Surviving a Big Family

“Well, I’m off to visit my family for the long weekend, Jess. I really do miss them when I’m away at school.”

“Oh, Angela, you’re soooo luck to have a big Italian family! I’ll bet you guys are all so close to each other…I envy you.”

“Thanks, Jess, but don’t get too carried away. We all have our differences, believe me. See you next Tuesday!” With that, Angela hopped into her Honda Civic, wolfed down two Tylenol Extra Strength capsules, and left campus for the two-hour drive home. She was, by now, quick to anticipate these headaches that always seemed to occur when she headed home.

Angela was indeed from a large Italian family. Large and loud. The Spumonis were, in fact, the largest family in the neighborhood, occupying a triple-decker in the middle of the block. They’d been there ever since her great grandfather had landed on Ellis Island in 1922, with his new bride. There, an illiterate customs official randomly gave him the last name Spum, as he set foot in his new homeland. Tomasino Spumoni was insulted by this and later went to court to reclaim his family name. Judge Pucci was more than happy to oblige. Ernestino Spumoni thanked the judge with a bottle of homemade wine and a plate of ziti with marinara gravy, heavy on the garlic.

And the Spumonis set about establishing their new home, which now, 80 years later, housed four generations of the family, a small vineyard, a bocce ball court, and twelve cars. Angela gently rubbed the throbbing blood vessels on either side of her head, just thinking about the family.

As she turned the corner onto her street, she met the first members of the family, her oldest brother’s twin sons, Mario and Stefano. The two ten-year-olds had just finished stringing a roll of wire across the road. They liked the sound of the ‘twang’ as the antenna of every car that ran through their trap was snapped off. Unfortunately, they didn’t anticipate that their aunt would be one of their victims, so they ran through the neighbors’ backyards, as soon as they saw Auntie’s antenna shoot into the air and lodge in Mrs. Buttafucco’s front door. That wasn’t a good sign. Just that morning, Mrs. B had caught them ripping her clothesline out of the backyard and depositing the whole thing in her three-season porch.

Aware of the boys’ antics, Angela took the antenna stunt in stride. She new her brother would be introducing his belt to their backside, in the time-honored family tradition, later that day. And installing a new antenna for her, from the fresh case he’d bought last month at Pep Boys.

Angela parked her Civic next to the huge cement lions that guarded the front walkway. Uncle Bernie and Cousin Paulo had just finished setting the new statue of the Virgin Mary into the upright bathtub that they’d planted in the front yard. They ran over to greet her with sweaty hugs and the friendly kisses that Italians blow on either side of your cheeks, even if they hate you. But they loved Angela and she gave them a huge smile as she brushed the dirt from her blouse and wiped their sweat from her face. They chatted for awhile, until Angela excused herself to pay her respects to her grandparents. Louis and Marianna Spumoni lived on the first floor and presided over the family with an air of joy and love. Marianna rose slowly from her favorite chair, to greet her grand daughter. She was wearing her best housedress, with her nylon stockings rolled down to her knees as usual. The family was relieved that Grandma never made the switch to pantyhose. She would not have survived this long with those rolled down.

Grandpa Louis had just emerged from the bathroom, unaware that his fly was opened and his shirttail caught in the zipper. He too greeted his grand daughter with a warm hug and kiss. She, in turn, decided not to tell him about his zipper. He’d been devastated last visit when she’d asked why his underwear was in the microwave. He was getting a bit forgetful in his old age.

Angela took a deep breath and headed up the stairs to the second floor, where her mother and three sisters and four sister-in-laws, half of them with child, were preparing dinner for the family. They were all accomplished chefs, in the Italian tradition, and never prepared anything less than a five-course meal for 20 people. Even her brother’s wife, Daisy, a Scottish gal from Nova Scotia, who had been allowed to marry her fourth brother Vespucci, after converting to Catholicism and most importantly, passing Grandma’s four-month Italian cooking class, was granted official chef status.

Angela wove her way through the mass of twenty nieces and nephews who were running down the stairs, greeting her with a symphony of happy screams. At the top of the stairs, in the umbrella stand, sat her 2-year old nephew Anthony. He had been wedged there by his older sister, Angelica, who was concerned that he might fall down the stairs. Even the kids are caring, thought Angela. In their own way.

She entered the kitchen to the deafening roar of the bustling chefs, as they talked over each other, not even conscious of the high level of volume they were generating. She grabbed an apron, and began picking up the rolls that the kids had thrown all over the floor, during an earlier food fight. She also scraped a few tomato slices off the ceiling, only guessing as to how they got there. Twenty minutes later, all the women were carrying plates of food into the main dining room where the 20 men of the family were seated around a huge table, and 25 children were crammed around another. The noise was deafening and two more aspirin didn’t help.

But Angela loved this, regardless. And she had to admit that her roommate Jessica was right – she was lucky to have such a big, closely-knit – if deafening – family. At least until the meal is finished and the lines begin to form at the bathrooms on each floor. That’s when the REAL noise would begin…


Visit Londonderry Hometown Online News every Tuesday Morning for another one of Joe’s great columns! Holiday Time he gets moved to Wednesday.

Joe’s Two Cents – It’s Great To Be Alive is Joe Paradis’ first published book and gathers 40 of his most popular stories, enhancing them with humorous photography. The book is a compilation of forty of Joe’s best short stories.

Injecting humor into topics from everyday life, Joe answers those earth-shattering questions we all have about the beach, the bathroom, the junk drawer. From guys’ tools to girl talk. High school seniors to the senior years.

This classic collection has been updated to include pictures and a short introduction for each story. Until now, only God knew what possessed Joe to write about these things. Now you can too!

Joe Paradis is one of Londonderry’s most popular columnists and authors. Visit his web site at today and order his latest autographed book, “It’s Great to Be Alive!”


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