Family is an amazing thing...they can make you laugh, make you cry, drive you completely nuts, but for me, the best thing is they are there. I particularly love large family gatherings...as a kid, holidays were always more enjoyable when the house was filled with not just our family (4 kids), but my many cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. We're not such a large group these days; my siblings and their families and my Mom, but the four of us always have a great time together, laughing, teasing each other, telling the old stories over and over.
We spent New Year's in San Antonio and since Johnny is the oldest of 10, it's similar fun on a much grander scale. On our third night, Johnny announced he was cooking dinner. He loves to cook and especially loves to cook for a lot of people. He settled on chicken alfredo, a dish conducive to feeding large numbers. Normally, he has a rule that no one is permitted in the kitchen when he cooks. This time, not only was I allowed in the kitchen, I was allowed to help! I cut all the vegetables - in a specific order, mind you, and lay them in a bowl so he could cook them in reverse order. Mushrooms, green onions, celery, red pepper, green pepper, white onions, and broccoli...I think that was the order. Johnny takes care of the chicken and gets the sauces going. The kitchen is warm and cozy and wonderful food smells fill the room. Part of the family is already there...Mom, of course, and Larry, Patsy, Chelsea, and Larry Jr. Josie is there also since it is her day to help care for Mom.
While we cook, the doorbell is ringing as others arrive. The dogs, Cookie and Nala, tear around the house, get underfoot, barking madly and the house gets noisier. Josie's husband, Danny shows up, with sister-in-law Gloria and grandkids Boogie and Karen in tow. Dorothy arrives with daughter Sarah and Dorothy's husband Ray follows shortly after. We like to gather in the kitchen, even though it's hard to fit us all in there, and people pull up chairs and chat while we work. Dorothy brought salad and is busy in our corner, preparing it. Johnny sets me to preparing the garlic bread and while I work, I cast an eye over the family. A half dozen conversations at once - lighthearted and funny; slightly off-color and accompanied by raucous laughter; a family concern spoken of in quiet tones. The room is alive and vibrating - the hum of voices blends and swells. It's a real party!
Now it's time to eat. We serve the salad. Larry tells me he never used to eat salad but now he loves it and proves it by eating two platefuls. Toasted bread is placed on the table and we begin serving plates of chicken alfredo. Boogie, 11 years old, comes back for seconds. Dan feeds chicken to Cookie, who normally hates him but she was willing to call a truce in the face of chicken. Patsy yells - "no feeding chicken to the dogs"! Dorothy is babying Nala, a tiny chihuahua with a bark about 5 times bigger than her body. Larry, the ultimate critic, looks at me as he eats and says, "this is GOOOD"!
Gloria tells me, "this is the Johnny I remember...when he was a teenager he was always cooking for us and I would sit at the table and just be in awe of my big brother". She added, "it may sound corny, but it made me feel like a little girl again" (she's 60) but I understood. This family is full of characters, "a bunch of crazies", Mom says, but it's full of love and any time we get together, it's a real celebration.
Join me in a toast and echo the words of Danny Aiello at the end of Moonstruck...To Family!