My mother, Palmiera Calamosca
Little Davide in the kitchen with his mother Palmiera, zia Bruna and zia Sara. Senigallia, Marche Region, Italy 1958.
Serafina & Enzo in Vaccara 1960
Our house in Senigallia. Built by my grandfather on a
medieval wall (500 years old) 14 feet thick to resist earthquakes.
Leonilda (my grandmother) came to Pittsburgh with her 9 year old son who had never met his father. Her husband left earlier to find work in America because of the poverty in their village in Italy. With only three years of education, she made food for over 30 years in the "restaurant" she owned. It was the first floor of our home. It was there the locals of the mining town came to be refreshed by a cuisine from a world far away, maybe as far as heaven itself. She lived 95 years, never setting foot (not even to give birth to three children) in a hospital or taking a single medication.
History of Davide®
"A young woman dreams..."
She decided to return to the land of her fathers one day. Her friends had married. She waited. Palmiera would cross an ocean and venture to a village nestled in the Appennini. She would traverse the ancient foot hills with singing, laughter, and celebration hailed as the "cugina Americana," joining hands with cousins and friends. Here, her mother made "sugo di pomodoro," washed clothes in the stream, and made "peccorino" cheese from sheep her father had shepherded. In the evening, wild horses ran atop the mountains in the setting Umbro sun. The air was was life, and life was pure.
On a clear day, you could see the Adriatic Sea from the village. Her cousins took her there on a second holiday. The beaches of Senigallia were "veluto," "velvet,"soft, like the maritime breezes that stroked her curly, dark hair. Her flowered American dress spoke of her alien status to the young Italian men hoping to dance with her. She chose one. He was a formidable dancer, bronze and statuesque, like some maritime Roman god. It was destiny. Italy gave Palmiera her Carlo, and he would live in her heart forever. And God smiled.
With the wedding dress packed to return to America, Palmiera was ready. Carlo would find courage to speak farewells to "mamma," and his grandfather's fishing boat. The tears in his eyes were salty, like the sea, a sensation the boy who lost his father young knew well. Letters would take months to arrive, phone calls as special as birthdays. America, the country that saved his world from the Nazi's, awaited him and his escort was the woman he loved. They would live with Leonilda her mother in a small town far from the sea. For Carlo, at least part of "Italia" was alive and well in this vast land where he now was the stranger.
"Pittsburgh" was one of the first words he learned I'm sure, where he now lived. The town of Universal was a coal-mining town, with all the ruggedness of a double barrel shotgun. The restaurant on the first floor of Leonila's home had closed. The chairs and tables were in storage ever since her husband had died. "Mamma" was older now. The wooden barrels were still lined up in the old "pump house" where wine was made. A barber from Naples now cut hair where for thirty years they had served "macaroni" to "Americani." Carlo drove school bus for a living, always vigilant and protective of the children. God smiled, but was sad. Perhaps it was time.
Every world, every life, every home, every heart, every dream, needs a messiah, someone to save us from being lost, being forgotten, and bring us home to a land of life, celebration and feasting. Saviors are chosen and freely they choose. They know not their purpose till an appointed time. Ordinary people. You find them on subways, in offices, kitchens, hospitals, and on battlefields far from home. They save us with skill, traditions, passion, convictions, born in heaven that flower on earth. They save us with their sacrifices and God-given genius. The tradition born in the Appennini mountains of making "sugo di pomodoro" to Americans had died on Universal Road when Anibale died. Mills, electric picture-boxes in homes, and white sidewall tires seemed more exciting than standing and peeling tomatoes. Who would save this life-giving heritage? And God smiled.
Davide was born, with the curly hair of a child who loved to chase leaves blowing in the wind, like his mother, like his father. Restless in school, he loved to sit in the arms of trees and remember "Italia." He loved the kitchen maybe more than any place else. There was nothing extraordinary about him. Yes, he was a lovely child but his strength was not in himself, but what he believed. He wanted to be a hero, as most children do. He wanted to do something great. Maybe with music. Maybe, just maybe, even feed people something he knew, from a distant land of castles, mountains and the sea. How? And God smiled.
Carlo and Palmiera would take young Davide to "Italia" again and again. It was like his home on Universal Road except everyone spoke Italian. Living with "zia" Bruna in Senigallia, his learned a beautiful language you could taste, passed on from generation to generation. Davide would not forget. He would speak this language, the language his grandmother Leonilda had spoken to Americans on Universal Road.
And so with only a few stones and sling in his hand, the fun of cooking and eating matured into the belief that human life is sacred and worth protecting. He would defend this tradition. He would remember his mother's tireless love expressed in every meal she made, guarding her children with every clove, every green leaf, every gift of Eden. He would remember the humble demeanor of zia Bruna as she peddled her bicycle into the countryside for the fresh tomatoes and eggs for Sunday dinner. A simple boy of a man, he would venture to continue making "sugo di pomodoro" in America. And God smiled.
Someone has to fight to preserve the honor and dignity of our families, our people, our nation, the traditions that save us. We suffer and we die when we forget them. We live with less meaning. What a crime to pretend we can abandon what others lived and died for, what gave us life and health. What a crime to cheapen their love for us. We are not equipped to save the world. We save by grace, by what we believe, and, Who believes in us. Davide has devoted his life to a a humble work, making "sugo di pomodoro" as he was taught, perhaps born to do. Big or small, he hopes he might save lives by serving the purity he tasted across the ocean and from the garden in the backyard on Universal Road. He wants to keep alive the memory of those who guarded life and the tradition that nourished him, and all of us, just like many of you.
Many of you love to cook. You are careful to eat well. I'm sure you can make a good tomato sauce. We are partners, there is room to feed everyone. Let's work together to make the world a healthier place.