One of the fun parts of marrying into an Italian family is getting to know some of the traditions of people from the “Old Country” who moved here fairly recently. The Lords moved to America before it was the United States, so all the stories of adjusting to this new land are lost.
Since today is Easter, I thought I’d share an Easter story, which I think was both comical and tragic. Although I’ve never killed a goat, this seems like the type of well-intentioned thing that parents do all the time to educate their kids that turns out terribly wrong.
A few years ago at a family reunion, I was able to sit down and interview Krista’s grandma Mary (91) and her little brother John (89). For John, just imagine an older, possibly smaller, Danny DeVito with a pony tail, and Mary is just a sweet Italian grandmother of about the same size.
The story begins with their father Luigi, who came to America in 1901, from a little village called Raffadali, near Agrigento (aka the Valley of the Temples) in Sicily. He not only had to save up enough money to bring over the girl from his village he wanted to be his wife, but he had to pay for her parents’ voyage as well.
Fast forward 30 years to the Chicago suburb of Joliet, Illinois, where Luigi and his wife had started their own grocery store and were raising five children- four girls and one boy.
Luigi decided it was time for his children to learn the old Easter tradition of eating a ‘capretto’, or baby goat, on Easter.
Luigi purchased a little goat, which they kept in the basement. The children took turns feeding it, and it became their little pet.
Now, Luigi had grown up working in the hillside fields, laboring all day, sleeping on haystacks at night and waking up a first light to work all day again. His children had lived their entire lives in a city, sleeping indoors. They had learned hard work, but at a grocery store where all of the meat they saw had already met it’s maker.
Finally Easter arrived, and it was time to prepare the capretto for Easter dinner. I’m sure in his childhood, Luigi remembered this time fondly, as a point when his family would enjoy the celebration and a good meal together. Now, as an adult with his own family, attempting to reenact that joyous time, he was instead surrounded by five wailing children in a basement, horrified that their father was killing their pet. John, the youngest, vividly remembered his dad’s hand shaking as he took the knife to slit the baby goat’s throat.
Luigi and his wife then painstaking prepared the goat, all the while having their children in a deep state of mourning for their lost pet. Finally they finished preparing the capretto, only to find that when they tried to put it into the oven to cook, it was too big to fit.
Exhausted, they gave up, and took it somewhere else to cook it. John and Mary never said if they actually ate it or not.
If I get enough good comments on this, I might share their stories about knowing Al Capone and their Luigi saving lives in the Depression.
For kicks, what family Easter traditions are you passing along?