As I awkwardly sit on the couch, ice pack on my back, I can mostly see what was happening. I can most definitely hear what was going on, and if I leaned far enough to the right and tilted my head just slightly I could see my mother stirring her sauce on the stove, as my girls and their cousins ran in and out making her crazy.
Someone is going to get hurt! Don’t go near the stove! she yells to them, with of course, no one paying the slightest bit of attention.
It is Mother’s Day and we are at my parents’ house. In my mother’s kitchen. It also happens to be a Sunday, so we would have been there anyhow despite the holiday. It is also day one of my back injury. So while I should be in the kitchen helping my mother and sister prepare dinner, I am stuck sitting on the couch, like a guest. A guest with no manners who cannot even offer to help, because any slight movement brings even more pain through my lower back. So there I sit. And watch. I feel like one of those of baseball players who isn’t in the lineup, sitting on the bench. (I married a baseball player.)
So I sit. And as my mother prepares Sunday dinner, and the kids run around, I look through old family photo albums. Sundays were sacred in our family. Growing up it meant church in the morning and sauce at my grandparent’s house. Being Italian, it also meant we did this every single Sunday, religiously. As my sisters and I grew older, we set the table, prepared the salad, and tasted my Nana’s sauce while it simmered all morning. It’s okay? she would ask in her broken English. And because our mouths were full of sauce and homemade bread, we simply nodded, as she gave us a big hug.
My mother taught us early on how to turn ground meat, two eggs, breadcrumbs and a little parsley into the most delicious meatballs. We would help my grandparents and mother every summer make sauce, and I remember helping my grandfather and father fill sausage casings as they hung from bamboo rods in his basement. If we stopped by on a Saturday, chances are my grandmother would most likely be in the basement hand cranking the most wonderful long noodles, hanging them all over the long table. As I looked at these old photos, I remember these days as if they were yesterday, and can still smell the sausage hanging in my papa’s basement.
As the years went by, and we grew older and were invited to sleepovers and beach trips, church and Sunday dinner with my grandparents seemed too old fashioned. I yearned for the day when I could sleep in on a Sunday or skip dinner, and just hang out with my friends. My mother would remind us Sundays are family days. That day came all too fast as I was off to college, and began to create my own Sundays, which absolutely included sleeping in and hanging with friends. When I was home on breaks my mother would load me up with sauce, so I could have a little of home, while I was away. After school, I lived home for a few years and my mother was now the one hosting Sunday dinners after church, and my younger sisters and I were the ones making the meatballs and turning the sauce which she had simmering all morning. My father now had sausage hanging in our basement, and we as we opened the doors for my grandparents and Uncle Anthony, who had just arrived for dinner, my grandmother hugged us like she hadn’t seen us in forever.
When I think of my childhood memories Sundays and my grandmother’s kitchen stand out very prominently. Now that my sisters and I have our own families, we continue the tradition of church and Sunday sauce at my parents’ house. There may be an occasional Sunday when the girls have other commitments or we are visiting my in-laws, and we need to miss a Sunday, but for the most part, we spend the morning at church and the afternoon at my parents’ house (Nonna’s kitchen) with my sister who lives nearby with her children. We facetime my middle sister and her family who live in Virginia, and the kids spend time singing and dancing along with their cousin on the other end of the phone. Sometimes my Aunt joins us and sometimes my in-laws are there. There are six children, and it is always loud. There is always yelling, and someone ends up crying, and there is always sauce. Even if we are having a barbeque. The menu will include hamburgers, hotdogs and homemade pasta and sauce. (That is the way Italian’s barbeque.)
As I sit on the couch, unable to get up and help, I watch, and I listen. There is yelling, someone is crying, the table is half set and the noise has escalated. I yell for my older daughter and ask her to bring the kids to the bathroom to wash up for dinner. The sauce is done and my sister is putting meatballs on dishes to cool off for the younger kids, and my father is running up and down the stairs bringing steak up from the grill, as my mother is yelling for everyone to sit down, the pasta is ready, and the cutlets will get cold. I have no idea where my husband is, but suspect he has sneaked off to the basement with my brother-in-law to watch some game. As my mother pours the sauce over the pasta, my hubby appears with my dad’s homemade wine and begins filling glasses. I hobble to the table, and watch as my 10 year old cuts her little cousin’s meatball, and my 12 year old pushes in my aunt’s chair.
I love that my girls are growing up like this. In my mother’s kitchen. I know too soon they will be teenagers and they will want to skip church, and do something other than Sunday dinner with family. But hopefully not too soon. I hope they realize how important family is… the crazy, the loud and the messy parts…. and especially Sunday sauce and Nonna’s kitchen.