Avoiding Crisis

The Feast (part 2)

with 9 comments

Every year, on the way home from the first day of the feast, the conversation would always be the same. No matter how many times I had heard my father explain it to me, I never tired of the family history lesson that we would receive. As if it was a recording, he would go through the family tree, connecting the dots and making sense of the extended family that we had just spent the better part of our day with. He’d explain how our cousin over at the other table was the daughter of my great grandfather’s brother, and how her children were my second cousins one generation removed. And how so and so who sat 100 meters from us were the descendents of another brother but the reason that they didn’t sit closer was due to a feud between brothers.

I’d listen intently the whole ride home to his stories of our family and how there were three brothers all named John and how two of them died on the same day resulting in a double funeral. He’d tell us how the ship my great grandmother took to the United States had been headed to Ellis Island but was diverted to a port near the city of Philadelphia and quarantined because several passengers had feel ill during the voyage across the Atlantic. And how my great grandfather had first met my great grandmother (though they came from the same small town in Italy) when he traveled from Brooklyn to Philly with the friends that my great grandmother’s family had arranged for her to meet.

We’d all listen as he told us of how they would marry, conceive five children, two of whom did not survive infancy, and eventually open a candy store in Brooklyn. Then, of course, we’d hear all about Charlie Brown, my father’s great grandfather (my great grandmother’s father). For years I honestly thought his name really was Charlie Brown. I couldn’t even tell you what his name was if I wanted to, but I do know that, for a man who never learned English, he sure did love Charlie brown cartoons – hence, the nickname. Or at least that’s what I remember from the ride home each year.

I would listen to the same stories year after year but they never seemed to grow old. I would always learn something new.

I have so many wonderful and interesting memories from my years at the feast. One of my favorite is the year that a torrential downpour forced the Society to cancel the festivities. Determined to carry on family tradition, even if we didn’t have a life size statue to carry around, we packed everything up and headed to our house. I remember riding in the front seat of my mother’s car, squished in between my father and my great grandmother as we made the 30 minute trip. It is the last time I remember being that close to my great grandmother, pressed up against her side. I wish I could remember what she smelled like, the shape of her hands, how her voice sounded, or even what we talked about. I’m sure she was giving my father a hard time about his driving; she liked to give him the business. I don’t remember that ride, aside from where I was sitting. I wish I did.

I always explain to people that the feast is our version of a family reunion. I tend not to mention that whole things about the life size statue of the Virgin Mary and all. It’s just easier that way.

When I was in college, the Society sent me to Altamura, the town where my great grandparents had come from, to take part in the real feast – or festa as they call it there. While I was there I toured the old town center and visited the childhood homes of my great grandparents. I took part in the procession that brought the Madonna from her Chapel just outside the city into the city center. I have no words to describe that experience. Amazing doesn’t even come close.

Had I been at my parent’s house this morning I would have awoken to the smell of pineapple, cloves and baked ham. I would have heard the sounds of my mother’s food processor shredding cabbage for home made coleslaw. My mother makes these things and brings them to the feast every year and always on the second day. She does this because my grandmother did. And eventually I will do it because she did.

Because we carry on tradition without question, because we carry statues of the Virgin Mary without question, because we, by blood, are Altamurani.

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Written by nicolemarie

September 3, 2007 at 11:42 pm

Posted in biographical, family, life

9 Responses

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  1. Great writting Nicole, I miss the feast and this helps bring all the memories back!!

    Mark F

    September 4, 2007 at 12:02 pm

  2. I love romantic family folklore like this, especially when it’s so enthusiastically kept alive. Did you ever go through a grumpy teenage period where you thought it was lame, or did you always feel lucky to be part of the tradition?

    Holly

    September 4, 2007 at 2:01 pm

  3. Loved the last two posts! What a great family tradition!

    Julie

    September 4, 2007 at 2:12 pm

  4. Holly, I most definitely had my grumpy teenage years (oh my lord was I grumpy and angst ridden) but I wouldn’t say that I ever thought the feast was lame. But I also don’t think that I ever thought it was a really cool tradition that I was lucky to be part of. It was just something we always did and I never really questioned it. Sounds a bit cult like doesn’t it? But it’s not like I announced to all my friends where I was going and what we were doing there. However, on several occasions I’d bring a friend or a boyfriend along with me to see what it was all about; it was always an interesting experience, even though I tried my best to prepare them. When we’re both finally back in the States, I’ll bring you along to experience it firsthand. Okay?

    nicolemarie

    September 4, 2007 at 3:11 pm

  5. Loved your story about the feast. My grandfather was also a founding member, his name was John Massaro. I now live out in Arizona and have not been to the feast since 1990….boy do I miss it. I know your uncle Jerry, and cousin Paul. I used to be in the society. My name is Richie Damante. I saw the pics of the feast and it brought a tear to my eye…thinking about my childhood, my grandma, and others who passed away….thank you for bringing back a piece of my heritage….write back….

    rich d

    September 4, 2007 at 6:11 pm

  6. Nicolemarie,

    Very nice! Glad to see something on the Feast. My grandfather, Nicholas Moramarco was also a founding member. When I was a child we used to make the trip from CT to NJ every year, but as time went by my grandparent’s past and my uncle’s wife never really like it. (I don’t think she ever understood it) and then slowly our large family gathering became small as I started to bring freinds just to have more people at our table. My sister got married and never really picked up the family traditions, like cooking for the feast. I don’t think her husband liked it either which also made it hard, I remember one year at the feast I found him sleeping in the back seat of my family’s car! What a slap in the face! Eventually they started the exuses on why they could not attend. When my grandfather died my father for some reason did not want to join as a member to take his place ( which is still a sore subject between him and I), so I did in order to keep our “spot”. At 15 years old I probally was the yougest member ever to join. Eventually the preperation of the feast was too much work for my elderly mother to do on her own. Evey year it seemed we had to twist my cousin’s arms to attend. Sadly, we stopped going. I really really miss the feast and the feeling that you felt when you drove through the entrance knowing that everybody there was directly from or a descendant of Altumura. Now that I am married and have my own children I wish we could start going again. I often try to tell my son about the “feast” and about what it means to be Italian, I remind him that he is Italian and most of all a Altumurani. I often try to look up my family tree and when I found your posting I was very happy. I wish there was more pictures that I could show my son, Nicholas. Unfortunately my wife never got to see the Feast, for I met her after we stopped going. She said she would love to see it, probally because I only told her about it about a million times or so. I have very fond memories of the Feast and my grandparents. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who cherishes’ the memories. Maybe someday I’ll return and see you there.
    Respectfully yours,Jack Moramarco

    Jack Moramarco

    May 20, 2008 at 2:50 am

  7. Hi. My parents and my 2 sisters were born in altamura and imigrated to Montreal, Canada in 1957 and soon after I was born.
    My name is Pascal and I enjoy discussing with my Dad his good old days of Altamura. My dad was born in 1925 and have brothers and sisters living in Altamura. My Dad’s last name is Salvatore (Vito) and my mother’s maiden name is Calia, also born in Altamura. Wonder if your parents or relatives knew my parents or uncles when they were children ? My e-mail : pascal_salvatore@hotmail.com

    Pascal

    February 9, 2009 at 10:48 pm

  8. Very nice, again 🙂 Anyone remember the F1 tornado? I think it was in 1997 or 1998. I was doing good until Paul started saying the Hail Mary over the intercom!

    Deirdre Maino

    August 26, 2009 at 1:13 pm

  9. So enjoyed reading this. Beautifully written and a true tribute to the Altamurani who share in this annual celebration! I remember that tornado years ago!! It was insane and we have reminisced about Paul saying the Hail Mary and the men having to slice the tent because it was lifting off the ground. That was a very scary day!!! Or how about the monsoon rains – we just nailed plastic walls up all around the barac and kept going. Great Great Memories!!!

    Lee (Laterza Family)

    May 28, 2011 at 7:42 pm


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