When I was a kid, my brother and I would go off to school everyday, leaving my mother home by herself. We knew that she would always have lunch with my grandfather, who lived downstairs from us. On days when my aunt did not have to work, she would join them. How did we know this? Because when we did not have to go to school, we would get to have lunch with them. And I tell you, everyday would turn into a yelling match as my mother and grandfather would raise their voices over each other in Italian as they debated (or discussed passionately) one thing or another…why the bakery was closing, why the dry cleaner was going to Italy for a month to visit family, why the neighbor doesn’t know how to park their car or what our own cousins were doing in Italy. (Unfortunately, my brother and I were never taught Italian, so I can’t tell you exactly what they were so passionately discussing, but I can tell you that it always seemed extremely important to me.)
Lunch would usually last about 2 hours…first we would have soup and then we’d have several dishes that would range from the spaghetti that was leftover from Sunday’s dinner to sandwiches to salad…plus coffee (or milk when we were still too young to drink coffee) and Stella D’Oro cookies (my favorite)! While my mother and grandfather finished their daily debate (or passionate discussion of the day ;-)), my brother and I would have car races on the linoleum in the hallway of my grandfather’s house with our favorite matchbox cars..sometimes racing to the front door when the mailman came. (This was all before i-pads, cell phones, computers and we never watched T.V….we only had 7 channels back then anyway!) It was a blast and I can not tell you how much fun that used to be and I was always jealous that my mother was able to do that every day while I was at school!
Every once in a while, though, I would hear that my grandfather hadn’t been home one day for lunch…maybe he had been visiting his friend Mr. Scicchitano to watch the boxing matches on his 9 inch black and white TV with rabbit ears or out at lunch with a friend on the Avenue. Either way, I would be so concerned for my mother…especially if it was not a day off for my Aunt. It meant that my mother must have had lunch alone…by herself. And where was I? In a classroom of 25 other dim-witted grammar school students who probably never considered how their mother was while they were busy at school.
I would ask my mother, “What did you do today at lunchtime?” She would laugh and say, “I ate lunch.” “But how?” was my second-, third-, or fourth-grade response. “How could you have eaten lunch alone? Who did you talk to? What did you do? How long did it take? What did you eat?” She always looked at me like I was crazy and explained that she had made herself a salad or a sandwich or a chicken liver and onion omelet (yuck!), coffee and had read her book. Hmmmm…not sufficient in my opinion! I mean, come on! How could someone as used to eating and debating everyday during lunchtime with someone as smart as my grandfather possibly be “Ok” with just a sandwich and a book?
Of course, all this happened many years ago…and I have not recalled this memory until just recently while I was in my own self-reflective state. I currently work at home and I make my own lunch everyday…some of the healthiest meals I’ve ever eaten, mind you. I always make myself a salad that includes romaine lettuce, a chopped carrot, cucumber, red bell pepper, red onion or sometimes cilantro, garlic and balsamic vinegar with a roasted chicken filet, a fish filet or a can of tuna. And I have a schedule for it…if I am going to include rice in my salad, I have to put it on an hour before I plan to eat so I have to be careful when I schedule my meetings on those days to ensure I have 10 minutes free to heat the oil with garlic and a scallion onion while I soak 2 Tbspns of brown rice before heating it up in the hot oil before adding 2 cups of water with some caldo de pollo (equivalent to chicken bouillon in the States) where it has to simmer for at least an hour.
I was going through this whole process the other day while then preparing my coffee pot so all I’d have to do when I was ready for it was turn it on…when my mother came to mind. Physically, yes, I have lunch alone everyday. I may be working through lunch or be on phone calls while picking at my salads, but besides my dog sitting in his arm chair next to me, I’m alone while I eat my culinary masterpieces each day. And yet, I don’t feel lonely. Would I enjoy having company? Sure, I guess. God knows I’d love for my grandfather or mother to join me for a passionate conversation about the world and humanity, debates I think I’ve begun to miss lately. But because I’m always working through lunch, I don’t think of it as time I should be spending with other people.
I guess that’s how my mother was…if my grandfather wasn’t available to regal her in the passions of a debate, then why bother finding someone who would not be sufficient entertainment for her to eat with? And I guess, in the end, a piece of me has become just like a piece of my mother. I remember how much she adored her friends, the few she had. How passionately she adored the time she spent with them…and I see that in myself. I’ve blogged before about how much I adore each and every one of my friends…regardless of where in the world they may reside (ex. NYC, Connecticut, Florida, Jamaica, Mexico, London…wherever) and I still travel the world to see them, just like my mother used to do for her friends (though most of her friends did live within the 5 boroughs of NYC). I remember my mother sometimes spending 2 hours on a subway, each way, to visit friends of hers all over to have lunch with or go to see a show or a museum exhibit or a foreign film. And I now see that I’ve inherited that trait as well (having spent hours on a plane…both in the past and in the near future…to attend the wedding of a good friend or to just visit them for a few days for a tattoo/drinking fest or a shrimp festival or a concert). And I will do that for as long as I am alive because it is what I love to do…just like my mother did! So thanks Mom for showing me this week that while I did not marry and have two children like you did, I still really did become just like you!