Tradition makes stuff sound boring and maybe even painful. I hear the word, and I imagine a little boy sitting in his grandparent’s house feeling choked by a tie and suit that his Nonna forced him to wear for the annual family photo. But tradition deserves better. Tradition, after all, unites us by giving us roots and nostalgia. Tradition is that quality time we’re always talking about and missing. It gives us something to which we can look forward. It defines us as a family or group. The traditions worth keeping move us in unexpected and inspiring ways.
I don’t mean to brag, but Italians do tradition well. Usually, really well. Our baptisms, weddings, Christmas Eve, replete with the Seven Fish, and Sunday lunches are the stuff of legend for good reason – and it’s not just the vino. Really. But it’s so much more than those events. Throughout the year, we have all sorts of traditions, including jarring tomatoes and making conserva in August, celebrating name days (on the feast day of the saint for which we were named) as though they are birthdays, and any day Nonno makes meatballs.
Still, there is nothing quite like wine making season. In Italy, my peasant people earned a living making wine. But here it is for the pure joy of it – not to mention the year’s worth of wine for the dinner table. Anyone who knows me knows I’m actually quite terrible at being Italian because I don’t drink espresso or vino. Not ever. But the scent of both is home to me all the same.
Every year around my birthday in October, my grandparents would come for the weekend, so my Grandpa Rocco could press the grapes for his share of the year’s wine batch. He’d spend Saturday afternoon in the garage, and the rest of us would go shopping or cook dinner or work. My father would press his grapes a bit earlier, my uncle a bit later. Everyone was using the same equipment in our garage, and it was an excuse to get together. We’d make a bigger dinner, eat a little more, drink a little more, and talk a little more. After a couple glasses of the homemade wine from the year before, they’d hug a little more, too.
Grandpa Rocco is not here for this wine making season, and his health all but precluded him from the last few. In fact, he hadn’t drunk wine for ages before that. There wasn’t even a bottle in his house. On one of his last days he asked for vino, and my uncle wanted to give it to him. So, he put red food dye in a glass of water and told him it was wine. Grandpa did not know the difference. Regardless, it made me wonder if he too was returning to those weekends he spent in our garage as a winemaker. Back then, I had no idea how much I’d someday long for such weekends, for the bees that would swarm around the boxes of grapes, that cool breeze that sent my sister’s curls in a frenzy as she helped my grandfather on the press, those sips of grape juice before it had the chance to ferment, and those hugs from the buzzed.
Every birthday, every October it’s all I think about now. We’ve recaptured some of the magic. A few years ago, at our annual Halloween party, my father had his great nieces and nephews help with the press. And everyone sampled some of that grape juice. This year, my brother, who is slowly taking over wine-making duty from my father and everyone else in the family, brought his kids and my son to the back to help. Mostly they got in the way and stole tomatoes from Nonno’s garden, but that just made it all the more perfect. I hope all the nonni were watching from Heaven. Maybe they were the ones who made some of that wine spill. Maybe, just maybe, they wanted a drink for themselves.
Di Meglio uses the written word to help families create memories and stick together. You can follow her on Facebook at Francesca’s Newlyweds Nest and on Twitter @ItalianMamma10.