By Maria Lagalante Schulz
Love is funny. Whether in real life or in the movies, it can be inspiring, hard to understand, engaging or enraging. It’s usually full of surprises, and always an adventure. I think my favorite thing about it is it usually involves food.
One of my favorite movies of all time that’s about love, food—and that’s also funny—is Moonstruck. I love the “Italian-ness” of all of the characters; their loud fights, their urge to meet around the dining room table, and their unwitting ability to run towards life.
But I guess what I love most of all is their overly dramatic responses to simple comments. When Loretta points out that Johnny isn’t responsible for Ronny losing his hand, Ronny responds by saying:
“I ain’t no freakin’ monument to justice! I lost my hand! I lost my bride! Johnny has his hand! Johnny has his bride! You want me to take my heartache, put it away and forget it?”
Likewise, when Loretta insists that Ronny has ruined her life by sleeping with her, she proceeds to tell him:
“Y’know, you got them bad eyes, like a gypsy, and I don’t know why I didn’t see it yesterday. Bad luck! That’s what it is. Is that all I’m ever gonna have? I should have taken a rock and killed myself years ago!”
There’s a lot going on in Moonstruck, but you get the sense that all of the characters really do love one another. Vincent Gardenia’s character, Cosmo, is having a full-blown midlife crisis, complete with a girlfriend named Mona that he thinks no one knows about. Olympia Dukakis’s character, Rose, is Cosmo’s wife, and she knows exactly what he’s up to and keeps asking the question, “why do men chase women?” of everyone she meets.
Cher’s character, Loretta, has agreed to marry Johnny Cammarerie, who in Cosmo’s words is “a big baby.” In a classic early scene, he says, “what do you want to get married for? It don’t work out for you,” to which Loretta replies, “the guy died!”
In the middle of all of this, Loretta’s nutty Italian grandfather is out walking his dogs and howling at the moon, her aunt and uncle are still laughing and making out, and Johnny runs off to Sicily to see his dying mother. After he calls Loretta from his mother’s deathbed to say “she’s fading” and his mother starts screaming in the background, Loretta hangs up the phone. Rose says, “how’s his mother?” Loretta replies, “She’s dying, but I can still hear her big fat mouth.”
To say that the Castorinis, Cammereries and Cappamagis remind me of my family would be an understatement.
What’s so bad about a big fight? If they didn’t care about each other, they wouldn’t be screaming.
Well, that’s what I got out of Moonstruck. Growing up in my parents’ house was like living on the set of a movie, complete with a cast of characters who could be funny, smart, dumb, brilliant, superstitious, ridiculous, and loud.
I watched the movie on July 27, which would have been my parent’s 53rd wedding anniversary.
It made me think of my parents’ life together, and with us. We are loud people; my father is Italian, my mother was Puerto Rican. Someone once asked me if my ethnic background made it hard for me to keep my temper in check. I replied that when someone treated me poorly, I didn’t know whether to have them killed or do it myself.
My parents did not do the “I’m mad at you so I’m not going to talk to you” thing. When they were mad at each other, everyone knew it. It was usually over things, like “WHY IS THERE NEVER ANY MILK?” or “HOW IS IT THAT JUDE HAS LIQUOR AND A DOG IN THE GARAGE AND YOU NEVER NOTICED?”
They had an epic battle one morning because there was no clean laundry and my father had no socks to wear. He needed to go to work but my mother hadn’t done any wash and now he was going to be late. My father was screaming things like “Of course I don’t matter, it’s not like I’m one of your kids,” and my mother was saying, “oh stop it, they don’t have any clothes to wear either!” Which, I can tell you, was true.
It was about six in the morning and they were screaming at each other. Since I slept in the room next door, I heard it all. Lots of things were said about the other one not caring enough. I looked over at my brother Chris, who was sleeping soundly and thoroughly undisturbed. But I was afraid that my parents’ marriage was about to smash to bits.
My brothers and I had always talked about who we would live with if our parents died. I wasn’t sure how things would work out if they weren’t actually dead but only got divorced. But in the event that some horrible disaster struck both of them at once, Chris and I thought we were the luckiest of the bunch; our Godparents were Uncle Don and Aunt Mary.
Uncle Don was a lot of fun when he wasn’t threatening to make Chris live in the closet or throw us off the overpass of the Long Island Rail Road as a train pulled into the station. Aunt Mary was the gold standard of Godparents; she always had a cake baked and ready for us when we got there, and kept a constant supply of milk and Bosco on hand to revive us. Plus she was always laughing. I wasn’t sure how custody would work, but between Uncle Don and Aunt Mary I was sure we would have some laughs.
I couldn’t see me living with my grandmother, who had come to stay with us when my mother went into the hospital for what felt like 3 years but was really only 3 weeks.
My father made us get up every morning at dawn to clean the house, because he felt that he could run the place like a barracks and keep it from falling apart. So, for the first time in our history, we had a house that was clean every day. We also had a house full of quiet children, since everyone was exhausted.
My grandmother was pressed into service during those three weeks. She made her son (my father) seem like a lazy slacker. She ran the tight ship my father was always telling my mother about. But, horror of horrors, my mother wasn’t around to offset the constant cries of CLEAN CLEAN CLEAN and GET OUT OF BED. It got to the point that school became the most relaxing and enjoyable part of my day.
As the weeks were winding down, my grandmother was as sick of us as we were of her. Chris and I would cry sometimes because we missed our mother, and my grandmother would do her best to stop cleaning and rub our arms while she consoled us with phrases like, “There, there. She’s not dead. She’ll come home soon.”
It got to the point that she finally forced Uncle Don to help her one day because she wanted to get rid of us.
“Take them somewhere, anywhere!” she said, as she sat down for a few minutes of relief.
“Okay,” Uncle Don said, as he piled Paul, Joey, Chris and me into his car and we set out for Port Washington.
I wasn’t sure where we were going. I was hoping that maybe he would take us to a movie, or out for ice cream. When we turned into Aunt Mary’s development, my heart leapt with joy. Maybe there was Bosco in my immediate future!
But then my heart sank as we passed her house. “Where are we going?” I said.
“Let’s go visit the Campenellas,” Uncle Don replied. “They love kids.”
Joey and Paul were giggling and Chris and I didn’t know why. I was still hoping we might have some fun when we went into their house.
The Campenellas were my grandparents’ friends. They were an older couple who were out of practice having little kids around. There was a lot of marble statues and knick knacks around, and my uncle kept whispering “don’t touch anything,” while we walked through their house. The Campis were surprised to see us, but they welcomed us in and took us right to the kitchen table. I thought this seemed promising.
“Would you like to have some milk and cookies?” Mrs. Campenella said.
“Sure,” we all replied, because who wouldn’t want to have milk and cookies?
Mr. and Mrs. Campi put out plates and poured us each a teeny, tiny glass of milk. We got one cookie each. I was done about 30 seconds later.
“Would you like some more?” Mrs. Campi said.
“Okay,” I replied. “And can I have some more milk? I need a bigger glass too.”
My uncle shot me a dirty look, but where I came from, if someone asked you if you wanted more milk and cookies, you said yes. When was ‘no’ ever a suitable answer to that question?
Seeing as I’d already said yes, my brothers piped up. “Yes, more!” and “Can we have bigger glasses too?”
The Campenellas’ smiles seemed stretched pretty tight now. They were filling up big glasses of milk and saying things like, “at this rate, we’re gonna run outta milk,” and “whoa, how many cookies do you kids eat anyway?”
The frosty silence and death stares my uncle was throwing my way were a small price to pay for more cookies and milk. As soon as we were done eating, we piled back into Uncle Don’s car, where he berated me all the way back to Bayside.
“What’s wrong with you?” my uncle fumed. “you ate those people out of house and home!”
“Why did they ask me if I wanted more if they didn’t want to give me more?” six year old me asked.
“That’s what people do! They don’t really want you to eat all their food and drink all their milk! Hasn’t anyone ever told you that before?”
“That doesn’t seem fair to me,” I replied.
“WHO TOLD YOU LIFE WAS FAIR? LIFE ISN’T FAIR! THEY WERE JUST BEING POLITE. NOW THEY’VE GOT NO MILK OR COOKIES!”
My brothers were in the back seat laughing and I was trying not to laugh too. It was a rare thing to see my uncle mad, but I really couldn’t take him seriously. The whole conversation seemed ridiculous to me.
When we got home, my Uncle dragged me out to the backyard, where my grandmother was cooking dinner on our hibachi. It was like I was being put on trial for war crimes, and my grandmother was the judge and jury. Things weren’t looking good for me as my uncle told her in excruciating detail about the terrible way I’d acted.
“Next time someone asks you if you want more milk and cookies, say no,” my grandmother said as she waved a hot dog at me.
“But why?” I replied. “I did want more!”
“Because you four morons ate them out of house and home,” my grandmother said. “We didn’t send you there to drink all their milk and eat all their cookies.”
“Then what did you send us there for?” I asked. I wasn’t being a wise guy; to this day I still don’t understand what I did wrong.
My grandmother put her hands over her head and shook it violently, like she had water trapped in there. “I JUST TOLD YOU NOT TO DO IT, SO DON’T DO IT!”
“Okay,” I said. But I have to tell you, to this day, I still can’t say no to the question “do you want more milk and cookies?”
Thanks be to God, my mother came home a short while after the Great Milk and Cookie Incident. She never got mad when I asked for more milk or cookies, although the answer was usually no because they were already gone.
Now, back to the great Sock Screaming Match. Ever since they’d joined Marriage Encounter, they felt free to share everything with each other. Even at 8 years old, I felt this was a mistake. I wasn’t sure why, but I knew that when someone asked you “if you could do it all over again, would you?” the answer most definitely was not “no.” EVER.
I closed my eyes tight and made believe I was asleep as the battle raged on. When my father came in to shut off our air conditioner and kissed me on my forehead, I made believe I was asleep. I didn’t want him to yell at me too.
Later that night, when he came home, I told him about my “dream.”
“You were screaming,” I said, “about socks.”
My father looked at my mother and they both laughed. “What makes you think it was a dream?”
I shrugged. “I didn’t think you would get so mad about something so silly.”
My father thought this was so funny that he had me come out to their Marriage Encounter meeting (being held in our living room) and share this gem later that night.
The other couples there all thought I was cute, and they laughed pretty hard when I recounted the way my parents screamed at each other in my dream. There were the Sedakas, an older couple who had been married about thirty years at this point; I didn’t like him because he always wanted me to sit on his lap and kiss him.
The Williams were also there; I liked Jerry and Sylvia Williams a lot. They were friendly and kind and seemed to respect me in a way that the others did not. They were not condescending and never spoke to me like I was a baby. The Williams were also married about a million years and thought of my parents as “wacky kids.”
The Stevens were also there, and they seemed all right. They had two daughters, one who was older then me and fun, and one who was a year younger than me and no fun. There were two more couples who were younger and really “into” this whole scene of airing dirty laundry for laughs.
I had already seen what happened when you let dirty laundry pile up—I didn’t think it was good to start showing it to everyone.
When I finished my story, my father laughed.
“You know, that really happened,” he said.
“I know, Dad.” I replied. “I was awake the whole time.”
This made all of the couples laugh and laugh. I wanted to run from the room, but they wouldn’t let me leave until I sat on Mr. Sedaka’s lap and kissed him. I thought they were a bunch of weirdo’s and I couldn’t wait until they stopped coming over to our house.
My mother came to me later when she tucked me into bed.
“You don’t have to get so upset when Dad and I fight. It’s not the end of the world.”
“Are you two going to get divorced?” I said. “I can’t live with Nonnie.”
My mother laughed. “Why would we get divorced? Don’t worry, I washed his socks. It’s all forgotten.”
Adults made no sense to me. “But you two were screaming,” I said.
“So what?” my mother replied. “You can love someone and be mad at them. Hate the sin, love the sinner,” she said with a laugh.
She patted my head and went back out to her Marriage Encounter group.
Love was complicated. Or, as Ronny tells Loretta when he makes his case for why she should continue to love him:
Ronny Cammareri: “Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice – it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die!”
Ronny’s speech was particularly appropriate on my parents’ wedding anniversary. On July 27th, 1957, Lou and Sarita got married. They vowed to love and to cherish and obey, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, til death do us part. They also agreed to fight, to be less than perfect, to break each other’s hearts on occasions, to make a mess, to love lots of crazy people (my brothers and I are included in this list) and in my mother’s case, for one of them to die.
I think they did a pretty good job of it.
Who’s afraid of Cookies and Milk? Not me! Make these delicious cookies and eat as many as you want. Just make sure you’ve got enough milk (or for a calorie splurge, make the Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie Milkshake listed below). Yum!