Grandma Minnillo’s Cavatelli
My grandmother, Agata ‘Agnes’ Minnillo, made homemade cavatelli for Christmas my entire life. The wooden board she rolled them on was hand-made by my grandfather, Crescenzo ‘Christy’ Minnillo, with a side to hold the board in place and attach the specialized machine for shaping them. Her metal machine was hand-crafted over 100 years ago, passed down to her from my great-grandmother. Grandma brought it everywhere, visiting grandchildren in and out of Cleveland, Ohio, where she and grandpa lived most of their married life. When she was 96 years old, the old machine stopped cutting the shapes properly, and she had to buy a conventional machine. My grandmother and I tried very hard to find someone to repair the original, but the metal was worn out. Now it is in my home as a piece of sculpture! Grandma’s cavatelli was always served in the same white bowl, also passed down from my great grandmother, when family gathered for Christmas and Easter. They were married for 64 years, and raised two children. Agnes died at age 99, still living in the home where she had entertained eight grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren and many friends.
Grandma was a tough cookie.
My grandmother came to the United States from Italy with her mother when she was 13 years old. Her father was already an American citizen so they didn’t have to pass through Ellis Island. They travelled straight to Ohio on a train after the voyage across the sea. On the ship her mother met a woman from the same village and they decided that their two children should meet, in hopes they would marry. My grandfather-to-be had arrived earlier, sponsored by an uncle, and the two teenagers met in the close knit neighborhood of Little Italy, Cleveland, Ohio. They were married when she was 17 and he 19 years old, in the local Catholic church, during the height of the Great Depression.
Spit and vinegar.
She spoke no English when she arrived, and was placed in a kindergarten class in local elementary school with five year olds. Full of spit and vinegar, she stopped going to school and taught herself English.
For her church wedding, my frugal Grandma measured the aisle, purchased fabric to save money on renting a runner, and later cut and sewed that into diapers for her first son, my Uncle Paul.
After they married, they moved into an attic in a house in Little Italy with her mother and father. The young couple worked hard, and they were successful immigrants, eventually moving to different, nearby neighborhoods.
My grandfather worked for Alcoa Aluminum and made Grandma her cannoli molds. When he retired he became an avid gardener, and delivered his prodigious vegetables in wicker baskets to his family and friends. I always knew I would find fresh produce on my doorstep throughout the summer. My grandmother worked for Murray Ohio Manufacturing Company making bicycles. Putting spikes in the wheels made her fingers permanently crooked. Grandma was always hanging laundry on the line and making wonderful food from everything and anything leftover (both life lessons I learned from her). My grandparents had grown up very poor in the old country, and never threw any food out. When my cousins and I were all teenagers we wanted our grandmother to make a cookbook, until we realized she really only cooked variations few things – pasta, sauce, braciole, pizza, cannoli, pizzelles – and we all laughed.