Where There's Food, There's Family
For years, Francesca Campanile was the queen of her home. Standing in her Rhode Island kitchen, making sauce from sun-ripened tomatoes, dropping in basil from her garden, and adding fresh onion, Francesca dispensed advice as liberally as she did the garlic, arguing nonstop with her son and two daughters.
It was wonderful.
But now, her children and their children have moved away. And for the widowed Francesca, no longer having a family around to pester, annoy, guide, love, harangue and, of course, cook for, makes her feel useless. Who is she without them? What she needs is another family that needs her, and when she sees Loretta Simmons's ad in the Providence paper for a part-time nanny, she's sure she's found it. All the single mom wants is someone to fill in for a few hours a day. But it's obvious to Francesca that Loretta and her kids need more--a lot more. Loretta's struggling to make ends meet. Every man she brings home is a disaster. And her kids could definitely use some guidance--and a little lasagna, frankly. In these frazzled, disconnected people, Francesca senses a hunger and loneliness as deep as her own. It's time for Francesca to work her magic--if she can--and the best place to start is the kitchen. . .
Funny and moving, with a heroine to adore, Francesca's Kitchen is a delicious story about sharing love, life, advice, and, above all, food.
Peter Pezzelli was born and raised in Rhode Island. A graduate of Wesleyan University, he lives with his wife, two children and their dog in Rhode Island where, most days, he is busy at work on his next novel. Every Sunday, however, if he's not riding his bike, you'll find him and his family at the dinner table, enjoying a plate of rabes and sausage, or a nice fritatta, or some other favorite Italian dish cooked up by his wife.
Praise for the Novels of Peter Pezzelli
"A sweet, brave, and funny novel--with a heart as big as the entire state of Rhode Island." --Claire Cook, author of Must Love Dogs
Home To Italy
A BookSense Pick!
"A beautiful novel. . .Peter Pezzelli captures the warmth of Italy--family, friendships, and food--invites us into the world of his wonderful characters, and takes us full circle on a journey of life and love." --Luanne Rice, New York Times bestselling author
"Bighearted and wise, Home to Italy is a charming ode to the romance of new beginnings and the Italian gusto for life. Peter Pezzelli's tale of a widower who returns to his childhood town in Abruzzo to rebuild his life, only to be struck by the legendary thunderbolt of love, is a continuous delight."--Louisa Ermelino, author of Joey Dee Gets Wise
"With heartwarming touches of humor, Home to Italy reaffirms that life can always be renewed. This is a wonderfully satisfying romance that brings to life the sights, sounds and tastes of Italy." --Romantic Times
"A warmhearted novel, perfect for an autumn evening in front of the fire." --Litchfield Enquirer
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By PETER PEZZELLI
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2006 Peter Pezzelli
All rights reserved.
There was no point in taking chances, so the first thing Francesca Campanile did after boarding the plane and finding her seat by the aisle was to open her pocketbook and take out her rosary beads. Rolling one of the dark, smooth beads between her thumb and forefinger, she whispered a quick Hail Mary and made the sign of the cross, while ahead of her, at the front of the cabin, a smiling stewardess was just beginning to give her cheerful recitation about what everyone should do in case the cabin lost pressure in flight or the plane plummeted into the ocean or crash-landed after takeoff. The knowledge that there were little air masks that popped out of the ceiling and flotation devices under her seat did little to reassure Francesca that she hadn't been completely out of her mind just stepping on board. In truth, as whenever she flew, which wasn't often, it almost seemed as if the stewardess was telling them all these things just to make the passengers like Francesca feel even more scared out of their minds before takeoff — if that was possible. It was like a cruel joke.
Francesca sat there, pondering her rosary beads, until the jet engines began to whine and the plane suddenly lurched forward, giving her a start. As the plane pulled away from the terminal, the stewardess up front babbled on, pointing out all the emergency exits, while one of her coworkers marched up the aisle, telling everyone to put their seats in the upright position. Francesca reached into her pocketbook, pulled out a set of photographs, and placed them on her lap next to the rosary beads. The plane taxied toward the runway, the cabin gently bouncing to-and-fro. It was a crystal clear January day outside, perfect for flying. Just the same, the motion of the plane and the anticipation of their imminent takeoff was profoundly unsettling to Francesca. She clutched the photographs to her heart and looked anxiously about at the people all around her.
The plane was packed, not an empty seat to be seen. It had probably been a mistake taking the seat by the aisle, Francesca told herself; she would probably get trampled if something bad happened and everyone had to get off in a hurry. As it was, people practically knocked each other down to get off the plane even on the best days. It was like the running of the bulls. She could have easily taken the window seat. The nice young man sitting next to her had offered it to her when she had come on board, but she had politely declined. Francesca dreaded flying and was just as happy to be as far away as possible from the window. Somehow, despite the threat of being trampled, it made her feel safer. Besides, she had no intention whatsoever of even looking at the window, never mind looking out of it, so why deny someone else the nauseating pleasure of enjoying the view from thirty thousand feet? The flight from Tampa would take close to three hours, and she intended to spend every second of that time in prayerful meditation, until the plane safely touched down in Providence. Till then, the window was all his.
The young man, who until this moment had been leafing through a magazine, happened to glance her way and notice the rosary beads and photographs.
"A little nervous about flying?" he said with a kind smile.
"Eh," Francesca replied with a shrug. "I'm an old lady, so who cares if I die, right? But if you ask me, this thing is nothing but a big sardine can with wings. It's a crazy way to get from one place to another."
"Well, I guess you have a point there," the young man laughed. "But it's still the fastest way to get from one place to another."
"Ayyy, there's more to life than speed," answered Francesca with a wave of her hand.
"Not when you're in a hurry," the young man kidded her. "Besides, they say flying is the safest way to travel — you know, statistically anyway. So you shouldn't worry."
"I'm a grandmother. All I do is worry."
"You sound just like my grandmother."
"We're all the same."
The young man laughed again before nodding at the photographs in Francesca's hand. "Your family?" he asked, as if he sensed that it might make the old woman feel better to show them to him.
"My grandchildren," said Francesca, smiling for the first time since she had come on board. She knew the young man was just trying to be nice by asking, but she was grateful for the distraction. "See," she said, passing one of the photographs to him, "those are my two grandsons, Will and Charlie. Look how big they've gotten. They live out in Oregon with my daughter Alice and her husband, Bill. That's them in this other photo. They all moved out west a few years ago, after Bill took a job with some big company out there." She paused for a moment and let out a sigh. "Seems silly to pick up your wife and children, and move so far away from all your family and friends just for a job," she went on, "but he makes lots of money — I guess. What do I know?"
The engines gave a brief roar as the pilot maneuvered the plane along the runway into its position behind the other planes waiting to take off. The sound gave Francesca another start, and she clenched the rosary beads tighter in her fist.
"And who's in the other pictures?" asked the young man, trying to keep her focused on her grandchildren.
"My daughter Roseanne's three kids," she replied, passing him another photo. "Rosie lives down here in Florida with her husband, Frank. That's Dana and Sara, the two oldest girls. Dana's a teenager now, and Sara's not far behind. And that's little Frankie; he's the youngest. They all came out to the airport today to put me on the plane. I hated to go. I spend so little time with everyone nowadays. Breaks my heart to say good-bye."
"I'm sure they must come home sometimes to visit you," offered the young man. "That must make you feel good."
"Oh, sure," said Francesca, heaving another sigh. "I fly out to see all of them once or twice a year, and sometimes they fly home to Rhode Island to see me, but it's not the same as having people close to you all the time. You never feel like you're a part of each other's lives, the way you're supposed to feel about your family. It always feels too rushed, too confused."
Francesca paused and let her thoughts drift back to the two weeks she had just passed at the home of her daughter and son-in-law. Roseanne was her oldest daughter, and Francesca missed her terribly when they were apart, just like she missed all her children and grandchildren. They were much alike, she and her daughter, both headstrong and independent. Consequently, they had spent the better part of the two weeks quibbling over just about everything. The way Rosie had decided to wear her hair these days — so short, instead of beautiful and long, the way it used to be. What was that all about? And the scandalously skimpy bikinis she let the girls wear to the beach. Francesca would never have let her daughters out of the house wearing such things! The late hour Frank inevitably returned home from the office, and the way he was always too tired to take care of some of the things around the house that she had noticed needed fixing. Maybe he should get up a little earlier in the morning. And the television shows she let Frankie watch, and those crazy video games she let him play. And the way Rosie made her marinara sauce or fried up the eggplant, which wasn't at all the way she had been taught by her mother. From the moment she had awoken every day to the moment she had gone to bed, it seemed as if Francesca had spent her entire visit bickering nonstop with her daughter.
It had been wonderful.
Francesca understood, of course, that her daughter and son-in-law had built a life of their own together. They had discovered their own ways of doing things, their own ways of raising their children, keeping their house, sharing their meals. They were a family, and their life together had acquired a unique rhythm, which was beautiful and perfect in its own way. Francesca knew that it was she who was out of step with it, she who was disrupting the ordinary ebb and flow of their days. She knew that she made all of them a little crazy whenever she visited, or when they visited her, but wasn't that what grandmothers were for? Besides, she knew how to make it up to them. When things started to make everyone a little too frazzled, she would offer to stay at home with the kids so that Rosie and Frank could have a night out together just by themselves. When she wasn't babysitting the kids, she took them to the mall and bought them anything they wanted. She pitched in by helping Roseanne keep the house clean, sweeping the floors and making the beds (which were supposed to be the kids' jobs, but she didn't mind), and anything else she happened to notice that might need doing. Most of all, she cooked.
Francesca loved to cook, and she loved to watch people eat what she had cooked. It was one of her greatest pleasures in life. She had that special touch that some people have in the kitchen. She didn't need to go shopping to prepare a meal. Given five minutes to poke around in the cupboards and the refrigerator, Francesca could always roust up enough ingredients from whatever happened to be on hand to make something that would set mouths to watering. What was to be had? A clove of garlic and a little bit of olive oil? An old box of spaghetti or a leftover piece of meat? A single egg left in the carton? Maybe a bag of spinach or a couple of zucchini that had been forgotten on the bottom of the vegetable drawer? A block of cheese? A can of tomatoes that had been sitting on the back of the shelf for who knows how long? Some crusty old bread that even the birds wouldn't want?
Nothing went to waste.
Francesca would just add a little of this and a pinch of that to whatever creation sprang from her imagination, sauté it up in the pan or let it simmer in the pot, and before you knew it, dinner was served. Bring her to the grocery store, of course, and the possibilities were endless. Then, if she had a notion to bake a cake or a pie or a batch of pizzelle or a tray of biscotti, and the house suddenly took on the sweet aroma of a bakery on Sunday morning — well, a lot could be forgiven.
And so, when it came time for Francesca to go home, when they all drove out to see her off at the airport, there were hugs and kisses and tears galore. There were promises to call as soon as she made it home and promises to visit again soon. She had looked back only once when she had finally pulled herself away from everyone and made her way to the gate where the plane waited. Little Frankie had been draped over his father's shoulder. He had waved his little hand and called, "Bye-bye, Nonna," to her, the sound of his voice so sweet that it had brought the tears anew to her eyes.
Now, as she sat there with the photos in her hand, knowing full well that she must be boring this poor young man to tears of his own, she felt a wave of sadness wash over her, the same one that had washed over her when her grandson had waved good-bye.
"Anyway," she finally said, "that's about the best I can do right now: see my family whenever I can, and be happy for what I've got instead of sad for what I don't. So that's why I get on these stupid airplanes and fly all over the country even though they scare me to death." Francesca allowed herself another smile. "And that's why I carry my pictures and these rosary beads with me," she added. "So that if the worst happens, at least I won't be all alone."
The young man cast a bemused glance at the crowded cabin before handing the pictures back to her. "I don't think you'll have to worry about feeling all alone," he said, "at least not on this plane."
"Don't be so sure," said Francesca. "You'd be surprised at how easy it is for someone to feel lonely even when there are people all around."
With that, she let the young man go back to reading his magazine. She was grateful for the conversation, for it had made her feel a little better. Just the same, as the engines roared and the plane began its takeoff, Francesca took hold of her rosary beads and the pictures of her grandchildren, and began to pray.
There was no point in taking chances.CHAPTER 2
No one was there to greet Francesca when the plane arrived at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, a few miles outside of Providence. This had been the cause of no small amount of consternation on the part of Roseanne, who had wrung her hands about it the entire day before her mother flew home. Wasn't there anyone who could give her a ride from the airport, her daughter had asked? Who would carry her suitcase, and who would make sure she got safely in the door? And what if something was amiss in the house? It was winter back in the Northeast, cold and snowy. What if she slipped and fell walking up the steps? Why didn't she move out of that stupid old house and into an apartment in a nice building where they made sure the walks were always shoveled and clean? Or why couldn't Francesca just move to Florida or Oregon, where at least one sister or the other could look after her?
It was always the same for Roseanne, and for her sister, Alice, as well. No matter how well or poorly a visit with their mother might have gone, the day of parting was inevitably one filled with pangs of regret and guilt at the thought of the old woman being forced to fly all the way home by herself. The one consolation was always that their brother, Joey, could be counted on to be there at the airport to pick her up. Thirty-two and unmarried, Joey was the youngest of Francesca's three children and the only one to stay close to home. This time, however, Joey himself was away on vacation. He and his rugby friends had decided to take a trip to Australia to see, his sisters and mother could only surmise, if banging into one another's heads felt any different in that part of the world than it did in New England. In any case, Joey would be gone for the better part of a month, so Francesca was on her own.
Not that she minded.
When the plane landed and Francesca began to make her way out with the rest of the herd, she knew that she would be perfectly capable of carrying her one small suitcase out of the airport, of finding a taxicab to carry her home, and of negotiating the perilous ten paces up the walkway to her front door. Of this she had tried in vain to assure her daughter that day she flew home from Florida. She was a big girl, she told her. And so, when she finally collected her suitcase and made her way to the exit, Francesca was unperturbed by the bone-chilling blast of cold air that swept across the parking lot like a wave of ice water to welcome her when she stepped outside. It affected her little that the bright Florida sunshine and warm, caressing breeze was replaced by the pale gray shroud of a January sky hanging gloomily over the city as she rode home in the taxi. She didn't mind trudging through the crusty snow that blanketed the walkway to the front steps; the cab driver, after all, was kind enough to carry her suitcase for her. These were all things for which Francesca had prepared herself. How could she have done otherwise? She was a New Englander born and bred.
There was, however, one thing for which Francesca was never quite ready, something that always took her by surprise whenever she came home. That particular day, as was so often the case, she encountered it in that very first moment after she stepped inside the house. Francesca set her suitcase on the floor and closed the door behind her. Somewhere in the back of her mind, of course, she knew that it had been there all along, biding its time, waiting for her return. Still, she chose to forget about it, to push even the thought of it as far back into her subconscious as she possibly could, for it was the one thing that made coming home very difficult, the one thing that, if she dwelt on it, was able to let the harbingers of despair creep into her soul.
Alone in the hallway, unwinding the scarf from around her neck, Francesca felt the heavy stillness of the house pressing in all around her, squeezing the breath out of her, keeping her from moving further within. It was like standing in the middle of an elevator that was becoming more and more crowded at each successive floor. Except here, there were no people crushing in on her, only the memories of those who had once happily occupied that same space with her and the echoes of their voices. The joys and sorrows, the laughter and tears, the tranquil and chaotic moments alike, all rushed in and smothered her, like little children greeting a work-weary parent at the door.
Excerpted from Francesca's Kitchen by PETER PEZZELLI. Copyright © 2006 Peter Pezzelli. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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