Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: It’s in the Blood.

IMG_3kk234lljI have bad blood. Not really bad, as in deadly. But not normal either. Just another one of those things that I came by honestly. This little doozy came compliments of Ma. She most likely inherited it from her father. Blame it on her Italian heritage.

Little back story. Since I was a kid every time I had my blood tested, it revealed that I had anemia. Ma was always giving me iron pills. Or worse, yet cod liver oil. I don’t have to tell you how disgusting that shit is.

I spent my entire childhood, and a better part of my young adulthood, believing this myth and popping iron tablets. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my youngest child, that the truth was discovered. I did not have your regular garden-variety anemia. I was a carrier of this peculiar sounding blood disorder called Thalassemia Minor. Like Ma and my Italian Grandfather. Other than occasional fatigue, bruising easily, and being aerobically challenged, I’m fine.

Good thing The Old Man was Finnish because if he too was Italian, or from some other Mediterranean country or Asia, things could have gotten ugly. It takes two to tango with this blood disorder. With one parent a carrier, you may or may not end up a carrier as well. With two, the odds are 50-50 that you’ll have full-blown Thalassemia. And like it’s evil cousin Sickle Cell, things can be pretty dire, if not downright heartbreaking.

Young MomBut happily that isn’t my story. Nor was it Ma’s and my grandfather’s. My two older children have both been tested, and although they are both carriers as well, they are healthy. And most importantly, they know what they are potentially passing onto the next generation.

My youngest daughter has yet to be tested. At the beginning of summer, I wrote her this poetic letter with the thought in mind that the time has come. Now that she is moving into the stage in her life where she could easily fall in love. Big, hard, deep and forever. She needs to know, what’s in her blood, beyond the unconditional love of her parents.

Hey Beauty,

It’s time to get your blood checked to make sure you aren’t a Thalassemia carrier. Like your Italian grandmother, your mother, big brother and sister.

Even though there’s nothing to worry about right now because you only fall for Anglo-Saxon boys with blue eyes and blond hair.

But one day you may fall hard for a guy who is tall, dark and handsome, the front man for an Indie band, who plays acoustic guitar and writes lyrics worthy of a tattoo on your torso, drinks tequila, rides a 1952 Harley he inherited from his grandfather, eats organic peaches, and most importantly, is of Mediterranean descent.

When you fall, you fall hard.

Boo in B+WJust like your Italian grandmother, your mother, big brother and sister. And because you fall so hard, you might even dream of having a child one day with the guy who is tall, dark and handsome, the front man for an Indie band, who plays acoustic guitar and writes lyrics worthy of a tattoo on your torso, drinks tequila, rides a 1952 Harley he inherited from his grandfather, eats organic peaches, and most importantly, is of Mediterranean descent.

You can picture this child with his father’s dreamy soulful brown eyes, olive complexion and thick dark hair with soft curls around his ears.

And when this happens, you’ll want to know for certain whether or not you’re a Thalassemia carrier. Because if this beautiful guy, who is tall dark and handsome, the front man for an Indie band, who plays acoustic guitar and writes lyrics worthy of a tattoo on your torso, drinks tequila, rides a 1952 Harley he inherited from his grandfather, eats organic peaches, and most importantly, is of Mediterranean descent is also a Thalassemia carrier.  Then Beauty the odds are 50-50 that the child of your dreams will have full-blown Thalassemia.

And Beauty that isn’t something you’d wish on your worst enemy, never mind the child of your dreams.

http://www.thalassemia.ca/

 

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Saturday Night Spaghetti and Meatballs.

299899_10151127217141644_2016426915_nI love spaghetti and meatballs. Always have. In fact, it’s one of the first foods that I remember enjoying. Picky Eater doesn’t even come close to describing my disinterest in food as a kid.  But Ma’s S ‘n M was a whole other story.  Now I’m no connoisseur, but I have eaten enough to know a good meatball when I taste it.  Trust me, her’s were the best. And her marinara sauce?  To live for.

It wasn’t so much what Ma put into this weekly Italian favorite that made it so spectacular. But how she prepared it that made the world of difference. Like all good cooks she had her secrets. Her little arsenal of remarkable tastes that you couldn’t quite put a finger-licking finger on.

One of my all-time fondest memories is the smell of Saturday morning at 204.

Fresh coffee brewing, bacon and eggs frying, Shaw’s white bread toasting. Fused with these intoxicating breakfast scents, was the savory smell of Ma’s spaghetti sauce simmering on top of the stove. Imagine waking up to that every Saturday morning. Trust me, it was the top of the comfort mountain. A warm hug from heaven. A kiss sweeter than your first. A gentle breeze fluttering through gossamery white curtains. Quite simply, nothing else like it.

I don’t have a recipe to share with you because Ma never cooked that way. Like all good cooks, it was pinch of this, a dash of that, a dollop and a handful. Everything to taste and talent. There’s a certain kind of genius at play, that’s impossible to describe. Besides, you don’t need the S ‘n M recipe anyway. For it’s not the physical ingredients that made it taste so good.

What made my all-time fave comfort food so lip-smacking, scrumptious and sinfully delicious were these 5 things:

1.  Start early. Be the first one up. Breathe in those early quiet and peaceful moments just before dawn. Solitude in the kitchen is a divine gift. Cherish it. Let the whisper of God and the whistle of nature inspire you. Run your fingers over the fresh ingredients that will be the life of the sauce. Let your eyes feast on their colors. Inhale the herbs and spices that will infuse spirit into the sauce. Begin.
2.  Good things take time. Never rush the sauce. Honor the process.  Allow it to simmer on low. To slowly fill the house with its intoxicating delectable aroma. Room by room. Let it fill every inch with pleasure. Long and lazy that’s the key. Enjoy.
3.  Double-dip family style. Let the taste testers dive in. All day long. Let the lid lift and open to an explosion of fragrant Italian goodness. Let the well-seasoned wooden spoon plunge into the saucy depths.  Let them sip, sup and savor. Repeat.
4.  Anticipation. Things taste better when filled with scrumptious expectancy. The longer the wait, the better the taste. Especially with marinara and spicy meatballs. As the divine bouquet fills the air, let your imagination wonder to the end of the day. Mealtime. Picture yourself there. Lick your lips. Savor.
5.  Love. The essence of everything. The heart. The soul. The gist. The marrow of all good things.  And all things that taste good.

There you have it. The delicious intangibles. The ethereal ingredients. The exquisite elements. The sorcery in the sauce.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Dog Poop and the Fine Art of Raking.

The Old Man with his rake and white cowboy hat.

I like my garden.  And I like to hang out in it.  I like all the flowers and trees. The blueberry bushes, mauve lilacs and sundry shrubs with no names.  The bird houses clinging to the Garry Oak trees are cute and folksy.  But most importantly, they attract delightful birds into our little piece of the world and that fills me with glee.  It’s spring and I’m itching to get out there and watch my husband do all the grunt work.  I admire his talent for breathing new life into the places where unpleasant dead vegetation has amassed over the winter months.  He seems to enjoy doing that.  I see no reason to discourage him.  I prefer to putter.  Plant pretty things.  Pansies.  Petunias.  Poppies.  And flowers that start with other letters too.  Like Geraniums and Marigolds.

There was a time when I was a great gardener.  Or at least I worked hard at it.  Did all the grunt work like my husband does now. When I was living in Toronto with my two older kids, my summer weekends were spent mowing lawns, trimming hedges, dead-heading flowers, staking tomato plants, plucking peppers, weeding and watering.  I got my hands dirty and my knees bruised.  It was back-busting, nail-breaking work.  It involved blood, sweat and tears.  But it was also glorious.  And gratifying. Especially at the end of the day, when I sat in the tranquil shade of our grapevine canopy and admired my day’s travail.

We lived in a predominantly Italian neighborhood with a smattering of Greek, Portuguese and Jamaican folks.  I rarely knew what anyone was talking about because I didn’t speak any of those languages.  Ma was a second generation Italian and only knew how to count to ten, so consequently that was the extent of my Italian conversational skills. Not very engaging.  We were the foreigners in Toronto’s Little Italy.  The Mangacakes.  But nonetheless, we felt at home there. Possibly because in their warm olive-complected faces, I saw Ma.  But despite the language differences we were able to communicate, especially in the back gardens where our Italian neighbors and I spent much of our spare time during those steaming summer months.  And I definitely understood good advice on growing tomatoes and peppers – the vegetables that grew in abundance and seemingly effortlessly in that climate.  With their advice, even I grew them with ease.

I look back and marvel at the gardening language we employed.  It consisted of hand gesturing, facial expression, demonstration and example. There weren’t a lot of words because there were so few we had in common.  Yet we learned this universal language that crossed all cultures and parlance.  It was as beautiful as the luscious red tomatoes and delectable green peppers we grew.  Communication at it’s simplest.  You point.  You dig.  You hoe.  You stake.  You pluck, pinch and prune. You scratch your head.  You smile.  You laugh.  You say thank you.

Little back story.  I come by my love of gardening honestly.  The Old Man taught me all the basics.  Back then we didn’t call it “gardening” though.  Far too gentile and refined sounding for that time and place.  It was yard work.  Raking grass or leaves in the front yard.  Digging up earth, planting rows of seeds, watering, weeding and harvesting in the backyard.

Over the years, The Old Man tinkered with the backyard, adding a row of Poplar trees along the fence line and a Weeping Willow, that eventually became a nuisance despite it’s beautiful forlorn hangdog branches. It’s labyrinth root system overtook the yard and sucked the life out of everything.  There were a couple of evergreens here and there.  But the piece de resistance, the shining glory of the backyard were the Manitoba Maples.  Two beauties strategically planted about ten feet apart.  Just wide enough to hang a red white and blue striped hammock.   The swinging bed of afternoon daydreams and early evening siestas.  The double swing for giggling grandkids.  The humorous pratfall for anyone who dared to keep their guard down.  The place to rest your weary soul after a hard day’s work.

In the front yard there were flowers under the front windows.  Marigolds and Geraniums mostly.  These were the Old Man’s favorites. I suspect because they were both hardy and happy plants.  Bright and cheerful all summer long and well into an Indian Summer. Feisty enough to make it to Thanksgiving (Canadian) and some years tenacious enough to hold out until Halloween.  There was a wild rose growing between our yard and our neighbors.  The scent of which I will yearn for until the day I die.  But the centerpiece of the front yard was a beautiful lilac bush that bloomed in June.  Ma would pick a bouquet for the kitchen table, the sweet romantic fragrance enveloping the entire room.  On the boulevard grew another magnificent Manitoba Maple.  Every house along Kenogami Avenue had one.  They were a gift from the city to a weary wartime street.  Green lush shadow casters in summer.  A riot of autumn colors in September and October.  Naked, flexible and courageous all winter long.

I’ve heard it said that it is our sense of smell that has the power to conjure up past memories and emotions.  That appears to be true for me.  The first hint of Spring in the air and I’m ten years old in the front yard with The Old Man.  We’re raking.  (It’s probably more accurate to say, he rakes and I watch and pick up things with mine.  Just the same, I learned the fine art of collecting and disposing of winter debris.  A lesson that would serve me well years later in my old Toronto neighborhood.)  All the snow has finally melted.  The grass is still soggy and mushy in spots.  At first blush it looks dead and gone forever.  Hopeless.  The smell is a paradoxical brew of pure clear 100% Northwestern Ontario Spring air and fusty rancid months-old dog poop.  Then after all the raking and observing is done, something supernatural occurs.  God lifts the winter carpet to reveal the wondrous new green sprouts concealed beneath. And The Old Man and I stand there leaning on our rakes surveying the scene, and we’re hopeful. Optimistic. Expectant.  Summer is coming.  Soon the lilacs will bloom.

Eleven years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day, The Old Man, my father, the Breadman had dinner as usual at the old folks home, where he had spent his last year.  Afterwards, he went for an early evening siesta.  He closed his eyes and then held hands with Ma.  He left quietly without any fanfare.  No trumpet calls.  No slapping spoons.  No good-byes or family gathered by his bedside.  When I got the news, my first  thought was “just like The Old Man to leave town on St. Patrick’s Day.”  And my second thought was “I love you and say hi to Ma. I’ll miss you both forever.”

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: The Awesome Power in a Sweet Ride.

There were other religious influences.  They say kids are like sponges.  I don’t particularly like that analogy, for a number of reasons.  But suffice to say Bob and Square Pants, and just leave it at that.  I do think kids possess naturally open and insatiably curious minds though.  More like bottomless toy boxes that always have room for more.  Or the magicians black hat.  Rabbits and endless chiffon scarves.  Doves and other wondrous things extracted with ease.

At least that was how my young mind worked. Still does.

One of my favorite things to ponder as a child, and to this day for that matter, is God.  Such an infinite subject.  I wanted to know Him/Her. I wanted to know me.  Where I came from.  Where God came from. If God made me then who made God? I thought about that so much it made my head spin.  Still no answer. Will I ever know?

Little back story.  When I was six my oldest brother met the love of his life and the woman who would become my sister-in-law.  They were engaged for four years, which at the time seemed like an eternity to me.  Truthfully, I think it seemed like an eternity to J as well.  We both had our reasons.  I was very young and she was eager to be a blushing bride.

During those four years my brother, who once smoked unfiltered cigarettes and drove a mauve Harley Davidson, wore his black Italian hair slicked back like John Travolta in Grease and had a chipped front tooth, became a Catholic.  He did it for love. I can’t think of a better reason. My sister-in-law played an instrumental role the conversion, which was a good thing. The entire family agreed. It transformed my brother’s life, gave it purpose and made him happy, beyond his wildest imaginings.  That was my first introduction into the awesome power of God. I was a firsthand witness to a metamorphosis so rich and profound and eternal.  Undeniable.  Love taking action. All these years later, it still exists.

The Awesome Power of God Manifested in a Sweet Ride

Even though by then, The Old Man, Ma and I were attending the Lutheran Church every Sunday I still felt kind of bad.  Not quite good enough.  Compared to St. Michael and All Angels Anglican Church that the other two Musketeers attended and Corpus Cristi Catholic Church, right across the road for God’s sake, that my brother and sister-in-law were members, the Christ Lutheran Church seemed somehow second rate.  No one I knew went there.  What did they know that we didn’t? Why were the other churches up on Red River Road and ours was down on Walkover Street?  It seemed we couldn’t get anything right.

Furthermore, the Christ Lutheran Church was full of Finlanders with blonde hair, pale skin and weird accents.  The Old Man fit in nicely, being a Finlander, but my painfully shy olive-complected Italian/English mother and I were misfits.  Strangers in a strange land.  As Jim Morrison so aptly put it, “People are strange when you’re a stranger.”  That’s predominantly how I felt the entire time I attended Christ Lutheran Church.

I stopped attending when I turned 19, the year of my emancipation from organized religion.  I was very disorganized after that.

I didn’t know it at the time but I guess it was also the year I became an “Other.”