Mary DeRocco

Ma’s Broccoli Sandwiches

In 1954 we left Gloversville, NY. None of us kids

understood why we were leaving our grandmas,

grandpas, aunts, cousins for Dad’s new job

for New Haven, Connecticut, Manager 

for Sears Roebuck’s New England Territory. 

He was on the road all week. Mom with three kids 

under six, one a babe in arms, in charge 

of the home front, never away 

from her six sisters and mother. I often wondered

how she’d manage it all alone? So began 

our tradition 

Christmas, Easter, the 4th of July

our family piled into Dad’s new Buick 

for the long ride up-state. Our homecomings!

Mom prepared a sandwich sack. Before 

we hit the end of our street we clamored for her 

broccoli sandwiches.

Hours later, 

first stop off the New York State Thruway, 

Amsterdam, my Ma’s childhood home  

Her Ma’s back porch looked out on the wide 

gravel bed of tracks, trains speeding 

from Boston to Chicago and back, screeching, 

squealing, horns blasting.

In the kitchen we, too, learned to shout

to be heard

a habit the women who grew up here never lost. 

We three kids still call up the aromas  

when we would arrive and open grandma’s door-

memories of winter cold, our cheeks and nose red- 

her stove always cooking a pot of sauce. Her smile 

wide, her greeting still the music of her village, 


abandoned forty-five years earlier, 

but never her native tongue.

Ma’s broccoli sandwiches 

were born in this kitchen

A pot of fresh spears of broccoli steamed until 

soft bright green, cooled, dressed, tossed in 

drizzled Italian virgin olive oil, fresh squeezed 

lemon, sprinkled salt. A gifted serrated bread knife 

cut the large loaf of fresh, crusty, Italian bread,  

each side thinly buttered, seamstress-sliced, spear 

after spear after spear lay on lightly buttered bed.

    Generous pulls 

from the wax paper roll got cut and uniformly 

measured by eye. Before placing the broccoli 

sandwich in the middle she took her knife and 

sliced the irregular oblong in half slipping 

the knife under and sweeping the separated parts 

    as one onto 

center of wax paper.  My memory, her fine, 

fingers-fluttering-folding a secure wax paper 

envelope. There were always ten. With my Ma 

no one worried about going hungry for love.

Mary DeRocco is a second generation Southern Italian-American born in Gloversville, New York. Her father’s parents are from Canicatti, Sicilia; her mother’s family is from Pisciotta, Campagna. These ancestors settled in upstate New York mill towns for the work,  joining old world neighbors.

Mary is a licensed family therapist, poet, and writing a fictional memoir born of a dream. Mary moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts in 1986.  Transitioning out of her business, she refired a passion facilitating Women’s Radical Aging Groups.