Sometimes it seems my husband and I were raised on different planets, instead of simply different parts of the United States.
My husband was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and spent parts of his childhood living in Connecticut and Mississippi. Hunting rifles were a right of passage at what looks like age four in old photos. My in-laws both grew up in the south. Carol was raised in the Appalachian Mountains in a small town named Cumberland, Kentucky. She was one of eight children. Ralph, Sr. grew up in Tennessee and spent long days working the family farm. My husband grew up a true Southern Boy. Think Huckleberry Finn.
In contrast my family pretty much sailed in from Italy through Ellis Island and eventually cooked their way to Southern California. It was there that my Italian Clan grew and multiplied, never allowing a member to relocate more than 60 miles from the Godfather, Frank. It looked that way from the outside. Growing up, my aunts were like mothers, as in, they yelled at me, styled my hair and made me lunch regularly. My cousins were just like siblings; we bickered often and wore matching clothes. We were a close, tight knit group. If holidays were not spent with my Dad’s Clan, then we were with my mother’s Clan. Both clans lived in Southern California for my entire childhood. Part of my father’s clan moved an hour north, and when one family did, the entire clan followed a couple years later. No kidding.
When Ralph and I met, I had never heard of black eyed peas as a food. Through the Fisher family, I discovered kids can shoot rifles, how gravy is really made, Southern Living Magazine, and how to decipher the southern drawl. When I first met my husband in 1992, he really said words like Shucks! and Ya’ll!
When my boys were younger, my mother-in-law would come out to California a couple times a year to visit. She was here one fall when my son Lucas was three. When I visit Kentucky, where my In-laws live now, I feel fortunate to see what Fall was intended to look like with brightly painted leaves hanging from every tree and a slight nip in the air. Once I flew into Memphis to visit Ralph’s grandma. I could have sworn I saw a cow off to the side of the pasture-like landing strips. Really, a cow. When landing in LA, one can never assume that they might have seen any sort of grazing farm animal. Smog or gang member, maybe, but never livestock. The Southern United States is so different than Southern California.
On this particular dry, fall day at Faulkner Farms Pumpkin Patch, Carol, Lucas and I were slowly walking around, admiring the tractors, and listening to the bluegrass band play in the background. We came upon a few goats that were fenced in. We stopped to admire them as they probably just finished eating a hubcap. Their mouths were moving their little goat beard up and down. Lucas reached out to this old goat and Carol went after his hand, saying, “Be careful, it miite bachew.” Little Lucas looked puzzled and asked, “What’s a bachew?” Excellent question Lucas. I deciphered to Lucas that grandma was worried that the goat might “bite you” and not to put his fingers near any animal’s mouth.
Over the last fifteen years of marriage, My Big Fat Italian Clan has taught my husband new traditions, like always plant some sort of garden and food is love. In turn, he has exposed me to this new world in the South. I have many other stories that answer the question, what do you get when you cross Huck Finn with the Sopranos? I will share them another day and end with the truth that this is one melting pot I am happy to be in.