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Laura Inglese’s describes her first encounter with her future mother-in-law Carmelinda like this:
"I like to tell people that within the first minute, a literal minute, of meeting her she kissed me four times," Laura says. "Once to say hello, and I think I brought some flowers, so she kissed me for that, and I said something nice about Sandro, so she kissed me again, and then sat me down and fed me more food than I’ve ever eaten in my life.”
It was an elaborate, magnificent meal. There was homemade antipasto salad, of course. Then there was the homemade pasta with meatballs and a sauce from one of the 200 jars of tomatoes Carmelinda and her husband Giovanni had canned.
"I was like, ‘Oh, that was delicious, oh my goodness, thank you so much,'" Laura remembers, "and everything gets cleared away, and she turns with an oven mitt in her hands and opens the oven and pulls out a roast and potatoes and carrots.”
Home-baked desserts, espresso, home-brewed wine -- a routine family meal, with Carmelinda joyfully at its center.
Family was her center, though she and Giovanni had both left theirs many years earlier. In the Italian wine-making village where they grew up together, farm work was unending and unprofitable. Carmelinda moved to Medford when she was 18, returned to Italy to marry Giovanni at 21, and brought him back with her. Leaving the farm was preparation for their future, but it meant leaving the family, too.
In America, Carmelinda shaped hard work around her own growing family. She worked as a seamstress, in a laundry and her sister-in-law used to piggy-back shifts with her in a paper factory, so that one or the other was always home with their combined children.
Every night, though, there was a home-cooked meal. The cook never sat down to it herself; she was too full of bustle and insistence.
Carmelinda’s last job called for mothering on a grander scale — working in the cafeteria at Tufts University. For 19 years, she prepped food and restocked buffets for thousands of daily eaters. In an annual evaluation, her supervisor described her in eight brilliantly accurate syllables.
“Oh my goodness,” says Laura, “I don’t know two words that better capture Carmelinda’s essence than 'aggressive hospitality.' "
She was in love with the students, and her coworkers were in love with her.
“The dishwashers, who were like 20-somethings with piercings in their nose, showed up at her wake and spoke, you know, very genuinely of how sad they were,” Laura says.
Before she died at home in Medford of cancer, she gave her daughter some advice. “Stay together as a family,” Carmelinda said. Though, the words for her had never been necessary.
Carmelinda died last November. She was 71 years old. Giovanni still grows and cans their tomatoes in their Medford home.
This story aired on November 23, 2016.
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