The sauce is simmering on the stove. It is almost to that "just right" tomato/meat taste and texture. Tomorrow it will be the magic ingredient that sinks into the pasta and floats between the layers of noodles and cheese to make one of my favorite foods - lasagna.
There's history here. Christmas Eve was the day my extended family would gather at our house or my aunt’s to eat, talk, open presents, talk and then eat some more. Lasagna was always served. We’d have ham or turkey, potatoes, veggies, salads and desserts, but the lasagna was the star of the show. Mom made lasagna other times during the year, but there was just something so different about the xmas lasagna. Maybe she splurged a little more and added extra cheese? Maybe she added something extra to the sauce? Maybe it was because, as soon as I was old enough to fish a noodle out of the water, I helped Mom put the layers together. Or maybe my anticipation of this one special family day was the secret “spice.”
Of course I was excited about the presents – first I opened the family presents and then, after only a few hours of sleep, I’d have Santa’s haul to tear into. I played with my cousins and my nieces, but what I really enjoyed was weaving in and out of the adults’ conversations. Sometimes they didn’t notice I was listening; I learned more than one family secret this way. But that’s another series of stories . . . back to the lasagna.
My first xmas in California was also my first xmas away from my family. It was 1981. stonebender
was the only person I knew in the area. He spent the holiday with his family, who live about an hour inland. I was invited to join them. I think they were all curious to meet stonebender
’s friend who happened to be a girl; he had most emphatically told them I was not his “girlfriend”. I think he didn’t want to either assume too much (I’d only move here the first week of Nov.) or have his family tease him in front of me.
I sat in the living room watching the lights on the tree blink on and off. I met his mom, dad, sisters, brother, aunt, uncle and grandparents. It all made me so homesick. With the 2 hour time difference, I’d just made a call to my family’s celebration. Everyone took turns talking to me. Over and over we’d talk about my 60 degree vs. their 10 degree weather. This was the first of what has become the traditional xmas eve phone call from me, their crazy sister/daughter/cousin/aunt who moved to earthquake country. Tonight I will make my 26th such call.
Back to 1981: Most people don’t think of me as shy, but I have my moments, and this was most definitely one of them. I didn’t know what to talk to these strangers about. stonebender
stayed close and tried to deflect most of the weird questions from his grandpa and uncle. Grandpa immediately started hinting about grandkids. I guess he didn’t get the memo re: I am not stonebender
’s girlfriend! Everything was strange – from no snow on the ground to the appetizers. Tree and presents do not a xmas make. And speaking of presents, when everyone was passing them out, I was a little surprised when I received two. I knew stonebender
had one for me, but what was this 2nd one? Wanting to make me feel welcomed, his parents had bought me something. I felt strange because I’d not brought them anything. I was 24 years old, living in a hotel in Santa Clara until I could find an apartment and I’d never heard of a “hostess gift.” I’ll admit I was confused when I found a silver whistle on a chain, much like the ones referees wear round their neck to get the players attention. They told me it was a whistle I could wear to be safe. I don’t think they actually called it a “rape whistle”, but that’s what stonebender
and I called it. I guess they figured if their son finally had a girlfriend and I was going to visit him in scary downtown Oakland, they didn’t want anything to happen to me.
So there I was, feeling very alien, wearing a rape whistle around my neck and now we had to all gather around the table for dinner. I think I bumped one of his siblings to the “kids” table, as they made a space for me at the adult one. His mother started bringing the dishes out. When she set the large pan of lasagna in the middle of the table, tears started to fill the corners of my eyes. It wasn’t my mom’s lasagna (they used breakfast link sausages!) but it was noodles, sauce and cheese; it was familiar. Lasagna was their traditional Holiday meal too. Now it felt like Christmas.
’s family will come for dinner. Yes, there’ll be appetizers, ham, veggies, salad and dessert, but it will be the lasagna that will sit center table. I’ve only been making the lasagna a few years and it makes me feel like such an adult. Mama’s little noodle fisher has graduated to the big time.