Eating Spaghetti.

Spaghetti is a comfort food for me.

I serve it to zj and as you can see, he looovvves it, but this is Ragu from a jar, baby.  No secret family recipe here.  

In my growing up years, spaghetti had two very distinct phases - "Before Mary Rose" and "After Mary Rose."

Before Mary Rose, I had spaghetti, but it consisted of spaghetti noodles cooked with tomato puree and a little sugar.  That's it.  No spices.  No cheese.  I liked it just fine.  It was how my Mama made spaghetti, and it was all I knew.

When I was little, the Roses were our closest neighbors.  "Close" is a relative term here - they lived about a half mile away on a gravel road that was closer to the real road than we were.   Karen was three years older than me, and was in many ways my third big sister.  We rode bikes, and spent the night in each other's houses, and "fell" in the creek, and talked about boys and read Seventeen magazine and Sweet Valley High books and went to the Dairy Cup for Hot Fudge Sundaes and loved Bo Duke with an unparalleled passion.  Kathie was Karen's mother, and she took me on my first overnight trip to a hotel, and tried, really hard for years to teach me how to swim.  I still can't swim, but that's no fault of Kathie's.   Ralph was Karen's Grandpa, and he played music and sang and built secret clubhouses that Karen and I spent hours in.  And Mary was Karen's Grandma, and among many other things, she taught me about spaghetti.

 Mary was Italian, and there were always good smells coming from her kitchen, but they were smells that I didn't recognize at first.

I can't remember the first time I had Mary's homemade spaghetti sauce, but I remember sitting in their kitchen dozens and dozens of times over the years, learning about Parmesan cheese (I always wanted extra) and meatballs and black olives and learning how to twirl, not chop my spaghetti.  If it was spaghetti night at the Roses, more often than not I would get a call from Karen inviting me over, and then she'd walk halfway to my house to meet me.

More than once on my birthday or at Christmas, my gift from the Roses would be a jar of spaghetti sauce and a can or two of olives.  This still ranks in my top gifts of all time.

Over the years, I have tried, with absolutely no success, to duplicate this meal.  I make a REALLY good sauce, but it never has and probably never will be quite as good as Mary's.  Mary passed away several years ago.  Just a few months ago, I got Mary's "secret" recipe from Karen, but I have been afraid to try it.  What if it's not what I remember?

And then it occurred to me - of course it won't be as good as I remember.

Because what I remember is so much more than the taste of a mighty fine spaghetti sauce.  It's the feelings associated with it.  It's the feeling of being invited into someone else's family because they wanted me there, and it's the feeling of sitting in Mary's kitchen at the table with the whole Rose family and listening to them talk and joke and tease each other and me, and it's the feeling of sharing the love of a good meal with people who are important to you.

Thanks, Mary.

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