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CW: Joseph Francis Periale, John James Periale, Elizabeth Anne Periale c.1967
CW: Joseph Francis Periale, John James Periale, Elizabeth Anne Periale, c.1967, en route to Mystic, CT.

In an Italian-American family most of the action takes place around the dinner table. Depending on the layout of your home the table may be in the kitchen, dining room or both. A typical dinner table family scene: one person would start to tell a story while the coffee pot was being passed around the table after dinner. Everyone would react, editing and arguing, while wondering what would be served for dessert. As a child I got to see and learn a lot. About my family, about human behavior. And if I sat quietly enough, the grown-ups would forget I was sitting there and tell the juicier versions, while John James and I tried to understand the punchlines of the jokes!

At my Uncle John Massimo’s house the food was served to us practically before we walked in the door. We would be hustled to the kitchen table and immediately offered a seat, where we would listen to and trade stories and reminiscences, killing time until the table in the dining room was set for dinner. If we were there for a weekend visit, we knew to leave room for multiple courses and adjust our belts, as the food was guaranteed not to stop coming until we left (with leftovers packed up to go)!

L-R: Gertrude D'Ippolito Periale, John Massimo Periale, Barbara Rose Periale, Rose Anzalone Periale
CW: L-R: Gertrude D'Ippolito, John Massimo Periale, Barbara Rose Periale, Rose Anzalone

After a drive from south Jersey or a train ride out from Brooklyn or New York City (depending on where I was living at the time) to John Massimo’s house on Long Island, the action would start around 2 pm in the kitchen. A plate of mozzarella and tomatoes and a side of anchovies which John Massimo, my dad and I would devour, would start the feast. Then, John Massimo would begin cooking the evening’s main course, usually a roast of beef or turkey and Aunt Rose would take over the story-telling.

My brother John James on Aunt Rose: She was the perfect Abbott to John Massimo’s Costello. Whenever I saw the two of them together, they seemed more like they were dating than having been married for forty years.

John & Rose & ?
John Massimo Periale & Rose Anzalone & ?

Aunt Rose and Joseph, my dad, were actually quite close while he was growing up. John Massimo was the oldest, then came Joseph, Paula and James. John Massimo and Rose married young and he went off almost immediately into the service (he eventually was an army colonel). He liked to describe Rose's feistiness by telling us about their pre-wedding interview. She refused to tell the priest that she would try to have children right away, obviously a Catholic no-no. Her husband-to-be was going to war. She didn’t want to get pregnant right away. What if the worst happened and he didn't come back? She planned on practicing birth control. But she obviously couldn’t convince a Catholic priest to see it her way, so Rose ended up nodding a lot during the rest of the interview.

Rose & John, c. 1939
Rose & John, c. 1939

Rose wasn’t the only member of the family that had a run-in with the Catholic Church or a church member. In 1942, when my father was 17 years old, he enlisted in the Coast Guard to fight in World War 2. After getting his orders and before shipping out overseas, he decided to go to confession. He was young and terrified, not sure he would ever be coming back home. But instead of finding words of comfort, he got a stern lecture from the priest, scolding him for the amount of time that had passed since his last confession. After that terrible interview, Joseph felt that he didn’t need to be part of a church that would treat a scared young man that way, possibly on his way to die. My mother says that when my brother and I were born he agreed to baptize us in any church but Catholic. They were married and we were baptized in an Episcopalian church.

e & Grandma
Elizabeth Anne Periale & Gertrude D'Ippolito, c. 1963, Spring Lake Heights, N.J.

John James has a story from Joseph’s Coast Guard experience:
Whilst in boot camp during World War 2, his drill instructor used to yell, “Shit, Piss and Corruption!” at his company on a regular basis. Those of you who have ever been around my father when he was operating or repairing machinery are familiar with that phrase. I always got a secret kick out of hearing him exclaim that curse, because it sounded like a newspaper headline gone wrong.
But my family never went to church on a regular basis. I got most of my religious training from paintings. And mythology. My parents liked to sleep in on the weekends. I would sneak in their room early on a Sunday morning while they were still asleep and go through the books on the shelves while I was waiting for Mom to get up and make breakfast.

In this way I was first introduced to art—books with Edgar Degas’s beautiful pastel ballerinas, museum catalogs with paintings of gods and goddesses and other mythological subjects, and old National Geographic magazines with beautiful (and naked) people and exotic places.

drawing of Joseph Francis Periale (fishing), John James Periale & Elizabeth Anne Periale (building a sand castle) by Mary Elizabeth Winship, Spring Lake, NJ, 2 Aug 1970
L-R: Joseph Francis Periale (fishing), John James Periale & Elizabeth Anne Periale (building a sand castle), Drawing by Mary Elizabeth Winship, 2 Aug 1970, Spring Lake, N.J.

Even without church on Sunday somehow we managed to be spiritual. My father was a science buff and felt that the more he learned about the universe, the closer he got to God. He was an incessant reader and perpetual student. He always had a current enthusiasm. During my teen years we all learned along with him about George Washington, Virginia Woolf, Alexander the Great and Cripple Creek, Colorado. Cripple Creek and later, Nome, Alaska, were possible job opportunities he was researching. I was very glad Alaska never came through. I already had a letter drafted to my aunt and uncle, of why I should come and live with them in Ridgewood, North Jersey if my family were to move to Alaska. Colorado would have been nice.

Joseph was a newspaperman and was looking to leave his job at the local Toms River, New Jersey newspaper The Daily Observer for a job as an editor of a weekly paper. When he ended up running his own weekly in Forked River, New Jersey, The Hometown News, a lot of the studying stopped. There wasn’t time.

Joseph Francis Periale at Lacey Day, Forked River, NJ, c. 1979
Joseph Francis Periale at "Lacey Day," c. 1979, Forked River, N.J.

The Hometown News eventually folded and dad was able to study again: electronics, the campaigns of Julius Caesar, and poetry—I have his books from this last enthusiasm. Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens were favorites. I also found some short stories, an unfinished novella or two, and a poem he wrote to my cousin Sue on the eve of her wedding.

My brother John has all of his science and astronomy books. In the late sixties Joseph had his own business making mirrors for telescopes, Cavex Precision Optical. My father was always in search of the next best thing. A renaissance gambler.

John Massimo, Joseph’s older brother, was most definitely the raconteur of the family, but Rose could hold her own. When she passed away he took on her repertoire as well, keeping both traditions going. Their daughter Barbara reminded me of one of the jokes she used to do, which as she started to tell it, I could immediately see us all sitting around the dinner table at my grandmother's apartment in Belmar, New Jersey, and my grandmother laughing and blushing, shaking her head at the punchline, which at the moment is all that I can remember, and it went something like "Then how do you think I rang the doorbell?."

A few years after my mother left, Rose and John Massimo asked Joseph to come and live with them. When I would come out from the city for a visit he would usually stick around for the first round of gossip, stories, and courses, but sneak away to his apartment downstairs. I suspect he did this all his life, curling up with a book unobtrusively, in some corner. I would stay upstairs and visit with Rose and John Massimo, as I never seem to be able to get enough of the old stories. There always seem to be new questions to ask about the family.

L-R:Joe D'Ippolito, Johanna D'Ippolito, Palma Battaglia, John Massimo Periale, Joseph D'Ippolito (Don Peppino), Joseph Francis Periale, Paula Periale
L-R: Joe D'Ippolito, Johanna D'Ippolito, Palma Battaglia, John Massimo Periale, Joseph D'Ippolito (Don Peppino), Joseph Francis Periale, Paula Periale, c. 1932, 14th Street, N.Y.

Gertrude and John Angelo lived with Don Peppino on 14th Street with their four children: John Massimo, b. 1921, Joseph (my father) b. 1925, Paula, b. 1927 and James, b. 1932. Gertrude learned most of her culinary specialties from her father, Giuseppe D’Ippolito (whom my father is named after), called Don Peppino. At home Don Peppino only cooked on Sundays and holidays. Giovanna (or Giovannina), cooked the rest of the week.
One of Don Peppino’s Sunday dinner appetizers:

Serve this fish course right after the soup. Poach fish, remove skin, leaving head and tail on. Make homemade mayonnaise. Mix with the fish. Mold back into shape of fish, between head and tail. Use capers and thinly sliced carrots to represent fish scales.

Back: John Massimo Periale, John Angelo Periale, Albert D'Ippolito. Middle: Joseph Francis Periale, Paula Periale, Johanna D'Ippolito. Front: James Gabriel Periale, Joe D'Ippolito

A typical Sunday dinner at 14th Street in the 30s would include: Don Peppino, Giovanna, John Angelo, Gertrude, John Massimo, Joseph, Paula, and James; and driving in from Brooklyn: Albert, Margaret, Little Joseph and Johanna.

After the First World War, Don Peppino decided to retire from the restaurant business and move uptown. His idea of uptown New York City was 14th Street!

John Massimo Periale, c.1924
John Massimo Periale, c.1924, New York, N.Y.

After he retired, Don Peppino would venture out to the meat-packing district, twice a year, on Easter and Christmas. He would take little John Massimo along with him on the long walk across 14th Street, from the east side, on First Avenue where they lived, to the west side of town, the meat-packing district (10th Avenue.) John Massimo remembered his grandfather, getting all dressed up in his best black suit, shoelace tie, Panama hat and cane.

When Mr. Weinstein, Don Peppino's favorite butcher, saw him coming, he would rush out and welcome the former chef. All the other butchers would run over and join them for a glass of wine that Mr. Weinstein had opened to honor his old friend. Don Peppino would order steaks and chops in large quantities, as if he still owned a restaurant. “Let me have 15 steaks, etc.” When John and his grandfather returned home and the meat was delivered, Giovanna would shake her head and they would have to give a lot of the food away to friends and neighboring family.

At home on a Sunday, Don Peppino would sit at the large round dinner table, holding court, while Giovannina would bring dishes to him. He would sit for hours and prepare the food for that night’s dinner. When he finally got up to cook and walked into the kitchen, to the big restaurant stove, he would work alone, a process taking several hours. When he was finished cooking he would untie his apron, set it aside and walk back out to the dinner table, resuming his previous position. Inside the kitchen there would be pots and pans and food everywhere. Giovannina would quietly come in and clean up the mess . . . But what a feast he would prepare.

Some of his specialties: ricci di mare (sea urchins) and babbaluci (snails cooked in marinara sauce):

75 snails (in shell)

Marinara sauce:

2 28oz cans crushed tomatoes
2 tbs. dried minced onion
6 garlic cloves
minced 1/4 C chopped fresh parsley
1/2 C carrot juice or 1/2 C grated carrots
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 C red wine
3 tbs olive oil

Combine all the ingredients and add snails, simmer for 1 1/2 hours to thicken sauce and flavor snails.


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