An Interview with My Grandma
This is a school project by one of the "young" Ostini's (Josh), written April 22, 2005. We thought it would be fun to share it with you.
On December 18, 1919 my grandma, Natalie Garioto, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Antonina and Robert Garioto. She is a first generation Italian-American who was born on the east coast but has spent much of her life here on the west coast in California. Natalie has lived through two world wars, a depression, and quite possibly more changes in technology and society than any other generation ever will; she has seen America change from a country with an isolationist policy into the most powerful and involved nation in the world. She has also seen the decline of America's food culture-the disappearance of the family meal and other American food traditions. It was this subject that I sought to talk to her about; I wanted to find out what the American food experience was like when she was younger and what she thinks of the changes that have taken place in the current American society.
Food has played an intricate part in Natalie's life. The food industry is the reason Antonina and Robert Garioto came to America in the first place. Robert Garioto's job involved the acquiring and selling of produce, mainly grapes, for his family's income and well being. Food was also the factor that decided upon where the family resided. As crops became scarce or abundant, the family moved accordingly. My grandma remembers specifically that her father owned and managed an authentic Italian restaurant in Pittsburgh during the Great Depression and that it was probably the only reason they were able to constantly have food on their plates during that time. Despite the privilege of keeping food on their plates, towards the end of the Great Depression an opportunity arose for the family to move to California in hopes of a better job for Robert and a better life. In 1931 the Garioto family moved to Lodi, California (which was known for its grapes at the time) so that Robert could obtain grapes locally and ship them back east for maximum profit. Within a four year period my grandma moved all over California: from Lodi to San Francisco and finally to settle in Santa Maria. Most of my Grandmother's childhood memories of food revolve around the town of Santa Maria; it is a place she loves and will never leave. It was in Santa Maria that she married, had six children, and lived her life. The food industry was one of the key elements that guided Natalie's family all the way across the nation; it was something she would always be grateful for.
Another thing that she will always remember and wishes would remain in existence today is the family meal. When she was growing up everyone-she, her two sisters and brother-had to be at the dinner table at dinner time with no exceptions. Antonina would often cook and prepare meals all day and it was expected that everyone would show respect and come to dinner in the evening. Her father was always the first to be served and then the dishes would be set on the table for everyone else to partake in. Natalie remembers that her mother made pasta very often and that the sauce was prepared in the morning and slowly cooked throughout the entire day. My grandma also remembers that there was always more than enough food to go around and that no one left the dinner table hungry. No one ever had an excuse to miss a meal; the day was planned around that dinner instead of it simply being slipped into an open time slot of their schedules. She believes that people have simply become far too busy, and she truly treasures all of the meals she was able to have with her family.
It's hard for this generation to imagine the days before fast food, the days when meals took the entire day to cook and prepare, when meats were bought at a meat market (Gallison's in my grandmother's case), and when food products were purchased fresh daily. But once upon a time these things did exist. This was the way it was for my grandmother. She grew up in a time when eating out at a restaurant was a big occasion, not just an excuse for parents to not prepare and cook a meal. Throughout Natalie's whole childhood, she only knows of one specific occasion when her family went out to a restaurant. When her family decided to move west to California, they stopped at a fancy French restaurant named Henrissi's in Chicago, Illinois on their way from Pittsburgh to Lodi. This was a big event for a 10 year old that had never been to a restaurant before in her life, it is a memory that has stuck with her for 75 years. My grandmother is unsympathetic to the scrutiny fast food "restaurants" have taken in the last few years. She believes that Americans were much healthier before the fast food industry arrived and that fast foods are what are going to eventually kill a lot of people in this generation.
She detests the effect fast food has had on this country.
Natalie also grew up in a time when it was expected in America for "the dad to work and the mom to cook." This was exactly how it was in the Garioto family. Upon asking my grandmother what my great-grandfather's specialty foods were or what meals he used to prepare, she simply responded, "He didn't." Antonina always cooked. There was never a time when she got a night off and Robert made a meal, it was always her responsibility. Natalie never got tired of her mom's cooking and still reminisces about it to this day. My grandmother's favorite dish is pasta with spaghetti noodles and meatballs, the very same dish that her mother made her countless times when she was a child. Natalie says, "I could probably eat pasta everyday still, I love it that much." Something my grandma specifically noted about her mother's cooking was that it was never just pasta, there was always salad and either steak or pork chops to round off the dish. There were very few things that Antonina prepared that my grandmother disliked, she loved all of her mothers cooking except for eggplant, something she will not even touch to this day. It was simply tradition for Antonina to cook, and it was only after Natalie's mother passed away that her father "learned how to boil water." Fortunately Robert perfected his cooking skills throughout the years and is remembered for his great meals he used to prepare.
Although many traditions of the past have either changed dramatically or simply faded away, our family has been able to keep one of its traditions alive for almost a century. It is customary for the entire family to get together on Thanksgiving and Christmas and have a big feast with roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, veggies, and pumpkin pie as the entrée. This was started by the Garioto family when it was only 6 members strong but now includes over 60 people members and growing. It is amazing how long this tradition has sustained.Many things have changed in the 85 years my grandmother has been on this earth, but one thing that will always remain is family. No matter how much the eating habits and health crazes of Americans change, family will always be there, and will always be a place where meals can be shared together.