My Sicilian relatives never lived on the East Coast. They immediately headed to Oregon where they'd heard the soil was good and cities were open for business. They were truck farmers vending fruits and vegetables during the first generation, a dream that would never have been possible in Sicily.
My grandfather Salvatore (aka Sam), the son of these immigrants, met his American wife while vending food for his family in Portland. Born and raised in Oregon, he was a Sicilian-American who liked to draw, and was a skilled sign painter before WWII. Virginia, his future wife, was in the stall across from his, vending produce for her family, but their farm was run by her mother, a divorced Catholic woman, a feminist, and Virginia's two younger brothers.
Sam fell in love with her blue-grey eyes and she with his large brown ones. Despite their different backgrounds, they were both Catholic (Alsatian German on Grandma's side), and they both loved gardening, farming, family, and their home state of Oregon.
So much of who I am is in their stories, and I am blessed to have known both my Sicilian great-grandmother Rosaria, and my feminist great-grandmother Mary. My Grandma Virginia was my rock for many years, but my Grandpa Sam passed away the year before my birth. I think because of this I was destined to be so close to his wife.
When I met my husband during college I realized that I'd been wanting the wrong thing for many years. One day, while eating anchovies out of a jar together, we realized it was the end of dating for both of us. Back then we would talk about food for hours and hours, discussing gardening, and farming, and soon we both realized that we were more Italian than we had thought. Sure Italians love their food, but they love growing it too. (Ugh, I just realized, ten years later and we STILL talk about the same things.)
Wikipedia: Angelo Pellegrini.)
In The Food-Lover's Garden (1970), Pellegrini attacks the topic of small lot gardening—the Italian way of course. Included are the uncommon cardoon—a personal favorite of mine—as well as advice based upon his experiences while gardening in the Seattle area. (Yes, this is another spaghetti westerner, much like the Batali family, and my own.) He describes in great detail his kitchen garden while at the same time throwing in whatever else he finds important. He describes so well the gardens of the old Italians I used to haunt when I was still a small child, and which I only knew briefly, but am haunted by in my memory and in the photographs of my extended family. This year I will be making my own and I think that I have chosen to use his book as my guidepost, and my husband as co-pilot.
This brings me to the other book, a philosophy text written by the Booker prize winning author and philosopher Iris Murdoch. I know that few people read philosophy books, but I do, and I love them even if I don't always understand them. That's where my husband comes back into this, and my grandmother, and my roots. I love to talk about plants, the meaning of the universe, and to look at the stars when it isn't pouring rain with thick clouds overhead. It is probably no accident that my husband is a winemaker. I am a feminist, and I thank all of you who dined before me, wiping the table, doing the dishes, and then putting them all away. Somehow making your legacy the whole time, moving westward always, the path led to me. Thank you and I dedicate my garden to all of you, as most gardeners do, tending soil, the heritage sport of summertime.