Stereotype us Italians if you want. Who can blame you with the cast of the Jersey Shore “gracing” us with their ever-embarrassing, alcohol-driven reality television stunts (which, I must note, have been actively denounced by Italian-American groups)?
Two stereotypes you won’t find my family disproving are: There are a lot of us and we’re tight knit.
I always knew these two things to be true of my nuclear family along with my closest of extended family (aunts, uncles, grandparents, first and second cousins). Not a holiday goes by that I’m not with my family, and I’d easily rank family more important to me than anything else on my Match.com profile (if I had one).
So it’s an understatement to say that I was excited to attend my first official Ottavio family reunion this past weekend.
Before this weekend, I had only heard second, third and fourth-hand accounts of distant cousins and great grandparents who braved rickety ships from Acquaviva and Calabria, Italy for a chance at a new and prosperous life in the United States. We have records of family members coming through Ellis Island to then settle in Amsterdam and Utica, NY, and models of the boats that brought them here. Needless to say, I was shocked during a third grade class project about tracking family history to learn that not everyone’s family came over during the early 1900s on a boat to Ellis Island.
One of my favorite childhood memories is listening to my grandfather, Sam Ottavio go on for hours about our family lineage (I know, I’m a dork). Sharp as a tack even up to the last weeks of his life at the age of 98, my grandfather remembered and shared intimate details of our Ottavio history.
This weekend offered me an entirely new and eye-opening perspective on my family that even Pop, in his thorough accounts, didn’t provide.
The scene at My Big Fat Italian Family Reunion: A punishingly hot day at La Cucina in Amsterdam, NY. Outside on a patio, 120 people, old and young, gathered on a porch to drink and eat merrily, and to catch up with familiar faces or meet family members for the first time. All guests wore name tags including but not limited to the surnames Carzo, Pomadoro, Ottavio, Fontana and Vaccaro. One of my cousins joked with my Polish/English/German mutt boyfriend that he looked out of place and should add a vowel to his last name.
I met and heard of a lot of Sam’s, Charlie’s and Peters (my family apparently has a penchant for these names) while the women of the family trended toward a more varied group of names. I did meet a Catherine, but won’t say I was named after her because my spelling is different and I’ve always been told I wasn’t named after anyone.
I learned a lot about my family this weekend and enjoyed doing so. Most noteworthy though, is my reaffirmation of how important family is. No one’s family is perfect, normal or typical, but we’ve all got ‘em. I feel blessed to spend the time I did with everyone over the weekend and look forward to reconvening down the road when our family grows even larger and more diverse.