THE SECRET OF THE SAUCE
Momma was all dressed up in her gray suit and white blouse, her pert black hat set perfectly on her head . The veil set to just above her soft brown eyes. Momma looked a bit worried as she snapped the locks on the old blue suitcase. Grandma was sick and she was going to take the train from Penn Station in Newark, NJ to Scranton, Pa. to visit with her for a few days. She was worried on two fronts. She had never been away from her home and children alone before ….and her Momma was very ill. She took a big sigh, pulled on her white gloves and checked that her stocking seams were straight then caught my eye in the reflection of the dressing table mirror. She spoke to me still facing the mirror.
“ Be a good girl Mary. Listen to your brother and sister and don’t forget to feed the fish.”
With those final orders she turned and picked up the suitcase and click- clacked down the stairs on her new high heeled black and white spectator shoes . She swept out the door and into the car where my Dad waited to drive her to the train.
Silence…..then a shiver of fear as I realized that I was on my own for a few hours until my brother and sister came home from high school. I was only eight years old and this was scary. I wasn’t supposed to leave the house but the house suddenly was filled with looming shadows and spoke in a creaky new voice . I decided to find Fluffy, my brother’s cat and sit in the big moleskin armchair in the living room with her. She purred on a moments noticed and that comforting noise and her warm presence offered safety in numbers. I didn’t count the fish. They were pretty worthless as buffers against the unknown.
The loud laughter and joking announced the arrival of my brother John and my sister Lenore. Fluffy beat me to the door to welcome back her favorite person…my brother, but she couldn’t match the relief I felt! Safe!There was a big difference in our ages and, John and Lenore often thought of me as a nuisance as they were often given the job of taking care of me and to their credit they never slacked at the job. Grumbling doesn’t count …does it?
No sooner were they home then my Dad returned from his trip to the train station with a rather determined air about him. He had stopped at the market for meat and the makings for our usual Thursday night dinner….pasta.
He made straight for the kitchen and assembled the groceries on the kitchen table. We took some notice of this and were curious about just how dinner was going to happen. We didn’t have to wait long. Dad called out in a rather important sounding voice.
“Come kids!. I am going to show you how to make the sauce for the pasta.” He now was sporting an apron and waving one of my Momma’s large wooden spoons , making grand sweeping motions like an orchestra conductor.
We were stunned into wide –eyed silence. My Dad was a virtual stranger to the kitchen. His only ability lay in fudge making. My Momma was the Queen of the kitchen. Apparentaly my Dad had been waiting his chance. The Queen was about to be overthrown! He was about to show us the RIGHT way to make sauce. He located a familiar pot, added the olive oil and turned the gas on under the pot. As the oil heated and smoked he turned his attention to us and punctuating each word with an upward thrust of the wooden spoon.This was pure theater!He proclaimed that the secret of the sauce was in the searing of the meat . He then dumped the meat into the spitting oil which had nearly ly reached the flash point. The meat went by sear to burned to a crisp in mere seconds. Undetered , Dad added the tomato sauce and the tomato paste. These ingredients too were blackened as vast clouds of smoke filled the kitchen. Dad still wore a smile and added water so that the whole mess could simmer for a few hours . This usually resulted in mouth-watering flavor when my Mom did it. Of course when she did it there were no smoking preliminaries..this was exciting stuff! Dad continued his cooking lecture as a very un-sauce-like aroma filled the house. He went on about how Momma, sweet well meaning woman that she was didn’t understand the finer points of gourmet cooking..such talents were bestowed on MEN.
As we waited for the pasta to cook our appetites fled . Our noses just couldn’t signal good news to our stomachs. No one wanted to break Dad’s bubble but this wasn’t looking good at all for the superiority of the male.
Finally…and with great presentation, Dad brought the pasta to the table and proceeded to fill our plates. The moment of truth was at hand. Stealing uneasy glances with each other we carefully wound our spaghetti and almost in unison took our first bites. Our taste buds recoiled in horror! None of us had eaten ashes before but we knew that THIS is exactly how they would taste.
Dad didn’t say a word. He gamely ate what was on his plate. If it wasn’t that Dad was so sincere in his efforts and a sweet guy to boot ( He once bribed my sister to cry when given the task of punishing her just so that my Momma would hear her and think he had accomplished something useful along those lines) we would have spit it all out and refused to eat any of it.
But ashes in one’s mouth are not easily forgotten. So over the years whenever Dad would expound on a subject he knew nothing about we would all chime in unison…
“Yes Dad AND the secret of the sauce is in the searing of the meat!”.
So very many years later over the long night in the hospital as my Dad lay dying , we hoped that even though he was in a coma as his 93 year old kidneys failed he could feel our touch and hear us recounting all the wonderful memories we had growing up… including The Secret of the Sauce.
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