We got a book many years ago that is in heavy rotation, even though my kids are a little older now and technically are into older boy things. It is called Brava, Strega Nona! and it is by Tomie dePaola. Strega Nona is famous. She is a good witch and has magical powers. But this book isn’t about pots of magic pasta it is more like a simple recipe book. Brava, Strega Nona! is a pop up with one page devoted to one of six ingrediente segreto for happiness. According to Strega Nona it is all about famiglia, mangia, amici, pazienza, celebrazione and amore, of course.
We love reading this book. I love the little dose of Italian and the beautiful vowels of these words tumbling around in my mouth. The boys love the strong, rolling Rs that they practice, spraying spit all over the book, their PJs and me, trying to capture the gusto, spirit of the Italian language. And these words are becoming our words too. They are simple, easy to remember and easy to think about often. And thinking of them isn’t too hard really. Family, food, friends and love are essential elements, like water. They are present every day, sometimes hidden, sometimes a little buried but always there. Pazienza or patience is one that is a perpetual reminder to me of something that is not always my strength. And the big one, celebrazione is my favorite.
We love to celebrate and the queen of celebrations is my Mom. We do Christmas and Easter, birthdays, multiple times and all the major holidays but we also do the little ones. The ones that unless you really celebrate them you run right over them to the next day. We march on MLK Day and we eat birthday cake for Abe and George on President’s Day. We have balloons and we talk about who we are celebrating. And it isn’t so much about having a party it is more about creating a memory and not just letting these days pass by without stopping for just a moment. And really that is what my Mom thinks should happen everyday. She taught me there is always something to celebrate, a reason to laugh and a reason to gather and that there are always memories that we should be grabbing and collecting and storing.
Strega Nona and my Mom have made me think today of the most glorious celebrations in my memory bank but also of the spontaneous gatherings of the last couple weeks. The last minute, organized by text, Friday night back yard neighbors cheese and cracker party, burgers on the grill with a trifecta of giggling boys, two relaxed parents and an auntie, Prosecco with a couple of good girlfriends on a Sunday night, and a simple sissy dinner at the end of a very hard day. All celebrations and new memories and very clearly my not so secret ingredients of happiness.