Eat Now; Talk Later: 52 True Tales of Family, Feasting, and the American Experience
Genre: Humor, Biography-Autobiography
Date Published: January 6, 2014
Number of Pages: 158
Print Price: $13.50
eBook Price: $9.99
The passage of time, cultural influences and gaps in communication among generations slowly erode history so that a truthful, meaningful connection to personal heritage is often blurred or lost completely. In Eat Now; Talk Later, author James Vescovi affirms that the antidote to this phenomenon is the anecdote. Through stories about his paternal grandparents, Italian peasants who immigrated to America in the early 20th century, Vescovi offers a glimpse of his own family identity and history. In so doing, Vescovi sets before us a gift, wrapped in his family tales to be enjoyed with laughter and tears, but which actually contains our own personal stories. In sharing his gift, Vescovi invites us to be entertained by the wrapping, while sparking our curiosity about the treasures we may find if we choose to look inside.
The most endearing quality of Vescovi’s stories is without a doubt the genuine, laugh-while-you-are-reading humor, which he exposes without a trace of ridicule. His grandparents’ antics are funny and heartwarming because they are pure, innocent and the result of depositing two people from another place and time into an environment where innovation, pace and priorities are completely antagonistic and foreign to their very beings. Vescovi’s use of short, colloquial passages, though susceptible to some redundancy, only enhances the emotive quality of the book. Not only do the brief passages genuinely mimic an actual voice amidst a captivated audience where inflection and conviviality add to the humor, but the format also allows tender sentences the time to linger at the end of a story, causing us to pause where words pierce through to warm our souls with imagery of our own personal reflections.
Although a significant amount of Vescovi’s material stems from his father, Selvi, whom he credits as a master storyteller, many of the stories are fruits of Vescovi’s first-hand encounters and experiences with his grandparents. Vescovi often underscores the unique relationship he has with his grandparents, as opposed to their relationship with his father. As Vescovi states, “The newly arrived first-generation wants to distance itself from the old country and the old ways; the second generation, now comfortably American, is curious about the old ways and how they continue to shape identity.” Vescovi’s personal, yet removed, perspective establishes a sense of trust and sincerity, while the buffer of a generation avoids the potential taint of friction from generations too closely intertwined.
Though Vescovi portrays the Catholicity of his idiosyncratic grandparents through the lens of the suspicious and austere Italian peasant class, in one particular image the grace and beauty of the Catholic faith illuminates the entire collection. Vescovi’s personal accounts of his grandparents are mostly the product of his regular weekly visits to their home, first in Hell’s Kitchen and then in Astoria. “These visits,” Vescovi writes, “pleased me immensely because they allowed me a taste of what I hope the afterlife will be: mingling, in one place, of the bodies and spirits of our families, as far back as they go.” This divine image is the catalyst for our own imagination of generations interacting in eternity and serves as the backdrop against which all of Vescovi’s stories animate, despite the absence of devout religious practices in the daily lives of those about whom he writes. A Catholic theme is also evident in the witness of what it truly means to be a parent, grandparent, child and grandchild. Love and honor are defined through the actions of family throughout the book: from the grandfather’s rooftop oversight of his son when he was a boy; to Selvi’s method of convincing his parents at 94 and 93 to relocate to an assisted living facility near his home in Kalamazoo; to Vescovi and his bride’s search for a hidden dress for his grandmother while visiting her hometown during their honeymoon. At the root of all of the humor, heartfelt moments, the challenges of aging, and the unique demands of life for each generation, is a thread of sacrificial love that is woven through time and portrayed by the examples of each of the family members at the various life stages.
Food is also a central theme in the book. It is not a simplistic concept, however; rather, the reference to food is a tangible detail symbolic of the very identity of Vescovi’s grandparents as individuals, his Italian heritage and, on a grander scale, the definition of an historical era. The significance of food and the meal as a keeper of time, a destination, an offering and a truism, replete with the consequent gratitude, respect and reverence, mark our collective timeline as progress reduces food to its nutritional content, packaging, ease of preparation and rapid consumption. Vescovi’s grandmother instinctively realizes that from the annual feast day to the mundane, the sanctity of food and the hallowed experience of a meal are to be honored with silence; simply put: Eat Now; Talk Later.
As I read this book, the phrase “Eat Now; Talk Later” resonated. Although my own paternal grandmother, a Serbian who immigrated to America about the same time as Vesovi’s grandparents, died when I was six years old, through my own recollections, photographs and the stories of my late father and aunts, I have vivid images of my grandmother Olga’s soft, white hair, the thickness of her Serbian stature and her generous, open-armed spirit. She loved through perfectly prepared Serbian foods like sarma and policinka. She taught me the Serbian words for thank you, please, Merry Christmas and Happy Easter. I believe that it was from her that I also learned the Serbian phrase “suti i jedi,” which means “shut up and eat.” For as long as I can remember, this phrase juxtaposed over the image of my grandmother was an anomaly to me. “Shut up and eat,” seemed a harsh admonishment, inconsistent with the memory of my grandmother. It was in reading Eat Now; Talk Later, however, that I had a revelation. Suti i jedi must be the Slavic form of “eat now, talk later.” The Serbian phrase is not a slice of crude slang or a child’s reprimand, but the hallmark of the same ethnic era Vescovi depicts and memorializes through tales of his Italian grandparents.
Storytelling is an age-old method of passing down information from one generation to the next. However, in today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, handing down stories through actual written words is somewhat of a novelty. Vescovi’s stories, especially for descendants of early 20th century immigrants, are a gift that will make you laugh in the moment, and continue to bless you if you unwrap his stories to reveal your own.Publisher: AuthorHouse
Original Language: English
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