Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My Sauce

Every so often, when something happens to jog my memory, I take time to think back and remember everything I can about grandparents. My cooking caused it to happen this time. I have done this probably once a year every year since this one night during my junior year of college when I decided to try and find if there were any military records of either one of my grandfathers on the Internet. I failed to find anything, but ended up sitting at my desk crying as I recalled various memories from my childhood involving my grandparents.

At the time, only one of them had passed away. My Grandpa Tomko, who I am sad to say I have the least memories of, died when I was in third grade from cancer. It was difficult to remember things about him, but I will always remember him driving me to his house on Friday’s after school. The bus would drop me off at my house and there he would be, waiting in his car to take me to his house until one of my parents was finished with work. We played a game each trip. The goal was to reach his house without hitting any red lights along the way, nearly an impossible task. We probably never accomplished it, but he would cheat and slowly creep up to the stop line until the light turned green. This way we could say we never hit a red light. It was stupid. It was perfect. It is my most vivid memory of him. I wish I had more.

This weekend, as I was preparing my homemade spaghetti sauce, my mind naturally wondered to memories of my Grandma Alongi. It is her recipe that was passed down to my mom and then on to me. I laugh because we all follow the same recipe, yet when the finished dished is served on the table they all taste slightly different, none of us fully duplicating the same flavors that the other one created. My Grandma made the best meatballs. My mom had the best sauce. I’m just trying to keep up. My grandmother never got to taste my version of her sauce. I think she would have liked it.

She passed away during my senior year of college. She had suffered with Alzheimer’s for many, many years, then a stroke. When she finally went, it was truly the best thing for her… She was the one who taught me poker. I couldn’t have been more than five years old when she sat me down and explained how a flush beat a straight and a full house beat a flush. I don’t think many five year olds knew how to play poker, but I did. I like thinking I was the youngest poker player. It makes me smile. Other five year olds were playing Uno or Old Maid. I was playing five-card draw poker, one-eyed jacks wild….

I remember my grandmother pre-Alzheimer’s and post-Alzheimer’s. It’s sad but she was two different people. The only good that came from the disease was that she finally quit smoking and that was because she couldn’t remember that she smoked. I used to steal her cigarettes and hide them from her in an attempt to get her to stop smoking. I never realized that she had more packs at home or that should could go to the store and buy more. Na├»ve kid. She was great. She hated board games but would always play them with my sister and me. She loved solitaire and word searches. We had to do hundreds of them together. She would let me add the vinegar to the salad every lunch. I would push the limits each time trying to pour as much on as I could. She never got mad. It was just the ritual of making lunch. I think she liked it as much as I did. She didn’t have a license. She carried a purse that was huge and filled with an endless supply of bubblegum. She loved jigsaw puzzles, cats, her grandchildren, a shot of what I think was whiskey before bed, cards, tending to her tomato plants, taking walks and slot machines. She could do without TGIF’s TV lineup that aired on ABC, specifically the show Family Matters, board games and….

That’s probably it. She could tolerate most things…. I think my fondest memory of her though, which is actually on video, is of her rebounding my missed dunk attempts on my Fisher Price basketball hoop during my 4th birthday party… It was a great birthday…

Oh she also blessed us with her Texas Sheet Cake. It is the greatest cake. I can’t make it. My mom can’t make it. My sister though, I think she got the gene, because she is the only one that can come close to duplicating that dessert.

I have two grandparents still living. My Grandma Tomko turned 81 years old today. I called her to wish a happy birthday and ended up on the topic of her old rotary phone and how her phone down her basement is still a rotary. I can still see the old phone that hung on her kitchen wall that instead of pressing buttons you spun a dial. So much has changed. She tells me how her first job was working telephone switchboards, “In the 50’s, Michael!” she exclaims. Now I’m calling her on a cell phone that can access the Internet. She doesn’t have the Internet. She only recently got cable for her television, finally abandoning her antenna. It all makes me laugh. We used to turn her living room into a bowling alley. She set up the plastic pins and Leslie and me would bowl. She let us beat her in Connect 4, and taught us the card game Phase 10. She’s still an exceptional cook. I don’t call enough.

I spoke to my other living grandparent tonight too. My Grandpa Alongi was sleeping. I let the phone ring roughly thirty times. He finally answered. He doesn’t have the best hearing so I have to speak loud over the phone. He sounded glad to hear from me. I need to call him more too. He is a retired carpenter. I can still smell the sawdust that used to permeate his garage on a hot summer day. He was great with his hands. We built a birdhouse together one afternoon. I painted it white and red. He made me my very own Plinko Board out of wood and nails. He had a woodshop down his basement and tons of other contraptions. He loved garage sales and auctions. We took his blue station wagon on every trip to the Jersey Shore. I miss those trips, as uncomfortable as they were in that car. I will never forget them. He still re-grips golf clubs for his friends. He could sleep through a Tornado. He lived, until recently, without an air conditioner in his house. He loves golf and the casinos.

I think I wrote this tonight because I don’t want to forget more. I want to have some of these memories on file, a reference to a few moments of their lives. I wish I could remember more. I am thankful for each of them.

Peace and much Love to you