“… and unto dust …”

February 25, 2009

pizza1I always feel a little guilty right about now in the rolling year. No, not because we’re supposed to feel guilty during Lent. Not exactly, anyway. I get a little self conscious about all those Lents in my childhood, the Lents everyone in my house and people of our acquaintance couldn’t wait for. In those days, the emphasis in Lent was on the “giving up,” at least in popular culture. For me, that meant a hiatus in the constant gorging on candy and ice cream and Yoo Hoo as I worked, if you can call it that, in my family’s grocery store. Naturally, I looked forward to resuming that self-destructive behavior, but I wouldn’t have traded all the candy and Yoo Hoo in the world for what was unleashed in my grandmother’s kitchen when this day came.

Like many women of her generation and background, Grandma had a repertoire of Italian meals that she cooked only during Lent. Besides being restricted to the season, they were parsed out on certain days during the five weeks of “penance.” My favorite was the hand-made pizza with wild mushrooms Grandpa had picked up in Ramapo. I even loved the spaghetti with anchovy sauce, though I don’t think I could stomach it now. Of course, whenever she was cooking – and when wasn’t she cooking? – Grandma would call me into her kitchen and slip me whatever preliminary scraps were available – a clear violation of the fast. While some people, including me, still practice some material sacrifices during Lent, the season has a much more positive spin now than it did in the 1940s and ’50s. Presumably, those who endured the trials of those days piled up treasures in heaven, as we used to say. I piled up IOUs.