As I have gotten older, I have learned that family traditions help bond us to those we love. Holiday traditions, in particular, help establish meaning and give us something to look forward to. Not to mention the memories they create.
Every time around December, it's inevitable I look back on my childhood. I am the youngest of three brothers, and as you can imagine, I admired them dearly. As we got older, they one by one left for college. The holidays were such a great time for me because I got to see my brothers again. It was also the time my mother would, without a doubt, make her famous red sauce and pasta. Not only did we looked forward to my mom's red sauce, but we also looked forward to all of us sitting down at the same table eating as a family. It was our time-honored tradition.
My mother is Italian, excuse me Sicilian. Almost stereotypical, and boy did she love her traditions. When she made her sauce, it was a ritual. She would kick everyone out of the kitchen for hours while preparing her red sauce, meatballs, and spareribs to eat for dinner. You almost had to ask permission to enter the kitchen. She would start early in the morning preparing the sauce, rolling the meatballs, and prepping the spareribs. The delicious smells would permeate throughout the house and would be enough to wake you up in the morning. On those days, you dared not eat breakfast. You had to save valuable room in your stomach for the dinner feast. Oddly, lunch was different. We always had a slice of wheat bread, a meatball, or a sparerib smothered in her red sauce. It was amazing and yet torturous at the same time. I always wanted seconds and thirds, and so did my brothers and my dad. But as long as she was in the kitchen, you only got one serving. You had to wait until she went upstairs, and then you could sneak more. And that's precisely what we did. We tried our best not to overdo it and save dinner for the actual dinner. My mom knew the game, though. Which is why she spent all morning rolling meatballs. She made sure there was enough for our not so secret third and fourth helpings, but dinner as well.
When dinner rolled around, it was a full-court press! But first, we had to take off all our shirts. That sauce stained, or so my mom claimed. She would be damned if she was going to let us ruin our shirts with any "sauce splatter." Not only did we take our shirts off, but she also made us wear aprons. The whole neighborhood knew it too. It was her thing, though. A few times, I can remember someone didn't take their shirt off and got some "sauce splatter" on it. When that happened, it was all forks down for us. My mother would immediately stand up, rush to the sink, and get a wet rag. She then ran over to the "shirt wearer" and proceeded to vigorously rub the spot until the "sauce splatter" was gone or there was a hole left in the shirt, whichever one came first. After which, the "shirt wearer" had to take the shirt off and quickly run upstairs, spray 409 on it, and put it in the washer. Upon the return of the "shirt wearer," we were able to start eating again. We all knew the drill, it was well-rehearsed…my mother is Sicilian, remember? And yet, someone always slipped past my mother's inspection and sat down with a shirt on. In retrospect, the whole thing was comical. But I guess you gotta do what you gotta do to save a few shirts.
I look back on this tradition with such joy. As we got older, it was one of the few times we all sat down together for dinner. We always overate, laughed too much that it hurt, and even yelled too much. But those dinners were excellent and were made possible because of my mother's love. It was a great tradition she started that further bonded us together and provided a genuine meaning to our family, as all traditions should.