Family, food and bocce
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE-VAIL, Colorado – La famiglia. The family. If you’re Italian, there isn’t much that’s more important. And Steve Cardinale, local real estate broker extraordinaire with Slifer Smith and Frampton, is no different from any other red-blooded, wine-drinking, hand-gesturing Italian.
So when his tennis partner Dave Haakenson’s charitable foundation, Swift Eagle, had its first bocce tournament fundraiser a few years back, Steve decided it was the perfect opportunity to combine a family get-together with a favorite Italian pastime and invited la famiglia to come to Vail for the bocce celebration.
Now in its fourth year of competition, the Cardinale clan is more fired up than ever and is doubling its competitive chances by having not one but two teams. Steve, his daughters Chelsea and Shayne, his brothers Mike and Pete, Pete’s daughter Anna and her husband, Mike, are all playing this year, as is Steve’s 83-year-old mother, Anna, the family’s inspiration and one tough bocce bowler herself. Other family members, including his wife, Mo, his son Steve Jr., and his 5-year-old grandson Mason Fortunato Cardinale will provide the cheering section.
Steve’s family is from New York, where his father, Mario, was a construction foreman in the city. His grandparents on his mother’s side lived there, as well, his grandfather Rocco DeGilio working as a taxi driver and his grandmother Angelina for Artcarved Jewelers.
When Steve’s mother was young, her mother worked in a movie theater, and every day after school Anna would go to the theater and watch movies while she waited for Angelina to be done working. She leans toward Esther Williams, Charlie Chan and James Cagney movies but can tell you most anything about any movie ever made.
Steve remembers the big Italian dinners and the multiple courses of food at Mario and Angelina’s home. But it was his father’s parents, from “the other side,” as Anna says, meaning Italy, who made the biggest impression on him as a child.
Grandpa Luigi was born in Rome, and Grandma Albina was born in Massa-Carrara, Italy. Both came over when they were teenagers and landed at Ellis Island. Luigi became a construction foreman on the Empire State Building, a position of which he was very proud. One of the family’s favorite pictures is of him on the building’s top floor, where he can be seen in a fedora and sport coat. He was the boss, so he thought it important to dress like one. Luigi and Albina had a summer house on Lake Peekskill, where they had grape vines and a bocce court. His grandfather, who made wine by the barrel, would come into New York City and pick up “little Stevie,” and together they would drive the old lumber truck to the railroad, pick up crates of grapes and bring them back to the summer house for the winemaking.
“Mom would always say, ‘Now Pop, don’t give Stevie any wine,'” Steve said. “But I always had the burgundy lips.”
Food was a true moveable feast at the summer house. Steve remembers his grandmother covering the tables outside with white sheets or tablecloths and then rolling out dough for ravioli on them. One batch had the meat sauce, the other the cheese. On Sundays, the men sat at the tables while the women “did everything” for the huge Italian meal – courses of antipasto, soup, pasta, chicken or beef followed by pears soaked in Grandpa’s homemade wine. After dinner, the men smoked guinea stinkers. If you happened to get stung by a bee, a dollop of the wet tobacco plastered on the spot took care of it.
When he was around 4 years old, Steve’s parents moved to Lake Peekskill. It meant his father had to drive 50 miles to work in the city, but they wanted to be in the countryside, in a new home, close to his family. But with Mario gone at 5 a.m. and asleep at night by 6:30 p.m., Anna became not only the disciplinarian but an athletic mentor, pitching and playing baseball, which, being the tomboy in her own family, came easily to her. Asked what it was like to raise three boys, she answers in a voice maybe a little more Bronx than Italian (which, of course, leads Steve, in perfect tongue-in-cheek Bronxian, into asking her if she’s having her “kwoffee”). Her answer is everything a good Italian mama’s should be.
“I don’t know if I should open my mouth,” she says. “Like hell.” Then she laughs and says, “Italians really love their children. I couldn’t have any better three sons. I really enjoyed them … even with their pranks.”
Which, like a good Italian mama, she keeps to herself.
The Italian cooking gene runs in the family. Steve’s specialty is torta, a recipe from his grandmother Albina and which his son Steve Jr. also makes. Torta is potatoes, spinach and ricotta cheese in a kind of deep-dish crust made with lots of oil. When he’s asked to share the recipe, his blue eyes, a la Sinatra, just twinkle. And then there’s this eggnog that Pete makes. Well, maybe not so Italian, but multo multo bene.
Steve moved to Vail in the ’70s, following in the footsteps of his childhood neighbor and friend Steve Sheridan, better known locally as The General. He was followed by another friend of the two, Buz Reynolds, better known as Avon’s two-time mayor. (The stories about these three are endless.) He taught school in the valley for three years and organized
the first Mesa Verde elementary school field trip. In 1979, he went into
real estate, where he has established a stellar reputation within the
But while work is important, like the good Italian he is, his family always comes first. He talks to at least one of his children every day, always ready to listen and advise.
“My dad is a kind, giving man,” said his eldest daughter, Shayne. “Family is important to him. He works hard and plays hard. He rides a motorcycle, respects his mother and makes a damn good torta. I still don’t think he irons his own shirts, though. We love him!”
You’ll find the Cardinales on the bocce courts at the La Bella Festa
Bocce Tournament fundraiser for Swift Eagle on June 26 at the Eagle-Vail Pavilion.
For more information on the tournament, call Ginny Snowdon at 970-949-5279.
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Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor, or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.