My great grandmother was nothing if not well prepared. She was always ready with the right thing to say and something to serve company. She didn’t like to give the impression that she was ever caught off guard; she was a woman who was ready for anything and had a plan to accomplish everything. Now that the summer has turned to fall I’m thinking of the way she’d spend a portion of this season preparing her house for the cold months ahead. When she was a young girl this would have meant harvesting and storing food but in time she since traded her rural Italian upbringing for New York City and then traded that for the suburbs. Still, even in Suffolk County there was work that needed to be done.
Preparing for the winter was a process that took several weeks and I could track the progresss on the Sundays we visited her from late September through October. It started with the last vegetables and herbs being taken from the garden and the yard. Hedges were trimmed and the grass would be cut one last time. Before the leaves fell the bird bath was turned over and covered to keep it from collecting water that would freeze and cause it to crack. There was a time when she and her husband did this all but by the time I was old enough to notice what was going on my great grandfather had passed away and she had moved to a supervisory role. The grown up men did most of the work. I tried to help once by clearing the crab apples off of the ground. This was fine until my father realized I was just throwing them into the neighbors yard and I was sent inside. From inside the house I could see them cover the fig tree was in tar paper and place in the ground until the spring. This left only one more thing to do: turn off the valve to the water faucet outside. The shutting of the valve was the best part of the winter preparations because my great grandmother made it seem like she was giving out the keys to the city when she asked someone to do this and we all treated it like it was a big deal and it was because not everyone was allowed to do it. First she had to ask and second you had to be tall enough to reach the shut off point which was through the secret panel behind the sink. It was very important that this be done right or it could leak and if it got cold enough the pipes could burst, this was not a job for just anyone.
Today in Los Angeles I woke up early to make pasta sauce, starting at 8 am preparing for dinner around five. This is the way my great grandmother made it, slowly and carefully but without a written recipe. It goes by feel and it’s done when it’s done. While cooking I was watching the Mets who are shutting down their home, not just for the winter but for good. Today was the last scheduled game at the old place but if they won today they would guarantee at least one more game. I wanted at least one more game.
I also wanted to be the guy who turned off the water valve at my great grandmother’s house but for years it went to my older taller cousins until one day in October when I was 17. The phone rang and it was my great grandmother, she just told me she had a job for me to do and I knew what she meant. She told me it could wait until Sunday but I wasn’t about to do wait. I walked the two miles to her house just so I could climb up on the counter reach through the secret panel and turn off the water. I felt like I had been elected mayor and with the house now ready for winter we celebrated with spaghetti and the sauce she had which she had made just in case someone showed up.
As I made the sauce today while watching the Mets I felt like I was trying to hold off the inevitable. A win today wouldn’t fix the team’s many shortcomings, it would just mask them for another day because the Mets had no way to steady the bullpen or jump start an offense that went cold far too many times in big spots. As you know already they lost and all I could do was go to the kitchen and finish making the sauce. It’s going to be a long winter but I’ve been getting ready for it, the Mets have shut the valve until next spring.