My mother was a prim and proper, solidly middle class Italian woman raised by her prim and proper, solidly middle class Italian grandmother. My mother’s own mother wasn’t very maternal nor very interested in domesticity, so my mother spent many hours with her grandmother, cooking. Food was love in her household, because food and Italian grandmothers and love are irrevocably and inescapably stitched together by centuries, no, thousands of years with an invisible thread. Every event, every holiday, every child’s birthday or aged grandparents death was marked by food—copious and ridiculous amounts and abundant varieties of food.
My strongest maternal bonding memories can’t be separated from the food we made and the food we ate and the food we shared with our family. If I conjure the mental image of a huge glass plate bearing glistening peppers in olive oil and garlic, the sprinkling of tiny flakes of char marring the pristine green and red of the peppers, I can resurrect the face of my paternal grandma Yolie. She taught me to make the dish when I was ten, and I smile as I remember standing next to her in front of her white six burner range. Grilled Italian sausage, spicy and sweet, reminds me always of my elderly neighbor, Mrs Taormina, and the lovely welcome-to-the-neighborhood lunch she made for my new husband and I.
Boiled chicken makes me think of my mother stirring a huge pot of it as I bounced into the kitchen after school, a secret weapon in her battle to stay slim. And don’t get me started on lasagna and the three day cooking extravaganza every thanksgiving triggered. That giant pan of lasagna was a much more important and anticipated centerpiece on our long family table than the turkey. Hot and melty on a plate or leftover from the fridge the next day, I’d choose a bowl of my mothers cold lasagna over chocolate ice cream in a heartbeat.
Now that I’m older I try unsuccessfully to separate food from love and emotion. I’m not a dog, I tell myself, I don’t need a treat when I’m good. But now that my mother’s gone, and my grandmother’s gone, and Mrs. Taormina is gone, and my brother and my father are gone, I need food sometimes, to bring them back to me. I’m the older generation now so I wonder, when I’m gone, will my children think of me when they eat lasagna?