Angelo and Virginia Thompson Pellegrini met at the U .W. 50 years ago, when she, daughter of a Salt Lake City shoe merchant, was a senior and he was a young instructor. Her heritage is mixed, but she has accomodated herself to Pelle’s powerful Italian influences and speaks the language with pleasure.
At 71, she, too, is as active as ever. Once when we were dancing-—the Pellegrinis love to dance, relish any form of fun and gaiety—she offered to kick her toe above her head to demonstrate that she could still do it. In a group, her laughter comes through clearly.
Her friends cherish her, for among other things she is one of the world’s great listeners—attentive and retentive. I once overheard a young woman whom Virginia had met several months previously begin to prattle on about some details of her life. “Yes,” Virginia said, “I remember your telling me that.””How on earth could you remember?” the young woman asked incredulously. “I listen,” Virginia answered, firmly.
Until a few years ago, when she quit because her work was not as good as she wanted it to be, Virginia was an excellent painter. Friends and acquaintances who are lucky enough to have her paintings prize them. She reads and studies avidly. Her face shows kindliness and gentleness. Her straight backbone shows strength and conviction. She is not afraid to deliver an opinion as firm as any of Pelle’s.
Virginia is also a superb cook. It could not have been easy for her—trained in the domestic arts as she was—to adjust to living with a cook with the reputation of Pelle’s. An indication of the adjustment it took is contained in a humorous but honest article she has written on the subject that is not yet published. I remember particularly a sentence recounting her thought after a dinner party in which Pelle’s culinary virtues had been extolled and one of the female guests had gushed to Virginia how lucky she was to live with a man who could cook so well—a cliche Virginia has had to live with all her married life. Virginia thought to herself, she wrote, something like this: “What I wanted to say to [the female guest] was that I had received several marriage proposals on the strength of my cooking alone.”
No one knows better Virginia’s ability in the kitchen than Pelle. The dedication in The Unprejudiced Palate reads: “To Virginia, who graciously stepped aside that a myth might be perpetuated.” “Gin,” Pelle told me, as he has told many people, “is just as good a cook as I am—in some ways better, because she can do more things.” Early in their marriage, while Virginia was nursing Angela, the first of their three children, a pattern was established that has more or less endured: Virginia tended the children and Pelle did the shopping and cooked the evening meal. When they’re entertaining, Pelle often does the main course and Virginia makes the antipasti and desserts.
Pelle also bakes the bread, often using the wood-fired, beehive brick oven he constructed on their back patio.”There is no such thing as rivalry,” Pelle said. “lf I can’t do it, she takes over the kitchen. When I experiment, I watch her reaction, and if she praises something I take note.”
Pelle is grateful for Virginia. Some idea of why can be found in this passage from Wine and the Good Life: “I felt the expression on her face without seeing it, and I knew her mood. It was gay, amiable, affirmative. Such was her nature, and her mood was but an intensification of it. Youthful and affirming and adventurous, prone to the humane response.”