The only mess allowed in an Italian home…

Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, birthdays, and Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ house – the nuts and fanuk (fennel) were put on the table after supper. This was a “break” period from eating, before the dessert came out (even though you were still eating). It gave the women time to clean up in the kitchen and get the nice dishes out for the finale.

When I say nuts, I mean shelled walnuts, almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts. At this time, 35 years ago, I don’t think supermarkets even sold de-shelled nuts, and if they did, they were too expensive for my family to buy.

shelled nuts
The nuts and fennel come out at the same time, before dessert and when the gambling begins.


The “break” also signaled when it was time for cards. The familia game was first, where the kids were allowed to play Thirty-one. How else would we master the art of gambling if they didn’t give us a seat at the table? These days hold a special place in my heart – the laughs, the steady stares, a cousin jumping up triumphantly, yelling Skat!! Or the last standoff, with just two hungry kids left –  nutshells all over the table. Who would win the pot this time?!

Ah, the adults were dishing out life lessons too. An important one I carry with me is, “The older you get, the higher the stakes become.”  When we were around 7-10, it was $3 each. Teenage years it became – $5, $10, and $20’s. My grandparents would bankroll us if anyone was short. It was their old-fashioned way of teaching us kids that family supports each other, no matter what. Family love is unbreakable, unlike the shells on the table.

grandmas house
My grandparents, Raphael and Mary’s dining room table surrounded by family.

tagged in family, memories