Theirs was an average-sized kitchen in Queens, New York. But, the smells that wafted through my grandparents’ house were anything but ordinary! Growing up, my family lived on the second floor of a two family house owned by my Grandma Ann and Grandpa Anthony. The two floors, though, were connected by a door that rarely closed; family time was all the time.
My memories of my grandparents are countless — curling up with grandpa as he took a nap on the couch, watching The Today Show with grandma before I went off to school, and squeezing in between the two of them in the backseat of our car as we took summer road trips. Yet, out of all of the mental snapshots I have of my grandmother, the ones that stick out most in my mind are those of her in the kitchen.
Grandma didn’t cut any corners when she cooked. From her pasta sauce to her zeppoli, everything she touched tasted as though it had been kissed by the gods! Just about every member of my family lucky enough to have known grandma had a favorite. My cousin Joe still swears no one makes a meatball like “Auntie Ann,” and even though many have tried to replicate them, no one can. (We muse it must have been the oils in her hands.) For my cousin Terri, it was her Easter Bread. But, for me, there is one dish for which I lived — her homemade pizza!
If grandma were alive today, she would probably be among the 71% of Americans the Marist Poll discovered roll out their own dough and make their own pizza pies. Pizza day was a long day. Grandma started early in the morning, mixing the dough and letting it rise. When it wasn’t a school day, I loved being at her elbow. As my mother says — patience never was one of my virtues. So, I would pester Grandma, asking how long it would take for the dough to rise. When the time finally came to roll out the dough, I’d “help” her pound down the dough with my tiny, powerless fists. (At five or six years old, I thought I did a lot.) And, with wide eyes, I’d watch as Grandma rolled out the dough and cut it to fit a few cookie sheets. Then, came the fun part!
Grandma would ladle the sauce atop the dough, but it was often up to my brother and me to sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top and dash it with a bit of oregano. I still remember how the crumpled cheese felt in between my little fingers and how happy I was to be like my grandma.
My mouth watered as the pizza went into the oven, and I counted the minutes until the pie would be done. Then, the moment of truth: Grandma removed the cookie sheets from the oven and placed it on the counter to cool. Again, my patience would quickly run out, and I would fidget in agony until it was time to slice up the pizza and enjoy grandma’s delectable creation.
Looking back on those all too brief times with my grandmother, I realize ours was a unique relationship — one that I dearly cherish and wouldn’t trade for anything in this world. Yes, my grandmother was an amazing cook, but I know, now, that our time together in the kitchen was about more than just food. It allowed us to strengthen our familial bond and create lifelong memories.
What amazes me most, though, is how the simplest, every day gestures we experience as children have the greatest impact on us as adults. If there is one thing I took with me from my time with, not only my grandmother but, both of my grandparents it’s to never underestimate the effect we have on children during some of life’s most mundane moments. It’s in those moments when we truly help shape the adults they will become. Some day, I hope to tackle Grandma’s pizza recipe with my own children. Perhaps, they will then be able to get to know a bit about their great grandmother in a very special way and to create memories they will take with them throughout their lifetimes.