Spaghetti on Sundays

113941918.jpg  (This is an essay I wrote last year, when I learned that my father would die of his illnesses. My father died Sunday, March 9, 2008, at the age of 87, with his family surrounding his bed.  It was the saddest day of my life.)

Spaghetti on Sundays

We called it spaghetti, back then, and we ate it every Sunday for the first twenty years of my life. No one called it pasta, not even the folks from Italy, who were accustomed to differentiating between the shapes. I’m sure my Grandma called it spaghetti because that was the only shape we used on Sundays. Other days of the week called for other shapes– farfalle, rigatoni, linguine, mostaccioli, penne, rigatoni, etc.

For me, going to church meant coming home to a most wonderful aroma of tomato sauce (Grandma called it “soog”) the likes of which I’ve never smelled outside our own kitchen. The sight of my father standing at the stove, apron smeared red, stove spotted and spoon poised, meant that everything was right with the world.

As a child, I honestly believed that the reason my father did not come with us to church was that he had to nurse the sauce. First, the meat had to be browned. Then the tomato products had to be evaluated by means of his experienced nose, tongue, and the resistance of the wooden spoon as he stirred. He needed to stand by, ready to add just a pinch more fennel, basil, oregano, salt, pepper, another bay leaf or tablespoon of paste. By the time we got home , his palate was exhausted, and he’d say, “Taste the sauce!” to whoever entered first.

We kids scrambled to enter first, knowing that we’d get to  grab a spoon, lift some sauce from the steaming pot, smell it, blow off the steam, and roll it around over the tongue as the  flavor registered before announcing, “It’s perfect!”

Sometimes that wasn’t good enough for Papa. “Does it need more salt?” or “Just a little more wine?” he’d ask. Another taste was in order, and another taster.

My father is eighty-six now and still makes the sauce.  As the oldest girl, I haven’t learned how to make it yet, not from lack of opportunity but from reluctance.  To make the sauce would somehow usurp Papa’s authority, his proper position as head of the family and beloved provider.  To make the sauce would mean that someday he’d not be able to do it himself. As long as I do not know how to make the sauce, he cannot die.