Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Holidays Mean Trouble (part 1 - by Margaret Ullrich)

A few days after Nadia and I decided to work together, Ma hosted our family’s Easter dinner. She had invited her brother Charlie and Pop’s sister Demi, along with their spouses.

That was more than enough holiday stress for anyone to handle.

Aunt Demi, Pop’s eldest sister, was a solid middle-aged matriarch who believed that it was her duty to make sure everyone behaved properly in the good, old-fashioned, decent Maltese way. She had her priorities: Maltese Culture, her family, Maltese food and God. She was determined to make sure her siblings and their families followed her example.

Clinging to Maltese traditions, as she remembered them from the forties, was Aunt Demi's cross to bear in New York City in 1964. It was a heavy cross. But she wasn’t about to put it down just to please a relative, especially a young American one. Sitting opposite my new Aunt Liz, Aunt Demi was crocheting lace and watching Liz eat . . . and eat.

Ma’s new sister-in-law, Liz, was a plump, blue-eyed, blond American. After they’d met at a bowling alley, Charlie had said that Liz was perfect, like a special order bowling ball. Pop said that, compared to a bowling ball, Liz wasn’t too fat. Charlie agreed and beamed.

Since Liz, at age twenty-four, was only ten years older than I was, Aunt Demi regarded Liz as just another child who needed training in Maltese wifely arts. Demi explained to Liz that her job as ‘A Holiday Guest in a Maltese Home’ was to sit and be served, not to help the hostess.

‘The Proper Maltese Hostess’ naturally had everything under control and would be mortally offended at any offer of help. So, after dinner, while the men were outside playing bocci, Liz stayed seated and finished off the mixed nuts.

Ma, a hardworking thirty-seven year old woman, was a tired Maltese Hostess But she soldiered on, cleaning up the mess from another holiday dinner she had hosted single handedly.

Ma wasn’t too thrilled about Maltese Tradition. She could’ve used some help folding the spare wood chairs and clearing the table. She also couldn’t believe how much Liz could eat.

Over the crunching of the nuts, we heard a knock at the door.

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