baltimore fish tank | Thanksgiving in old ethnic Highlandtown

An Adornato family dinner in 1950 or 1951. “I think he was a year old in this photo. We were always in my grandmother’s little kitchen in the basement for meals. I remember being very little and walking around that giant table with all the trimmings. We were always all ”. Diane Parzynski Wit, to the left of the two girls at the head of the table. Mary Adornato is to the right of the girls. Juidy is on the far right of the photo. Credit: Adornato Family

When Crabtown was a town of ethnic hamlets, “Meely” hailed from the sauerkraut section of East Baltimore, not far from Holy Rosary Church. “Juidy” grew up in an alleyway near Our Lady of Pompeii, where a pot of fresh basil tomato sauce was always simmering in a basement kitchen.

Although neither was Irish, they were married in 1955 at St. Patrick’s Church on Broadway, not far from Meely’s childhood home at 205 South Chapel Street. It was what was deemed a “mixed marriage” of Baltimore Catholics, one with roots in Lithuania and the other countryman known to eat hot peppers off the vine.

The marriage of the former Amelia Kouneski and Ernest Adornato, Jr. (his immigrant mother’s spin on “junior” sounds like “juh-dee”) lasted more than 60 years until Meely’s death in 2017.

A retired National Brewery worker (he became friends with Brooks and Boog when the Hoffberger family owned the brewery and the Orioles), Juidy celebrated his last Thanksgiving a year ago at his son Gary’s home. in Joppa. His appetite did not fail her. He died on August 9 at the age of 90. Quiet, mischievous in a gentle way, and competitive in sports, Juidy played senior softball until she was in her 70s and was hitting golf balls all the way.

“My parents lived with my grandparents on Newkirk Street when they first got married,” said Gary, a Maryland sportswriter. “My mom was a very good cook, especially Polish and German food. when they lived [at 638 South] Newkirk my grandmother taught him to cook Italian. She got great at it too.”

Gary’s Italian grandmother, Mary Reda Adornato (1896-1964), and my grandmother, Frances Prato Alvarez (1906-1976), were half-sisters who came to Baltimore from the coal town of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, in the 1920s. Their immigrant husbands, Ernest Adornato, Sr. and Rafael Alvarez, became good friends.

Uncle Ernest and Grandpop made wine together, went squirrel hunting in the wilds of Harford County (where half of Highlandtown now lives), repaired things instead of throwing them away, and lived across the alley from each other. the 600 block of South Macon. Street from the 600 block of South Newkirk.

Like Uncle Ernest, my grandfather was a somewhat dour and dour veteran. From time to time they smiled. Unlike Uncle Ernest, my namesake never chased his son-in-law out of the house with an axe, this after, with a laugh, that Really burned it – falling into a barrel of mashed grapes.

Once a part of Highlandtown called “the hill,” the neighborhood is now Greektown, a gentrifying part of town where no one makes hundreds of gallons of wine when the leaves start to change. During the Great Depression and World War II, right during JFK’s “New Frontier,” a dozen of my father’s first cousins ​​lived two blocks from Samos Restaurant, once Nardone’s Grocery.

Like virtually all Americans (estimates say nearly 90 percent of the population will eat turkey on the holiday), the Adornatos celebrated the fourth Thursday in November around the dinner table. And every year, Meely and Juidy and their children (Karen and Steve plus Gary) counted their blessings over a feast that included a bowl of sauerkraut and kielbasa and one of pasta, often ravioli, Juidy’s favorite.

My father said that one Easter he saw Juidy (a United States Marine from 1950 to 1952) demolish eleven dumplings and more than a few dumplings. It may not seem like much today when the store’s ravioli (shameful!) are barely the size of a half dollar.

Sisters Cindi Hemelt Gallagher and Rose-Marie Hemelt Kratz with their grandmother Mary Adornato in Dundalk, on Thanksgiving Day 1963. The girls hold pieces of turkey that had been running around their backyard a few hours earlier. Credit: Hemelt Family

“These weren’t just homemade, they were made by hand, no machine,” my father recalled many times before his death in 2021. “Each one was as big as the palm of your hand.”

Also at hand, a long, rectangular sheet of wood that Uncle Ernest cut out to spread tables together, just like the Krichinsky family’s early Thanksgiving meals in the 1990 Barry Levinson film “Avalon.” There is always room for one more.

“I don’t recall any of us ever being anywhere on vacation other than around that table,” said Diane Parzynski Wit, daughter of Juidy’s sister, Lucy Adornato Parzynski (1927-2021). “We were so many that my mother had to bring dishes from our house.”

When I was growing up and Uncle Juidy lived two houses down from my grandparents on Macon Street before his family moved to Gardenville, I marveled at the way he chewed a lemon the way someone else might chew an orange. It’s Gary who remembers his dad and his grandpa eating hot peppers in the same narrow yard where they were grown. Juicy’s palate was sour but his soul was sweet.

One Thanksgiving, when the Adornato children were young adults, there was also fire, smoke, and ashes on the table. “Mom was cooking in the kitchen and I was helping,” she said. “Dad and my brother Steven were in the dining room reading the paper, the table was set and the candles were lit.

“Steven set his newspaper on fire, but my father was reading so intently that he didn’t notice. Mom and I run in with tea towels to put it out, banging on the paper. There was smoke and ash everywhere.”

Once the fire is out: Mangia!

Meely’s Thanksgiving side dishes included corn casserole, a simple homemade stuffing with celery and onions, deviled eggs, mashed potatoes, Athenian green beans (in tomato sauce, made famous in Baltimore at the restaurant Ikaros from the old town) and a green vegetable, usually broccoli.

Every seven years, Karen’s birthday, November 23, falls on Thanksgiving. “Mom always had a pie for me with the pumpkin pie,” she said.

Cindi Hemelt Gallagher, daughter of Juidy’s sister, Theresa Adornato Hemelt (1932-2016), thinks she can top that one. She presents a live turkey and the same hatchet that Uncle Ernest found so useful. (He was Cindy’s father, George, whom the stubborn Italian pursued at the time of winemaking.)

“We still lived in Logan Village, I was about 5 or 6 years old,” said Cindi of Severna Park, a keeper of family traditions, including canning fresh tomatoes each summer. “My grandfather brought a live turkey for dinner. We chased him through the Dunran Road yard until…

Talk about farm to table! Cindi isn’t sure how long it took her to realize that the bird in the garden was now the one on her plate, but she’s a smart girl and she probably put two and two together before the pies came out.

As our parents get older, just before they are only present during a prayer before the meal, the gravy ladle is passed on to the next generation. One Thanksgiving, Cindi tried something her mother “Treesey” used to joke: “When are we going to stuff the turkey with spaghetti?”

While Italians have been known to cook everything from pig feet to squab in tomato sauce, how could a turkey stuffed with pasta be anything but a joke? “I boiled some pasta, seasoned it with butter and some spices and put it where the filling goes before taking it out and putting it on a plate,” Cindi said. “Mom loved it.”

This essay began as a memory of my Uncle Juidy, for whom I am very grateful. He was not only my father’s first cousin (I think there are only two left), but one of Pop’s lifelong best friends and fishing buddies. For many years, he and Aunt Meely went to my parents’ house. every New Year’s day to enjoy a traditional Spanish stew of Cooked.

But then the history took over, a reminder that you can’t write about someone like Ernest Adornato, Jr. without talking about the people, times, and places that made him who he was.

“One thing my dad said before he died was that I and Gary and Stevie were still family,” Karen recalled. “I told him we would always be together.” Still, Gary observed, “it will never be the same again.”

Uncle Juidy, 1931-2022. Credit: Macon Street Books

Rafael Álvarez is the author of “Don’t Tell Me: The Miraculous Recovery of a Baltimore Drug Addict” published last month by Cornell University Press. He will be reading at a holiday literary event at 2 pm on Saturday, December 17 at the Highlandtown branch of Pratt Library, Eastern Avenue and Conkling Street. Alvarez can be contacted via [email protected]

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