(I dedicate this story to my Great Niece, T, who shares a special birthday.)
Once upon a time, on a chilly November 2nd, a baby was born. This was a beautiful baby! Word spread quickly throughout the town as this was a special day.
From a telephone booth at the hospital, the daddy excitedly called the grandparents at home. The grandparents called the family members, and the family members called the friends. Soon everyone knew that the baby had been born on November 2nd.
Good news travels fast!
The proud and happy parents named their beautiful chubby baby Carl Vincent, II, after his Daddy. His blue eyes were just like his Mommy’s eyes, and he had brown hair just like his Daddy’s hair. He was a happy baby who liked to laugh, and he loved his family.
Carl Vincent, II grew up loving music. When he was a boy, he studied guitar. First, he played an acoustic guitar, and later he bought himself a beautiful electric guitar. It was very fancy and very fine. He played slow songs and fast songs and serious songs and silly songs and old songs and new songs. He made great music.
When a singer named Elvis Presley became famous, Carl Vincent, II played and sang just like him. He even danced like Elvis. When cousins came over to visit, Carl Vincent, II played his guitar and everybody sang. Every time Carl Vincent, II pulled out his guitar, there was a little family party with lots of music and singing and laughter!
One day, Carl Vincent, II met a wonderful woman named Janis. Janis also liked to sing and play the guitar. The couple was very happy together and were married in the presence of their loving family and friends. After the beautiful ceremony, the younger family members decided to go for a swim in the family pool because it was quite warm outside. Now most people do not go swimming at weddings, but Carl Vincent, II saw the children in the pool, picked up his guitar, walked very close to the edge of the pool and began to serenade the children. Everyone loved this! He even played Rock ‘n’ Roll.
So Carl Vincent, II and Janis loved their family, and their friends, and music, and laughter. And they loved something else — Animals. Mikey, a gorgeous green macaw with colorful, long tail feathers, lived in the dining room in his large birdhouse. He enjoyed watching people when they entered the house and everyone said hello to Mikey. Was Mikey a clever and funny bird? Yes!
From his birdhouse, Mikey liked to call Carl Vincent, II. “Carl, Carl,” he exclaimed, and Carl Vincent, II and Janis would laugh. Sometimes it sounded like the microwave was beeping, but really it was just Mikey making the b-e-e-p sound. When the telephone rang, Mikey said, “Hello.” “Hello.” And when Janis stroked his beautiful feathers, Janis and Mikey would both sing, “That feels g-o-o-d!” Every time someone approached the big birdhouse, Mikey would bob his head up and down; he loved his family and his friends.
On one chilly November 2nd, Janis gave Carl Vincent, II a special birthday present. It was gray in color, had four legs, was very soft, and meowed and purred. Carl Vincent, II named his new kitty “Mrs. Jingles the Cat,” and she lived in the house, too, except she didn’t sleep in the birdhouse with Mikey.
Mrs. Jingles the Cat loved to jump on the sofa and relax with Carl Vincent, II and Janis. Purring like a little motor, she stretched her legs and rolled on her side when they stroked her soft, smooth, pretty, gray fur.
While Mrs. Jingles the Cat and Mikey may not have been best friends, they did well for a cat and a bird. Both animals liked it when Carl Vincent, II played his guitar. The kitty swished her tail, and the bird bobbed his head up and down. When family and friends visited, the animals enjoyed the little party with lots of music and singing and laughter.
Mikey liked special birthday parties most, because the dining room table was right next to his birdhouse. While he nibbled on his favorite delicious little birdie num num treats, everybody sitting around the table nibbled on delicious lemon meringue pie, Carl Vincent, II’s favorite birthday treat. Afterwards, Carl Vincent, II would play his guitar and Mikey would dance a little dance, bobbing his head up and down while people sang and laughed.
Mrs. Jingles the Cat was happy, too. She swished her tail and stretched her legs and rolled on her side as the children stroked her soft, smooth, pretty, gray fur, even while she was hiding under the bed! Purring like a little motor, the children knew that she was saying, “That feels g-o-o-d!”
This book is also dedicated to the memories of my brother and my sister-in-law, the coolest people ever!
Original Copyright November 1, 2013, Renewed Copyright November 2, 2014
All Rights Reserved
Kathleen M. Galgano
Today, as we celebrate the life of a Roman named Patrick who brought the Christian faith to the Emerald Isles, I’m really looking forward to Wednesday, March 19, and the Feast of St. Joseph. If you are from the Southwest or California, you probably know him as San José.
I am not belittling Patrick. I have admiration for him, and Patrick has an amazing story. I am also wearing green in his honor, although I don’t have a drop of Irish blood.
There is simply something about St. Joseph that catches my imagination. My Italian heritage probably also plays a part in my admiration.
The folks from Mediterranean lands have been celebrating St. Joseph for centuries. Sicilians prayed to Joseph to relieve them from famine centuries ago, and his day is celebrated with feasting. Italians wear red to honor Joseph. More importantly, March 19 is close enough to the Spring Equinox to be considered the beginning of Spring. My dad would plant his tomato seeds in little pots and grow them under the lights, always on St. Joseph Day. In California, it’s the day that the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano.
But there’s more to the story of Joseph that inspires me. Much of it is based on tradition, as the Gospel stories are inconsistent and don’t give us much information. Joseph is the husband of the Virgin Mary, and thus, based on Christian tradition, is the earthly father of Jesus. Joseph is believed to have been a carpenter, or a worker in wood or metal. He probably taught his skills to Jesus.
But that’s still not the point. Based on tradition, Joseph married a pregnant Mary, and it wasn’t Joseph’s child. Why would he do that? He had a legal right to send her quietly away, but, after a dream or vision, he stepped forward and undertook the responsibility for her and the child. He moved beyond his comfort, what he knew and respected, and past his fear, to something surpassing comprehension.
Then we see him traveling with her to Bethlehem for a census. I have traveled in the luxury of a modern automobile on well-paved roads while pregnant. Most of the time, I was queasy and uncomfortable. Now imagine a trip, probably on foot (some art depicts Mary on a donkey) over dirt roads for miles. Joseph was responsible for getting them there safely.
Mary gave birth to the baby in Bethlehem (we all know the story). They probably stayed there a couple of years. It was enough time to get settled, get some work, support the family, and give the baby time to grow before enduring another long, dirty, exhausting trip back home.
And then Joseph is warned in a dream (by God or an angel) that a jealous King Herod, alerted by three learned visitors from the East, is searching for the baby Jesus to kill him. So Joseph takes Mary and Jesus and they go to Egypt. That’s a very long trip to a foreign country where they don’t know the language, don’t know anybody, and don’t know what to expect. No doubt, no hesitation. Strictly on faith, Joseph goes.
At this point you are thinking, “Joseph’s a carpenter; he’s in construction. He can always get a job.” Probably so. We don’t know. The point is — he was faithful. Faithful to his God, faithful to his family. He didn’t give in to his doubts. He did what he was asked.
A few years later Joseph is told in another dream that Herod is dead and it is time to return. So back they go, but they don’t settle in Bethlehem — it’s too close to Jerusalem and another nasty king. Joseph takes them north to Galilee and they settle in Nazareth. Another new town, this time a very small town, but close to a large city that was rebuilding — good work for a carpenter.
And the next time we hear from Joseph, it’s when Jesus is 12. Mary and Joseph and Jesus went to Jerusalem, and they thought Jesus was in the group returning home. He wasn’t. If you have ever “lost” your child at the mall or the supermarket for a few seconds, you know what fear is. (One of my kids liked to play hide and seek in the middle of the round clothes carousels at the mall. Talk about panic! ) So Jesus is who knows where, lost in the Big City. Mary and Joseph must have been a mess. Anyway, Joseph takes charge, goes back to Jerusalem with Mary, and they find Jesus in the Temple teaching. At that point I would probably have hit the roof, but tradition tells us that Joseph remained patient, even when the pre-teen Jesus makes comments about being about “his father’s business.” Staying calm when your kids are being kids: something else to admire.
The Gospels don’t mention Joseph at the death and burial of Jesus. Legend tells us that Mary and Jesus surrounded Joseph at Joseph’s death. A quiet, peaceful death after a long, faithful life.
And here I would like to propose that Joseph was “obedient.” He listened to that “clear, small voice” that we often do not let ourselves hear, and knew that he was being called to do great, but difficult things. Without the faith to be obedient, Joseph’s life, and by extension Mary and Jesus’ lives, would have been disastrous. Obedience in our modern age is a negative concept. Civil disobedience is played out daily on the international news. Parents worry about obedient children falling prey to predators. And yet without obedience, we would all run red lights and refuse to pay our taxes. We would have anarchy.
Back to Joseph. Joseph is considered the patron of workers including craftsmen, engineers, and working people in general. He is the patron of families, fathers, and mothers, including expectant mothers. He is the patron of a happy death. He is the patron of San José, California, and any other town or church named in his honor.
A real estate superstition considers him the patron of house buyers and sellers. I’ve never heard my mother laugh so loud and long as when we were told by a relative to bury a statue of St. Joseph upside down in the yard so she would sell the old family house quickly. She didn’t bury the statue, and the house sold.
I am an American Girl doll collector. If your daughter has read the American Girl books about Josefina, you should know that Josefina was born on March 19 and is named for her saint’s day — San José. (Josefina is a Spanish-speaking American Girl, and comes from the Santa Fe area when New Mexico was still part of Old Mexico.) It’s also my friend Josie’s birthday; her real name is Josefina. She was born on March 19, and named for her saint’s day.
Here in New Mexico, the traditional painted santos (or carved figure of a saint) of San Jose Patriarco (Saint Joseph the Patriarch) depicts him dressed in green and gold, holding the baby Jesus, and carrying a flowering staff. Local tradition has it that when Joseph was asked what the name of Mary’s child should be, he said “His name shall be Jesus” and his walking stick burst into flower. It’s a beautiful story.
Regardless of your faith or beliefs, or whether you hold the stories about Joseph as history or legend, I believe that there is much you can admire about Joseph. He was a man of principal and faith. He didn’t let his doubts keep him from acting and moving forward. He was a devoted family man. He was an industrious worker. He understood what was called of him, and was obedient. And he left this world without regret and in peace.
So on Wednesday, March 19, remember Joseph. Think of spring and the swallows returning to Capistrano. Think about wearing red in his honor, and celebrating.
March 17, 2014
I arrived at the Reggie Lewis Indoor Track for day 2 of the United States Track and Field (USATF) master’s national championship just after the events began. I checked in, informed the official that I wouldn’t be running the mile as I had planned months ago, and then learned there were enough volunteers for the day. Looking around, I saw some members of Mass Velocity Track Club, my team, and joined them in the bleachers. I met several teammates for the first time and watched the events. The 60 meter sprints, long jump and pole vault were in progress.
I’m not sure what is more impressive: watching graceful, athletic and powerful middle-age sprinters fly down the track or seeing the very elderly athletes do their sprints. There were world and American records set and frequent applause and lots of oohs and aahs. Occasionally an athlete would do something really spectacular and the air would be filled with cheers. Everyone seemed to know everyone and athletes mingled and renewed acquaintances. I met people who were world-class athletes in their twenties and thirties and heard some great stories. Although the competition is fierce, the friendships are deeper.
I was sitting next to a woman who hails from Australia. Her husband was entered in the long jump and the 200 meter relay. They now live near Washington, DC and we chatted about DC, Boston and Australia. We joked about the trials and tribulations of masters athletes and she laughed when I told her about my ill-fated attempts at long-jumping and breaking my rib high-jumping. She recommended that it may be best for me to stay away from pole vaulting just as the first vaulter made his approach.
If you have never seen the pole vault in person, it’s awesome. As the athletes takes flight, the pole bends backwards under their weight. It then recoils and you can see the force applied to the vaulters as they are thrust upward and forward. Feet above head, they somehow turn their bodies around and then fall backwards onto the mat. Occasionally a vault will not go as far as planned and the vaulter will have to adjust on the fly to make sure he or she lands on the mat. Michael Jordan was noted for his “hang time” when soaring in the air for a dunk. His maximum time aloft was calculated to be 0.92 seconds. One of the male pole vaulters cleared 14 and 1/2 feet and he was in the air for a long time. I found myself holding my breath every time an athlete made an attempt.
One of my favorite events to watch is the shot put. One doesn’t throw the shot put like a ball. Doing so would probably rip your shoulder out of the socket. I’ve tried doing the event a little, mostly to help coach children. Depending on the sex and age, the shot can weigh 16 lbs. It’s a very technical event and the putters aren’t just strong but also explosive. As a distance runner, I resemble Charles Atlas before he started working out. The “weight people” are BIG. Their arms are larger than my thighs. However, they are also graceful and have great balance. I’ve seen them train on balance beams. Most of them are also very fast. I raced some high school weight athletes last year over 40 meters and it wasn’t even close.
While the sprints were underway, I started thinking of entering the mile. Although I wasn’t prepared, I was well-rested (an old runners joke). There was a chance that I would be on a relay team later in the afternoon. Our team had a couple runners interested and being a warm body in the right age group could mean a ticket to race. A couple teammates encouraged me to enter the mile and I went back to the official table to let them know. I changed into my red singlet and running shorts, put on my warm up clothes and started to jog. I had also gotten the word that yes, indeed, I would be racing on a relay team later in the day. One of the problems of being 55 is the length of time it requires to warm up. It’s kind of like starting an old car in the middle of winter. Sometimes I wonder if there will be any energy left to race after warming up. After about 15 minute of jogging I went into the gym and started to do my dynamic warm ups (leg swings, skips, drills designed to prepare one for action). I ran a series of short strides to get used to moving faster than snail pace and went over to the starting area. Unlike road races where one can warm up until a couple minutes before the start, track races require some standing and waiting for your race. The trick is to stay warm while waiting. My age group was pretty large and we had two sections. The slower one usually goes first and I was in the first group. I shook hands with a few of the runners and lined up. The gun went off and I tried to run with effort but sensibly. I was near the back quickly and went through the first 200 meters in 50 seconds or 6:40 pace. This was much slower than I planned a year ago but was hoping it wasn’t too fast for my lack of training. I stayed on this pace for a few laps and while working, I wasn’t gasping either. Some of the faster runners started to pass me but my teammates were scattered around the track and I heard their encouragement. I finished in 6:40 and walked off the track and got a drink.
Running two events is a rarity for me. The last time I tried it, the second race was torture. I decided to jog for a bit then stretch. I hydrated and had a small snack and then went to watch more runners. Inactivity can increase the muscle tightness and an hour before our race I headed back to the gym for a warm up. My muscles were already a bit tight and I thought about Bill Cosby and the can of 3 in 1 oil in his go-cart skit.* (Bill Cosby was a fine athlete who competed for Temple University.) I got as loose as I could and went back to the track.
Teams of relay runners waited on the infield for their races to begin. The wait was longer than expected for my team’s relay race and we all started to tighten up a bit, so we tried to jog in place a little. Some teammates, aware of my injuries, gave me valuable training advice during the wait. The race officials had combined two age groups for this race because seven teams total had entered. In this race, 4 teams were in the 40-49 age group, and 3 in the 50-59 age group, my group. All we had to do was get the baton around the track and we would score points for our team. I was going to run the 2nd leg. My teenaged children had arrived to watch. They both run in high school and we were doing a bit of role-reversal. As a parent and volunteer assistant track coach, it’s good to feel their “pain” once in a while. I’ve learned not to yell “Go faster!” at their races. (I’m waiting for the day when a runner stops and yells back, “If I could go any faster, I would!”)
The runners in the first leg lined up at the start. On the outside of the track near the start, the runners in the second leg formed a group. The third and fourth leg runners also formed groups. My teammate took off and stayed with the main pack through his leg. Relays can be a bit of organized chaos at the exchanges, especially for the sprints, but ours went smoothly. I took the baton (French for “stick”) and accelerated. “Don’t sprint. Don’t sprint,” I told myself, and resisted the urge to go at full speed. I didn’t see the clock as I took off and had no idea of my pace. Going down the back stretch of the first of my four laps, I smiled and thought, “This is a blast.” The first 200 meter lap went okay but a little fatigue started to develop at 400 meters. I was running harder than in the mile but didn’t know if my pace was faster or slower. My rib felt okay. A couple runners lapped me on the back turn during lap 3 and I hoped they were in their 40s. Heading down the home stretch with one more lap to go I was breathing really hard and straining and went through the checklist: “Stay relaxed, lower your shoulders, stay on your toes, don’t drop the baton.” Was my son going to yell, “Use it now!”? (His coach will do this.) I tried to accelerate in the last lap but was probably avoiding slowing down. The final 100 meters seemed to last a long time but the hand-off went okay and my race was finished.
Back on the infield, still breathing hard, we cheered our teammates. We finished 3rd in our group (10 minutes 27 seconds) but were in the same lap as the other two teams. My split was 2 minutes 50 seconds, only 2 seconds slower than my best! We took some team photos, shook hands with each other and the other teams and enjoyed the moment. I picked up a bronze medal and headed home.
Woody Allen was right. “90% of life is showing up.” I don’t care that we were assured of finishing third in my age group (assuming we finished) and that I got to run, in part, by virtue of being a warm body. I got a chance to compete at Nationals and came away with hardware.
Richard Galgano, D.O.
March 16, 2014
* “Reached into my pocket and pulled out my trusty can of 3 in 1 oil.” From the sketch, “Go Carts” on Bill Cosby’s 1966 album Wonderfulness. Go buy it. Trust me; you’ll be happy you did.
NOTE FROM KATHY GALGANO My brother, running with a busted rib and recovering from just about everything, ran the mile, not in record time for running athletes, but really fast in my book, at a beautiful 6 minutes, 40 seconds and fraction change. Then, he ran the 4 men 800 meters relay, and the team racers picked up team points, and carried away the bronze medal. How cool is that!
For a picture of Richard running the relay, go to http://johnkeklak.smugmug.com/Trackandfield/2014-USA-Masters-Indoor-Track/Day-2-2pm-End-of-Day-4×200/37776473_xNMddJ#!i=3129126944&k=3FDm8D3&lb=1&s=M
My dinner guests are hungry
They’ve come from near ‘n far
but If I don’t platter this birdie soon
They just might leave me in scars
I’ve got the slow cookin’ turkey
Slow-cookin’ turkey-lurkey blues.
The mashed potata’s are wow
Desserts are sweet and fine
But without that bird and gravy now
I’m apt to just hear whines
I’ve got the slow cookin’ turkey
Slow-cookin’ turkey-lurkey blues
The coals’ so hot they’re white
Please throw your firey heat
And cook my little turkey bird
So everyone can eat!
I’ve got the slow cookin’ turkey
Slow-cookin’ turkey-lurkey blues
Well two and two are four
And four and four are eight
But I have twenty guests who are
A knockin’ at my gate
I’ve got the slow cookin’ turkey
Slow-cookin’ turkey-lurkey blues
The sun’s behind the clouds
Oh man! It’s gonna rain
Looks like I’ll have to use
My neighbor’s oven once again
I’ve got the slow cookin’ turkey
Slow-cookin’ turkey-lurkey blues
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!
November 28, 2013
I enjoyed inviting friends over to dinner, and my confidence level had grown dramatically having sliced and diced for our chef turned engineer friend so many times over the years. I grew up in a family that shared regional cuisines of Eastern and Southern Europe, and I gravitated to the Italian recipes.
Cooking was never scary. Well, not in the way you think. My mom and dad were adept in the kitchen and dad especially enjoyed the process, and we kids were expected to pitch in and help. Dad loved to play-up a mannerism that my mother and I found maddening. Dad talked while holding a knife. He would be telling us a story, and inevitably my dad would stop slicing or dicing or carving and start walking around the kitchen, swinging his arms and making his point, drawing circles in the air with the small razor sharp paring knife, or full-sized carving knife. I knew Dad used keen-edged blades; I watched him sharpen them on a stone before every cooking session.
“Carl,” my mother would call with exasperation. “Put down the knife!” Dad would be wandering around the kitchen, fully engaged in his story. My mother and I focused our eyes on his dominant, knife-wielding right hand as it cut through the air like a magician’s wand. He gesticulated wildly while nonchalantly forging ahead with his humorous story. He reacted to his own yarn, and smiled and laughed all the while seemingly unaware of the momentary kitchen angst he created. How Dad loved to tease! In his defense I have to say he never once dropped the knife; Dad’s grip was too strong to let that happen. My mother and I would look at each other and shake our heads as Dad wandered over to the sink, where I might be rinsing iceberg lettuce, or strolled the few steps to the stove to check out the pots my mother was stirring, still talking and waving his hands. At the conclusion of his story, Dad would return to his thick wooden cutting board wearing a broad smile, and dive into his work with great skill. We’d still be shaking our heads and he always pleaded innocence. Dad would look up at us and say, “What?” “What did I do?” My mother and I would sigh, maybe even roll our eyes in exaggerated exasperation, and then Dad would pull out his signature expression, contorting his mouth downwards to reveal his ridiculous “look ashamed” visage. Laughter erupted.
So while I’ve never been afraid to dive into a culinary project, I don’t remember recreating our friend’s fabulous Coquiles St. Jacques, those sumptuous scallops he made for us one Sunday night years ago. It was the first time I had ever eaten scallops, but I wasn’t going to confess that to our friend as I washed and cut vegetables. Nor did I tell our host and hostess that I had never before tasted barbecued ribs, let alone purchased them at the supermarket. I worked on the salad that night. The ribs were great and I became a fan. My comfort zone was in roasts and pastas and meatballs and chicken and fresh water fish and potatoes and vegetables in season and soups and stews. My mother was allergic to seafood, and we just never ate ribs; barbecues were for hamburgers and hot dogs and sausages. Pesto was a dish new to me, as well. My Italian grandparents hailed from Southern Italy, and pesto, traditionally a Northern Italian recipe, was not part of my family’s legacy. But I liked cooking and I liked my food processor and my gadgets, and so I dove into new recipes with enthusiasm.
I prepared dishes for our family of friends, and for loved ones who visited from the East Coast. I remember making homemade linguine for pasta Carbonara. One evening I spent a long while at a bookstore, searching for just the right cookbook. I purchased it and a paella pan and tried my hand at the dish I had enjoyed while living in Spain for a summer when I was in college. That book also taught me how to make Spanish tortillas; those potato and egg skillet dishes that can be eaten alone, or put between two slices of fresh bread for a great sandwich. When my study-abroad group took weekend bus excursions to tour different parts of Spain, the kitchen staff in our dormitory made these tortilla sandwiches for the ride. I loved them. I also tried my hand at my dad’s fabulous rolled steak, an Italian dish that takes a fair amount of prep time. The results were satisfying.
Frequently I called home and chatted with my folks, asking them how they seasoned or cooked different things. When I called for clarification of my father’s recipe for potatoes (all these recipes are passed to us by doing and watching – nobody writes them down), my mother bristled at my request. I wasn’t surprised. Dad made these roasted potatoes with fresh parsley and garlic and cheese. “The Good Kind Of Potatoes,” we called them. The cheese would crust on the edges of the roasting pan and we’d love picking out the charred pieces. How tasty! Mom used to ask, “What about all the other kinds of potatoes?” She made delicious cabbage with boiled potatoes, and dumplings stuffed with a potato mixture, and fried potatoes and yams and roasted ones. And she made tasty mashed potatoes. “Are those the ‘Bad Kinds’?” Again, there was the familiar head shake back and forth and accompanying sigh. Dad did his playful best to keep this recipe name game alive. “Kids,” he’d yell upstairs to us in the house on Sundays, “Do you want me to make ‘The Good Kind of Potatoes?’” Naturally, the phrase, “The Good Kind of Potatoes” received particular emphasis. Our response was always an enthusiastic, “Yeah!” I just knew my mother was wincing. If Dad or we kids said the phrase “The Good Kind of Potatoes” more than a couple of times, inevitably, Dad would catch my mother shaking her head or sighing, and then would don his trademark expression, and we’d all laugh as he looked ashamed again.
The California chef turned engineer friend taught us how to make roux. I didn’t have the heart to tell my mom that this technique was better than hers for making gravy. No more stirring and stirring the pan drippings, trying to attack each little lump of corn starch or flour with the back of a spoon. This was a revelation, as was white pepper. A bowl of mashed potatoes seasoned with white pepper was beautiful.
So it just seemed natural that I would host Thanksgiving dinner for however many friends and family would be joining that day. What was the big deal?
Stayed Tuned for the third and final part of Homeward Bound!
November 13, 2013
The tradition started years ago, when we were out of college and making our way in the world. On that special Thursday in late November, with so many of us 3,000 miles away from family and home, it was the one holiday that proved a bit tough. Yet we had established a network of friends – our new family of friends — and one among us was a chef.
We spent many a Sunday afternoon at the chef turned engineer’s home, first in Silicon Valley and later in the nearby Santa Cruz mountains. Always on the menu was a spirited game of Trivial Pursuit which we played in teams, and some California wine, cheeses, crackers and bread, and fruit. Wine was a new foray for many of us and it was sitting around the board game table or stretching in front of the fire with the cat on cool, rainy winter afternoons listening to music that we began to appreciate the nuances of the varietals and blends. White zinfandel was a favored choice at first; the sweet, crisp taste was perfect for wine tasting neophytes, but in time, we uncorked bottles that were less sweet and more complex. Buttery chardonnays were in vogue and that became a favorite.
Sometimes we took a little hike, not always successfully avoiding the poison oak on the hillside, or visited one or two of the many wineries tucked in the steep hills of the local coastal redwoods. Or we could complete the drive in the Santa Cruz mountains “over the hill” and check out the sea lions in the pilings of the wharf in Santa Cruz. The sea lions barked that loud, deep, raspy call of theirs, and we playfully called back to them. Mostly, though, we enjoyed the company of good friends, and spent Sunday afternoons just relaxing together.
There was never any question as to where everybody would go for Thanksgiving. We all showed up at the chef turned engineer’s house on Wednesday evening after work and the process would begin. As more friends arrived, we would spread out from the kitchen into the dining room and even head to the coffee table in the living room, setting up shop, mincing onions and celery and parsley, slicing and cubing bread for stuffing, dicing carrots and preparing turnips and butternut squashes, and peeling potatoes, stroking downwards, so that the peels would drop directly into the brown paper bag placed under our hands. We would sip wines we brought to share, and work and talk and listen to albums while our host and hostess prepared a pasta feast for the crew. When word from the kitchen came, we’d clear the dining room table and enjoy a wonderful spaghetti dinner with homemade rolls and salad. After dinner, we’d wash up and put the final touches on our peeling, slicing and dicing, and lastly prepare the pumpkin pies. It might be close to midnight when we pulled the pies from the oven, but dinner prep was in great shape.
Early afternoon on Thanksgiving Day, as we walked through the front door, the aromas from the kitchen welcomed us. The scent of turkey and stuffing and vegetables and rolls brought each of us back home for a moment. There were smiles and waves and hugs as we made our way in and tossed our jackets in the bedroom and uncorked our wines, donned aprons and rolled up our sleeves to get to work. Many of us had already telephoned home and spoken to our families who were dining or preparing to dine at home three hours ahead of us. We all shared a similar story; family members were always happy to hear that their Silicon Valley “transplants” each had someplace to go for Thanksgiving. We understood. While it would have been nice to share the holiday with our families, there was something very special about embracing our own tradition.
Back then, we called ourselves “homeless.” That phrase hadn’t been coined yet to mean what it means today. Sometime during dinner our host would play “Homeward Bound,” by Simon and Garfunkel. While a bit melancholy, it was a fitting acknowledgment of our families back East. That mood didn’t last, however, as we enjoyed seconds of this amazing meal, and another glass of wine and great conversation with dear friends. Dinner was never hurried, and we laughed a lot. After a long while, we would gather up the plates and carry everything back to the kitchen. Somebody would make coffee and our hostess poured heavy cream into a stainless steel bowl. We’d unveil the desserts we had brought and the pumpkin pies we had baked just hours earlier, and again sat down at the long table. As we stirred cream and sugar into our cups, our hostess clasped a whisk and expertly turned the cream in the bowl. After a spurt of high-powered whisking, she turned, smiling broadly to the guest sitting next to her and hung her apron around his neck announcing it was his turn. As the bowl and whisk and apron made its way around the table, we cheered as each person worked a little whisking magic, and we each posed for the camera with that frilly apron wrapped around our necks. When the stainless bowl returned to our hostess, it was filled with perfectly whipped cream. Then, people sitting nearest to the pies and cakes began to cut slices, and we passed dessert plates around, filling each one with the tastes of the season, apple and sweet potato and pumpkin pies, and always something chocolate, with our hostess adding a heaping dollop of fresh cream onto each plate. It was fabulous.
One day, however, our dear friend, our host, told us that his job was taking him to Europe. This was a great career move and of course, we were very happy for him, and offered our heartiest congratulations. Still, how could we not be saddened? We were a tight group and our friendship was strong, so we knew that staying in touch would not be a problem, but this nearly weekly tradition was coming to an end. And then there was that big unanswered question hanging in the air … What about Thanksgiving?
End of Part One
When Dad and my uncles and aunts sat around a table or in yard chairs on summer days when we were kids, they talked about family and growing up in the “good old days” and Italian food and friends. Memories of the “good old days” usually did not include recollections of World War II, even though the youngest three brothers in a family of five boys and three girls served abroad at the same time. If one of the three youngest brothers did share a war-time story, it was a humorous anecdote.
Sometimes after supper, Dad would sit in front of a shortwave radio in the living room with a pad of paper and a pen in his hand, and transcribe the audible beeps that he heard into dots and dashes on the paper. After a while, Dad would look up and show us his work, and read aloud the code that sounded like musical gibberish to me. What always amazed me was the next part, when he read the message out loud, in actual words. Sometimes he would interrupt his own retelling of the message and say, “I didn’t get that word,” but most of the message was repeated, dot and dash, letter for letter, word for word. My lasting impression wasn’t that the messages were very interesting, but that these rapid tones actually meant something.
Dad served as a radioman on the USS Endicott, a Naval destroyer, and that’s why, two decades later, he could transcribe these messages at home. I know he sailed into a lot of ports around the world, and on one occasion he just missed meeting cousins in Italy when family members he had never seen received word that one of their own was on leave on their soil. His ship pulled anchor before they could reach him, though.
I know, too, that Dad bought a large bunch of bananas back to the ship while on one of his shore leaves, and his compatriots desperately tried to coax a piece of fruit off him. Dad refused. “Get your own bananas,” he told them. How he enjoyed this fresh treat. I also know that he learned how to shoot craps and even explained the game to us kids, though I never quite got the hang of it other than the part when you exclaim, “Baby needs a new pair of shoes!” as you let the dice fly out of your hand. And I know a few other stories, but not many.
One time, when I was all grown up, married and living across country, my parents flew out to see us and spend time with their young grandchildren. Dad and I were staining the deck in the backyard, and we talked about his Navy days a little bit. I remember saying that he never really told us what it was like; I knew that his ship escorted the fleet for the Invasion of Southern France. He stopped and looked at me, the paint brush in the air, and grew quiet. He was silent for several long moments. Then he said to me, “The sea was red.”
That should have been enough, but I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly. The kids were calling me from inside the house. I repeated what I thought he had said on that summer’s morning. “The sea was red?”
The paintbrush that he had dipped in stain moments before still hung in his hand, though none of the stain was dripping onto the wood. He was an expert painter. Dad looked at me and said one word more. “Blood.”
And then he turned his head back to the deck and continued on with his work.
Veterans Day – November 11, 2013
You can set your watch to our dog. At 6:30 every morning it’s time for breakfast and he stands on top of me. Unfortunately, this past Sunday, Sully didn’t understand that we turned the clocks back one hour, so it was 5:30 when he perched on me, much like a goat stands atop a rock to check out the sights and be tall, or whatever goats do when they stand on rocks. If I don’t wake up instantly, and usually that’s not a problem because we’re not talking about a teeny Chihuahua here, I’ll feel kisses on my face. Then he circles while standing on me. Now I’m wincing. But I’m awake, and I know that in seconds, I’ll be hearing the roar of the first jet engine taking off from the local airport, precisely at 6:30. On occasion, I can get him to settle down and give me a few extra minutes sleep, but it’s really hard to sleep with a dog perched on top of you, knowing that soon, those paws again will start to dig. Generally, I hop out of bed as soon as I can slide the dog off his perch.
Delightfully repetitive, Sully performs another ritual. Whenever a family member comes home, he races to the door, greets the family member with a few jumps and perhaps a howl or two, and then races back to the kitchen to dig through his basket of well-chewed toys. While the loved one is removing keys from the door, Sully is choosing just the right toy. This can be a ball, or a cardboard toilet paper tube that he loves to chase, toss into the air, grab and chew and toss and chase again, or, it can be a cute squeaky plush toy that is now torn and shredded, with stuffing falling out as he carries it around the house. Racing back to the front door, the dog drops the toy at the newcomer’s feet and expects reciprocation.
After running a few errands yesterday, I came home to one very happy doggie. He even howled in excitement when I pet him, and I obliged, flinging his pick-of-the-moment, a disgusting, worn, two-sided doggie toy into the air. In-between tosses, I hung up my jacket, and even started a little dinner. The dog ran into the family room, adjacent to the kitchen. Really into this game now, he was wagging his tail hard and smiling (Yes, dogs smile!), and stretching his backside high in the air as he waited for me to pitch the toy again. I hurled it far into the kitchen and the dog skidded and grabbed the shabby cloth, expertly avoiding hitting the wall, and ran back into the family room with it hanging from his teeth. Next there was this little tug-o’-war which I won but not before hearing another rip in the fabric. Oh, well. My next toss was supposed to go straight up, because the dog likes to catch things on the fly, but it landed on the back of the sofa. In an instant, Sully leapt on top of the sofa and was back on the floor, shaking the toy out of his mouth back to me. He is fast! I gave the toy a full-arm toss. Sully ran into the kitchen after it, and I watched as the toy arced high in the air on an angled trajectory. It plopped without a splash directly into the pot of near-boiling water on the stove top. This pot was going to hold pasta in a few more minutes.
I ran over to the steaming pot to see a well-worn green and yellow plush turtle floating on the surface of my pasta water, the two little embroidered eyes and smile looking up at me. It was absorbing the droplets of oil and salted water, but continued to float, and even spun a bit in the water. The dog was barking and running in circles looking for his beloved half turtle, half alligator. I was laughing so hard I couldn’t stand upright. The pot was steaming, the dog was getting more animated by the second as he believed I was hiding the toy as part of the game. Next he was jumping on me, starting to howl again. The old Smothers Brothers routine, “Mom Always Liked You Best” popped into my head. Remember that bit? The bird flew into a pot of hot milk and one of the brothers exclaims, “I don’t like cream of asparakeet.” In the spirit of that routine, I found myself thinking, Hmmm — I’ve never tasted mock turtle soup! And, What’s the chance I can hit that shot again? We’ve been tossing doggie toys from the family room since we adopted Sully a year ago. Maybe I should keep the pot there and try again? And, If I boil the thing to sterilize it, will it disintegrate? The embroidered eyes and smile still looked at me. Then the final line in the Smothers Brothers routine popped into my head. “And mom made me eat it!”
Tears were falling I was laughing so hard. I carefully grabbed a not-yet immersed bit of turtle from the pasta water; the alligator portion underneath was completely submerged. I ran to the sink in the laundry room, trying to avoid dripping hot water on me or the dog, who now was practically jumping into my arms. However, I quickly abandoned my efforts to try and wring the thing dry; it was going to take too long and the dog was beside himself. He was howling one long howl. I just stashed the toy for later. Seeing Sully’s other well-worn, disgusting but beloved two-sided half cat, half dog plush toy, I yanked it from the basket and carried on with the game, throwing it far from the pot and back into the family room.
The pasta was delicious.
October 7, 2013
With about a hundred Trick O’ Treaters, (neighbors closer to the elaborately decorated “Halloween House” down the street get many times this number) and candy tossed to some cleverly-dressed parents, a few costumed kids jump to the top of my memory.
But for starters, I am saddened to say we didn’t get one single toddler who insisted on marching into our living room, believing he would be visiting with us for the evening. Last year, this kid was inconsolable. He had completed the requisite dressing up with parents fussing over him at home, had taken the nice long walk, (I’m guessing that to a toddler, a short block or two is enough), arrived at the door, and rang the bell via mommy-help. We hadn’t met before, but even the dog was happy to see him. Why wouldn’t he want to settle on the perfect height of a chair, the bottom stair in our house, and remove his wrap? From there he could relax, see everybody and easily pet the dog. This little kid really understood the rules of hospitality.
Think about it. Would you want to spend the money and time to buy or make a new outfit, then linger over looking your best, walk or drive to your friend’s house, anticipate the wafts of a fabulous meal as you ring the bell, only to be greeted by a smiling host, who, upon opening the door, shakes your hand, thrusts a doggie bag in your clutches, and bellows, “You look great! See you next year!”?
The only way we could get the toddler to make his next call, (and of course we told his parents they were more than welcome to stay and visit), was for me to leash the dog and accompany them to our neighbors’ house. The tears stopped flowing when we all took a friendly walk together; the little guy even held the leash. And once again, he rang the bell via mommy-help, and my neighbors opened the door and smiled and greeted him. The toddler marched into their living room and made himself comfortable. I didn’t wait around to see what happened next.
This year, lots of kids really fussed with make-up (or their parents fussed), to spectacular results. One little girl modeled a Dia de los Muertos costume. Her colorful and ornate dress was handmade, and her make-up was less skeletal, prettier. She looked beautiful. I can’t imagine how much time and patience it took for this team to achieve these expert results. Then there was the kid with a zipper realistically applied to his face. The zipper was open, and I could have sworn it could be zipped shut. Chilling and amazing!
But the kid who wins my Candy Corn award for embodying the spirit of their character (an award I just now devised) goes to a hobgoblin whose costume was quite popular this year. While I greeted kids one-by-one in a large group who all happened upon my door at the same time, I heard this familiar little tune from somewhere in the crowd: “Da-da dada dada dada, Da-da dada dada dada, Da-da dada dada, dada….” Each princess and ninja and devil and kitty cat and zombie and candy corn and tree and cell phone and Star Wars character (sadly, no Minions this year) selected a piece of sugary goodness from the bowl. The singing continued. Da-da dada dada dada…. He was last in the group, and when I looked up, I saw that one dad alone remained in the driveway. With great confidence, Batman selected a treat, still singing his theme song, and gazed up at me with a serious look on his face, and shouted, “Thank you, citizen!” He turned, ran down the steps, with his cape billowing as he ran, and joined his father, who was laughing even harder than I. Looking at the dad quizzically, I wondered if his boy had rehearsed this routine. The dad shook his head to answer my unspoken question, and exclaimed, “I had no idea!”
Runner-up goes to this very little guy who smiled when I remarked that I liked his magician costume, with cape and all. While he selected a treat, I asked him if he could provide me with a trick. He happily obliged. Removing his top hat, he waved his wand over it. Very quietly, he whispered something close to “Abracadabra” and reached inside the hat. He had a little trouble maneuvering a fabric panel, but moved it enough for me to see that a plush bunny was hidden inside. After a few more minutes of struggle, his mom helped him to extricate the rabbit, and he held it high. Pretty impressive! This kid was beaming. I tossed him a second candy as he turned to go. He earned it!
November 4, 2013