It’s the third week of November and Halloween seems so long ago. Now everyone is looking forward to the Thanksgiving Holiday. All the Kids love this holiday because they have four days in a row off from school. The adults love this holiday too because of all the food they get to eat and spending time with all their family and friends for a big celebration. Thanksgiving is almost a week away and our mothers are working hard putting all the special food together for the holiday. When I got home from school the other day I found the hallway in our building full of tomato crates lined up on our staircase with barly enough room to walk by. I counted forty crates loaded with fresh Plum Tomatoes.
I squeezed by the crates to walk up the stairs to my apartment and I smell the odor tomato sauce and Basil cooking away. When I get to our door I see my mother and her lady friends peeling and crushing tomatoes as fast as they can. There are pots of boiling tomato sauce on every burner of our gas stove. Some of the ladies are scooping up the hot tomato sauce and putting it into glass Ball canning jars for storage. They sat me down at a little table because my job is to cap the bottles that they are filling with tomato sauce through a funnel. When the filled bottles get to me I put a crown metal cap on the opening of the bottle. I put the bottle under a bottle capper and press down on the handle as hard as I can. The downward pressure from the capper will force the metal crown cap to crimp and seal around the opening of the glass bottle.
Then I put the sealed bottle full of tomato sauce into an old wooden Pepsi soda crate on the floor next to me. I do this again and again until the wooden crate is full and ready to be stored in the Wine cellar. I love the smell of tomato sauce. When there’s a break in the action, I take a piece of Italian bread and dip it into the hot fresh tomato sauce cooking on our stove. Wow, does that taste good. But there’s not much time to dip and eat because another batch of bottles full of tomato sauce are ready to be capped. This assembly line goes on and on for hours until all the crates are gone from the hallway and we cooked and sealed hundreds of jars and bottles of tomato sauce that are now in the Wine cellar for storage. It’s hard work but this way our families with have homemade tomato sauce and homemade pasta they can cook for the holiday or anytime they need it.
Now that all the wooden crates are out of the way, the ladies are cleaning the kitchen and all the dirty pots and pans. My mother tells me to sweep the hallway and the staircase and clean up all the wooden chips that have broken off from the tomato crates. Then she hands me a bucket full of soapy hot water, brush and mop to scrub the staircase and mop the hallway. It’s a dirty job but my mother wants to make that the hallway clean for the other tenants who live in our building. After I scrub each step and mop the hallway clean I can sit by the radio in the dark and listen to the creepy stories broadcast of Mystery Theater. I don’t know why I do this because some of the Mystery Theater stories scare the shit out of me. After I’m scared out of my mind, I get into my cot, put the blanket over my head and try to fall asleep.
The next day when I got home from school I notice the clean soapy smell in the hallway from my scrubbing each step and mopping the hallway. When I walk into our apartment I see the ladies back at work making pasta. I have to be careful when I put my school books down because every surface in our apartment is covered with pasta drying. There’s pasta drying on our chairs, trunk, beds, it’s everywhere. I can’t believe that these women can mix flour with water, knead the dough, roll it out and form little pasta caps with a butter knife that they call Orecchiette in Italian, translation in English it means, “ear Lobes.” I have to get out of here before I make a mistake and smash some of little pasta caps that are drying all over the place. If I do smash some of these little caps, the ladies will kill me for sure.
So I put my books under my mother’s bed and I go down stairs to see who I can find. As I walk out of the building I remember that Joanie wants me to play her new, Old Maid, card game with her. So I walk across the street and knock on her door. Her mother Tina opens the door and I ask her if Joanie is home. Tina says, “Hi Pepino, yes, Joanie is home, she’s at the dining room table finishing her homework. Come in, come in.” I walk over to Joanie and I say. “Hi Joanie, I came over to see if you wanted to play that new Old Maid card game you told me about? My apartment is full of drying pasta and I can’t do any homework until the ladies are finished drying and packing the pasta in paper bags for storage. That can take another hour or two. I hope you don’t mind my coming over?”
“No, don’t be silly, I finished my homework and it would be great to show you how to play Old Maid.” I sat down at the table across from Joanie and she took out a deck of cards called Old Maid and started to explain how to play the game. “Okay, the whole purpose of the game is not to get stuck holding the Old Maid card at the end of the game. Because if you get stuck, holding the Old Maid card at the end of the game, you lost, then we start a new game. It’s better to play this game with three or four kids but its okay to play with two people. I will deal out all fifty one cards in the deck. I will get twenty five cards and you will get twenty six cards. Now we look over our hands and try to match up as many pairs as we can and lay them down in front of us face up. Okay, now I have to pick a card from your hand. Don’t show me your cards.
After I pick a card from your hand I will match it to one of the cards I’m holding to make a pair and put it down in front of me. You do the same when it’s your turn. Since you started out with twenty six cards I know that you’re holding the Old Maid card. If by chance I pick the Old Maid card out of your hand I will put it in my hand and shuffle my cards so that you don’t see where I put it. Because when it’s your turn to pick a card I will try to give the Old Maid card back to you. After we pair up all the cards one of us will get stuck holding the Old Maid card and that means you lost the game. Then it’s your turn to shuffle all the cards and deal them out as I did. Do you have any questions?” I said, “no” and we started to play the game. I think that Joanie must have “ex-ray vision” because she won every one of the six games we played. That’s when I gave up and left her to find my friends. As I walked up Columbia Street I see Jimmy Pizza sitting in front of his father’s Pizza Parlor, Bar and Restaurant. I say, “Hey Jimmy, What’s up? Everybody at my house started canning tomato sauce and now they’re making pasta for the Thanksgiving Holiday. I just had to get out of there. What’s new with you?” He started to laugh and said.”Yeah, it’s like the entire neighborhood has gone crazy making food for the holiday. My mother and her friends are making these little mini meat balls for the chicken soup that everybody loves to eat around Thanksgiving. They’re making all kinds of cookies too. Our kitchen is like a disaster hit it. If I didn’t leave they would put me to work and that’s why I’m sitting out here.” He got up and turned and waved at me to follow him into his father’s Pizza Parlor and said, “Come with me I want to show you my father’s new Juke Box.” I say, “what in the Hell is a Juke Box.” “You’ll see just come back here with me.” We walked by the tables and chairs towards the back of the restaurant and I see this beautiful thing about the size of a refrigerator all lit up with colorful lights. Jimmy walks up to it turns to face me and says. “This is a Juke Box. Look into it and you will see sixty records all lined up. Here is a list of all the songs you can play next to these buttons. You put a nickel into this coin slot, you find the song you want to play on the list and push the button next to it and like magic the machine pulls the record you selected and play that song for you. Isn’t that neat?” I left the restaurant shaking my head. “Holy shit what will they think of next?”