From The Sky - Part II

Finally there's Zia…beautiful, beautiful Zia. Baby girl, Rae and Sal call her. They say I am nearly her twin; that she looked much like me at my age (excepting, of course, my horrible no-chin). Oh, but I hope that's true, because the years have been very, very kind to her. Those genetics again, you see. She's beautiful, yes…but she's sassy and saucy as well. "She likes stirring the pot," Dad says. You can count on Zia to say precisely the right or very wrong thing just when you need to hear it the most or least. She is alien to the concept of moderation…she goes all-in on whatever she's doing. She's had strings of suitors lined up for a shot at landing her. She left them all by the wayside the second they mentioned love. She's not big on love, my Aunt Zia. She says she was in love just once, and it didn't go very well. "Love's overrated. If you fall in love you're doomed, just like you're grandfather. Just like me. Just like Gio. Doomed."

That was her wedding toast to Joe and me. Like I said, she stirs the pot.

None of my aunts married. They preside over the family as a sort of triumvirate. My father's opinions on family affairs are never sought and rarely considered when offered. He yields to his sisters. Now I know I'm making this sound oppressive, but it's not that way at all. For the most part, my father and his sisters don't lock horns. Dad runs his own household as he sees fit. But on broader matters he yields to his sisters on almost everything. Almost. Twice he went against their wishes, and both times it had something to do with me. He surrendered eventually on one argument, but prevailed with the other. That's a .500 batting record, as I see it. Considering how my aunts pitch a game, it's really quite remarkable.

My aunts visit Joe and me on the first Sunday of each month. Making the rounds, that's what Joe calls it. They've been making them since we moved into the house. Their first visit was to exorcise any evil lurking within the house. Aunt Rae gave me a new broom (…to sweep out the evil…), Sal sprinkled salt in every corner of the house, and Zia gave me fresh bread and a vial of holy water. They even brought the priest with them on that first trip, and he gave the house a blessing. My aunts then declared our home fit and safe for habitation. My first meal, spaghetti with bottled sauce, was proclaimed a disaster. Joe had three helpings (…it's just like my Mom's…). My aunts were dismayed my father hadn't seen that I'd become a proper cook. They promised to teach me, and so the weekly visits began.

They've never missed a Sunday visit on their own account. The only time they don't come is if someone dies or a baby is born or baptized. Funerals and babies trump everything. They arrive an hour or so after church. They always come in Rae's black Cadillac Eldorado. They walk up our paving-stone sidewalk carrying bits of that night's dinner…Aunt Rae the pasta, Sal the sides, and Zia with the dessert.

I cook the main course, and I've gotten quite good under their tutelage. I make a mean Osso Bucco these days, but it's because Aunt Sal taught me how to deglaze with a good Marsala (…no cooking wine, Renata, if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it…), Aunt Rae taught me all about veal and how to tell if it's done (…you got the shanks from the butcher next to Clancy's, didn't you Renata? Don't use store-bought. Make sure you tie twine around them. It's done when it looks like it's threatening to fall off the bone…), and Aunt Zia patiently tutored me on making a proper Gremolada for the garnish (…fresh Italian parsley Renata, not that dried bottled shit. If you use the dried shit, just throw the whole dish out in the yard. Maybe a raccoon will eat it. Same with the garlic. Fresh. Did you remember to grate lemon peel? I saw a plastic lemon on the shelf in your refrigerator. You didn't squirt that cat piss in the Gremolada, did you? Did you, Renata? I will know, and straight to the raccoons it goes! Unless Joe eats it first…)

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