By Maria Lagalante Schulz
My earliest memories of my family all include a party. There really didn’t need to be a reason to have 20 or 30 people over; my parents loved a crowd. It helped that my father worked for American International Pictures (the distributors of such classics as Beach Blanket Bingo) and so we owned our very own movie screen and a real, honest to goodness film projector.
If we were lucky, our parents let us stay up and watch whatever movie was being screened that night. So, we’d park ourselves on the floor (kids didn’t get chairs when there were adults over) and we’d try hard to blend into the background so no one would decide we really shouldn’t be there.
We got to watch lots of great movies this way, until a raunchy scene started and my grandmother would say “Louie…” This was my father’s cue to turn off the projector, leaving nothing but a blank screen, while all of us kids marched out of the room. On a good night, this would only happen one or two times and we’d get to stay and enjoy the rest of the movie. On a bad night, we’d get banished to my brothers’ upstairs bedroom to watch T.V. on a black and white set that my brother Joey got from a customer on his paper route. The old lady who gave it to him was only slightly older than the television.
The best part of these movie nights was the food after the movie was over. So what if it was 11:00 at night and I could barely keep my eyes open? My parents had the Midnight Buffet long before it was fashionable.
There was so much to choose from: layer cakes and ice cream, Italian pastries and cookies, apple pie and lemon meringue pie (my grandmother made both, because my father’s favorite was apple pie and Uncle Don’s was lemon meringue). Sometimes, my father would give me a taste of Anisette (a licorice liquor) or Amaretto, a nutty brandy. I’d be off to sleep in no time, which was probably why he was so generous.
Sometimes, we would have friends over to watch movies in our basement. My brothers especially loved “Blacula: Soul Brother of Dracula,” a movie that isn’t scary in the least unless you’re frightened by the terrible acting and ridiculous dialogue. However, at 6 years old, Blacula was terrifying to me. I didn’t quite get that the movie was a made-up story and expected Blacula and/or his soul brother, Dracula, to show up at our house at any time.
I was probably the only person I know who found Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein to be a true horror movie. Whereas my brother Paul’s laughter would ring out as Lon Chaney Jr. turned into the werewolf and Lou Costello ran for his life from the clutches of Frankenstein, I found the whole ordeal terrifying. I couldn’t run without getting a stitch in my side, so what chance did I have if the Werewolf, Frankenstein, Mummy, or Creature from the Black Lagoon dropped by?
This didn’t concern my brothers. They cheered and laughed as Blacula wreaked vengeance on an unsuspecting city. They whooped with delight as Abbot and Costello kept running into monsters left and right. I couldn’t show weakness by admitting that these horror movies scared the bee-jezus out of me, but I did spend many late nights wide awake, afraid to go to sleep. Closing my eyes would leave me vulnerable to attack by the hordes of monsters I was now sure were lining up outside my window.
On one of those nights, when I turned on the radio to hear music that might lull me back to sleep, the worst possible commercial came on: an ad for The Exorcist.
I thought dreaming about Blacula running after me down the hallways of my Catholic grammar school was bad, but that was nothing compared to this. Suddenly, the sound of the music from The Exorcist was running in an endless loop in my head. And once I heard that creepy voice, I knew I was a goner. Satan was coming, and apparently he wanted me. He knew I couldn’t run (perhaps he’d spoken to Blacula) and I was in BIG trouble.
Suddenly my bedroom, which had been decorated in “Malibu Barbie-Chic,” now became more stocked with statuary then St. Peter’s Basilica. Statues of Jesus, St. Anthony, St. Jude, St. Theresa, and the big gun—MARY—were placed strategically around my room, to hinder Satan should he choose to drop by. Crucifixes were on the door, just in case Blacula or any of his relatives stormed in. I would’ve gone for a silver bullet if I’d had access to any, but since I didn’t, I had to depend on the strength of Mary and her posse to hold off any intruders.
Paul had a poster in his room of the Creature from the Black Lagoon that said, “Hey, who peed in the pool?”, so I figured the Creature would go right after Paul (as a rule I never dissed monsters). Joey was always making believe he could turn into the wolfman, so I figured that any real werewolves wouldn’t bother with me when they could spend time with one of their own. My terror meter notched down a little, as I figured no one could penetrate my holy fortress.
I felt safe and somewhat protected until I went to my friend Marianne’s 8th birthday party. I loved going to Marianne’s house because we always had fun when we played together, and her mother was a great baker. Chocolate chip cookies, cake, brownies, whatever she made, it was always delicious. I could always count on fun with Marianne, and a lot of laughs.
That day, however, Marianne’s older sister Elizabeth brought us all downstairs to play games while their mother made a pizza and decorated the cake. For the first few games, we were all having fun and laughing. And then Elizabeth told us to put our chairs in a circle and hold hands as she dimmed the lights.
“Now,” she said, in her most solemn tone, “we are going to say The Our Father backwards. Do you know what happens when you say the Our Father backwards?
The ten of us shrugged. I, for one, did not know what happened when you said The Our Father backwards, but I had a feeling it wasn’t good. The darkened basement and Elizabeth’s scary voice might have had something to do with that.
“When we’re done saying the Our Father backwards, Satan will appear right here.” Elizabeth said with a smile. “So, let’s start.”
Panic began to fill my little heart. I was a block away from my holy fortress! I was vulnerable here! And Elizabeth was racing through the Our Father—BACKWARDS!
“Amen. Death our of hour the at and now, evil from us deliver but, temptation into not us lead—
“AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!” I screamed, as I shot up those stairs with 9 other little girls hot on my heels.
It didn’t matter that the food Marianne’s mother was making smelled great or that I hadn’t eaten in anticipation of this party. By now, Elizabeth had to be at the part of the prayer that went “Heaven in art who, Father Our” and POOF! Satan would come charging up those stairs looking for me!
I wanted to run out the side door and head home, but Mrs. P. settled everyone down.
“Elizabeth, what did you do?” She said, as Elizabeth came up the stairs with the most innocent look on her face. “Stop screaming girls, and go back downstairs to the table. I’ll bring down the food.”
I ate my pizza and cake with an eye on the basement door. I spent the rest of the day concerned that the devil was going to crash the party.
That night, I stayed up late, unwilling and unable to go to sleep. Chris tried to stay up with me, but he nodded off. I left him in our room and sat out on the couch with Tony, who decided to keep me company. When I told him what had happened, he laughed.
“What would the devil want with you anyway?” Tony said.
“What about that girl in The Exorcist?” I replied.
Tony shrugged. “Marianne’s sister was teasing you and everyone else there. There’s no magic in saying the Our Father backwards. Besides, why would you have to say the Our Father? Why not The Glory Be? It’s a lot shorter. Want to try it and see what happens?”
“No!” I said, but by the way Tony was laughing, I knew that now he was teasing me. Older siblings could be very cruel!
“Go to sleep. I’ll stay right here and protect you.” Tony promised.
I was skeptical at first that Tony could really protect me from the devil, but then again, Tony could be one tough cookie when he had to be. He could stand up to our oldest brother, Jude, and live to tell the tale. He could get Joey to stop teasing me, when no one else could. Tony could break up fights between Chris and me. He even got my parents to fix my bicycle when the brakes fell off. I came to see that Tony wielded enormous power, and eventually I fell asleep.
The next day, when I woke up with dark circles under my eyes, my mother suggested that I stop joining any party that included talk of the devil, vampires, or monsters of any kind. Thankfully, my father kept the horror movies to a minimum. But to my delight, my father started bringing home Disney movies.
Videos and DVDs were many years away when we were enjoying feature films in our living room. Cinderella, Lady & The Tramp, Bambi, Dumbo, The Shaggy D.A. and Ali Baba were all feature presentations at our house. My favorite movie of all was always played on Christmas, when my cousins from Commack either came to us or we went to them: 101 Dalmatians.
The seven of us, plus our three cousins, and both sets of parents huddled in their basement or ours and watched the Dalmatians defeat Cruella DeVille. As scary as a Disney villain could be, I always knew that somehow, things would work out (bummer about Bambi’s mother, though).
Christmas at my cousin’s house was filled with the sounds of my mother, her sister and her brother-in-law talking in mellifluous Spanish, while my Italian father would crack them all up with his very bad Spanish. They sat at the adult table, with my older cousins Nancy and Sue, Jude, Tony and Louie. The rest of us (cousin Greg, Joey, Paul, Chris and me) sat at the kids’ table in the kitchen. We could see and hear the grownups at the next table, but we couldn’t really tell what they were all laughing about. It didn’t matter, though, because we were all laughing and yelling at each other too.
In between all the yelling and the laughing, we also managed to eat. There were trays of lasagna, turkey or ham, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, glazed carrots, baked ziti, meatballs, and salad. When dinner was finished, we’d exchange gifts, and then it was off to the movies.
Of course Christmas was fun, but it was just the warm up to New Year’s Eve. My parents realized early on that they weren’t going to be able to find a sitter for all seven of us on New Year’s Eve, so they decided that the party would have to come to them.
My mother would start cooking a couple of days before so that she had everything she needed to feed the relatives and friends who would be stopping by. There was more lasagna and baked ziti, antipasto, roasted chicken, and of course, my mother’s Quiche Lorraine.
You knew it was New Year’s Eve when you woke up to the smells of bacon sizzling in the kitchen. She put together her Quiche like she was painting the Mona Lisa; it was a thing of beauty, and she took her time with it. The bacon was cooked to a crispy brown; next she chopped it up and added it to the egg mixture. After that, she poured the whole mixture into her pie shell. She finished it by layering shredded Swiss cheese on top. Next, she put it into the oven and let it bake until it was golden brown.
We knew the end result would be worth it, but it was hard waiting another 12 hours to eat something that smelled so good. When the party finally began, it seemed like a busload of relatives and friends came through the door.
Music blasted from the stereo as my grandmother and Aunt Frances did the chicken dance or showed off their legs. Eventually, someone would yell, “hey Louie and Sarita, sing that Old Black Magic,” and my parents would swing into action.
Someone would pop on the Louie Prima album, and my father and mother would stand in the center of the living room, mouthing the words to the song and hamming it up for the crowd. Everyone would laugh and clap as my parents danced around the room and pretended to be singing. When it was done, the others would jump up and dance too.
“Play that funny song,” my father would say, and someone would pop on Paradise By the Dashboard Light. No one would laugh harder than my father when Meatloaf sang “I was swearing to my God and on my mother’s grave that I would love you til the end of time, I swore I’d love you til the end of time….So now I’m praying for the end of time….” My father loved a great punch-line and as a result, we got to listen to the whole album while they talked about Phil Rizzuto’s voiceover and the rest of the song.
We gathered around the television as Dick Clark counted down and the ball dropped in Times Square. Everyone was kissing everyone else, as I sought out my mother, father, brothers, grandmother and all of the aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who made each New Year worth celebrating. At 12:05, we ate…and the Quiche Lorraine was worth the wait!
Recipe: Quiche Lorraine
- 9 inch single crust pie (one from the refrigerated section at the supermarket works fine)
- 10 slices bacon
- 1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
- 1/3 cup diced onion
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 1 ½ cups light cream
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Place bacon in a large skillet, and cook until crisp. Drain on paper towels, then chop coarsely. Sprinkle bacon, cheese and onion into pastry shell.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, salt, sugar, cayenne pepper and nutmeg. Pour mixture into pastry shell.
- Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven, then reduce heat to 350 degrees F, and bake an additional 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted 1 inch from edge comes out clean.
- Allow quiche to sit 10 minutes before cutting into wedges.
- Eat and enjoy!