I remember the first time I made spaghetti sauce in my Nana’s honor. I was in my early twenties, living in my first apartment. I was so excited when that familiar heavenly smell hit my nostrils. And the taste was right on! She never actually showed me how to make it but I tried to recall the ingredients I remembered seeing on my plate as a child….bits of carrot, red and green peppers, mushrooms, hamburg….and little bits of info I had picked up from watching her cook were pulled up from my memory. I tried picking her brain in her later years for comparison to see if I had done it right and it all seemed to match up. I’ve since personalized it with my own flair but the taste and smell is still there. I mean, one cannot duplicate another’s sauce exactly. It’s an art-form! (but I have to say, that very first batch was almost dead on)
For a time, if you were fortunate enough to have made the list, you would have received a special jar of ‘Mama Mindy’s Sauce’. I would make giant batches of it at Christmas and jar it as gifts. I made my own labels with instructions on how it should be properly consumed (very important). I made sure to slap a picture of Nana’s face on the top of every lid. I even got to show her a jar when she was in the nursing home. She seemed a bit confused by it and wanted to know where I got it. I don’t think she fully understood what it was but she looked delighted!
Sometimes I would bring a crock-pot-full of the sauce to my brother’s house on Christmas Eve and we would all eat and enjoy. That’s why this sauce was so important to me…it seemed to bring a warm memory I’ve always treasured. Nana’s sauce was always enjoyed by all of us TOGETHER, with her.
Friends and family alike cherish and share the same memories of meals at Nana and Nono’s house. Theresa’s love language involved food and there’s no doubt that everyone who knew her would agree. By the way, you’ve never had a hot ham and cheese sandwich until you’ve had one of hers…preferably while sitting by the pool on a warm summer day…but I digress… I can still see us all seated at that long rectangular table (I later learned that this table was nothing more than a sheet of plywood on cinder blocks) feasting on her savory Italian spaghetti sauce. Before we sat down to eat, Nana would pull a huge block of pecorino romano cheese from the fridge meant for me and Todd. My brother and I always had cheese grating duty. Important to note: This particular type of cheese is a VITAL ingredient and condiment to the successful making and eating of this sauce. It’s just not the same without it.
At this makeshift table with the plastic protective covering sat ME at the head of the table, of all places! My grandfather, Nono, always sat to my right and my dad to my left. I also had my very own place-mat with my name on it along with kid-sized silverware which I thought was great. What I didn’t think so great was when Nana would make me wear a bib. But once again I digress….Nana would run around like a chicken with its head cut off waiting on everyone else. When Nono required Nana’s attention he would whistle or snap his fingers and she would come running EVERY TIME. Old-school Italian ways I guess… By the time she finally did sit down to eat we were almost finished!
My grandmother passed away two years ago today (Dec. 7, 2015) and I feel I must say, I regret the way I initially responded to reading her obituary. When I first read it I immediately took offense and was sure to let my brother know about my disapproval (in a text, of course). I know those words were intended to lift Nana up with a bit of humor, but when I read the part that said, “…many have tried to replicate (her spaghetti sauce) over the years without success!” I was immediately offended. That’s right…I MADE MY NANA’S OBIT ABOUT ME. Sick, I know. And what may be even worse is that I complained about it on Facebook (cue in the long, drawn out GASP). I wish I had sat on my feelings and worked it out in my head instead of immediately reacting based on a self-centered emotion. I mean, how silly can one be?!?
Because I’m a thinker and wanted to understand why I got so upset, after some reflection I came to the conclusion that I had been taking pride in this sauce for close to 18 years. So when I read in the obituary that people had tried to make her sauce but no one had ever come close, I felt as though all my efforts to carry on Nana’s legacy through her sauce had been discredited…or maybe even unnoticed. And that’s what I had been trying to do, carry on her legacy. So much time and energy put into honoring my Nana knocked down with a few measly words. Of course that’s not what really happened… my pride got in the way and I chose to feel offended when it wasn’t even about me. But I do need to add that I hadn’t only taken offence, I was genuinely hurt. Was it wrong to feel the way I did? No. We initially feel what we feel for whatever the reason. Our feelings aren’t what’s wrong, it’s the way we choose to react based upon our feelings that becomes the infraction.
It may seem odd that I’m even mentioning this two years after the fact, but I had started writing this a while ago only to save it as a draft to later be forgotten. It’s not that I’ve been stewing over this because I haven’t (OK, maybe I did at first). The anniversary of her passing brought it back up for me and I guess it’s just not something I’m proud of. I like to get stuff out of me by writing it down and then hitting the ‘publish’ tab. It helps me put things to rest and it’s sort of an online journal for me as well. And to be brutally honest, I care too much about what my brother thinks of me and do hope he sees this someday to know I’m not as self-centered as he probably thinks I am. But what’s most important is that I’m forgiven by the One Who matters most, so there’s that.
Making this sauce is my way of making sure the world knows about the mark Nana left and how cherished she will always be. It’s been a long while since I’ve made it….long time since I’ve made anything for that matter. Maybe it’s time.
My beautiful Nana…
Theresa Cantalupo 10/11/1916-12/7/2015