A Weekend at Home

Shelton Rae relaxed at home in the windowsill over the weekend - tangledpasta.net
Shelton Rae relaxed at home in the windowsill over the weekend – tangledpasta.net







By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Last Thursday night Anjelica rang me up.

“Would it be okay if I came home tomorrow night?  I’m stressed, tired, and I need my Mama!”

“You know you can always come home, anytime, Sweetheart,” I assured her.

“Should I bring Shelton Rae for just one night?”  Shelton Rae is her big orange cat.

“Shelton should probably come with you since he’s never been alone overnight.  Fellini and Coco Chanel will be fine with him.”  [It turned out to be a bit touch and go, but that’s another story.]

Since she was leaving after her Friday afternoon class, I calculated she would arrive here around 6:00 p.m.  After work I scampered over to Whole Foods, one of my favorite places for grocery shopping.  I purchased a couple of New York strip steaks, roasted Yukon gold potatoes, and cooked some Swiss chard, or Swiss-a charge, as my father used to say.  Anjelica and Shelton Rae arrived at 6:50 p.m.  We chatted, cooked, sat down to dinner, and then she studied.  It was a most tranquil Friday night.

Early Saturday morning we headed to our hair salon for Anjelica’s appointment.  With a new graduate program, new city, and new domicile, she felt primed to change-up her hair style, which she did.  We arrived home.  I heated up the cheese and spinach Mystic Pizza [now sold at Whole Foods].  Over salad and Mystic Pizza, we reminisced about a memorable summer several years ago when we traveled to the charming seaport town of Mystic, Connecticut.  These fond memories propelled us to agree to watch the movie, Mystic Pizza that very night.  Scheduling a movie night meant Anjelica had to hunker down and hit the books before and after Saturday evening Mass.

I made risotto with mushrooms, herbs, and white wine for dinner, and we watched Mystic Pizza.  Viewing the movie again reminded us of the fabulous seafood we ate that summer:  Quahogs, lobster, clams, crab proved most tantalizing to our Heartland taste buds.  If it sported fins or housed itself in a shell, we ate it that summer.  Crustaceans aside, Mystic Pizza took our minds off of the mundane for a few hours.

Sunday morning dawned.  While she slept in, I put together a potato-basil frittata, and lightly fried thinly sliced pork chops in olive oil and a dab of butter.  After sorting through in-between season clothes to take back to school, it was time to bid one another adieu.  Anjelica had to return to her new life as a law student.  Over the weekend she had rested,  accomplished her homework goals, and unwound from law school stresses for a weekend. We bid one another adieu, and while I am aware that I will see her soon, I prefer to tell her hello.

Ciao for now.

Missing Mama

"Kitty" Violi in the middle, with her sisters Adelaide [left] and Agnes [right] circa 1943- tangledpasta.net
“Kitty” Violi in the middle, with her sisters Adelaide [left] and Agnes [right] circa 1943- tangledpasta.net
By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Eleven years ago today, June 20, 2002, my mother, Anna Catherine “Kitty” Violi, died.

She had complained of chronic weariness for some months.  As the sister to three IU Medical School graduates who had done their Residency at the Mayo Clinic, Mama was careful to follow the proverbial “doctor’s orders.”  She had regular checkup. Each morning she took her high blood pressure medication, thyroid medication, acid reflux medication,  multiple vitamin, and baby aspirin.  She ate healthy, as most Italians do, with little meat, lots of shade and dark leafy green vegetables, fish, fruit, and little processed food.  Mama also walked her neighborhood nearly every day. Granted Mama was 87, but she looked more like a 70-something with lovely, unlined skin, clear blue eyes, and silvery gray hair.

I loved her dearly.  She was my  mother, best friend, confidant, oracle, anchor, source of family lore, the dearest grandmother to my daughter, the lynchpin of our family.  Her laughter, sense of fun, delight in family and friends, merriment in the sheer joy of life infused those around her with added spirit.  An outstanding cook whose interest in new recipes piqued her interest throughout her life, we ate with brio at her table.

Emblazoned upon my memory is the warmth of her smile, the lilt of her voice, our daily kisses of adieu, of telling one another, “I love you.”  After eleven years, one would think the memories would fade, the sound of her voice would dim.  That has not, however, been the case.  She made me a better person, even after her death.  I strive to recall her feisty spirit, how she faced challenges head on.  I try to emulate her compassion, her kindness, her celebration of family.  Several years after my daughter Anjelica was born, I told Mama I had come to the realization that a great part of being a good parent is getting over oneself.  I said that while having a child was a humbling experience, it was also the most rewarding, how this toddler had enriched my live beyond measure.  Mama smiled, nodded her head, and whispered, “Yes.  Exactly,”  and she gave me a hug.  We both understood I had finally  grown up myself, finally, in my mid-30’s.

The 2002 Father’s Day weekend stroke that rendered her silent was deafening when her flame passed 72 hours later.

I miss her hugs, yet she is present everyday in my heart, and that makes me smile.

Ciao for now.

October Nostalgia

Lake Michigan, not so far from our smaller lake – tangledpasta.net

Around this time in October, my aunts, uncles, and cousins from Detroit and Dayton would meet my family at our summer house on the lake, not to swim, but to “put it to bed for the winter”, as Mama was fond of saying.  We all had assigned tasks:  The men folk dismantled the pier, storing the large squares under the house where the parts remained hidden behind white wooden crisscrossed fencing.  They heaved and ho’d to remove the rowboat and paddle boat out of the water.  The rowboat was placed over wooden horses and then covered with thick heavy canvas tied around it for protection from the winter snow soon to come.

Pasta supremo – tangledpasta

Aunt Adelaide supervised us in raking the leaves that fluttered down from the large oak trees in the backyard.  The crisp October air prevented any thought of swimming, much to my cousins’ and my chagrin.  Instead we contented ourselves with romping through the leaves, re-raking them repeatedly in order to leap into them savoring the crunch they made.  Back then we raked a huge pile of these leaves in order to burn them under my aunt’s watchful eye after satisfying our leaf-leaping joy.

Inside the cottage, Mama and Aunt Agnes cleaned the house from stem to stern.  They wiped all the windows clean, dusted and polished every stick of furniture, swept and mopped all the floors.  After a Saturday marathon of “putting the cottage to bed for the winter”, Aunt Adelaide made her killer Manhattans for the grown-ups and homemade hot chocolate for the non-adults.  Munching on crudités of carrot and celery sticks and bell peppers, we kicked back.  Television was verboten in the cottage; we played board games and lived without the “idiot box”, as Mama called the TV.  We then sat down at Grandfather’s old mahogany dining room table for a dinner of cabbage rolls, potato and fennel casserole, Italian prosciutto, salami, provolone, crusty bread, and Daddy’s homemade red wine, “made with-a Napa grapes”.

After attending Sunday morning Mass, we again convened at the table for a satisfying pasta and salad dinner, courtesy of Mama and Daddy.  Before parting ways on Sunday afternoon, the beds upstairs and down were stripped – the linens to be taken to our houses and washed, the blankets stored in cedar-lined chests, the porch rocking chairs moved to the great room, the refrigerator cleaned out, and the large brick fireplace –the cottage’s only heat source – swept and cleaned.  We hugged and kissed one another, and talked about the looming Christmas holidays when we would be together again.  As my family’s car lumbered up the driveway’s knoll, I couldn’t take my eyes off of my beloved cottage.  I took comfort from knowing she would joyfully greet us in May, welcoming us back another summer.

Ciao for now.

Remembering Sparkle, Part IV

Sparkle resting on a fuzzy blanket – tangledpasta.net

My daughter came home for Thanksgiving and we honored the holiday with family and friends.  Since my birthday follows Thanksgiving, we usually celebrate after we have recovered from the sumptuous Thanksgiving repast.  That particular birthday, Anjelica gifted me with a tall, tantalizingly scented candle with three wicks.  The next morning I arose early and made a spinach quiche.  To cheer up the overcast November morning, Anjelica lit the new candle.  As we sat down to dine, Sparkle suddenly leapt up on the dining room table.  I shouted for her to get off the table, but not before sweeping her gold and white ringed tail over the three burning wicks.  With a grand leap, Sparkle vanished into the other rooms.

“Mama!  Sparkle’s on fire!  Her tail is burning”, cried Anjelica.

“Quick!  She ran into the sun room! Catch her!  I’ll get a towel!”

I raced to pour cold water over a towel, quickly wrung it out, and dashed into the sun room.

“Her tail isn’t burning now,” Anjelica said as she tried to calm Sparkle and herself.

Gingerly I wrapped the wet towel around Sparkle’s smoldering tail.  Fellini, our other cat, wrinkled his nose as he sniffed the air.  Sparkle’s tail emitted a odiferous scent of burning fur.  She did not balk at the hand towel I held in place around her tail.

Sparkle and Fellini indulging in bird watching – tangledpasta.net

“She flew off the table so fast, the air managed to put out the flames,” I commented, checking over Sparkle to make sure she hadn’t been injured elsewhere.       For her part, Sparkle purred contentedly in Anjelica’s lap the rest of the day.

“Now you have to call her “Sparkler”, observed our friend Sister Marie as she howled with laughter as we related the story of Sparkle’s flaming tail.

“Let’s send up some prayers to St. Francis of Assisi since that’s your order,” I said to Sister Marie.

Save for the black patches on her singed tail, Sparkle appeared none the worse for wear.  Suffice to say that for Christmas we kept candles far away from Sparkle.

We did not know these were to be Sparkle’s last Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Sparkle celebrating Christmas – tangledpasta.net

In May, I noticed a hard lump on Sparkle’s backbone near her left shoulder.  Given Sparkle’s age, fourteen in human years, I attributed the hard growth to a cyst or arthritic condition.  When Anjelica arrived home from college, she blanched at the site of Sparkle.  After examining Sparkle, our vet informed us Sparkle was suffering from a fast growing tumor, the ‘tentacles’ of which had invaded her muscles.  Due to the rapid spread of this type of feline tumor, surgery would only delay the inevitable for a few more months.

“Take her home, keep her comfortable.  You will know when to bring her back.  She only has another two or three months.”

Anjelica was crushed.  Sparkle had helped ease her transition from Montessori school to parochial school and from middle school to high school.  Sparkle never left her side as Anjelica mourned the sudden and unexpected of her beloved grandmother.  Sparkle was on deck for Anjelica during the remaining four years of her grandfather’s life as we cared for him.  When Anjelica cried over the loss of those dear to her, it was Sparkle who snuggled close to her throughout the night, purring loudly to ward off sadness.

I convinced Anjelica that we would not let Sparkle suffer and cling to life because of our emotions.

“The kindest thing you can do for Sparkle is to let her go.”

“But how can I?  How can I say goodbye?”

“By remembering all of the good things you shared with Sparkle.  By doing just what you have been doing for fourteen years:  by loving her.”

Sparkle protesting travel, ours and hers – tangledpasta.net

On the Fourth of July, Sparkle celebrated Anjelica’s birthday with us.  Although remained loving, purring loudly, she gradually backed away when Anjelica tried to pick her up.  Sparkle ate less, slept more, and refused to be near Fellini.

“It’s time to take Sparkle to her doctor,” I said, putting my arms around my darling daughter.

The veterinarian said Sparkle was masking her suffering for us to hide her pain.   Sparkle had reached the end of her long and winding road.  We decided to have her buried in a peaceful cat cemetery near a weeping willow tree overlooking a pond.

Alone in the examination room, we bade Sparkle goodbye for one last time.  Anjelica could not let her go.  This time Sparkle did not resist.

Sparkle, sweet and loving – tangledpasta.net

We cried all the way home.

It has been over a year now since we lost Sparkle.  Throughout our lives we have had quite a few pets, but sometimes one touches the heart in a unique way.  For Anjelica, that cat was Sparkle.

Adieu, bonne chat Sparkle.   ^..^

Remembering Sparkle, Part I


Sparkle the cat – tangledpasta.net

The summer Anjelica turned six, she informed me she wanted a cat of her own.

“But we have Lulu, our Houston cat,” I protested.

“No, Mama.  Lulu was your Houston cat before I was born.  I want a cat all my own.”

I sighed.  “Let’s look for cats to adopt,” I suggested.

“I drawed a picture of the cat I want,” announced Anjelica.

She handed me a drawing of a predominantly white cat with gold ears, a gold tail, and several gold spots on its body.

“Sweetheart, it will be hard to find a cat that looks exactly like the one in your lovely picture.”

“Let’s start looking, Mama!”

I felt this was a doomed search from the get go.  The odds of finding a cat with such particular coloring specifications seemed like searching for a needle in a haystack.

We went to the local Pet Refuge and Animal Control.  In the meantime, I queried colleagues and friends.  There were a plethora of black cats, gray cats, tortoise-shell cats, and variations thereof, but no cat remotely resembled the one of Anjelica’s dreams.

Finally, one Saturday morning, we drove to the county Humane Society.  Rows and rows of black, gray, black and white, gray and white, tortoise-shell, and calico cats greeted us with meows both sweet and frantic.  On a ledge in a huge cat cage, was a heap of kittens, stacked on top of one another snoozing the sultry summer day away.  From the bottom of the kitten pile, a gold-ringed tale lay draped over the edge of the ledge.  Upon closer inspection, Anjelica noticed a white foot.

Sparkle the cat – tangledpasta.net

“Mama!  Mama!  My cat! My cat!  She’s there!” Anjelica almost pulled the tall cage door open herself before the volunteer reached for it.

Gently, the volunteer moved each kitten until she reached for the gold-ringed tale, white-footed cat.  She placed the kitten in Anjelica’s waiting arms.  The kitten deigned to open its green eyes for a moment, then fell back asleep purring.

“See her gold spots, Mama?  See her gold ears?  Her white paws?  She waited for me.”  Anjelica paused, peering at the kittens pink triangle nose.  “Her name is Sparkle.”

“Welcome to the family, Sparkle.”

Ciao for now.


Viva Las Vegas, Part II: Parla italiano!

Fountains show at Bellagio, Las Vegas
Fountains show at Bellagio, Las Vegas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After some days of hearing languages from around the world spoken at The Bellagio, I decided to speak only Italian.   This drove my daughter somewhat mad, but I explained to her that “Questa `e un’opportunita a parlare la lingua!”

She failed to see it my way.  She simply thought I was being “weird and annoying”.  However, my use of Italian in the Bellagio Art Museum only enhanced the artistic experience, at least from my perspective.

“Mama, people think I’m a mute because you are doing all the talking,” she complained.

“Parla italiano, cara mia.  La lingua `e bellissima!” I replied.

She likened my exclusive use of Italian to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.   She was making literary allusions, I observed.

While dining at Circo’s that night at The Bellagio, we were treated to a window seat by The Fountains.  In the midst of describing my delight at the wonders of the “cena deliziosa” at Circo’s, she snapped.

“Mama, I’m begging you:  Speak English.  I can’t keep up with the Italian.  You know I haven’t spoken it for months.  Per favore?”

“Va bene, cara mia.  Parliamo inglesi stasera.”

“Mama, hai parlato italiano ancora.”

I smiled.  “Certo!  E tu hai parlato italiano adesso.  Ecco il tiramisu!

“Mangia!” said Anjelica as she picked up her spoon and dove into the tiramisu.

My strategy had worked:  She was speaking Italian again.  Outstanding Italian food has that effect on our linguistic abilities.  To further sweeten the language deal, we went to see the new Woody Allen movie, To Rome With Love.  Che bella in its use of subtitles.

Ciao for now.

Italian Language Workshop
Italian Language Workshop (Photo credit: Context Travel)

Ode to a Cat

A six-week old kitten.
A six-week old kitten. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a person who has been owned by various cats ever since I was three years of age, I feel qualified to address the elusive allure of cats.  At age three, I have a vivid memory of Mama driving us to Zio Eduardo’s farm to select a kitten.  A calico kitten mesmerized me with her grey white, gray, tan, and black dappled fur. I anointed her Kitty Carbon.  Why, I have no idea, but “Carbie” and I became inseparable as we romped and partook of afternoon teas.

The good-natured Kitty Carbon permitted me to dress her in my doll bonnets and sometimes even in a doll dress.  We took catnaps together on sultry summer days.   My Papa made her a cozy bed of fresh hay covered with a gunnysack, and piled high with plush towels. She snoozed away the nights on a shelf in the garage behind closed doors.  I didn’t understand why “Carbie” sometimes disappeared for a night or two or three.  Shortly thereafter, she puffed up.  Even though I was mystified, Kitty Carbon would bless us with four to six kittens several times a year.  Mama would always search for fine homes for “Carbie’s” brood, amid protests from me.   I wanted to keep them all.

After nine years, perhaps one for each of her mystical nine lives, Kitty Carbon passed away.  I mourned her deeply and lamented her loss.  Yet in those nine years, “Carbie” taught me the ying and yang of felines.  She manifested fearlessness when it came to hunting, but gentleness reigned whenever she was with me.  When drowsy, “Carbie’s” eyes became slits that covered most of her green eyes, while still aware of the world around her.  Enigmatic, she thrived on human love, and the company of neighborhood cats, especially in the spring.  Throughout her life, Kitty Carbon meowed sparingly, alerting us to her immediate needs.  She particularly excelled at purring.   Only two photos survive of her, and they are not of primo quality.  The above photo is as near a clone of “Carbie” that I could locate.  The photo may not be perfect, but Kitty Carbon burns brightly in my mind and in my heart.

Ciao for now.