Chapter 30: Singing, Dancing and Mangia e Bevi at the Border

The smell of damp pine trees envelops me, as I watch the dark sky come alive with sparkling stars. I quietly think to myself, “This, is my happy place.”

The crisp air requires a hoodie in the middle of July; even as I curl up in front of massive roaring fire made by my first cousin James (aka Uncle Rill; short for a Gorilla). The people I love surround the fire pit, as their faces glow with the reflection of red hot flames. Their eyes twinkle as bright as the stars, as memories are shared while raucous laughter echoes off the surrounding mountains.   

The perfectly roasted marshmallows are being squished between two crunchy graham crackers as the heat melts the Hershey’s chocolates.  We impatiently wait for the last of the S’mores to be passed around. 

This is the scene of the last day of our family vacation. Yet, it is the scene of almost every family event in my life…only the menu differs. 

Emotions are high on the last night of our five-day, four-night, 27-person deep Mazzola family vacation that was 18 years in the making.  Judy, the youngest of the three Mazzola sisters (our matriarchs) interrupts the mania and gathers the courage to speak. She is known to the cousins as Aunt Moomie (Moo for short). 

Aunt Moo decides to use her moment in the spotlight to thank her older sister (aka my Mom, Joyce) for organizing this wonderful, long-overdue family trip.

And so, begins the round of speeches…some welcomed, some mocked, some that surprise and delight. Our family members are outrageously sarcastic and then at times, deeply heartfelt. You never know what you’re going to get, and there lies the magic. 

One of the speeches made (I forget by whom), captures our general gratefulness for cousin James (aka Uncle Rill) who supplied the Bloody Mary’s and S’mores for the trip. These provisions were unanimously appreciated and applauded; real crowd-pleasers, as they provided something for every age group.  

Inspired, I suddenly and brazenly, decide to nominate Rill to be initiated as a Frodo!  

He would be the first Frodo cousin to be indoctrinated as an official member of the Hobbit clan.  The Frodo’s (aka the three Mazzola sisters) vehemently agree and literally jump out of their seats (with their little legs; they are all 5’ or under), grab my 47-year-old cousin by the neck and begin to sing a Native-American chant (channeling something similar to the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood; which they had on lock decades before that book/movie was ever written). 

While in their PJ’s, they dance around while dragging my cousin along as he weakly protests (he’s laughing so hard he can barely keep up).  Rill is not just the first cousin, but the first man to have the chance to be welcomed as a Frodo…this is no easy feat. The expectations are high, and the qualifications are aplenty!  

Before I go on to share more about the qualifications to become a Frodo, it is clear I must let you all in on the origin story of the Mazzola Frodo’s.

First things first, yes, I do acknowledge it is the name of the J.R.R Tolkien Lord of the Rings character that we’ve bastardized. Yes, it is one singular character that we’ve adopted into meaning a collective persona. No, we do not abide by any of those rules or anyone else’s rules for that matter. Cause demz be da Mazzola rulz…

As recalled by my cousin Stacie (aka Uncle Rill’s wife, Aunt Stace-a-la):

“It was Christmas Eve, of what year I am unable to recall, the three-sisters managed to remove themselves from the may lay of our annual festivities. Suddenly, they made their well-timed reappearance and were dressed alike.  They captivated their audience with song and dance that they had been practicing for weeks leading up to this moment. We were shocked and amazed and equally entertained! Something about this performance sparked a realization in one of the adoring family members who shouted out that the sisters were like Hobbits and thus, the Hobbity of all the Hobbits, Frodo, became the moniker that would stick and continue take on a whole new meaning in this clan known as the Mazzola M. O. B…”

To be clear, the Mazzola M.O.B. moniker was created recently by yours truly. Following, our family trip this summer, I was driving to Delaware for three and a half hours, with my MSP and my Livy Girl, and got deep into thought. I was reflecting on the incredible time we shared as a family.

Suddenly, I was struck that the last names of the husbands of the three Mazzola sisters are Maggiore, O’Leary, Bono; in no particular order. Being the marketer that I am, I joined them together into the acronym of M.O.B. and so The Mazzola M.O.B. was born.

Once in Delaware, I put it up for a vote on a group text. At first, the family members that chimed in were all about it and very excited cause none of us had made the connection before; and then the inevitable controversy began. Some of our family members did not like the association and felt it was too stereotypical, but the majority of Frodos’s (three out of four) over-ruled the rest of the naysayer (HAHAHAHA! I win!!!! Oh wait, sorry, I am not 10 anymore! But yeah, I won as they were overruled and the moniker sticks…so far. LOL).

I vowed to make t-shirts for Christmas, and they are already in the works using a logo my Uncle Frank (the purveyor of the Bono name) designed!!!

As I’ve shared before, the Mazzola crew was created by Mario and Blanche Mazzola. They produced, the Five J’s; Jackie, Joyce, Judy, Jimmy, Jeff as pictured below. And sadly, one of the J’s, Jimmy Mazzola (aka Uncle Weazle) passed away on December 29, 2018. 

These five people are the reason our family has stuck through thick and thin. Too often, I hear from people that they are envious of our closeness because they see their family, maybe, once a year.

This blows my mind…but, to be frank, it wasn’t always peachy keen with the Frodo’s and Cherry. See, I struggled with the Frodo’s for a long time as we had different values, or so I thought.

One of the most vibrant memories I have of the Frodo’s was when my Aunts (both of whom happen to be my Godmother) showed up at my job at Ceasar’s Bay Bazar in Bensonhurst. I was in college and just about to drop out…

My hair was a mess, I barely showered; and my ripped jeans, flannel, and dirty rock t-shirt were not fit for the workplace (mainly not a clothing store). At the time, I was dating a really bad dude and I was spiraling.  They pulled me aside and said, they came to tell me that they were anxious and concerned about my well-being. 

At the time, I hated them for saying what I didn’t want to see or hear, and especially for agreeing with my mother. My mother who until this day, is the oil to my water, the white to my black, the clockwise to my counter-clockwise (it should be noted that I deeply love my mom and when we connect, it’s pure magic.  But when we conflict it is a catastrophic fissure that often needs external support to mend the divide).  Regardless, she will always be my biggest cheerleader and support system; and I hers.

I was stubbornly stuck in the mud…my situation got worse before it got better.  Regardless, the message stuck; the love and concern stuck.

I was the first female cousin born of the Frodo clan and I was the wildest of the cousins.  As the outlier, the rebel without a clue, the embarrassment, essentially the middle finger of the family throughout my late teens and early twenties. To their collective dismay, they held little hope for my future Frodo potential.

As I think back, I realized that the Frodo’s as a collective raised me. They all equally inspired who I became in life.  Little did they know how much of an influence they would play on my future success; little did they know how much they meant and mean to all the cousins.

They were always there and usually together (we actually lived in the upstairs apartment of my Aunt Jackie and Uncle Frank’s house up until I was 23).  Like the time I got my belly-button pierced while drunk at a bar in Cancun, MX at 3 am.  Upon returning home, my mom and my Aunt Jackie removed the earring from my belly-belly as it was profoundly and horrifically infected. They laughed the entire time; laughed at the pain I caused my damn self.  Eventually, I laughed with them as it was fucking funny…and I still have the scar.

While I have struggled with my identity, battled with who I am and who I want to be, they’ve been very clear that I am loved no matter what. And even in the moments when I probably didn’t deserve that love, it was there waiting for me with open arms. 

Ironically, some of my cousins may feel that I’m too bombastic; too grandiose, likely too verbose as they are oft to say.  Be that as it may, it must be said; I became enamoured with these tiny, fierce, funny and sometimes crazy women. 

My respect for them grew exponentially when I became a mother 10 years ago and the sacrifice it takes to raise a family this large (and I have just one!).  Their sheer effort to keep us all feeling loved and profoundly cared for through their acts of kindness and selflessness. Knowing that, no matter how much we fuck up, we have a place to stay, a meal at the ready and a loving embrace to make it all better.  Even if it comes with a smirk and a snicker at your expense.

Truth be told, they aren’t perfect.  They can play favorites at times and someone is usually on the shit list.   But coming back into favor is possible with a simple apology and I have never seen anyone rejected or uninvited to a party.  Like any good Italian, they forgive easily but NEVER forget…ergo decades of stories (sometimes to my dismay)

Interestingly, the rebel cousin became the Mazzola Frodo family historian.  It started with photos (as I am often asked to photograph family events and make photo books capturing the event) and then I began to blog for The Daily Feels

By peeling the onion of my life, I inadvertently began to memorialize the Mazzola family. What crystallized is that I am a small part of something very special and much larger than myself. 

It is my hope that by sharing our family stories, other people will be inspired by our antics, traditions and love.   Of course, I had to give the Frodo’s a project and asked them memorialize their rules of engagement or commandments.

Here are the top 10 Ways to Embody the Frodo way of life (as written by hand by Jackie, Joyce, and Judy):

1.     Take Initiative

2.     Put others before yourself

3.     Do NOT be afraid of working hard

4.     Don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today

5.     Have short spikey hair

6.     If you think it, DO IT!

7.     Always try to make someone smile

8.     Be ready to break out in song at any time

9.     Must be fun-size (4’9” – 5’5”) with large feet

10.  Do NOT leave a job undone

While this was sweet and all, I figured they were humble, so I decided to ask our 30+ cousins (their spawn) to help me curate a more extensive list of rules and memories to share with you all.

  • Frodo’s must be of Mazzola bloodline. Children of Frodo’s qualify to carry on the legacy. However, in-laws may effort toward this goal and be regaled once they achieve the above and below rules. This rule may change with the next generation of Frodo’s.
  • Must be able to cook a meal for at least 25 people. Serve those people with a smile on your face while drinking and singing songs, then clean up after even if your little Frodo feet hurt.
  • Host a big holiday (my first was Christmas Day, and then I went for New Year’s Eve). The other significant holidays have already been claimed by the Frodo’s. However, there are no rules about making up a holiday! This is welcomed and respected!
  • You must have secret / special recipes and things you cook EVERY SINGLE HOLIDAY! For instance, my Mom makes Christmas cookies including snowballs and wreath cookies, my Aunt Jackie makes booper cookies and homemade manicotti for Easter and my Aunt Moo makes the tastiest eggplant parmigiana.  My mouth is watering even as I write this…
  • Drink Bloody Mary’s or any cocktail while executing difficult tasks.  Duties may include but are not limited to: painting, building furniture, power-washing the porch and pavers, doing ten loads of laundry while making Sunday sauce.
  • Have the uncanny ability to nag and guilt at the same time. This ability is considered an art form.
  • Have a sixth sense about people. For instance, at my brother’s wedding, my Aunt Moo ran up to me at the reception and vehemently declared that “Those two women are witches!” referring to the girlfriends of my brother’s friends and then she quickly ran off.  Crazy enough, she was 100% right about those two young women, as they turned out to be particularly evil.
  • Must obsessively clean and be clean. Even if that means cleaning the stove at midnight or as my Nauna would say to them, “Come on girls, it’s time to make it look like a Hollywood Kitchen.” This explains so much…
  • Organization is next to Godliness. Yes, I got the saying wrong but truthfully my mother is genius at organizing anything.  She has the BEST eye for details and cleanliness.  You call in the Frodo’s whenever you are organizing a room or moving, you will be done in no time.
  • Clean up the table so fast that full glasses of wine go missing! There is usually a fight between the three Frodo’s trying to figure out who took the other’s glass.
  • Be a food pusher…you must incessantly offer up food to your children and guests until they accept your offer.  Never take NO for an answer.
  • Short hair is preferred; silver or grey hair means you are among the legendary and royal Hobbits.
  • Must travel in packs; solitude is considered peculiar behaviour and will be questioned relentlessly by saying, “What’s the matta?”
  • Always be prepared for anything, at any time. Be it a party, a meal, a hug, taking on the role of care-taker, a cry-fest, a funeral, a night of raucous drinking, dancing and laughing. Often, these things come all at once!
  • Serve the community in which you reside. The Frodo’s are caregivers; eucharistic ministers, school aides, volunteers with the PTA, paraprofessionals.  My Aunt Jackie learned sign language and got her degree when she was in her 60’s so she could be of better help to one of her students.
  • Be a witness. Be a storyteller. Pass on wisdom, laughter and love and the knowledge that we are all imperfectly perfect cause we have each other.  More importantly, I’m working on them to pass on the recipes.
  • Pray together and often. 
  • Take care of each other…the Frodo’s are each other’s biggest support systems through the good, bad and especially the ugly.

Some of the cousins volunteered their most cherished memories…here are a select few: 

  • “To me, the pinnacle of fro’ dom is Christmas Eve. They make sure all our traditions are upheld-all the food taste great, pray before we eat, carols strictly at 12 but not before a cake for baby Jesus. I think that’s what it means to be in the Mazzola Dynasty, and keeping the traditions alive is what it means to be a Hobbit.”
  • “Singing, dancing, doing the lindy in the kitchen.”
  • “One night, when I was tiny at Aunt Jackie’s house, I was super tired and decided to sit on Aunt Jackie’s lap. It was during the Christmas season, and as I sat there, the three Frodo’s began singing Little Drummer Boy, and I drifted off to sleep hearing their comforting voices. I remember feeling so at peace.”
  • “My fave thing about the Frodo is that the kitchen Is the center of our lives and they are food pushers. They are always, screaming, laughing, and yelling in the kitchen. They keep alive all the family traditions like saying thank you at the end of the present opening phenomenon.”
  • “My fav is dinners with the Frodo’s…Their cooking and clean-up is not a process; it’s an ‘experience.’ Not only is it always delicious, but they also bring us together in prayer, then the cleaning up is accompanied by good conversation. Its uplifting quality time. There’s jokes, song, and dance, of course, there how’s life going? And before you know it, the dishes are done the stove is clean, and the food is put away! Like magical Frodo’s! That’s my fav.”

For the record, according to Google, a Hobbit is a member of an imaginary race similar to humans, of small size and with hairy feet.  

If only I were so lucky to have hairy feet…


Cherry Maggiore, also a FIT: Frodo-In-Training

Cherry Maggiore is the proud single mom of her 9-year-old super-sassy daughter (aka Miss Sassy Pants or MSP) and 15-year-old pug baby (Tiki Barber); in addition to being an award-winning senior marketing executive at NBCUniversal.

Beside her side hustle as the Freak of Nurture, she also started a home design company after being inspired by renovating and designing her 1880’s home in NJ.

This insanely curious and passionate “multi-potentialite” can be found dancing the Argentinan tango, swing and Hustle every Saturday, cooking her family an Italian Sunday dinner, singing and air drumming at concerts or searching for her next adventure.

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