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Although this edict was directed at me, dad’s attention was on his mother. He was glaring her down with a steely-eyed look. All eyes turned to Eva, and the war was on.
“What the hell is wrong with Hunts?” The old lady shot back.
Dad sighed—we all felt it. I think he could have stripped paint with that sigh. But, rising to the bait he said, “I don’t like Hunts.” He turned to me, “Deanie, go grab the Heinz.”
Even though the dining table in Grams apartment was only a short hallway, twelve steps and six feet from our refrigerator upstairs, I was afraid I’d miss the argument—it was one of my favorites and manifested every time we sat down to a pasty dinner. Now, for those of you not privileged enough to have been born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, otherwise known as God’s country; let me explain the culinary delight that is the *Cornish pasty.
*Cornish miners, who were unable to go above ground for their lunch were said to have created the hand-held meat and potato filled pie. With their hands dirty from their labors the pasty could be held by the thick pastry crust without the miners contaminating the filling. The thick crust also served as an insulator keeping the contents warm for several hours. Pasties (pronounced with a flat ‘aa,’ as in ‘that,’ pas-tee) were often made with a meat filling at one end and a sweet of fruit or jam at the other. Whoever invented the pasty, my Grams perfected the recipe, and whether you dunk, douse, or drizzle your catsup of choice, the meal just isn’t complete without it.*
The bottle of Heinz clutched to my chest, I bolted back down the steps almost tripping and landing in a broken heap at the bottom of the stairs. It wouldn’t have hindered me though—no broken ankle or sprained neck was going to keep me from the dust-up.
“Muh, Cristo, (that’s Christ, for you non-Italians) it tastes the same as Heinz.”
“No… It doesn’t…”
With slow, deliberate movement dad twisted off the cap to the ketchup bottle and without breaking eye contact with his mother, drizzled a goodly amount of Heinz onto his pasty—tension hung over the table like a shroud. Despite reliving the same argument every time Eva trotted out the pasties, my sister hated the confrontation and by this point tried to merge with the chair in the hopes of going unnoticed. On the other hand, my brother was totally oblivious—as only an eight year old can be—innocently eating his salad and continually biting the tines of his fork, which produced an annoying clicking noise. (Honestly, how hard was it to avoid hitting the silverware?) It would stop soon enough, though; a blast from dad was forthcoming for the offense.
“Dio! (God) It tastes the same. The rest is in your head.”
The argument still in progress was escalating.
With a stare that could blister skin, dad laid an elbow on the table, leaned forward and spoke to Grams, as if addressing a dim-witted child. “Listen to me, Eva,” (dad rarely referred to her as mom), “Heinz is thicker, tangier and sticks to the G*d D**n pasty, so just drop it.”
There was true menace in his tone but the old lady could care less, she relished the fight.
“Heinz, Heinz, Heinz. What the hell’s the difference?! Here! You eat it,” she ordered moments after dousing my pasty with Hunts (I’m a dunker). I just looked at her, pissed off. I loathed Hunts, but I ate it anyway. Still, I never really understood what all the fuss was about since Grams never ate her pasty with catsup.
So, I’ve been living in the shadow of the Swabian Mountains of Southern Germany in a quaint farming village for the past two years. Sounds remote, but it’s actually kind of a bedroom community for Stuttgart, Tubingen commuters and a weekend getaway for people who are farther afield in Munich. Our house overlooks an apple orchard, freshly tilled fields and about one kilometer (that’s .6 miles) up the road, past the local restaurant (serves traditional Schwabisch food) are walking paths that lead to bike paths, which have been carved out of the dense woods so cyclists can travel from town to town without worrying about cars. Although the roads are unpaved the dirt is hard-packed and road signs display mileage, as well as point the way to the next town.
Dogs are a big deal here, too, and if well-behaved an owner has permission to bring them into restaurants, where they are allowed to lay beneath your table. Depending on the establishment they might also receive a bowl of water. It’s a matter of course that you see more dogs than children, as it’s frowned upon for the youngsters to dine out, unless they’re well-behaved. You won’t find dogs chained up outside, or even running around a penned area—dogs are expected to be in the home with their owner, and then walked three times a day whatever the weather. Very orderly. Very rigid. Verrrry, German. Normally, I would make an observant, but, snide comment that the Germans—to a certain extent—treat their pets better than their people, but, not today. Stranger in a strange land and all that.
Anyway, one of the nicer byproducts of being a dog owner is that walking paths are abundant and nothing is off limits. People can go anywhere on a walk; there is no such thing as private access to a lake, or, path, since it’s understood the land will be respected. Nature is for everyone. Wow–what a concept, right? Our house is backed up to all sorts of paths meandering in many directions. Plastic poop-bags and fecal receptacles dot the landscape, so there is no excuse not to pick up after your pets. I make it a point to follow that rule if we’re in the neighborhood, or on the main street, but my two get their business done on the first leg of the walk usually in the woods, and all bets are off then. Sorry, but I’m not going on an Easter egg hunt off-trail to pick up bio-degradable matter—that’s just kooky.
Unfortunately, Karma is a bitch on wheels, and my failure to have a government-sanctioned, green shit-bag at the ready, came back to bite me in the ass the day I deviated from our walk, and decided to take a detour past the elementary school (Schule). Just as we rounded the corner off the path and onto the sidewalk in front of the school, my oldest dog Annie, who will be twelve this year, decided to take a dump right there, in front of the school, while the kids were at recess, and in plain view of one of the teachers (my next door neighbor). I don’t understand much Deutsche, however, the words ewww, shizer and Amerikanisch stuck out like a giant red thumb recently pounded with a hammer. At that point I ran
home, which was just up the hill, retrieved a bag, and scurried back to clean the runny mess under the watchful eyes of Frau-Trash-Can-Stealer (my neighbor) with accompanying applause from the weird little children.
Not long after turd-gate, I was taking the Schulestrasse (School Street) on my way to Cafe B’s in the neighboring village (I do a lot of walking here) and noticed a sign had been posted. Did I forget to mention the Germans are a very literal people? If you don’t think so, take a look at the steam coming off the pile.
P.S. The same sign went up in front of the church, too. Oops.
“Buckle, up girls…”
Grandpa Louie warned, as my sister and I settled into the back seat of his brown, 1974 Ford Maverick. I waited patiently for the seat belt to skim across my lap, as my sister strapped me in with the grim expression of a death row inmate on his way to the chair. Having been through this procedure many times before, I knew to keep my head plastered against the seat until I heard the ‘click’ of the door-lock beneath Anita’s doubled-up fist. Personally, I thought she took the whole safety issue far too seriously, especially for a ten year old. Although, I suspect it may have been the result from an earlier incident.
Our house sat mid-way to the top of the hill on West ‘D’ and our friend’s house at the bottom of the street near the sand-hill drop-off. In the summer and winter we would sled down the thing just shy of a marshy piece of land named Skunk Hollow—well, that’s what we had dubbed it anyway. One warm summer’s day, for whatever reason, my sister decided she would demonstrate to the neighbor kids how the parking brake in our car operated. Thus, reeking with authority, she marched over to the car, reached in the open window and disengaged the hand brake, while we all watched in awe and then varying degrees of horror, as the family car started a slow roll down the hill. To our credit, if not to our acumen, (hey, we ranged in ages 5-11) we all grabbed a handful of rear bumper as it went by in a feeble attempt to pull the car back up the hill–to no avail. So, we let go and just stood there, frozen, our eyes wide as tea saucers, our mouths unhinged and observed the car pick up speed and finally slam into the back of Mr. Davis’s brand new VW Super Beetle with a sickening crunch of metal. I don’t remember much after that except my sister grabbing my hand and dragging me through the house, up the stairs and shoving me under the bed—oh, and I vaguely recall the bright
red lights from the cop car lighting up the bedroom’s dark interior. I suppose that might have accounted for Anita’s vigilant attitude during our jaunts with Gramps.
Once we were properly buckled in, we set off on our weekly outing, which amounted to a five minute car ride followed by a few hours lounging in a bar booth only to jump up every few minutes to feed dimes into the bar’s big ol’ jukebox. We listened to Bobby Vinton, Gordon Lightfoot, Glen Campbell and other big names of the day, while feasting on Hershey bars and orange juice. To this day, I can’t walk past a tavern’s outside vent–its warm air pushing out the yeasty smell of beer–without feeling nostalgic. When I think of Dino’s Bar, the tavern grandpa Louie frequented, I always get the warm fuzzies. Still, I have to laugh at myself when I tell you it did take a few years for me to realize that the tavern where I spent a part of my youth was owned by my dad.
My grandma Eva, who I called Grams, was a fabulous cook and growing up in an Italian household meant I dined like a queen on gnocchi, ravioli, maccheroni, breaded zucchini flowers, red clam sauce, polenta on the board (an experience in itself), cheese breads, sweet breads,
pizzelle, biscotti (that’s bee-scot-ti people, not, bi-scat-ti—drives me friggin’ crazy, oh and by the way, it’s not pronounced Eye-talian; there ‘s no such place as Eye-taly, so let’s keep that in mind shall we?) and other Northern Italian cuisine. However, there were many times she was compelled to try her hand at non-Italian desserts and sometimes candy.
Unfortunately, for us, she wasn’t usually successful. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we didn’t appreciate her efforts, it’s just that we didn’t appreciate her efforts. Alright, before you get your panties in a twist thinking we were attacking some helpless old woman, here’s a little insight into Grams’ personality. Dad always claimed she could teach the Marines to fight dirty. If you still think I’m a tad harsh, click on this link: http://www.deanieroman.com/2013/02/19/drinking-shots-with-eva
Anyway, Grams had a terrible habit of substituting one ingredient for another and this odd quirk forced our family—and not just my immediate family, but my uncle, aunt, cousins and even Grams own sisters—to institute the scoop and sniff technique. I know, sounds rude, horrible, ungrateful…probably, but when Grams would bring in a perfectly normal pie, set it on the table amid our oohs and ahhs of appreciation, which in turn earned us a dirty look since she knew we were just “making her ass tired” (favorite saying in my house growing up). Then, while Grams was busy emptying a drawer in the kitchen in search of a pie serving utensil, those of us assembled around the table would take the brief
opportunity to huddle up and speculate about the pie’s actual contents. It looked like a chocolate cream pie, but was it? Really? That question was usually thrown out there with a tinge of panic by my younger brother, who, throughout his lifetime had been conned into eating figs dressed up as chocolate, cool whip posing as real whipped cream (yes, there is a difference!) and spumoni ice cream, although not technically something she made, but sported dried fruit bits nonetheless. Meanwhile my mother would reach out to bounce her finger off the suspiciously glassy surface. It’s a cream pie. It should have a little give and not suck one’s finger into it’s dark recesses like a house down a sink-hole, unless of course one substituted egg yolks with egg-whites, baking bar chocolate with powdered cocoa and skim milk instead of whole milk.
So, the day Grams decided to make peanut brittle, a favorite candy my dad once enjoyed, we were dubious to say the least, and with good reason—she didn’t have corn syrup and decided caramelizing brown sugar would work
just as well. The result? A globular mass that spread over the plate like limp spaghetti. Still, she expected dad to be completely delighted and eat it with a smile. Uh-huh. Once Grams retreated to her house across the yard, dad handed me the plate instructing me to dump it with extreme prejudice. Instead, I wadded the semi-coagulated mass into a softball shape, smoothed tin-foil around it, took it to school with me and my first class of the day–concert band.
After warm-up our music teacher, Mr. Endahl, was called to the main building over the road. Once he left, I unearthed the peanut-brittle ball. Now, Anita, my sister and a Senior, to my Sophomore, shared the class with me. We discussed the merits of tossing the brittle-ball around and decided it would be fun. At least we’d squeeze some enjoyment from Grams dessert. From where I sat, 2nd chair alto-sax, to Anita, who was way in the hell across the room at the tail end of the third row of clarinets, it was a good distance fraught with all kinds of traps and pitfalls—people standing around in-between the chairs gabbing, a couple kids with gi-normous target-able heads, and a flute player I would have loved to “accidentally” hit. No
matter, we were determined to have our fun, and we did for a while, at least until my sister decided to catch the brittle-ball with her face. Thankfully, she didn’t break anything, but trying to explain how she got that shiner was another story, and one I think I’ll save for another day.
I would like to take a moment and express my sympathies to the victims, their families and others affected by the senseless tragedy that unfolded earlier today in Boston.
My thoughts and prayers are with you.
*porcine–pertaining to pigs
Edinburgh is a fascinating city—the Closes, pubs, tea rooms and long, bloody history kick-started my imagination; set Tasers to percolate! That said I
confess I sometimes enjoy people-watching more than exploring the tourist traps—which, I don’t really explore much to begin with, unless there’s something so totally astounding, I’ll never be able to live with myself if I don’t stand in line for 45 minutes to an hour with the rest of the herd in the hopes of getting close enough to said wonder to justify the cramp in my foot. Yeah, that almost never happens.
One way I satisfy my urge to gawk at passers-by is to immerse myself in the city by walking the streets (no, not street-walking; please, retrieve your mind from the gutter). Anyway, after a few hours of wandering, getting lost, and wandering some more, I find a locale yielding the most foot traffic, search out a pub, café, or restaurant, and then park my butt within view of the street. As one of the nameless rabble, I go unnoticed enabling me to observe mannerisms, facial expressions and the everyday interactions of my fellow human beings with complete impunity.
(Cue evil music) Bwah-ha-ha-ha
The following observations are true. No descriptions have been changed to protect the innocent. If you are a pig, you deserve to be outed.
~On the flight out of Amsterdam, I was forced to wear my sunglasses in a lame effort to counteract the surface-of-the-sun UV rays for fear of scorching my retinas. Not only did I appear super cool, but it allowed me to eye-ball the slight German woman to my left, who awoke from a deep sleep with a ferocious snort worthy of a five hundred pound man with swollen adenoids. Once awake, she proceeded to stuff a skeletal finger up her nose buried to the second knuckle, pulled it out, examined the nugget and then, yup… She ate it.
~Hookers and clowns are not a common site on the Royal Mile. However, a clown dressed like a hooker with a permit to perform magic tricks is a fixture.
~From my perch on the top floor of Deacon Brodie’s Pub, I had a charming view of the street below, and a 6 foot she-male. Despite the size of he/she’s feet and the shim’s lofty height the effete mannerisms and feminine dress might have been convincing if not for the protruding Adam’s apple that resembled a boa constrictor trying to digest a gazelle.
~While washing my hands in the ladies room at Schiphol Airport (yes, W~C~S~S, I soaped the tap) a food server trudged into a stall, spent a few moments on the hopper, concluded her business and stood in front of the mirror. After a lengthy scratching session of her nether region, she exited the ladies and went back to work. Note to self—forgo the Cappuccino.
~If ever the need arises for a well-padded, irate man resembling an Oompa-Loompa—sans the orange-ade skin—to play the bagpipes (badly), while demanding one pound sterling before a tourist snaps a pic; look no further!
~After an unbearably malodorous flight, in which the man seated behind me reeked worse than a shallow pond full of duck shit, I was happy to find a deserted seating area at the airport in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, my odorless slice of heaven was compromised when an ancient Hippie swaddled in ball-crushing leather pants slid into the seat opposite me and eked out a fart so foul, I have no doubt he left a stain.
Tomorrow, I leave for my first visit to Scotland! I’ve packed all the essentials, a half dozen bibs to keep up w/my drooling, a camera in the hopes a brisk wind will find its way beneath a kilt and my husband, who will prevent me from causing an international incident.
I’ll be back next Tuesday with a new post, but for now, it’s men in kilts, medieval castles, whisky, tea rooms, men in kilts… For me, it doesn’t get any better.
In the meantime, ‘Indulge Your Passion,’ that’s what I’m gonna do…
I attended Catholic school up until eighth grade. Thankfully, my small Midwestern town didn’t have a Catholic high school otherwise I might not have experienced the joys of being a total outcast. Despite my misguided excitement of attending a ‘normal’ school, my years as a parochial student (now there’s a loser-label) afforded many ponderous moments that continue to boggle my mind—to name a few:
How many taps of a ginormous yardstick does it take before the teacher appears in the doorway? I lost count the moment Mr. C. strolled through the door and slammed it on top of the nearest desk.
How many times did it take before I punched J. in the mouth for calling me ravioli? I couldn’t say, and neither could he for about a week.
How much more is there to confess? To Be Continued!
Little brothers are a blessing, or so I’ve been told. Of course, now that I’m older, I can honestly say I enjoy our moments together. Still, this wasn’t always the case for a number of years—to be truthful—a lot of years. Okay, more years than I can count.
Anyway, by the time Reno made his grand entrance into the world, my not quite decade long reign as baby of the family was at an end. And, if the fact that this sibling was a boy and born to an Irish mother hadn’t decided my fate but good, then being a second daughter gasping in the shadows of the beauteous first born daughter sealed my fate with a nail-gun. Doomed to a life of obscurity as the ‘middle child,’ I grew resentful, jealous and… Well, you get it. So, short of strapping the little prince to an inner tube and setting him adrift on Lake Antoine for the Ski-Ters (a group of bored teens, who put on a water-ski show in the summer) to jump over, there wasn’t much I could do except cede the lime-light, sink quietly into oblivion and get out of the way, or risk losing a limb being trampled on by all the relatives jockeying for position to fuss over the little shyte.
Nevertheless, I was never one to go quietly and frankly, obscurity is for losers. Still, terrorizing my brother probably wasn’t the smartest move to make, but at the time it was the only true weapon in my limited bag of tricks. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t so limited according to Reno, but, he did tend to exaggerate (still does).
One of my favorite torments was to lure him into a sleeping-bag and drag him around the house. Sounds like tons of fun for the drag-ee, doesn’t it? Silly rabbit, it was all part of my diabolical master scheme to lull him into a false sense of security. After hauling the Graham Cracker Kid a few times around the house, I stopped in the kitchen near the basement door, opened it and let the cool air penetrate his Kermit-the-Frog sleeping bag and informed him to brace himself, cuz I was gonna toss him down the stairs! Bwah-ha-ha-ha
Alright, just calm down! The little beast was seven years old by this point and a smart-mouth to boot; not to mention a hanger-on-er and total buzz-kill. Still, I must have had some recognizable authority as his baby-sitter (yes, baby-sitter) since he only ever whined and never tried to fight his way out. Oh, and by the way, his little adventure repeated itself five more times until he eventually caught on and refused to get into the sleeping-bag altogether. So, zip it, people.
Anyway, after my ominous declaration, I would pick up the sleeping bag and thump him across the kitchen’s linoleum tile, as if he were hitting each one of those twelve stairs before landing on the cement. Then, I slammed the door muffling my speech with a hand to get him to believe I was talking to him from behind the door at the top of the stairs, and commanded him to stay put until I fetched him… hehehe…. worked every time. Ahh, good times.
You know, I never really knew if it was the fear of my wrath, or an implicit trust that I would eventually retrieve him from the basement that kept him immobile. Maybe a bit of both, and yet, when we get together and reminisce about our childhood, it’s all good… At least until he threatens to get even.