The festival continues today and Sunday.
By ASHLEY POWERS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
CANFIELD -- The signs sing a sort of mouthwatering poetry: stromboli, cavatelli, marinara. The signs' only rival is the music, bursting with accordions and energy and the lyrical prose of a far-off land.
The strains meander through the early evening crowd, and along with the smell of fried cheese and marinara, cause thoughts of some to drift back, back, back.
Back to Sundays, after church, with grand dinners and rooms bursting with relatives. To talk of the old country. To the importance of God, devotion and being home by 10 p.m. on weekends.
And to mama. Oh, mama.
"You didn't say 'no' or 'I don't want to' to her. You did it," recalled Lucille Bernard, 70, of Canfield, with an unwavering smile.
Fabled are tales of Italians' devotion to their mamas; some claim the Virgin Mary is so highly regarded in Italian culture because she embodies the soul of the family: the mother.
Mothers honored: Fittingly, this weekend's Italian Fest at the Canfield Fairgrounds is dedicated to Italian mamas of all kinds -- the strict disciplinarian, the gourmet chef, the eager entertainer, the loving parent. Previous Italian Fests have honored the father and the family.
"You thought they'd have the mother first, because the mom is really the backbone of the family," said Sandy Rodkey, 52, of Youngstown, herself a full-blooded Italian mama.
As Rodkey and her sister, Clara Chick, 76, of Boardman, recalled their own mama's strong guiding hand, the conversation always circled back to dinners, hospitality and music.
An aunt would play the accordion; relatives and the six children would dance; kitchen odors would waft through the rooms. Food and family were irrevocably linked, even after their mother died in 1992.
"It's not like she's gone and forgotten," Rodkey said. "We still talk about her all the time, especially at dinners."
"Like we'd say, 'if she was here, there would have been more garlic in this.'"
Rodkey sighed. "This," she said, scanning the vendors and tents and "Hug Me, I'm Italian" T-shirts, "is for the ones who don't remember, that have to be reintroduced."
Heritage: The world of mamas embodies the world of Italian heritage: strong-willed, determined, maternal. These are not Hollywood mamas of the Livia Soprano type, Italians say -- not even close.
"Very caring, very strict," Lucille Bernard said. "Very selfless," added Alvie Bednar, 68, of Canfield.
"The minute you walk in you have to eat; you don't say no."
"Mangia, mangia," teased Bednar's husband, 68-year-old Joseph. Translation: "Eat, eat."
"They're demanding," said Joseph Bednar, grinning. "[Alvie] said, 'Marry me or we're not dating anymore.'"
"But the best thing that ever happened to me was marrying an Italian woman."
Who eventually became an Italian mama.