The Bronx has descended upon Northfield, MN, factorially increasing the number of Italians per square foot, here specifically but maybe in the upper midwest more generally (census data currently unavailable and anyways the census is political now, like delivering mail and not spreading plagues). We are with great care moving four Maranos (my mom’s maiden name) between our space, my parents’ part-year space, an Airbnb on division in the VFW/pizza/salon corridor, farmers’ markets, pizza barns, cideries, and backyards full of pottery.
Occasionally we achieve Maximum Northfield, a novel term best illustrated by an example: my aunts and uncles, post-flight, sitting on our back deck by the fire table under the rope lights eating vegetables that we grew on said deck together with others that we procured at our CSA, topped with cheese-share cheese, served alongside bread baked by a neighbor in their budding test kitchen, while a local band plays traditional Norwegian aunt-and-uncle-arriving dance suites on Hardanger fiddles that a local luthier fashioned from heirloom cannabis grown in the shade of recovered lutheran church ceiling beams anchored to regenerated soil made of bee pollen from monarch butterflies that spontaneously appear when one breathes on prairie grass through a compostable straw.
Lest these rhetorical glasses afford an overly rose-colored perspective, there is an undercurrent here. Such that, when one offers a brindisi (in my mind this translates into "a funny little toast”), eyes water and knowing glances spontaneously arise. How long will these hearts hold up, and whose philosophy of care, or lack thereof, will rule the day? My dad is walking, and eating plants, and breathing, and intermittent fasting. My uncle Pino is watching soccer and eating brisket from a food truck. It is almost a contest between them now; same age, similar conditions, wildly different ways of considering pleasure, what it might be and what it might be worth.
Mi piacciono vino e verdure alla griglia, e pure miei figli con tutta la famiglia. (I like wine and grilled vegetables, and also my sons with the whole family. It sounds better in Italian.)
Anyway this particular brindisi brings the house down, and then a kind of anointing follows: you and uncle Damiano, his brother Pino says to me, need to have a brindisi competition, which I immediately refer to as “Italian Mortal Kombat” in order to deflect a wildly undeserved honor. My uncle Damiano is a professor of Italian and I just listed all the words I know; the toasts take me 25 minutes to compose, which is why I seemed far away during the first course.
But this is how it is in this family. You are anointed if you show promise. It happened to me and it is happening to my sons already; they are marveled at as I was marveled at, as they play instruments and say funny things and do gymnastics on the couch. When I got into graduate school (for music composition), I told my uncle Pino. He asked what I’d be studying and as a joke I said biology, which I have never studied and he believed me. In a Christmas card one year he said “Take hold of the world. You got what it takes.” One gets a sense that anything is possible, from around the table or especially after the meal, when we split into smaller groups and I played two songs on the Wurlitzer. The Bb got stuck almost immediately; I made due. But I could have been fake-lecturing on DNA; in the family’s eyes I have taken hold of the world, and have what it takes, and with a little training might even unseat Uncle Damiano around the table, if we are ever around a table all together again.