THE BATTLE OF THE SEXISTS

“Debonair, sophisticated and charming” sighed Alice Carter. “Cary Grant and David Niven are so good in that movie. I always loved ‘The Bishop’s Wife’. Such a wonderful Christmas tradition.” 

“And that Loretta Young is some eyeful, too” replied Alice’s husband Ralph. “Those high cheekbones, full lips, tiny waist and long legs – a real looker, that one.” 

“You alway could pick a beauty, Ralph. Well, I better start dinner. I’m making your favorite – sausage and potato casserole.” 

“I hope you made a lemon meringue pie for dessert.” 

“Of course! I know what you like, Ralph.” 

Returning to the den Alice found Ralph was watching the news. 

“Why aren’t there more delightful men on the news, men like Peter Jennings?” 

“Because he’s dead” replied Ralph.

“How about Mike Wallace?”

“Also dead” Ralph reminded Alice. 

“Look at this clown, Glenn Beck, wearing jeans and sneakers on a news program! Give him a beanie and he’d look just like one of those little rascal kids. What ever happened to that nice Matt Lauer?” 

“Fired for sexual misconduct” replied Ralph.

“Good Lord! I don’t believe it! Well, what about Bill O’Reilly, Eric Bolling and Charlie Rose?” 

“Fired, fired and, oh yeah … fired. Alice, can I please have a moment of peace and quiet to watch the news?” 

“Well, pardon me for living!” she sniffed. “I’m going to check on the sausage casserole.” 

When she returned Alice stopped dead in her tracks. “Oh my God, Ralph! What on earth are you watching now?” 

“It’s all day news, Alice. I didn’t change the channel.” 

“The ‘X Rated News’?? No wonder those poor men got fired. What red-blooded guy could resist floozies like that showing off their goods on national tv? They look like hookers! And look at you sitting there in your underwear, drooling and all bug-eyed. I’m sure as soon as my back is turned you’ll be jacking off to these little twats. Disgusting!” Alice harrumphed. 

“Talk about disgusting – watch your language, Alice! Just be quiet. You don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about. I bet you didn’t even know Russia had topless newscasters? These women are professionals. They’re lawyers, professors and judges, not bimbos with sketchy unspecified qualifications who just walked in off the street.” 

“Yeah, they’re highly qualified alright … as cockteasers!” Alice snapped. “Take that one on the end with the dyed blond hair, fishnet stockings and spike heels. Look at how skimpy her dress is. Did they run out of fabric? Her boobs are straining to break loose from her top and the bottom is so short – if she uncrosses her legs we’ll all get to see America’s amber waves of grain! Her family must be so proud!” 

“Woah, woah, woah! That’s enough, Alice. Look, this here is Megyn Kelly. She has a law degree, is a journalist, an author and a world-famous political commentator as well as a news anchor. The dark-haired one on the end is Kimberly Guilfoyle. She’s a political analyst, an attorney and former First Lady of San Francisco. Now she’s dating President Trump’s son. And yes, I’m sure their families are very proud. Besides being absolutely stunning they’re brilliant. Why don’t you just run back into the kitchen like a good girl and let me enjoy my one indulgence.” 

“Indulgence??” Alice countered. “So you admit it’s all about cheap thrills and nothing to do with the news. You’re such a pig, Ralph!” 

“Whatever. How’s that sausage coming, anyway? I’m hungry.”

Alice saw red. “Here’s an idea for you, Ralph. Get Kinky Kimberly to heat up your sausage. I’m sure she’s highly qualified!”

NAR © 2019

THE HEART OF COOKING

It was an ordinary Sunday morning when ten year old Marianna was roused from her sleep – not by the sound of icy pellets of sleet hitting the window nor by her pesky cat nuzzling her neck with his downy face, purring loudly in her ear. Nothing that mundane could disturb her peaceful slumber; it was something much more tantalizing and enticing.

Gradually the hint of a delectable aroma wafted into her room like wispy smoke, encircled her head and tickled her nose with ethereal fingers. Sleepy eyes blinked open and Marianna grinned as the realization hit her – Mama’s making meatballs! 

Slipping on fuzzy socks Marianna ran to the kitchen – the queen’s domain where Mama reigned supreme. She was standing guard over her gleaming Autumn Gold Amana stove, all the burners dutifully at work. The rear burners held two large stainless steel pots containing simmering tomato sauce, a slowly bubbling brew of crimson ambrosia. The front burners held the culinary Holy Grail – Mama’s treasured cast iron pans which had one purpose and one purpose only – frying meatballs. The expertly formed golfball-sized orbs of pure perfection sizzled in Mama’s special mixture of olive oil and butter turning the meatballs a delicious golden brown. The butter and oil combination was one of her many secrets – “a kiss from the cook” she would say.

“Come, Marianna. Mangia! I put some aside for you. Eat them before they get cold.” 

Marianna scampered to the side of the stove where Mama had placed three glorious meatballs on a little plate. Her immediate reaction was to gobble them up as fast as possible but they would be gone too soon.

There’s a process for eating fried meatballs fresh from the pan. First you select one, gingerly picking it up with your fingers. No respectable Italian would eat a fried meatball with a knife and fork; it’s a ritual and you don’t mess with rituals. Next you inhale the fragrance which in itself is a religious experience. Bringing the meatball to your mouth, you pause for one second, lips barely touching the crunchy crispy outer shell. Now for the best part – that first small bite revealing the exquisitely cooked succulent interior of the meatball.

The sensation of flavors bursting in your mouth cannot be adequately described. Like a wine connoisseur savoring the bouquet of a fine Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, so must the sublime piquancy of the noble meatball be appreciated. The combination of the outer crust and tender succulent inside blended with Pecorino Romano cheese, oregano and seasoned breadcrumbs makes for the ideal culinary marriage.

Marianna brought her now empty and licked clean plate to the sink and watched as Mama carefully placed the meatballs into the sauce where they would lovingly simmer and soften for several hours.

Mama” Marianna began timidly, “may I have your recipes when I grow up? I want to learn to cook just like you.”

“My recipes?” Mama asked incredulously. “There are no recipes written in some fancy cookbook. The recipes are in here and in here” she said touching her head and her heart.

But how will I learn to cook without a recipe?” Marianna asked.

“My angel Marianna. Cooking is like breathing – don’t think about it. You watch. I will teach you. Your hands and heart will know when the texture is right – a little water, some cheese, a few eggs, a handful of seasonings. You’ll know. As long as you add the most important ingredient, you’ll never need a recipe.” 

“What’s the most important ingredient, Mama?”

“Love, my angel” Mama said as she kissed the top of Marianna’s head. “Love.”

NAR © 2019

TI VOGLIO TANTO BENE

There are five boroughs in the city of New York – Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island – each with a unique character and charm of its own. That was true back in the 1930s and it’s still true today.

Every family has a story and mine was no different as I’ve been told numerous times. My parents were both from Manhattan. They met in 1937, got married two years later, moving into the family’s triplex apartment in Manhattan with my mother’s immediate relatives – 19 aunts, uncles and cousins plus her parents and grandparents.

World War II had begun and countless men were being drafted – but only men without children. My mother’s uncles all had several kids making them exempt from the draft. My father was also safe for my mother had a baby just ten months after getting married – a breathtakingly beautiful boy with rosy cheeks and auburn curls. He was named Gaetano after my paternal grandfather. Then the unspeakable happened. My parent’s world came crashing down just two short years later when they endured the devastating loss of their beloved baby Gaetano on New Year’s Eve. “Nephritis” the doctors said. “There’s no cure.”

Given no time to grieve, the army snatched my childless father and shipped him off to Europe to battle the enemy, leaving my mother with no husband and no baby. My father returned home in July of 1945 and somehow they managed to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and begin again. Their daughter Francesca was born in 1947; I followed four years later, born on Francesca’s birthday. I was named Sophia. Francesca still hasn’t forgiven me for ruining her birthday party!

When I was six months old my parents decided the city was no place to raise a family and started looking for houses in The Bronx. In 1951 The Bronx was a lot different than it is now; it was like a village in the countryside with farms where people raised sheep, goats and chickens and grew fresh vegetables. They got milk from the animals and made their own cream, butter and cheese. It was a far cry from Manhattan and it was idyllic.

My parents bought a nice two family house just big enough for the four of us and my grandparents. There was also a large backyard perfect for my grandfather’s grapevines and fig trees and my mother’s vegetable garden. My grandmother was always sickly. I recall my mother telling us how much my grandmother loved being away from Manhattan. She relished sitting in the backyard watching my grandfather picking grapes and feeling the warmth of the sun on her frail body.

On a beautiful warm day I was taking a nap in my baby carriage in the backyard while my grandmother sat in a chair gently rocking the carriage. I started to stir and opened my eyes. I saw my grandmother’s smiling face looking down at me, her doe-like eyes twinkling as she sweetly sang an Italian folk song, “Ti Voglio Tanto Bene” (“I Love You So Much”):

I love you so much and I’ll be here for you. You will feel in your heart a love that is true. I love you so much and I’ll cherish you with my voice sweetly singing only to you.”

At 11 months of age my earliest memory was seeing my grandmother’s adoring face smiling at me. It was her twinkling brown eyes and sweet voice that calmed me. She passed away three years later but the special bond we shared would never die.

Ti voglio tanto bene, nonna.”

NAR © 2019

THE MISSING PIECE

Born on the same day at the same time in Mercy Hospital were two beautiful baby boys. Both had gossamer flaxen hair and skin the color of translucent Easter lilies. The nurses marveled at their incredible likeness, remarking in their sing-song Irish accents “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, would ya look at that! These babes could be twins!” 

One baby was born to the sovereigns of high society, Carlton and Evelyn Winslow of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The couple were like bookends – fair skin, blond hair and bright blue eyes. 

The other baby was the illegitimate son of Rosa Guarinos, an impoverished cleaning lady from the slums of East Harlem. Her complexion was creamy, hair light brown and eyes green like her ancestors from ancient Persia.

It was fate that brought these two women from such divergent stations in life to the same hospital on the same night.

Evelyn’s luxurious penthouse was located across the street from Mercy Hospital; she had reserved an entire suite in the maternity ward of the hospital where she was currently in labor under the watchful care of a team of doctors and nurses.

Rosa was sweeping the floors of Ken’s Tailoring; the little shop where she worked was adjacent to the hospital. It was there that she also went into laborHer kindly boss Ken Siegel gently and attentively escorted Rosa to Mercy Hospital; she was brought to the public maternity ward where she labored with other women of her lowly station, alone and frightened.

Five days later the new mothers were discharged from the hospital. Evelyn and Carlton Winslow brought Maxwell home to their posh apartment where his elaborately decorated nursery awaited him. A specially trained nanny took care of Maxwell’s every need. 

Ken drove Rosa and her baby Victor to her basement apartment in Harlem. Ken offered his help getting Rosa and Victor settled but she declined saying he had already done so much for them. In the corner of the basement Rosa found some canvas tents and set them up to create the illusion of separate rooms. One tent was their bedroom; Rosa slept on a cot and Victor in an old borrowed cradle. Another tent became a makeshift washroom, enclosing the toilet, sink and wash basin. Yet another tent became a work area where Rosa could iron clothes and prepare meals while Victor slept in the ‘bedroom’.

The identical babies grew into identical toddlers. The Winslows celebrated Maxwell’s first birthday with a spectacular party at Tavern on the Green attended by their many acquaintances. Rosa and Victor marked his first birthday with a simple cake, Ken and a handful of trusted friends. 

When Victor was two years old Ken proposed marriage to Rosa; he had always been in love with her and Rosa knew he was a kind and decent man and she cared deeply for him. She believed in time she would grow to love him. They got married and the family moved uptown where Ken had expanded his small tailoring shop into a successful men’s clothing business. Their lives improved significantly and they were very content. 

The years went by; Maxwell and Victor were now teenagers, entirely unaware of each other’s existence even though they lived just two miles apart. They attended different schools and their paths never crossed. They were both happy, well-adjusted boys yet sometimes Maxwell felt an inexplicable void in his life – something he couldn’t understand or dismiss. 

One day Carlton brought Maxwell to Ken Siegel’s shop for a new suit. “We’re closing early today – it’s a family matter. I’m sorry but you must come back tomorrow.” Ken stated nervously. 

Oh, come on, Ken. You always make time for me.” replied Carlton. “I brought my son Maxwell in for a suit. Are you trying to get rid of us?” 

“Please, I really must close now!” Ken insisted. 

But it was too late for just then Victor and Rosa emerged from the storeroom. Maxwell and Victor stopped short, staring at each other in amused bewilderment, unable to deny or explain their identical appearance. 

Upon seeing each other after so many years, Rosa became faint and Carlton gasped in shock. Rushing to Rosa’s side Ken whispered “I’m sorry, my darling. I tried to keep them away. I never wanted him to see you or Victor and I failed you.” Rosa reached up and tenderly caressed her husband’s face, now wet with tears. “Oh, my darling Ken. This day was inevitable and you are not to blame.” Rose whispered.

Composing himself, Ken stood up proudly and addressed Carlton. “Mr. Winslow, as you know seventeen years ago I ran a small tailoring shop. After Victor was born, I was able to acquire this lovely store where you have been a regular customer. Rosa has worked as my assistant, sewing and ironing in the back rooms since day one. We fell in love and have been married for fifteen years. Sir, Victor is my adopted son and he’s very precious to me. I love Victor and Rosa dearly but even someone as self-centered and obtuse as you would know at first glance Victor is your biological son.” 

Carlton stammered “Rosa, why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant? I loved you!” 

“Because you were married and you never would have accepted us as family” Rosa cried.“

“But you deprived me of a son and Victor of a father! I could have provided for him.” Carlton argued.

“Victor is MY son. I lovingly and happily provided for him and Rosa!” shouted Ken. “I don’t believe you would have done so even if you knew about Victor. You and your kind always take the easy way out. Now I must insist that you leave!”

Victor” Carlton said haltingly, “I didn’t know. I hope some day you can forgive me.” Victor simply stared impassively at Carlton and said nothing.

Maxwell” said Carlton. “It’s best we leave here, son. Let’s go home.”  

“No, dad. I don’ want want to but you can go” Maxwell said. “I just found the missing piece of my life. I’d like to stay and talk to my brother, if that’s ok with Mr. and Mrs. Siegel.

Rosa, Ken and Victor looked at each other and nodded in agreement. “You’re always welcome here, Maxwell” said Ken.

Carlton made no further attempt to reach out to his son Victor or embrace this new-found family. Instead, he left the store and walked home, wondering how he could ever explain all this to Evelyn. It wasn’t going to be easy but he’d figure something out. He always did.

NAR © 2019