When I set out to write this article, I thought my community outreach would yield scores of ideas and loads of sentimental stories about sharing fun and timeless traditions learned from generations prior. Alas, I was proved wrong. My efforts proved fruitless. How can a writer write without a source, inspiration or other people’s insight?

Sometimes, you must look within.

Traditions—family pastimes—are a funny thing. Often, we don’t even know they are happening, as they are just a part of us, occurrences that have continuously existed. It’s not until we look back that we see the great imprint these seemingly small moments had on our lives. For the Modugno side of my family, there has always been an unwavering presence of food and music.

Rock out.

My great-grandfather was a musician in the iconic Mummers Day Parade. Every visit to their South Philadelphia row home, he asked my sister, “Did you bring your fiddle?” He’d grab his banjo and start plucking away. Then, Sammie, a dear family friend, would tune his saxophone and whistle along with the enchanting melody, usually an Italian ballad of sorts. (Fun fact: A distant cousin Domenico Modugno, is the voice behind “Volare,” which means “to fly” in Italian). Finally, my grandfather, my Poppi, would jump in, finessing the accordion. The band was in full swing. We would clap and dance along. Sometimes, there’d be a sweet solo sung, but often it was an extemporaneous jam session.

This happened at my Poppi and Grammie’s house, too. Only there, the pianos would start the groove—that’s when my Uncle RJ would take the helm—and my Poppi would keep the rhythm on the drums. Oldies, rock or a nod to our Italian heritage were the favorites. Sometimes, Pop would enlighten us with a titillating jazz riff when no one else wanted to play along.

We grew up immersed in the tones and nuances of instruments. My sister’s repertoire grew to include piano, mellophone and French horn. I remember the Christmas my brother got a drum kit. To this very day, he plays in bands. I was always the singer, the entertainer, who knew enough piano to play some basic melodies.

For my sister and me, our kids have taken notes. These days, it’s my husband who is gliding his hands on the piano as I sing. My son dances to the tune or dives into the songs he knows, like “Memory” from Cats. My niece, on the other hand, has accepted a coveted vocalist placement at a charter school in her town. Well earned.

All of these musical forums convened as anticipated a meal…

Lasagna: it’s what’s for dinner.

I still remember the setup of my grandparent’s house. The stairs upon entry. The couches, with clear plastic coverings so the grandkids couldn’t destroy the furniture. Cases harboring my grandfather’s Eagles shrine. They lived outside of Philadelphia, after all. A sofa so old the indentations were permanent, the recliner solely for my grandfather and the pianos. But then there is a fragrance of simmering foods and sweets baking, with music and laughter boldly in the background.

Food has been a keystone for our Irish-Italian family, as it is in many others. My grandmother has six children to feed, four of them active males. Many holidays and family events were spent waiting in agony for the food to be ready. My uncles would charismatically saunter through the kitchen, tossing a dashing smile toward their mother, grandmother and sisters, plotting the precise time to strike and snatch a sample of anything they could grab—a taste test of sorts. Often, the cunning behavior was welcomed with a whack from a spatula—usually delivered by my Grammie or Nanny—a warning to run from this hub of scrumptious goods.

Meanwhile, all the kids would lurk in the shadows, pathetically feigning starvation, as if we had some control over when supper would be served. This was especially difficult at Christmas because until dinner was served, there would be no unveiling of the gifts.

It was a staple at our dinners, lasagna. My Grammie and great Nanny Piccani each made a stellar version layered with a menagerie of noodles, mixed Ricotta and melted mozzarella, finished with just the right portion of garlic marinara that the delectable red sauce would cascade when served. Kiss. I’m certain there were fights over whose was better, though I was shooed from the kitchen and any discussion.

This attention to cuisine is something dear to me as well as my siblings. Rita, my sister, who is the namesake of my great grandmother Nanny, is a much better cook. I’m more of a free spirit, a risk taker but a solid baker, while my brother is super adventurous and creative.

Over the years, beginning with my pregnancy, I took a liking to preparing meals for my family, and I have a keen eye for lasagna. It was the first dinner I made and froze to prep for the new addition. I never follow the recipe, yet I’m always asked for it. Spoiler, I don’t have one. Somehow Rita 2.0 got her paws on those things, so I just make it up as I go. And now, my son has taken a liking to joining me in the kitchen. Baking is his favorite because he loves cookies. His idea of fun is gathering all the ingredients—particularly the eggs—combining them and asking when the timer will ding.

There is history in food; there are solace and promise in the music we share with our loved ones. Reflecting on these moments, I realize I’m passing on the same affinity to my kid, the same affection for homemade food and quality time. He impatiently waits for the treats to be ready…just as I sat in agony through dinner anxiously waiting to dive into dessert. And he has found a love for rhythm that cannot be taught.

Things may change in ways from generation to generation but continuing or reinvigorating certain aspects may inspire the next legacy. And, well, that’s just delicious.

You may also like: