Picture It, Sicily...
When Sophia felt like imparting wisdom on Dorothy, Rose or Blanche, she would often turn to a story from the old country, which began "Picture it, Sicily, 19...".
Sophia: Dorothy, let me tell you a story. Picture it. Sicily, 1922. A young military officer stationed far from home. He wanders the streets seeking a friendly face and a glass of Chianti. Finally, he happens into a dusty little cafe where he finds both. The man laughs for the first time in months. And finds inspiration in a beautiful peasant girl, wise beyond her years. When the cafe is closed, she takes him home with her. Three glorious days, they make love and drink wine. He returns to his command prepared to lead his people through whatever battles need to be fought. Dorothy, that young peasant girl was me. And that young man was Winston Churchill.
Dorothy: Ma, you made that whole thing up. Now what is your point?
Sophia: That I made it up. It was a little lie that gave me a lot of pleasure. If Rose is happy, and there was no harm done, let her have that.
Sophia: Let me tell you a story, Dorothy. Picture it: Sicily, 1920. Two young girls pack their bags and leave their tiny village to seek fame and fortune and a meal cooked without oregano. Their journey takes them to a seaside town where a ship prepares to depart for the New World. They're just-
Dorothy: The New World?
Sophia: Hey, anybody can say Baltimore. There's an art to telling these stories.
Sophia: Where was I?
Dorothy: Departing for the New World.
Sophia: Oh, right. Anyway, the price of steerage turns out to be 900,000 lire. Or approximately a buck and a quarter. Which is exactly the amount of each girl's life savings.
Sophia: That's why this is a story instead of an immigration report. May I continue? One girl chooses to spend her money and take a chance on adventure. The other plays it cautiously and books only a ferry to Sardinia, saving the rest of her money for a rainy day.
Dorothy: Lemme guess, Ma. You were the one who chose adventure.
Sophia: You also would've said Baltimore instead of the New World. You're no good at this, Dorothy. I'm the girl who played it safe. Maybe if I'd made the other choice, I'd have been prime minister of Israel instead of my good friend Golda Meir.
Dorothy: Ma, you never met Golda Meir!
Sophia: Please! I almost married her husband, the man who perfected the hot dog.
Dorothy & Sophia: Oscar Meyer.
Sophia: Let me tell you a story. Sicily, 1912. Picture this: Two young girls, best friends, who shared three things: a pizza recipe, some dough, and a dream. Everything is going great until one day, a fast-talking pepperoni salesman gallops into town. Of course, both girls are impressed. He dates one one night, the other, the next night. Pretty soon, he drives a wedge between them. Before you know it, the pizza suffers, the business suffers, the friendship suffers. The girls part company and head for America, never to see one another again. Rose, one of those girls was me. The other one you probably know as Mama Celeste.
Rose: Sophia, what's the point?
Sophia: The point is, I lost a fortune!
Sophia: Reminds me of the place I met Charles de Gaulle. We were lovers, you know.
Dorothy: Ma, that's a lie.
Sophia: Who asked you?
Sophia: Picture it: Sicily, 1921. A beautiful young peasant girl saves her lira and takes a trip to Paris, the city of lights, also the only place a guy can wear a cape without getting a lot of funny looks. She wanders into a restaurant and ends up sharing a table with a dashing young Frenchman. They drink, they talk, they burn a cork and draw mustaches on each other.
Sophia: Just wanted to see if you were listening. Anyway, the next thing she knows, it's hours later, the place is empty, and the Frenchman's got his schnoz down her blouse. This begins a beautiful love affair. Kids, I was that peasant girl, and the schnoz was Charles the Mole.
Raymond: Charles the Mole?
Sophia: Yeah, Charles the Mole. He was the wheel man for Louie the Ice Pick.
Dorothy: Ma, you said Charles de Gaulle.
Sophia: Yeah, right! I slept with Charles de Gaulle. I could've been the first lady of France, but I married your father instead. A man who cleans his toenails with a shrimp fork.
Sophia: Picture it. Sicily, 1912. A beautiful, young peasant girl with clear, olive skin meets an exciting but penniless Spanish artist. There's an instant attraction. They laugh, they sing. They slam down a few boilermakers. Shortly afterwards, he's arrested for showing her how he can hold his palette without using his hands. But I digress. He paints her portrait and they make passionate love. She spends much of the next day in the shower with a loofah sponge, scrubbing his fingerprints off her body. She sees the portrait and is insulted. It looks nothing like her. And she storms out of his life forever. That peasant girl was me and that painter was Pablo Picasso.
Dorothy: Ma, I have a feeling you're lying.
Rose: Be positive, Dorothy.
Dorothy: OK, I'm positive you're lying.
Blanche: Hi, Sophia. Boy, I tell you, there is nothing more invigorating than spending a little time on a boat.
Sophia: Oh, yeah? Not when I sailed to America. Picture it. There we were, a tired, poor, huddled mass eating marinara sauce out of a can. It was hell. And the entertainment? Some guy from Palermo forgot his accordion, so he sat around singing "0 Solo Mio" while squeezing a monkey.
Sophia: Sophia what? It was the worst time of my life. If it weren't for pin the tail on the French, we would've gone stir-crazy.
Dorothy: I'm scared. I don't know what to do.
Sophia: First of all, don't think your problem is so unique. People do crazy things for love all the time. Let me tell you a little story. Picture this: Sicily, August 1908. No, that's not it. But if you ever need a story about jealousy, this one is a pip.
Dorothy: Ma, just go to sleep.
Sophia: No, no. I remember. Havana, 1957. No, I was never in Havana.
Sophia: I meant Brooklyn, 1958. No, that's not it. I don't believe it. I'm dry! I got nothing!
Sophia: Wait, McCracken. Before you begin, I wanna tell you something. I'm no novice when it comes to negotiations.
Mr. McCracken: Oh, really?
Sophia: Let me tell you a story. Picture it: Sicily, 1922. An attractive peasant girl, who has saved her lira, embarks on a glorious vacation to a Crimean resort on the Black Sea. For weeks, she frolics at the seaside resort and enjoys the company of many young men, all of whom adore her.
Edna: All of them?
Sophia: Shut up, Edna. I work alone. All of them. When it's time to return to Sicily, three different suitors beg her to stay. But she can't decide who to choose, so she chooses none of them. But she agrees to meet with them at the same resort many years later. To her trio of suitors, that eventful gathering was referred to as "Rendezvous With Sophia." But to the rest of the world, it was better known as the Yalta Conference.
Sophia: Bruno Bonofiglio.
Dorothy: Ma! I was asleep!
Sophia: So was I. That's when it came to me. Picture this. Sicily, 1922. The village is in a terrible wine crisis. It's the peak of the wine season. And all our grape stompers are ravaged by an outbreak of athlete's foot. Soon the Chianti has a green hue and tastes like Desenex. They call in Sicily's foremost podiatrist, Bruno Bonofiglio. He's the one who prescribed arch supports for Mussolini.
Dorothy: Must have really helped his lower back when they hung him by his heels.
Sophia: Forget him. I'm talking about Bruno Bonofiglio. I take one look at him, and I have a hunch he's trouble. But nobody believes me. So, what happens? He cures everybody and wine sales skyrocket.
Dorothy: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Ma. Unless I'm missing something, your hunch was wrong.
Sophia: My hunches are never wrong. Now, everyone is living high on the hog and eating rich foods. The next thing you know, there's a gout epidemic. Nobody can stomp grapes. And Bruno makes a killing selling orthopedic sandals.
Dorothy: Don't tell me. He went to America, and changed his name to Dr. Scholl.
Sophia: No. Actually, he developed a foot fetish and suffocated when he shoved his head in a lady's rubber boot.
Dorothy: Ma, don't ever wake me up again.
Sophia: Picture it: Sicily, 1852.
Dorothy: Ma, I am in no mood. And besides, you weren't alive in 1852.
Sophia: What? We can't learn from history? It was mid-century and a disillusioned Italy looked to the house of Savoy for leadership. Giuseppe Garibaldi, our courageous leader, and not a bad dresser, thought, "Let's regain some national pride and jump into this Crimean War thing." Of course, there was a big kickoff party at Giuseppe's beach house, and everyone came. Coincidentally, this was also the night his wife Rosa hit her sexual peak.
Dorothy: Ma, I am in here because of guilt.
Sophia: This is not a story about guilt. This is a story about being a bad hostess. While Rosa had Giuseppe in the bedroom with his saber around his ankles, were strip-searching mice for a piece of cheese.
Dorothy: Ma, so what's your point? That Rosa and I throw bad parties?
Sophia: That's my minor point. My major point is that, like Rosa, you're screwing around in the bedroom when there are important things to do outside.
Dorothy: I can't believe it. That makes sense. I mean, you went the long way around but that actually makes sense.
Sophia: Let me tell you a story. Picture it. Sardinia, 1932.
Blanche: I thought these stories of yours always took place in Sicily.
Sophia: Can't a person go away for the weekend? Anyway, I'm on a tour of the great caper factories of Sardinia. I was a kooky kid going through my piccata period. A wedge of lemon and a smart answer for everything. Anyway, I was I was slicing an onion when suddenly this big basil tree--
Dorothy: Ma, what the hell are you talking about? You're not making any sense.
Sophia: I was hoping the late hour would help to mask that. I don't have a story about taking advantage of a dead guy for money. I got a great story about a Moroccan and a monkey, but that really comes under the heading of lust.
Sophia: I think my milestone birthday was when I turned 50.
Dorothy: Oh, Ma, I remember your 50th. We were supposed to go to a party at Guido's, but you were fighting with Pop.
Sophia: Oh, yeah.
Dorothy: Oh, I'll never forget it. It was Brooklyn, April, 1956.
Sophia: I tell the stories around here. Picture it: Brooklyn, April, 1956...
Dorothy: Mail call. Ah, Ma. Here's a letter for you from Palermo.
Sophia: Oh, it's the latest chess move from my old rival Serafina Gambrotsi.
Dorothy: Ma, how long has this chess game by mail been going on? What, it must be ten years now, huh?
Sophia: And it's going to keep on going until I beat Serafina at something.
Dorothy: What are you talking about?
Sophia: Picture it. Sicily, 1920. Serafina and I were both crazy about Marco the Goat Boy. In appearance, an Adonis. In behavior, horny as a toad. Little did I know he had a thing for hairy fat girls. If I were fatter and hairier, Dorothy, Marco the Goat Boy could've been your father.
Dorothy: I think we all grieve. Ma, that was 70 years ago. I was sure you'd forgotten.
Sophia: I forget nothing. So, any mail?
Blanche: Dorothy, shall I get Angela's luggage?
Dorothy: She doesn't have any luggage.
Angela: No, I never travel with luggage. Ever since the time I found a dead man in my suitcase.
Blanche: You found a dead man in your suitcase?
Angela: Right. Picture it. New York City. 1956. I was a young widow returning to Sicily. There I was on the boat alone, watching Lady Liberty grow smaller in the distance. When suddenly I heard a voice from the vicinity of my knees. I looked down. There was a midget. It turns out that his name was Peewee Bonbunzi, and he was fleeing from the Mob. For the next few days, we ate together, laughed together, and went for short walks in circles. And then, one day, suddenly Peewee disappeared. Well, we docked in Sicily and I was going through customs. And I noticed a strange odor coming from my suitcase. I thought it was the veal shank that I was bringing over for Mother's Day. But when the customs man opened the suitcase, there was Peewee. Someone had stuffed him in my suitcase between the veal shank and my beaver coat. Well, the Mob had gotten Peewee after all.
Blanche: Oh, God, you must have been heartbroken.
Angela: I was absolutely devastated. I mean, first I had to burn the suitcase and then the beaver coat. And the veal shank never did taste right.
Dorothy: Oh, Aunt Angela, you made that up.
Angela: Hey, I'm 80. As long as I keep talking, I know my heart is still beating.
Blanche: Angela, may I offer you something to eat?
Angela: As long as it isn't veal. Why it's not because of Peewee. I had some on the plane.
John Porter: OK, let's fill this out.
Sophia: Uh, please.
John Porter: And you are?
Sophia: Sophia. Sophia Pe- Hawkins.
John Porter: OK, Mrs. Pehawkins, um... Maybe you can tell me a little bit about your mother's history?
Sophia: Picture it. Sicily, 1900. An olive-skinned woman sets sail for the new world.
John Porter: I was talking about her medical history.
Sophia: So was I. You think that was a pleasure cruise? There was smallpox, scurvy, typhoid. And that was business class.
Rose: We were telling Best Sex Ever stories, Sophia.
Dorothy: Yeah, but now we're tired of telling them, so why don't we go to bed, huh?
Sophia: No, wait. It's a good thing I'm up, because it so happens that I have a story for you, the sex story to end all sex stories. Sicily, 1922. I stop by a little trattoria. No, wait. I'm thinkin' of the best meal I ever had.
Sophia: Sicily, 1922. A beautiful young woman with breasts not unlike Brigitte Nielsen, except hers moved when she skipped, she comes walking down a picturesque country road when suddenly a yellow Rolls-Royce pulls up and blocks her path.
Blanche: Oh! Who was in the Rolls?
Sophia: Robert Goulet, for all I know. It's not important to the story. Anyway, the Rolls-Royce moves on, and the girl finds her pepperoni is missing.
Rose: What happened to it, Sophia?
Sophia: Bambi ate it. How should I know? You keep missing the point. The thing is, she has no pepperoni to bring to her family's table. She gets hysterical. She starts to run. She runs through the field, the meadow, over the hill until she comes to a raging river filled with pepperoni swimming upstream.
Dorothy: Ma, pepperoni swimming upstream?
Sophia: I know it's odd. Pepperoni is a land meat, but there it was. She wades into the river, grabs an armful and races home to feed her family. When she tells the story, they think it's an act of God. But as it turned out, a disgruntled pepperoni stuffer had blown up the factory in a neighboring town, causing pepperoni to rain down over a hundred square miles, which is where the Sicilian saying "It's raining cats and pepperoni" comes from. Is this helping anyone yet? Because this sure feels like an ending to me.
Sophia: Please! Just because a man's in a wheelchair doesn't mean he can't satisfy a woman.
Dorothy: What do you know about this, Ma?
Sophia: Picture it Sicily, 1914. A man in a wheelchair satisfies a woman. It's a short story, but I think it makes my point.
Blanche: Well, what do you think we should we do?
Sophia: It's not for me to say. But I'll tell you a story. Picture it: Miami, 1987. A house, the only one in the neighborhood without a pool. But I digress. Four women, friends. They laugh, they cry, they eat. They love, they hate, they eat. They dream, they hope, they eat. Every time you turn around, they eat.
Rose: Sophia, are those four women us?
Sophia: Look in the mirror, blubber-butt. The point I'm trying to make is, what's going on here is living. Just because you have some rough times doesn't mean you throw in the towel. You go on living. And eating.
Blanche: Sophia, I just wonder if maybe Dorothy's right. Could this whole Grammy thing be somethin' I just talked myself into believing? Some kind of childhood nonsense?
Sophia: Dorothy doesn't understand about these things. You know, her father sent her a very special message, and she doesn't even want me to tell her about it.
Blanche: You can tell me about it, Sophia.
Blanche: Oh, yes, I'd love to hear it.
Sophia: Picture it. Heaven. Two days ago. I'm holding onto Sal, telling him I'll never let go, when who shows up...
Sophia: All right, it's late, I'm tired, so listen up.
Dorothy: Oh, Ma, you gonna tell us a story?
Sophia: No. I'm going to do shadow puppets. See? An elephant eating a peanut. Happy? Of course I'm gonna tell a story. Picture it: Morocco, the '30s.
Rose: The 1930s?
Sophia: No, 30 degrees. Do I look like Willard Scott? Of course the 1930s. Three close friends are haggling over a Camel.
Rose: How many humps?
Sophia: None! I'm talkin' about a cigarette. It was the last one. Well, anyway...
Dorothy: Oh, Ma, what does this have to do with the diary
Sophia: Suddenly I'm on Nightline. I was just tryin' to tell a story here.
Sophia: Mama, if Salvadore hates you, why does he want you to come live here with us?
Mrs. Petrillo: What?
Sophia: Salvadore and I would like you to move in with us.
Mrs. Petrillo: Forget it. I am not moving in.
Sophia: Why not?
Mrs. Petrillo: Let me tell you a story. Picture it: Sicily, 1881. A beautiful, young peasant girl-
Sophia: Mama, not another story.
Mrs. Petrillo: Sophia, come closer. [slaps Sophia's face]
Blanche: Have you decided what to do about Al?
Rose: No. I'm just as confused as ever.
Sophia: Vincenzo says he thinks he has a solution to your problem.
Rose: Really? Well, translate for me, Sophia.
Sophia: Well, I'm a little bit rusty, but I think he said, "Picture it: Sicily 1939. The war is on. A promising young architect is offered a job to spearhead construction of a new wing at the Vatican."
Dorothy: Wait a minute, Ma. You say your Italian is rusty, but you know the word for "spearhead"?
Sophia: It was my brother's nickname for a while as a child. Anyway, the young man is torn. Taking the train to Rome means running the risk of enemy bombs. But staying home means passing up a chance to make history!
Dorothy: Boy, he certainly packs a lot of meaning into a few words.
Sophia: Aw, shut up! In the end, he chooses safety. It's a decision he still regrets half a century later. His conclusion: Life without risk is no life at all.
Rose: My boss at the center made a pass at me.
Sophia: Maybe you misunderstood. What exactly did he do?
Rose: He called me in his office, threw me down on the couch and kissed me.
Sophia: That's a pass. Okay, I think I can help you. I'll tell you a story, Rose. Picture it: Sicily, 1922.
Blanche: Sophia, I have a problem. I just saw the guy I've been dating out with another woman. What do you think I oughta do?
Sophia: I think you should sit down and picture Sicily, 1922. It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. It was Sicily, 1922.
Dorothy: Oh, Ma, I have a problem.
Sophia: Just sit down and listen. First, is everyone who lives in this house here at this very moment?
Sophia: Then for the last time, picture it: Sicily, 1922.
Blanche: So you're not going to tell us what happened?
Rose: Well, Sophia, that's your choice, but I think you're making a mistake. You see, the same thing happened in my family once. My cousin Astrid-
Sophia: All right, all right. I'll tell you what happened. Picture it. New York City. Christmas, 1955. Francesca Ragouso's annual Christmas bash. Everyone was there including the neighborhood heartthrob Salvadore de Milo. All the women adore Salvadore. Mainly because he's the only guy in the room with a neck. Anyway, I'm feeling a little queasy. Francesca makes a great party, but she bakes a manicotti you could anchor a boat with. So I go upstairs for a seltzer when suddenly Salvadore grabs me from behind and begins passionately kissing me. Being a respectable married woman, I cop a few good feels, push him away and run back to the party. But I have to tell someone what happened. So I tell the only person in the world I trust, my sister Angela. Five minutes later, everybody at the party is talking about it. So I drag Angela into the pantry and ask her how she could betray her own sister. We have a big fight, she denies everything and we never speak again.
Blanche: But, Sophia, honey, that was 30 years ago. Isn't it time to forgive and forget?
Sophia: Forget I do plenty. I never forgive.
Dorothy: Aunt Angela, please. We have to talk.
Angela: What's to talk about? Your mother's a stubborn old goat, who apparently pays a buck and a half to have her hair done.
Dorothy: What is going on between you two?
Angela: I don't want to talk about it.
Dorothy: Now look, I have spent weeks working on this surprise, only to have it blow up in my face. And don't you think I at least deserve to know why.
Angela: OK. OK, you want to know so bad, I'll tell you right now. Picture it. New York City. Christmas 1955. It's Francesca Ragouso's annual Christmas bash. Everybody is there, eating, drinking, guzzling the Pepto-Bismol. Well, I mean, Francesca's a beautiful woman, but she makes a manicotti like you could anchor a boat with. Ah, well, as usual Sophia's stationed at the eggnog and she's drinking right from the bowl through a swizzle stick. My husband Carmine walks in and passes right under the mistletoe. Well, she makes a beeline to him and gives him such a kiss she can practically suck the beard off his face.
Dorothy: I don't remember Uncle Carmine having a beard.
Angela: He was in a Santa suit and he had one of those hook-on beards. Well, I mean, I can't believe what I'm looking at. So I go to her and I yank her into the pantry and I say, "What do you think you're doing?" She says she thought Cunio the bookmaker was in the Santa suit. And I say, "That's a lie." Well, we have a big fight about it. She denies the whole thing and we never speak again.
Sophia: Okay. That's it. When she gets off the phone, we're going for lunch. I'm tired of listening to these lousy Mother's Day stories.
Rose: Sophia, don't you have a Mother's Day story?
Sophia: I said I was tired of listening to lousy Mother's Day stories. I wouldn't mind telling a good one. Picture it: Brooklyn, 1957, the second Sunday in May. Dorothy had gone to pick up my mother and I was getting the house ready which mostly meant trying to get my Salvadore into a shirt with sleeves.
Angelo: I cannot go on with this deception any longer. I can't marry you. I'm not a priest. I never was.
Dorothy: Uncle Angelo, what are you talking about?
Sophia: I gotta sit down.
Angelo: Let me tell you a story. Picture it: Sicily, 1914. I promised our dear sainted mother on her deathbed I'm-a gonna join the priesthood. On my way to the seminary in Palermo, I stop off in a local trattoria for a glass of Chianti. The waitress bring drink to the table is a vision. Luscious lips, full bosom and a behind so round, so firm, you got to fall down on your knees and cry put at its magnificent regal beauty. I'm a butt man. Anyway, my devotion to God doesn't waver. But suddenly, the idea of living with a bunch of guys in itchy robes doesn't seem quite as appealing as that tuckus. So I tear up my priest application, ask Philomena to marry me, and we lived the next 72 years in wedded bliss.
Dorothy: My God, Ma! This looks real!
Sophia: It is real. You think he'd wear his fakes in public like Zsa Zsa?
Dorothy: But, Ma, how did this happen?
Sophia: Picture it. The papal mass. A few hours ago. I want to cop a blessing for Agnes, so I sneak into the crippled and lame section.
Dorothy: Oh, Ma, how could you?
Sophia: With a pronounced limp. The Pope finally arrives, I bend down to kiss his ring. Just then, security comes and whisks him away. He leaves the ring behind as a memento.
Dorothy: Ma, you stole the Pope's ring?
Sophia: It slipped off. You know, for God's representative on Earth, he sure has sweaty palms.