Preparations for “The Eve” spanned days when I was a kid, as they had for generations.

Grandpa Tony invited everyone to his Italian pre-Christmas feast. Born into a family of 12 during the Great Depression, he couldn’t afford much. But Tony Mascolo of Coney Island left a rich holiday legacy.

“Do the tables end to end. Like at my football wedding,” he said, creating space for at least 40 guests to gorge themselves. I imagined his 1940s nuptials in sepia-tone like his portrait — a handsome fella throwing hero sandwiches quarterback-style to cheering guests.

“Come, taste the mutzadel en carrotz,” Grandpa Tony hollered. A true Neopolitan-American, he hawkeyed the pot of boiling macaroni, making sure it didn’t turn mushy. We clamored for morsels of fried mozzarella while we waited. Afterward, my cousins, my sister and I ran wild around my aunt’s Staten Island high ranch, which reeked of the malodorous seven fishes.

“It’s like oatmeal,” Grandpa yelled, to the brave soul who prepared linguini with clam sauce on the first Eve he’d become too old to cook by himself. After watching him spit it into a napkin and refuse the meal, we catered from La Palina, his favorite Brooklyn restaurant.

Grandpa Tony passed away over a decade ago, leaving an irreplaceable hole at our celebration. Gone was the nutty octogenarian who placed his false teeth on the table and dangled squid tentacles from his mouth, saying, “When I was a kid, I ate what they put on my plate” before dropping them onto my dish.


Photo credit: Family photo from past Christmas Eve (Anthony Mascolo)

Holly Rizzuto Palker


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