Thea with Grandma LaVigna at the Garden of the Gods, 1965
My first "food memory" involves my Italian Grandmother. Grandma LaVigna was one of many Italian immigrants whose ship docked safely in NYC in the early 1900's. She was from Sicily and arrived with many siblings to begin a new life. When I knew her growing up, she had a raspy way of speaking in broken English. Later I found out that this raspiness was a common Sicilian sound.
I realize now that many of you are probably thinking this is going to be a post about all the amazing pasta dishes she made, and all the family recipes she left us with, but, sorry folks, not this time. This time I want to tell you about something else she was very good at in the kitchen, and that was squeezing oranges.
My fondest memories of my Grandmother are from a time when my mom and dad put me on an airplane to visit her in NY, all by myself. I arrived prior to the big event of my aunt's wedding (the rest of my Colorado family would follow later). It was my Grandmother's last daughter to marry, so this was going to be a BIG event.
And along I came, in the midst of this most busy time for her. I often wonder what my parents were thinking by sending me alone, a hyper little girl, during such a hectic time. But it was too late. There I was, in NY, around 8 yrs old, visiting with this little lady I knew little about. All I really knew was that she was my Grandma and that she talked funny (I was 8!).
But it was on this trip that I found out something more. This trip I found out she would do something for me that I didn't see her do for anyone else....
And this, I am sure, is where I get my love for fresh squeezed orange juice. Every morning, I would sit in Grandma's teeny-tiny kitchen to watch, and listen (read on) as she would make me a glass of o.j. and the performance would begin.
And I couldn't believe my ears. Beautiful Italian songs were hummed and sung (with words I could hardly detect) as she slowly picked out oranges from the sack. During this process I noted that she used a diamond miner's eye because some oranges that seemed perfectly good to me went back in the sack, her singing notes accentuated when a "bad" orange was thrown back in.
After she carefully chose each orange, she would rub each one clean in the sink, and with this she did a little jig. One has to assume that this was a kind of Italian jig because a little hip action was involved, along with waving arms.
But it was the actual squeezing time that amazed me the most. Because that's when I realized this was hard work. It was labor intense for her, and even my young eyes felt the great gift of gratitude as I looked on, her knuckles white, her breath heavy as she twisted and turned each one to get every last bit of juice she could, for me.
And now I too try to create some of the magic that my Grandma showed me on that trip, many years ago. She taught me that by taking the time to turn the simple act of squeezing oranges into a fun and meaningful event, we elevate it to something higher. I've even been known to do an Italian jig or two, while I hum a tune from a favorite aria. Orange juice never tasted so good.