Something Red and Sweet
Updated: Jun 2, 2022
Hello everybody! Today, I wanted to share a spurt of writing I had about my family and some of the women that make my family beautiful. I hope that this short story helps you think about your own family and the beauty of the relationships you've made with it.
I didn't know what to do with myself. At 19 years old, I should've been on a construction site with dirty boots and muddy jeans, neon vest over an orange shirt. I should've been sucking in dust by the handfuls and coughing more smoke than the crane operators when they step down for smoke breaks. Instead, I was in la mamma's kitchen staring at shards of dark, tan clay and wondering how pissed she was going to be when she found out I broke the roll pan.
I found out before I could think to sweep them up.
My father whispered to me one night. He said she moved in storms: tempests of rage, or dark, rolling clouds of quiet waiting for the right moment to thunder. With the blood of a thousand tomatoes and a thousand more glasses of red wine, she boiled. She spilled over and scalded me like the dark-haired, half-bred mutt I was.
"Sorry," I mumbled. "I'll buy you another." I would try to buy her another, but without money, it'd be impossible. She knew that. I worked two jobs to pay my own rent; kitchen appliances were Goodwill finds at best.
"Butana," she breathed out after her rage settled. I laughed, she laughed, and we settled into a comfortable silence. My mother's Italian came out sparingly- she only cussed her mother in Italian, so this was a treat.
It means son of a bitch in Italian. It was her favorite word; it was the first she'd ever learned because her uncle had a strawberry farm with a single mule, and as a child she could hear his voice across the wet plains screaming, "Butana! Move it, Butana!"
She laughed again and turned from the kitchen. "I'll get another from somewhere," she called from the living room. I sat my palms against the counter and stared down at the little bit of history lost.
She couldn't get another one. It wasn't expensive by any means, but it'd been seasoned for years. You couldn't buy that. She knew it, I knew it. Her ancestors knew it. A little piece of us died. It'll never come back.
When her uncle passed, my mother felt faint the entire day. She'd complained about the weather, but it was November, a comfortable chill presiding over the graveyard when they lowered him in the ground. We got home and she laid catatonic in grief.
The next day, we went to his home. We found out that the other side of the family had already been and had picked the place apart like the vultures they were. Dust outlines, not much different from the chalk outlines used in murders, told us all we needed to know.
My mother was subdued in her anger, but I saw the rage that inflicted my grandmother, a more Sicilian spirit than any before her. There was a cabinet her father had made, and it was gone. She was spitting and cussing and grabbing things and throwing them and breaking them and then picking them up again to break them again. She yelled in two languages and put her eighty-year-old hands through a vase.
We never found the cabinet. No one said a word about it since.
Since then, my grandmother has been confined to her sofa, watching Bonanza reruns. She is not the same. Her brother's strawberry fields and old mule are long gone. Her brother is gone. A part of her is gone.
His name was Dominic Scimeca.
Italians deal with loss in stages. The first stage is a tidal wave of fury; the next, a slow death. Because that is what happens every year a family doesn't pick up the ways of their ancestors. Tradition fades, people stop sprinkling sugar into their red gravy, the lady down the street quits baking her Italian cookies, and the only things left that are truly Italian are your dark, curly locks of hair, and your insatiable taste for something red and sweet.