate the words Martha, orange, horrible and it makes my kids giggle to this day.
The visit was really going well, until SJ realized that her future daughter in-law was complete a city person. It was a watershed moment for sure.
I just don’t “do nature”, it just is not my thing. I’m a city slicker to the umpth degree, it is really quite simple.
The first epiphany came to light when I saw my in-law’s female neighbor riding a lawnmower cutting grass. I looked aghast at SJ and said in my most horrified voice “women cut grass like that”! Look, I have seen women back home cut small city lots sizes patches of grass. I was taken aback by seeing a woman cutting acers of grass on a tractor.
SJ just looked at me and laughed and said in her most kind voice, “yes dear, woman can cut grass on tractors”.
Next came the deer on the back porch incident. I came out to sit in the morning to have my coffee and a deer came up near where I was sitting. Ok it was several feet away- but I had never really seen a wild deer in my life this close to me. I was convinced by my future husband, who took full advantage of my naivety, and that the deer could attack me at any given moment.
My reaction, not a big surprise was to scream. I am not ashamed for my actions, because it was completely natural. However, I caused such a ruckus that my future husband had to come running out of the house to see what sort of distress I was in.
I had to explain my near death experience and my newly acquired phobia of deer to him. SJ came out and looked at me knowing full well what had transpired. She is a very smart woman and caught on quickly that I am a scaredy-cat when it comes to nature.
City rats and vermin don’t bother me, county deer, chimp monks and other woodland creatures – well I just keep my distance from them.
SJ assured me that deer were gentle creatures like Bambi and at best they are nuisances that eat her flowers and plants. She just looked at her son with a look that only a mother could give, it would be best described as a “stink eye”. She knew her son all too well and realized without me telling her what he had told me about these wild animals.
I was guaranteed that I was in no imminent danger. I still have a fear of deer to this day, I don’t trust them with their big doe eyes and fluffy white tails. They can give you a killer look and I know they are plotting my demise.
The last incident is what forever solidified my relationship with SJ. It goes down in the family history books as the “Whistle Pig Affair”. To this very day my beloved husband still laughs so hard about this. I on the other hand find little humor in this.
Sitting on the back porch with my future husband one morning, he began to tell me about the story of the ground hogs or as he called them “whistle pigs”. He told me that if you spotted one in your yard, you could call it to you by whistling to it.
Now on this day as he was telling me about this vermin, up pops this exact species-a ground hog. He convinces me to stand in the middle of the yard whistle to at the darn thing and it will come to me. So the scene is set and you can only imagine what is about to happen.
Like a buffoon I am standing in the yard whistling at this ball of fur, I’m looking back at the love of my life as he assures me “whistle louder so it can hear you and it will com…trust me”. Yes, this went on for several minutes and I kept thinking to myself, “why would he ever lie to me”?
Suddenly the back door flew open from the house and SJ came out. She looked at me and said sternly “honey, get back in the house … you’re embarrassing yourself those things don’t answer to whistles”.
She isn’t a loud Italian woman, which is a rare thing. So when she spoke in this tone, I knew she meant business.
She then spun around on her heels and glared at her son. SJ spoke in a firm tone and said “don’t take advantage of the city girl, she doesn’t know any better”!
What happened next is still a blur because it happened so quickly. I swear I thought I saw out of the corner of my eye SJ giving her son a love tap to the back of the head.
SJ then just walked back into the house.
I was awe struck. From that point I knew that she was a force to be reckoned with, a true Italian mom. I just adored her and I knew that I loved her like she was my own mom.
SJ has been there for me through thick and thin and has taught me what it is to be a great mother in-law. I hope that when it is my turn, I can be just like her when I become an in-law. She still continues to love me despite my numerous flaws and that is what I adore about her the most.
I wanted to share with you SJ’s Giambotta recipe. Giambotta is an Italian vegetable stew recipe and it is the perfect dish to make with all of the fresh vegetables available at the farmers market or from your garden. This dish can be served as a main dish with some good crusty Italian bread or as a side with grilled meats or fish.
I hope that you enjoy this dish.
Nicky D Cooks: Grammy’s Giambotta
Grammy is what my children call my mother in-law. It was one of the first dishes that she made for me that I fell in love with. It is an old family that has been in the family for years. Every time I make it, I always think of her.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 assorted peppers-cored, seeded, and cut into 1⁄4″ strips
4 cloves garlic- minced
1 medium sweet onion- quartered and sliced thin
1-2 small cans of tomato sauce
Fresh Herbs (basil, parsley or mint) 1-2 tbsp
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated Italian cheese (optional)
Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium- heat. Add peppers, garlic, onions, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer several minutes then add the tomato sauce.
Cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until peppers are soft. Add the herbs now and let the peppers finish cooking. Adjust the seasonings to taste. Garnish with grated cheese.
Serve with some good crusty Italian bread. Great either warm or room temperature.