Sunday, July 10, 2011

Thirty cannoli and a funeral

The sweetest pastry that I have ever had was a gift from a woman whose name I do not know, face I did not see, and kindness I cannot possibly repay.

This pastry, a miniature cannoli, came to me in the most peculiar way and in the unlikeliest of settings. It was tossed into the limousine that I was riding in. On the way to my mother's burial.

You can't make this stuff up.

My brothers and I are not the limousine type, but we had sprung for two cars that morning so that the elders in the family, my mother's brothers and sister and their spouses, would not have to drive. Once the funeral service at the church was over and the aunts and uncles were safely inside their car, my brother Joe and I took our places in the other limo. I was on the driver's side, at the door. My brother Michael was in front of me, and so he was at a door as well.

It all happened so fast. Just as the driver began to move away from the curb Michael's door swung open and I could see two hands and a white box thrust towards him. An instant later I saw the hands retract but not the box. Then the door slammed shut and the driver went on his way.

"What was that?" I heard Joe say as I looked to see the back of a woman's figure moving slowly away from the car.

I could tell by the way her hands were cupped over her face that she was weeping.

"Weird," said somebody else, one of my young nephews no doubt.

It was several minutes before anybody addressed this strange occurrence again. The church, you see, was around the corner from where my mother had spent much of her life, and so driving along these streets, behind a vehicle carrying her casket, was a notable event for us all. We went past the apartment house where she had lived as a girl, then a wife, and finally as a mother. We drove past the candy store that was first my grandfather's and then my parents', until my father died and mom could no longer run the business by herself.

It was a planned post-funeral procession which we family members had steeled ourselves for the entire morning. We were not about to allow a stranger's unwanted interruption impose upon so poignant a moment in our lives.

A few minutes later, after we had cleared the last memorable site along the narrow pathway of my mother's life, Michael began to laugh.

"Cannoli," I heard him say. "A whole box of them. Look."

He raised the white box to show those of us behind him. It was a pastry box, I now could see.

"Probably one of the ladies from the Rosary Society," Joe offered, a wise deduction as our mother, a pillar of her church for 60-plus years, would be badly missed by its constituents.

"I'll be damned," was the best I myself could add to the moment.

Unlike the rather grand funeral my mother's church presented her with, the graveside service was quite brief. Though sunny and clear, that February day was bitterly cold. As the priest read passages from a book he held in glove-covered hands I noticed some of my cousins huddling close by their elderly parents, trying to warm them no doubt.

Everyone looked so awfully grief-stricken and sad. My mother had been blessed by a family and many friends who loved her very much.

I imagined that as soon as the service had ended people would move quickly to their cars seeking warmth, but the opposite happened. We all stood there. Silent for the most part, except for the soft sounds of weeping and the occasional chattering of teeth.

Nobody, it became clear, wanted to leave my mother in the cold all by herself.

Then suddenly Michael went to the limousine, reached inside and took out the box of cannoli. He lifted the top, made a rough calculation as to how many pastries there might be (two and a half dozen, he later told me), then moved about offering cannoli to the people in our group. 

Even my mother got one, as the last cannoli was laid to rest alongside her.

If you knew my mother you would appreciate how fitting a gesture this all was. Throughout her life the woman was happiest when she could feed people. Nothing came remotely close to pleasing her as this. In her final days, I am certain that her inability to cook even simple meals for the people she loved brought her far more pain than any ailment she endured. 

And so I will forever be grateful to the churchwoman I never knew, but also to my brother for his quick thinking that day about how best to use her gift. In an instant a box filled with 30 miniature cannoli turned painful sobbing into joyous laughter, and the mood on a cold winter's day from darkness to blistering light. 

Just as mom would have wanted.


Ann Tracy, Maine's Digital Alchemist & Artist said...

Poignant and beautiful....condolences

Claudia said...

I would be privileged to have such a tribute. I am sorry for your loss and sorry that I never met your mother. Glad to have found her son's blog.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

This is a beautiful story. Is that you in your mother's arms in the last photo? I'm sure she would have been happy to know that her family and friends had one last sweet treat with her as they remembered her at her grave site. My sympathies on your loss!

Mister Meatball said...

Not me in mom's arms; Michael.

Thanks all.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Oh what mixed feelings I had reading this lovely post - I wanted to cry for the loss of your mother, but then that cannoli story took me to a place where I was smiling thinking of your mom laid to rest with a cannolo. So lovely.

S. said...

Beautifully funny...

The Glamorous Gourmet said...

What a beautiful story and I am sure the kindness of that woman made your Mother very happy as well:) I am so sorry for your loss.

jilita71 said...

I remember being given a cannoli then and there...and then and there began my love of them! :)
Beautifully written

john said...

you made me cry again

Velva said...

No, you cannot make stuff like this up... It's a great story. I loved it. Cheers to your mom.


AMD said...

Touching. My condolences. She sounds like my mother. Here is a recipie for the best cannoli cream:

4 cups best ricotta you can find
3/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup chopped candied orange rind
1/2 cup chopped candied citron
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup semisweet mini chocolate chips

Process ricotta, sugar and vanilla in food processor until smooth. Add cinnamon and process until combined. Transfer to bowl and fold in remaining ingredients. Cover tightly and chill overnight. Fills about 12 standard cannoli shells.

Tim Raffio said...

I don't think that I've ever simultaneously laughed and cried harder in my life than that day.

I also remember Dad saying that Nanny would have been appalled that he didn't have hot coffee to serve with the cannoli to all those freezing people!

Therese Panariello ringle said...

What a beautiful story! Your mom was a wonderful mom , and as everyone can see she raised such great children..

mom in rome said...

yest hey are really good!!! love them too!!!
especially because I love ricotta cheese!

Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

Thank you. Thank you for telling this story. I miss my mom too. xo

Anonymous said...

good cannoli - not so easy to find: impossible in nebraska - in new orleans where i moved from, there remains a legendary cannoli place: angelo brocato's

food/kitchen, is the special place, the center of italian-american experience

i know it was a tragic event, and a poignant story, but i can't help thinking of the godfather movie quote re: cannoli which has become so well known.....

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

Such a personal moment to share with others and a lovely tribute to your mother.

Ishkabibble said...

a really lovely story, Mr. M...

Rolo said...

Excellent story and the picture made me think of the wonderful Sunday dinners at my Italy-born Grandparents houses. We would switch every Sunday between my Mom's parents and then my Dad's parents. Plenty of great memories and thank you for reminding me with your wonderful story.

Gin said...

Very touching.

Unknown said...

Missing only one detail. Cousin matthew didn't get one. When he came up after he heard that there were cannoli, his father ben ( while finishing his own last bite) sad that they were no more cannoli left... but aunt mary has one and he can go take it if he wanted to. Matthew turned to the casket... saw the cannoli on top... sighed and said nevermind.

Good mothers day remembrance of the best nana ever.


Anonymous said...

Mister have a seriously beautiful mind & soul. Thank you for making my life better tonight. My thoughts turned to my own mom who has passed away, but could not even boil water without burning the pan! Mom gave me the courage of a lion and the confidence of Lady Liberty which gave me all the tools I needed to suceed in all my my life's choices. I taught myself how to cook, and gladly shared all of my food with her in the later years.

Mister Meatball said...

Thank you!