When I was in college (in a former lifetime), I had a girlfriend who’s parents were, to my limited worldly experience, very Italian. I used to love visiting them with her on weekends – her mom was a great and prodigious cook. There were always tons of classic Italian eats in the fridge. One weekend in particular stands out in my memory.
It was Easter. Ma had spent several days preparing the feast, and when Sunday rolled around, I was primed and ready. The Groaning Board was just that, and more. Spread out in the dining room was more food than I had ever seen in one place. Two kinds of lasagna. A ham. A bowl of home-made meatballs in home-made marinara sauce. Sausages from the neighborhood butcher. Another bowl brimming with pasta in sauce. A platter of sliced fried eggplant. Bread from the local bakery. Probably some sort of salad. I want to say another platter on pork chops. I know I am forgetting something, but suffice it to say there was enough to feed the entire village of Oceanside.
Now, the activity around the table was as wildly different to me as the amount and variety of food. Very little conversation, as I recall, though I very well could be mistaken. Not knowing any of the extended family, I couldn’t follow stories told about Uncle Nunzio and others. I loved it and soaked in what I could. What struck me, as I recall now some 40 (!) years later was the difference in table manners and etiquette that went around the table. I was brought up with an appreciation for almost formal table manners. Please and Thank you preceded and followed everything. Politeness ruled. Here in Oceanside, I was getting gently teased for asking someone to, “Please pass the salt.” The family vernacular was a wave of a hand and, “Gimme the salt.” It wasn’t rude, it was simply a different culture. I thought it was far more genuine than that in which I had been brought up.
As the meal was winding down – although to my eyes, there was no less food on the table – Ma asked me to pass my plate around for more, the plate I had already filled and emptied two or three times. I politely declined, telling her I didn’t think I could eat another bite. “What, you don’t like it,” she asked with a hint of hurt in her voice. How she could think that, after all of her fantastic food I had put myself outside of, I don’t know. “Oh, no, Ma,” I explained, “I love it all. I’m just full.”
A long story (I could easily have made it longer) to suggest that this is like MS fatigue. When I zone out, or when I’m not paying attention to the conversation, or have to leave the party early, or not even go to the party in he first place, I’m not being rude, I’m just full.
And we hadn’t even gotten to the cheesecakes, pastries, coffee and sweet wine yet.