IMMIGRANT STORIES: Family traditions still run strong
This Sunday, Italian families and their friends from Aspen to Grand Junction will gather in Glenwood for the annual Italian Picnic to celebrate life with good food, song and a glass of wine.
Ashton Durrett, one of the founders and organizers of the picnic, was raised on these traditions. His great-grandparents came to the United States from Italy more than 100 years ago and eventually settled in Glenwood Springs in a home that is still in the family.
Durrett: Every Sunday, when I was a little boy, my brothers and my little cousin Jeanette would walk with my grandmother from our house on Blake, “over home.” “Over home” was the house that my great-grandfather built. My aunt Josie, my uncle Johnny, Nini and Rose lived there. It was wonderful. We spent the whole day.
All the ladies would sit outside in warm weather, and there was a little garden along the side of the house, where my great-grandfather used to grow his vegetables, and there were fruit trees and a big yard. And in the back end of this property, behind the big box elder tree, was a big barbecue pit built out of the stone that was there and picnic tables. It was a little grotto in a way because of the trees and the coolness. The family would cook there in the summertime.
There was always something on the stove, Aunt Josie always had plenty of food, and you never left without getting a care package. You ate well all day, and then she sent you home with something.
Living was pretty austere around our house because there were four brothers, my cousin Jeanette, two uncles, my mother, and my grandmother, who was the matriarch.
My grandmother also had a renter, Mrs. Bigham. She and her husband had a bakery years before down in Glenwood. Her husband and daughter were killed in a car accident and she came to live with my grandmother. She was in her 90s then. So, there were a lot of people in a small house, and somehow we ate well, and we all made do. We passed the clothes down, and there were a lot of mouths to feed. But when we went “over home,” that was a glorious afternoon.
Aunt Josie had a sunroom adjacent to her big kitchen. She had plants and flowers and a couple of refrigerators there. And she’d say, “Ashton, would you like to have a Coke?” And I’d say, “Yes ma’am.” “Well, go open yourself one.”
I always looked forward to Sunday when I could go have a Coke at Aunt Josie’s. And sometimes, there’d be so many people and she’d be involved in what they were doing and she would forget to ask me, and I’d go home heartbroken. But I was taught never to ask for anything, and you never open somebody’s refrigerator. So I can remember going home sad that she forgot to offer me that Coke. You know, it was a Sunday thing I was always looking forward to.
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