When I spent my summers with my maternal grandparents, one of our traditions was to take a two-hour day trip south to Glasgow from Schenectady to visit my Grandpa DiCerbo’s cousin Patsy and his family at their family farm along the Hudson River. Patsy had come over on the boat from Italy before my Grandpa had. They had a few pigs and cows and had a large vegetable garden. My mother,Katherine and her sister,Rose and brother ,Michael used to go there when they were kids. My mother tells a story from her childhood of taunting a pig with a stick for so long that the 800 lb pig died of a heart attack, leaving Patsy in a panic to salvage as much as he could as this pig was a main source of income for the family.
I was 10 years old on that hot July morning when I sat at a large dining room table in the center of the house. It seemed as long as a bowling alley. The adults would all speak in Italian and I would sit next to my Nan who would nudge me from time to time, interpreting the words that swirled around the room.
Maggie, Patsy’s wife would bring out trays heaping with Italian pastries,and cookies- thin waffle-like cookies called Pizzelles, round cake-like cookies with icing and sprinkles called rosebuds and pepper cookies that looked like large pretzels and had an anise flavor. The problem was, it was 10:00 AM and I wasn’t hungry. By the looks of it, eating would be mandatory and I sat there trying to plot out my strategy. Not eating in an Italian household would be a personal affront to the hostess. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Maggie plopped two large pitchers of raw milk in front of me then handed me a large glass that looked like it could hold a whole quart of milk. Then she poured the raw milk into my giant glass as I watched the white clumps swimming around the milky pool before me. The only milk I ever drank was from a bottle in the refrigerator not from a dirty old cow .I thought of the milk coming right from the cow’s udders that morning; I saw all those flies swarming around the cow and the cow taking a big dump right in the middle of being milked then swinging its long tail towards the milk bucket where bits of cow dung would land in the bucket. The flies were swarming around the pitcher too as I looked over at my Nan with look that said,” how can I get out of this?”
“Just take a little “ she whispered.
I lifted the giant glass to my tightened lips and pretended to take a drink, hoping Maggie wouldn’t notice that the level in the glass hadn’t changed.
Here she comes. Don’t make eye contact. Maybe she won’t notice
“Katadina” Maggie said with arms raised,palms up pointing to my glass,”Drinka, eata, it’s a gooda for a you”
I repeated the drill, lips tightened in mock swallowing.
Oh how I wish this moment of childhood torture would end.
Finally, Maggie was diverted. Grandpa and Patsy walk through the screen door leading into the dining room,
“What’s a for a lunch? We’re a hungry”
Nan got up to help Maggie in the kitchen; sausage and peppers for lunch.
Patsy and Grandpa sat down.
“Anyone want a glass of milk ?” I asked.
Patsy nodded and took my glass. He tilted his head back and took a few long gulps until the glass was empty,
“Ahhh” he said ,smacking his lips and wiping his mouth,
“There’s a nothing like a bigga glass of raw-a milk on a hot day.”
And he was right. There was nothing quite like it.