Agostino and Teresa Rossato raised seven children in the stone house, five boys and two girls. Agostino and Teresa were my great-grandparents. I was born in my grandfather’s house next door. He was their firstborn.
Vines sheltered the front yard of the stone house. The terraced garden had beautiful flowers and plenty of vegetables. I call it the stone house to this day because it remains as it was built, made of stones.
While her new home was under construction, my grandmother, a young bride, lived in the stone house with her husband’s parents as well as his many brothers and sisters.
Agostino was tall and slim and had a wonderful bushy mustache. The silent type, he spent long hours in his chair by the fireplace observing life as it unfolded around him.
Teresa did the majority of her cooking at the fireplace in a large copper cauldron where she made polenta daily. She mixed the polenta, a starchy substitute for bread, from water, cornmeal and salt. Simple enough, except it must boil slowly and for a very long time.
My grandmother described Teresa as a petite, wiry woman adept at multitasking. She would put the polenta on to cook then leave the cauldron unattended while she saw to other matters, which often involved gossiping with neighbors.
This particular day, Patriarch Agostino sat silently as the polenta simmered and bubbled in the cauldron while wife Teresa ran here and there as was her habit.
The oldest daughter walked by and stopped to stir the pot, dropped in a handful of salt, stirred again and left.
A short while later, one of the sons came in, noticed the unattended, still-smoldering pot. He stirred it, too—God forbid it should be allowed to harden prematurely—and dropped in a handful of salt before returning to his work.
Eventually, Teresa returned to the fireplace and took up watch over the now golden, thickening brew. Before long, she also dropped in a fistful of salt. A while later she went back upstairs.
The younger daughter contributed next. The scenario repeated three more times before the polenta was finally spread onto the wooden board to cool.
Agostino never said a single word. When it was near suppertime, he told wife Teresa it was okay to grill some of the day-old polenta for him. He didn’t mind eating the leftovers “…it shouldn’t go to waste.”
He then quietly sat at the large table with all the rest of the family and happily ate his day-old, grilled polenta with cheese while the rest of his brood took one bite then spat out the inedible, brackish grub.
Was there a lesson taught and learned? I suppose there’s always: Too many cooks spoil the broth…keep your mouth closed and yours eyes open…a little salt goes a long way.
I recalled this tale during a recent visit to the stone house and sadly noticed how neglected it looks these days. I understand a distant cousin still lives there, but obviously the glory days of the Rossato’s home are now memories from the past.
I hoped you enjoyed my anecdote. If not, you can take it all with a grain of salt.