“Pace, Fratello,” that’s how they greeted each other, because they were brothers in faith, or, more than that, in the immigrant experience. Pace, Sorella, as well; Peace, Sister, for the nonnas and bisnonnas who left their bus shoes on the outside steps of their childrens’ homes after changing into mud boots to tend the gardens. They did this because it was early in the morning and everyone was asleep, and knocking, or a doorbell, might wake the grandchildren. At parties they’d toil and keep watch, for need, for more wine, more food, for dirty dishes. And during lulls they’d drift back to the kitchen and make more pies from the gardens’ frutti and verdure. On the rare occasion that they went out, they’d still be working, or play acting at it, habitually clearing the tables or adding food to still half-full plates. They looked very uncomfortable all dressed up, yet they never seemed unhappy in a crowd of relatives.
The men, the household royalty, in their clean white shirts or shiny suits, well, they’d be catered to, and mostly, learn to be oblivious of their privilege. In or out of the house, they’d regale each other with song and story, sharing little with the older women but the joy of being a family together. The gatherings were raucous, loud, and sometimes unforgiving. Many hurt feelings would be subjugated to the greater ambitions of togetherness. How many stress-related illnesses, how many tears alone behind closed doors…
They wished each other peace but gave each other a more common ribaldry, at least for the evening, before saying arrivaderci and returning their yearnings to the heavens. Peace may not be realistic but it is aspirational. Love may not be attainable but for inspiration, but it is real nonetheless, and on display at these great little gatherings. Stop in at a home like this at Christmas, or a restaurant table like this on a beloved uncle’s birthday. See what looking for common ground; what showing up with an open heart can do.
They put so much time and effort into each other. Perhaps that’s why they wished each other peace, They needed a break from all the work needed to produce a happy family.