For today’s Sunday Dinner, I invited Linda Grandinetti. You might recognize her last name and that’s because she’s my aunt. Linda is also a retired Educator and School Counselor. She was born in Chicago and raised in the northern suburbs. She attended Northern Illinois University where she received a BS in Elementary Education. She received her MA in School Counseling from Governors State University.
Sunday Dinner is a traditional (noon) meal served after church on Sundays. Whole families, including extended family, would gather over a large meal to celebrate a day of rest. Multiple cultures enjoy this Sunday Dinner tradition. In my experience, I know it from both my Midwestern farm family as well as my Italian-American family. Now, I’d like to bring Sunday Dinner virtually to you. So, pull up a chair as we invite various guests to join us each week!
Without further ado please tell us interesting readers would enjoy learning about you.
I have always wanted to be a teacher and still enjoy spending time with children more than most adults. I loved my career and am blessed to have had 45+ years in the profession.
I am a dyed-in-the-wool Boston Terrier dog mom and have raised or lived with one since childhood.
I understand you were born in the post-WWII Italian neighborhood of Chicago… can you give us a little of your background?
I spent the first 7 or 8 years of my life living in the city. It was great being close to family. I remember walking to the streetcar and riding with my mom to shop. People walked almost everywhere. Neighbors who were predominantly Italian, were friendly and would often sit out on their front porches so we would stop and chat along the way. There were alleys in the back and I remember the guy who pushed a cart and would shout out asking if anyone needed their cooking knives sharpened. We had a coal shoot on the side of the house and someone would deliver coal for the furnace and shovel it into the shoot. I can still see the large shovel my dad used in the basement to shovel the coal into the furnace.
Where is the Italian neighborhood located in the city? How is it different now from when you grew up?
I was born and raised in the Austen district west of downtown Chicago between Chicago Ave. and Augusta Blvd. We all attended the Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church where all of our parents married and the kids were baptized. All of the cousins attended the OLA catholic school before the tragic fire that took the lives of 93 children and nuns. The Austen district at this time is predominantly Black and Hispanic I believe.
How long had your parents lived in the neighborhood? Did you grow up near family?
My mother was born on Superior St. on the north side of Chicago, which was a bit east of where we lived when I was a child. After immigrating from Italy, her dad/my grandfather moved to Chicago and worked for the city. My dad’s family immigrated and settled in Pennsylvania. My dad moved to Chicago in 1946 when he married my mom. Their families lived in nearby villages in Italy so they settled in the same areas of Chicago to be near extended family. My aunts, uncles and cousins lived in this same neighborhood.
Can you tell us more about being the daughter/granddaughter of Italian immigrants? What unique challenges did you and your parents face?
Both of my parents spoke fluent English, and had no Italian accent, so I never thought of them as anything but American. The older relatives that spoke broken English had the most Italian cultural influence on me. The way they cooked and dressed were more old world. The food was wonderful and plentiful. Everyone helped one another. If you needed something done, you asked a family member. We were fortunate that everyone was successful at the jobs they had. So everyone owned their own homes. The biggest thing was how hard they all worked to get to where they were. The work ethic was very strong as well as the importance of school, church and family. One cultural custom we had was that Sunday dinner was always spaghetti. Everyone went to church even if it was not together. Dropping in on relatives was a common practice.
Did you grow up speaking Italian? Why/why not?
Both my parents spoke fluent Italian, but they did not teach us the language or speak it to us. I heard the language spoken by my parents and extended family and could understand some basic ideas. Because my mom was born in Chicago, she was very much a part of the city culture and desired to work hard to have more than her parents had. The goal for them was to assimilate into the American culture. My dad was a naturalized citizen and fought in WWII before marrying my mom. He was a strong patriot and proud to be an American. I believe that is why they made no effort to teach us to speak Italian. Looking back, I wish I could speak Italian now!
What was the most difficult part of growing up in the Chicago Italian neighborhood?
I honestly don’t remember anything being difficult. I was a young child and most of my memories are fond ones. Life was simple. Both of my parents held down full—time jobs. So I suppose the hardest part of life was my mom leaving for work in the late afternoon just before my dad returned home. Fortunately, my aunt and her son lived upstairs and babysat me and my younger brother until my dad came home. So we were never without a family member to care for us. My dad cooked and put us to bed. But mom was home when we awoke the next morning.
What is your fondest memory of growing up in the Chicago Italian neighborhood?
My dad’s uncle and aunt lived just a few blocks away from us. Some of my fondest memories are my dad taking me to their house where I was lavished with attention and delicious homemade Italian bread! I can still smell the yeast. There was a small neighborhood park on the same block and my dad would take me to swing on the swings and play in the sandbox. What more could a little girl ask for?
If you leave readers with one nugget from your life growing up in the Chicago Italian neighborhood, what would it be?
Life was simple. Family was important. People worked hard to improve themselves. And everyone helped one another. Even when we moved to the northern suburbs, we lived next door to my uncle and his family. Being close was a value to cherish.
The afternoon is slipping away, so we have to draw the stories to an end. Linda, thank you for joining us today!
If you enjoyed learning a little about growing up in Chicago as an Italian, check out my Christmas novella, As Silent as the Night. You can find out more here.
Over Sunday Dinner next week, historical fiction author Donna Schlachter will be joining us.