My Grandmothers Emma Montgomery (nee Peterson on the right) and Mattia Aleo (nee Moceri, left picture) had several things in common even though the worlds they came from were so different. Emma’s mother died around 1896 when Emma was ten. Mattia’s father died when she was seven-I estimate this was around 1901 or 1902. Both girls left home within a few months of their respective parents’ deaths to assume positions as servants or companions to wealthy families. They were paid only in room and board, but their absence meant that their families had one less mouth to feed.
Emma lived in Southern Ohio and Mattia lived in Sicily. Emma met her husband-to-be a few counties over from where she was born; Mattia met her future husband in America where she had come to find work so she could send money back home.
Emma met her husband at an ice cream social; theirs was a love match. Mattia’s marriage was arranged by a match maker when her older sister and brother-in-law decided it was time for her to marry. Both women were married before the United States entered the First World War and raised their children during the Great Depression and the Second World War. Times were hard and life’s uncertainties took their toll on both families. When my mother and father married, they brought this history to the new family they made. Our family life could be stressful and unpredictable.
But one thing sticks in my memory: for some reason, the strife died down during the winter holiday season. I think this is because my parents felt safe at this time of the year. This tells me that their parents also felt safe during the holiday season and were able to create a temporary haven for their families. This is another tradition they handed down to my parents.
I remember that the safest I felt as a child was during the Christmas season. The craziness of the world was kept at bay and the adults seemed happier and calmer. My family was not big on extravagant gifts, but there were always decorations, family and the smell of Christmas cooking. This was part of my Grndmothers’ legacy-one I treasure.
Recipes are another important part of family tradition. We had Emma’s Brown Bread and Mattia’s biscotti every Christmas. Here are their recipes.