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Remembering Aunt Zita on Her Birthday, May 20

May 20, 2013

Remembering My Aunt Zita on Her Birthday

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Only on rare occasions, my nose detects a particular aroma of onions, garlic, and
tomato paste–all of which combine to smell just like the amazing spaghetti sauce which
my Aunt Zita made from before I was born until long after her retirement. That
wondrous smell transports me back in time to her Italian restaurant where I grew up and
grew to appreciate the oldest sibling of my mother. Not only was she a mostly quiet and
always confident restaurateur, Mrs. William Binole was also a remarkable single mother
and an outstanding aunt.

When my Uncle Bill died unexpectedly and much too young, my Aunt Zita went
forward with running the Italian restaurant—alone. At that sad time, her younger son
was just beginning high school and her older son was just starting college. Suddenly a
single mother, she knew that she wanted to provide a very good education for her boys
even though the young restaurateur had only completed the eighth grade. As the boys
matured, they both worked in the restaurant—especially on busy Saturday nights.
Nevertheless, upon their graduations, the older son became a chemist while the younger
son entered a forty-year teaching career. Knowing too well how much hard work and
long hours were involved in the restaurant business, the offspring of my aunt did not
follow in their mother’s footsteps, but still hold dear their mother’s secret recipe for
spaghetti sauce.

While aptly raising her sons, Aunt Zita took on the roles of sole business owner,
chef, manager, and hostess. She was never the frenetic chef as one too frequently sees
depicted on television and in the movies today; Aunt Zita ran her restaurant with quiet
efficiency and with a helpful staff who were loyal to my aunt throughout their many
years of service. Her spaghetti and Italian veal were famous in a wide radius of Indiana
and Illinois. Customers’ traveling ninety miles from Indianapolis to her restaurant in our little town of Blanford was not uncommon. Many of her frequent diners became her friends and friends of my family as well. When the restaurant was closed for business, I, as a child, used to sit at the huge oak bar and read the business cards which stated, “Meet Your Friends at Binole’s.” We did.

In addition to providing so many people with a wonderful sense of place, Aunt
Zita was a very special aunt to me. After my mother had an opportunity to become our
town’s postmaster, I often stayed with my aunt at the restaurant while my parents were working. From my preschool
days until my aunt’s driving skills were deteriorating due to the onset of Alzheimer’s
Disease, I frequently accompanied my aunt on trips to Terre Haute, Indiana, where she
visited fresh fruit and vegetable markets to purchase needed supplies for her restaurant.
Of course, we shared many other short and long travels together. Aunt Zita and her younger son joined us on vacations at Wisconsin Dells and Lake Shafer, where (in a cottage) she still cooked for all of us. When Aunt Zita accompanied us on a trip to Florida, my sister and I were most amused by our aunt’s studying the menu at a Florida restaurant for a long time and then ordering what Aunt Zita ate almost every night—spaghetti and veal. After tasting the food prepared by another chef, Aunt Zita—like a restaurant detective—told us of an ingredient in over-abundance, an ingredient of insufficient quantity, or a most unusual ingredient. As I recall times when she and I went to the cemeteries, distinctly in my mind’s
eye, I have a picture of my aunt’s opening the trunk of her big black and white Buick to a
breath-taking view of cans of fresh-cut tulips and peonies for decorating the graves of
loved ones for Memorial Day. At other holiday times, she would join my sister, mother,
and me for shopping sprees. Only Aunt Zita could talk my mother into buying a fantastic
beige coat with fake fur collar for me and a special dress for my sister. Then, one most
memorable Christmas season, this unique lady allowed me to decorate her entire
restaurant for the holidays: this creative venture which I loved became a tradition on
Thanksgiving weekends. So often, I have thought that she was the one who most understood my need to be creative.

As a single mother, restaurateur, and aunt, Zita Binole was always there for her
sons, her employees, her patrons, and me. When I was stung by a yellow jacket on my
forehead, I ran back down the street; Aunt Zita applied a soothing baking soda paste to
the affected area before I went to the emergency room with my dad and mother. When I
fell off my bicycle and had a gash through my eyebrow, she was the calm one who threw
a pitcher of ice water on my hysterical mother. Of all that she did for others and for me, I
never once heard her complain. Instead of just meeting a friend at Binole’s Restaurant, I
met an outstanding, most memorable, and dear aunt for whom I am forever grateful.

Post-script: I first wrote this essay in 2008, the year in which my aunt would have marked her 100th birthday. In the past couple of days, I revised the essay and added a little to it for this blog post on her birthday, May 20.

Greetings to all who fondly remember Zita Binole on her birthday,
Alice

May 20, 2013

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9 Comments
  1. Everyone should have a thousand Aunt Zita’s. My wife’s family, from Sicily, holds a special place in our hearts. The LiPuma’s carried the Italian tradition with style and grace. The smell of garlic and herbs can’t help but take you back.

    Thanks Alice, for another stirring post.

    dp

    Deon Lyons Author of Sully Street Now Available in Paperback @ The Children’s Book Cellar, Downtown Waterville

    Also Available in Paperback and Digital at the Following Link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00C4ZHD0O email dplion@roadrunner.com Personal Website http://www.dplyons.com Personal Blog http://www.dplyons.wordpress.com “The happiest of people don’t have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything they have.” Unknown Author

    _____

  2. You’re making me hungry. Binole’s sounds like a great place to meet friends for good fellowship and food. Great post, Alice.

    • Abbie–Thanks for continuing to read my blog on a regular basis. Yes, the food was delicious! AJM

  3. Thanks, Alice, for writing this beautiful tribute to our dear Aunt Zita, who had so much patience and grace. I treasure my memories of her.
    Love, Mary

    • To my sister–Thanks for adding your nice comments to my blog about Aunt Zita. We all can remember so many more anecdotes to share her life with younger generations. AJM

  4. Mmmm–Aunt Zita’s spaghetti and veal–the very best ever! I will always remember those special Saturday nights when we had such fun together while our mothers helped Aunt Zita on her busiest of nights.

    • Carole–In this indirect way, Aunt Zita brought our childhoods and lives even closer together. Love, Alice

  5. Dale Lanzone permalink

    It was always a special occasion when we would drive from Greencastle to Clinton and then onto Blanford to see the Binole’s, Lanzone’s and Massa’s all culminating in dinner at Binole’s restaurant. Usually we would have a private room, with a large round oak table which would be filled with platters of “Veal Milanese”, heaping bowls of spaghetti with tomato sauce and crusty loaves of of light Piedmontese bread. Always received big hugs from Zita, and Bill was such a gentleman – some things should last forever.

  6. Alan McCallister permalink

    I spent my childhood years and many years of my adult life going to Binole’s Restaurant located in Blanford, Indiana. My family farmed in the Ridge Farm, Illinois area and would celebrate the planting and harvesting seasons with a trip to Binole’s Restaurant that always include the hired men and their families, until it closed. I have many fond memories of the Veal Milanese, never ending bowls of spaghetti covered with the tomato sauce, the loaves of Piedmontese bread, and lest I forget the Spumoni Ice Cream Pie from Wrights Ice Cream Company of Cayuga, Indiana. The most memorable part of the trip would always be the private room provided for this celebration and a greeting from Zita and Bill Binole. Currently, I live in Springfield, Illinois and recently met a lady at the place I work that grew up in Blanford, Indiana. One day the group was talking and to my amazement, Martha Williams washed dishes for the Binole’s when she attended high school. She has equally fond memories of the Binole’s as I do. Is there any possible way that Martha and I could obtain the veal and spaghetti recipe from the Binole family in order to relive some of the fondest memories of our lives. If this is possible, the recipes would not be published in respect to the Binole family and only savored each time a veal and spaghetti meal is prepared.

    Many thanks, Alan McCallister

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