Our gifts were never wrapped. We’d run out in flannel pajamas to an always somewhat tilted Christmas tree – gifts on the left were mine, the right my sister’s. A lineup of Barbies always headed the front row with uniform boxes of flaxen blonds and brunettes, their plastic frames our crack addiction at the time. We needed them all -Day to Night Barbie, the Rockers (Barbie’s band mates) and the coveted international Barbies (looking back, Oriental Barbie probably wasn’t Matel’s most politically correct model.) We were like kids in a toy store (who needs candy stores!) and it never crossed my mind that “Santa” didn’t have money for wrapping paper.
It’s funny the perceptions you have as a kid. For some reason I thought we had a real tree, even though I saw it put down in the basement every year and it had a thick, green, metallic pole running through the center. I guess I was a little dense, but there was magic at Christmas. Who was I to judge if this tree could live in pieces, in a box, in the basement?…alright, I was dense.
But it was one of my favorite times of year. I thrived on the fact that my family was different. We didn’t have turkey like everyone else. We made homemade raviolis through a family assembly line in my grandparents’ basement, where even I was given simple jobs like forking the corners shut or scooping filling, but it made me feel important.
My grandfather, Pop, was from the same school of thinking as “The Little Red Hen.” If you wanted to enjoy the spoils, you better join in on the work. The first time my aunt went to my grandparents' house when she was dating my uncle, they finished dinner and Pop asked, “Did you eat here?” She nodded. “Then you can help clean up.” It sounds gruff, but in actuality it was an invitation to be part of the group. And for some reason, it was always fun washing the dishes and making raviolis, but mostly because we were all doing it together.
This year I’d be trying out my family’s pasta recipe for the first time, since my husband and I were celebrating Christmas at our home in San Diego instead of heading back east. The plan was to make manicotti (like an Italian burrito stuffed with ricotta), along with meatballs, sausage and garlic bread. I wasn’t sure if I was up to making the braciole (pounded flank steak, rolled up with garlic, parsley and parmesan) and was definitely going to save the cannolis for next year (without a Fry Daddy, making the shells is a torturous process.) One recipe at a time I guess, and this year pasta and sauce would be the focus. But even as I tried to master these lessons, I was already missing the teachers who taught me their tricks.