Now that I have two children of my own, I often find myself wondering how my mother managed to do so much on her own while juggling her career as a chemist. Mornings at our house resembled a three ring circus on a speeding train. Mom often made breakfast and cooked dinner simultaneously in the morning to save time.
Always on the verge of missing the bus or eating dinner at eight, WE RUSHED EVERYWHERE…except for Sundays. Until the time I left for college, we went to my grandparents on Sundays after church.
Although the more reserved of the two, my grandfather Joseph Principe still found ways to make us feel special. While carving the roast in the kitchen, Pop-Pop (later Grandpa) would sneak us coveted end pieces before the platter headed to the dining room. If Sunday dinner included my dreaded nemesis (baked ham), a sandwich made from leftover homemade meatballs and gravy (aka spaghetti sauce) came out on my plate instead with a conspiratorial eyewink.
Grandpa grew up in Brockton, Massachusetts during the height of the depression. His older brother Dominic was a football star at Fordham University in the 1930s, playing with Vince Lombardi and later signing with the New York Giants. My grandfather also earned a football scholarship to Fordham, before breaking his arm his freshman year. He met my grandmother, Ruth Horan, in the stadium stands.
Gram was gregarious, warm, lively, and adventurous. When my grandfather got deployed before their scheduled New York wedding to Wyoming for training as B-4 pilot with the Army Air Corps during World War II, she had her father (a buyer at a major New York department store) have a suit made to match his uniform. She flew out to Wyoming by herself to get married. She named my mother for the Mountain Laurel flowers that bloomed where they lived on base.
At my grandparents’ dinner table, we learned how to treat china and crystal with care even at an early age. I felt very important when my grandmother served me soda (which my mother only permitted us to drink at their house) from her Waterford crystal for the first time at five. More importantly, we learned how to treat everyone at the table with respect and dignity. As the youngest of five children, my Aunt Claudia was born with Downs Syndrome. Far ahead of their time, my grandparents taught us that everyone should contribute to the best of their abilities and that everyone deserved their place at the table. Claudia was the light and joy of our family.
After dinner and dishes, we always played board or card games back at the table. If I set up my grandmother for a good hand, I was “in the will kid.” Through the stories my grandparents told around the card table, we picked up family history that I treasure today.
As it turns out, my grandparents gave my mother, brother, and me the greatest gift they could each Sunday: the time to relax and enjoy our family together over food, laughs, and games.
Written By: Anne Tria Wise