The Pig Roast &The Di Camillo Family
All of them at a family party in the late 60s
I’ve been fascinated by the members of my father’s family my whole life. It was a large family: seven girls (three became nuns) and five boys (none became priests). Although, after my father died an old girlfriend of his showed up in our store one day, and dropped a bomb shell. She told my brother that my father had wanted to become a priest but was rejected as he was a polio victim. I guess it was like the army. My brothers and I didn't find it hard to believe as he went to bed every night reading his missal while my mother, right next to him, was reading "Valley of the Dolls"! I only knew four of my uncles as Anthony died barely a year old and his tragic story was covered in a previous blog: “Under The Cover of Night”
Their home, their store and their cellar bakery.
When I think of them collectively, when I think of them at what was their zenith for me it’s at the large family parties they held in my grandmother’s sprawling flat, in the three story building where they all grew up, above the store, which itself was above our original cellar-bakery. My Aunt Annie and my Uncle Emil’s family lived above in top floor third floor apartment.
Annie Di Camillo Bruno, Emil Bruno, Jimmy, Johnny, Addolorata and Tommy Circa 1947
My memories of these parties are from the mid 1950s to the mid1960s. They were always heavily-orchestrated events, and not impromptu “get-togethers”. Tables snaked from the dining room into the kitchen (children at the kitchen-end and my grandmother majestically at the head in the dining-room half).
The Di Camillo dish set.
The tables draped in linen cloths, set with a matching dish pattern which at least four members had, and had pulled-together for these events--my mother being one. I’ve inherited her dish set and on the bottom of one cup from this set is the lone survivor of her mark of ownership: a small piece of medical tape. This was how, at the end of the parties, she was able to re-claim her set.
The lone survivor of my mother’s mark of ownership
These feasts were of a collective family nature, and involved every woman in the family; to a greater or lesser degree-- each had been assigned a course.
Aunt Annie with her first born Tommy Circa 1943
My aunt Annie was the ultimate authority and responsible for the main courses. My grandmother, at this point in my remembrance, was practically in an executive position-- but never left the kitchen during the preparations, which went on for days.
Addolorata, my grandmother dressing the pig circa early 1960s
My aunts, Angelica and Theresa, were responsible for the esthetics of table and settings. A huge fruit arrangement was always central--never flowers with prickly pears and pomegranates (exotic fruits in my youth). I particularly remember loving the days of preparation, as my cousins and I were left to run wild. And some drama was always unfolding in the kitchen if we grew bored.
They were a wonderfully vivid and theatrical group, and besides the meal there was an inevitable impromptu floor show! If my Aunt RoseMarie happened to have escaped the convent we were treated to some first-class piano-playing from the music room.
Sr.RoseMarie at a recital 1960s
If she was not present, someone else would begin pounding a tune on the piano, as three of them could play by ear! My aunts and uncles would begin their various routines. My father, when he took his turn, became someone I hardly recognized. First he would mess-up his hair, and then begin “playing” with a cello is some synthesis of the Marx brothers.
Joe Di Camillo aka “Goo Goo" at the mike circa 1942
My uncle Joe was a crooner who actually took a professional theatrical turn, and moved to New York City in the early 40s to try the big time: he could always be depended on. My Aunt Theresa was a mezzo soprano and without question had the best voice but would curiously, only reluctantly, let loose with High a C number. Sing Out Theresa
Thomas Di Camillo Circa 1920s
I vividly remember my Uncle Tom, the eldest boy, sitting at the piano with a smile that never left his face. One hand played a constant chord and he would pluck out the melody with the other. He could turn the “Ave Maria” into a honkytonk number!
Sr. RoseMarie,OSF accompanying Angelica in one of her routines circa1980s.
Then, of course, Aunt Angelica always stole the show. Many of her skits benefited from the added production value of props which she herself supplied: feather boas, cigarette holders, jeweled pipes, slinky evening dresses worthy of Hildegard the famous chanteuse. In addition there was the added delight of her singing, which on those special occasions, when her younger sister RoseMarie was home and would accompany these skits on the piano, "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon" made famous by the Andrews Sisters was Angelica's favorite go to number.
Angelica in presumably a finale for one of her preformances circa 1980s
However, the lasting image for me of these celebrations, is always the roasted pig. I doubt I ever touched even a morsel (I was a problem-eater). One thing I knew for certain was that no one else I knew had a roasted pig sprawled out on a platter with maraschino cherries for eyes and an apple in its mouth on their Thanksgiving day table.
The third generation 1954 (pig is on the right)
On November 25, 2020 we said goodbye to last member of our founding generation with the death of our Aunt Angelica. She departed the scene in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic at age of 97. She was still alert almost to the end and was still regularly creaming her face! Sadly, she was in a COVID ward and unable to have normal in-person visitations. Like so many families around the world we had to say goodbye remotely. .
Two brave and loving great-nieces, Melissa and Elizabeth Bruno, donned COVID PPE gear and Zoomed all of us into Aunt Angelica’s room for a final visit. With her passing our family said our final goodbye to the last of our descendants who left us with so much to be grateful for.
Betty Di Camillo King at Angelica's 90th birthday party
In late June of 2021, my cousin Betty Di Camillo King the eldest of the third-generation descendants suggested, after the COVID guidelines began allowing for outdoor parties, that we have a commemorative celebration in Angelica’s honor. I knew Betty would want to have a pig: it was the crowning touch of a celebration for my father’s family. We were,in fact, lighting a torch to all of them.
The Di Camillo Family at Home 1934
Betty is the last surviving member present in this iconic family portrait taken in 1934 (she is the baby in her mother’s arms) It is her deep devotion to keeping alive our family's traditions and her unmatched brilliance at hosting a meal that made this afternoon celebration unforgettable to all who were present.
A roasted pig has had a long history of being a part of our family's celebratory meals. This tradition started with my grandfather's arrival in Niagara Falls on Thanksgiving Day in 1902.
Tomasso Di Camillo circa 1930
A deeply spiritual man, dates, feast days and portents had profound meaning for him. So the concept of a meal of thanksgiving appealed to him and its significance was confirmed by his arrival on this quintessential American holiday. For most of my childhood it was always celebrated with a roasted pig. I'm sure that the bakery bread ovens helped make it happen with greater ease and no doubt it was a custom he himself brought from Italy. In fact, in the early years of the bakery my father's family often rented space in our bread ovens to groups looking to roast a piglet or two! As children we were always fascinated with it, although thoroughly American children by my generation, we were somewhat reluctant to actually eat it.
Mark Bruno, Johnny Bruno & Michael Di Camillo contimplating the pig.1954
For her party on August 1, 2021 (Angelica’s birthday) a fourth generation rose to the occasion and lent their hand. Matthew Di Camillo, our newest VP brought some hipster touches, and instead of the usual roster or the bakery ovens of old, he employed A China Box Cooker for our pig and a smoker for the chicken legs. Both of these innovations delivered delicious results and directly involved a new generation in our venerable traditions.
Mathew Di Camillo and the pig.
Angelica on the steps of St Joseph's church Niagara Falls circa 1947
Aunt Angelica was the tenth child in this family of twelve. She was a woman of great personal style, her wardrobe and home always revealed her love of the visual world. She, at one time had two different dressmakers executing her wardrobe directives. Angelica was The Aunt every child should have in their life.
Angelica in costume with her great nephew Kevin Di Camillo 1970
Fun beyond words, she was also deeply devout and passed from this life with a Rosary in her hand. She never married and for most of her life remained in her family home-- above the original Di Camillo Bakery.
She worked at the bakery her entire life, well into her 90s, running our main retail store. She also crossed the country as part of our national sales team. Her specialty-- and it's hard to imagine this job was ever done better-- was taking wedding cake orders. Several times she closed the sale and a few days later received an invitation to the wedding! Coincidentally, at her wake I saw an older woman, all alone, who I didn't recognize as one Angelica's friends. Since the wake took place during COVID it was attended almost exclusively by family members. I welcomed this woman, introduced myself, and asked her what her connection to my aunt was. She then explained that sixty years ago Angelica had taken her wedding cake order!
For this community she was the face of our family bakery. Her life was overflowing with a multitude of friends and she often counted the children of friends among her inner circle.
Angelica had her crosses to bear. As a young child she was the victim of a horrific car accident and lived nearly her entire life missing an ear--only her hair dresser knew! Also, she only had use of her right hand -which routinely went unnoticed by people she met. However, her handicaps did not define her. She was indeed a joyous soul.
The fifth generation
What ultimately put this remembrance meal in something of a mystical light was the weather. Rain had been predicted for over a week. Tents had been secured in advance, but cooking and hosting an outdoor event for seventy people, in the rain is at best difficult if not a party-killer. The morning of the party the weather was non-stop rain. Then at 3pm when the event was to formally begin the sun came out and stayed out until nearly the last family member said goodbye. And then a downpour began. It's hard not to wonder?
It was our hope to do her memory the fitting honor it deserved in a celebratory meal of a roasted pig. Angelica was undoubtedly the most universally loved member of our forebears. Our family was enriched by her presence and will be diminished forever by her absence.
- Michael DiCamillo