Traditions hold fast with Natchez family

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 16, 2001

NATCHEZ – When Perina &uot;Lulu&uot; Gonnillini Wright reflects on her life, Wright knows she descends from a family with &uot;The Shoulders of Giants.&uot;

Much like the family history book that bears that name, Wright’s Italian family brought a heritage to Natchez that she continues to this day.

Food is only one example.

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Each October, the family gathers to make cappelletti, an Italian dish made of pork stuffed inside pieces of fresh pasta to use in a soup. It’s an all day project that ends with the family freezing the cappelletti to eat at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The &uot;little caps,&uot; as they are sometimes called, are a family favorite of many generations and are standard fare at Italian gatherings.

The family serves them as a first course &uot;but all evening everybody’s going back for another bowl, another bowl,&uot; Wright said. Then if by chance any are not eaten, the family takes them home as leftovers.

&uot;It was an Italian tradition over in Italy,&uot; Wright said. &uot;They made these for special occasions.&uot;

They go by different names depending on what section of Italy your family descended, Wright said.

Wright’s grandparents were the first in her family to leave Italy and bring their way of life to Natchez, Wright said.

&uot;Things were real bad over in Italy,&uot; Wright said.

So her grandparents moved to Newellton, La., to farm but had difficulties will their employer.

They later moved to Natchez with the help of a Natchez businessman Lee Parker. He gave many Italians farming jobs in Natchez and what became known as the Italian Colony on the banks of St. Catherine Creek was born, Wright said.

&uot;It’s just interesting because they came over her to search for a better life,&uot; said Wright’s daughter, Maria Wright Norris.

With land donated by Parker, the Italian community later formed Assumption Catholic Church at Morgantown which still exists today, Wright said.

Wright’s family also became active in the local business community owning a fruit stand at Commerce and Main streets. Her father, Louis Gonnillini also operated Louis Grocery on St. Catherine Street near Holy Family Catholic Church. The family operated the business until the early 1980s, Wright said.

And her mother, Helena Gonnillini kept the Italian heritage in the family.

Helena Gonnillini wanted to carry on along with the annual making of the cappelletti. Her mother thought it would die with her but her family has faithfully continued it. Wright said.

Now Wright hopes her daughter and family will continue after she dies.

&uot;I hope my kids will carry it on when I die but you don’t know,&uot; she said.

Her daughter, Perina Maria Wright Norris, says she hopes that she can but admits that she has never made them without her mother’s direction.

&uot;It depends,&uot; she said. &uot;Just wait and see.&uot;

The Dart is a weekly feature in which a reporter throws a dart at a map and finds a story where it lands.