Christmas Eve is three days away!!!!! Three day count down to the feast of the seven fishes at my parents hoüse. Hubby and I salivate in anticipation.
You see, my parents are Italian-American (there’s also some Scottish and German in there). So that means every Christmas Eve since the time of my birth I have participated in this storied seafood soirée.
When my grandfather was alive (and well) he would bring over a crackled black cast iron cauldron; placing it gingerly on our glass top stove… he would work feverishly at the kitchen sink cleaning like a madman, whistling, cooing, and wooing his freshly caught prey. Inside that kettle all sorts of oils and liquids would bubble and squeak, perfectly crisping up the de-scaled, de-veined, and otherwise (nearly alive) creatures that were zealously tossed into it… ending in their culinary demise.
Grampa would bring over an assortment of seafood delights. In his treasure trove there were shrimp and smelts to be fried, there were mussels and clams to be steamed, there was baccala, tuna steaks, calamari and scungili… folded into a scintillant bouillabaisse. And let’s not forget the live eel… Yeahhhhh…I think I’ll leave that one to your imagination.
My grampa was a short, stout man with striking features and lively eyes. He was more gnome than nobleman. More Santa than Sinatra. He was a cross between Michaelnagelo and a magical elf.
My grandfather- a brilliant scientist, a voracious reader, an expert gardener. He was hilarious and mischievous. He was rebellious and rambunctious. He rode a Harley Davidson, and helped me make a telephone out of two tin cans and a twine of string. Grampa grew the juiciest, reddest, plumpest tomatoes, introduced me to gooseberries, and harbored an inhuman hatred towards the beavers who gnawed down his precious cherry trees.
Grampa would brew me concoctions of comfrey tea and rhubarb chews to clear up a pimple and ease digestion woes. We’d watch old reruns of Stark Trek the Original Series while I doodled on scrap paper trying to perfect my penmanship. He would craft me cheese sandwiches and steam them up in an antiquated microwave oven that he kept hidden in the back pantry of his crooked kitchen. The plaster was cracked and the windows were smudged but it was warm and dimly lit… and far away from an anxious day of fitting in at a new school – St. Patrick’s Elementary… it was a far cry from the glory days of Pizza Hut’s “Book-it” in third grade at Charles Sumner public school…
By the time I got to Grampa’s I was starving. I’d devour his bachelor stash of TandyKakes and Club crackers and then sneak back there to eye the treasures lurking in the shadows of that sloping food closet. On the walls hung all sorts of handles and levers, silver things, gold things, shiny sparkly things. Things with feathers that were used to catch fish, things sealed away in leather pouches with shiny buckles and snaps…
On those chilly afternoons after school, while Spock and Kirk chatted with Harry Mudd, Grampa dozed off at the kitchen table warmed only by the heat of the pilot light on his gas stove. That’s when I’d make my move… off to delicately inspect the wares of that magical pantry. The air was hung with wood chips and diesel, old spice and stale bread… it smelled like heaven.