Fitness at 55

My body is a little tired and achy. I lifted heavy yesterday and my 55 year old joints are not too happy with me this morning.  The will is there but sometimes the body does not comply. Lifting and getting back into shape, in your 50s, is a cautionary tale filled with hard, uncomfortable truths and disappointments, coupled with small gains and wins.  What used to work for me in my 20s, 30s, and 40s does not work now. It does not help that my job requires me to sit at a desk all day. That reminds me, it is time for my hourly 2 minute exercise routine so my sedentary lifestyle does not kill me. 

Keeping healthy in my 50s is actually a 2nd job. I find that I am spending at least 3 hours a day doing some type of exercise. Let’s be honest about my intentions. Yes, I want to be healthy but my main motivation is purely for vanity’s sake.  Any health benefit would be a side effect to the main goal and that is to shed the dad bod and attempt to regain some semblance of the man I used to look like back in my youth, Andy Garcia. Ha ha.

I started a year ago. I invested in building a garage gym and over a duration of about 6 months I was able to assemble an adequate amount of equipment that fulfilled my needs. I joined 50+ fitness groups for advice and tips. I watched umpteen amounts of YouTube videos on exercises for guys my age.  I researched and purchased supplements including protein powder and creatine. I was now well on my way to transforming into the Adonis I have planned to be and it should only take about 4 or 5 months, tops.  I can’t wait to do the before and after pics. 

Fast forward a year later and my grand transformation is more of a small gain coupled with large frustration. Gaining muscle and losing fat, in your 50s, is hard AF. When I was 35, I worked out daily, ate moderately well, made exponential gains, and lost a bucket of fat, all at the same time. I looked great! At 55, it is a series of small gains pit marked by annoying injuries that create long periods of recovery. I thought I could reduce caloric intake, chug creatine, and just work out and I will be well on my way. I have made strength and size gains, that I am happy about, but have not lost one inch in my gut.  How the hell is that happening? I have reduced my calorie intake to almost 1400 calories a day and I am burning way more calories than I was before. Why do I look like a buff Budha? What worked then is not working now and that sucks.

No, what is happening now, thanks to my wife and her discipline not my perceived motivation, is I now must do a combination of walking and jogging, 3+ miles a day. She is killing it, by the way. I cannot keep up with her with her multiple workouts a day. She is a machine. Anyway, I now must get up off my ass every hour to do a series of jumping jacks, pushups, and squats, every 2 minutes, because my sedentary lifestyle, as I am told, is the worst killer of gains. I am still lifting in the garage but with various exercises that will not make my tendons scream at me. I am eating only at specific times of the day as I am finding out that blood sugar and insulin levels are now a thing. I am just beginning to attempt to take on what is called Macros, which requires me to weigh my food. Yeah, good luck weighing the chips and salsa at Jardin Corona Mexican restaurant. We are easing into HIIT and all at the same time I still need to lift heavy because my old school twenty something ego will not let go of the gym.

The biggest challenge with all of this is enjoying life. I enjoy weekly date night with my wife which includes exploring new bars and restaurants. I enjoy Sunday family dinners and impromptu trips to get ice cream or some treat with my boys. I LIKE TACOS! This is friggin hard.

I look at Andy Garcia now and think, he still looks pretty good, or does he? 

The Green Team

This game has been a part of our lives here in Texas for about 15 years. Had we stayed in California, we would have been different sports parents, I am sure. This is not a dig against my home state, there is a rich sports culture in California but when it comes to football involvement, Texas is on another level.

We started a football and cheer organization for our community and we grew pretty big, pretty fast. This created a situation where we had more kids than coaches. I had to take on the role of head coach for Ryder’s 5th grade team, in addition to my duties as an officer of the organization. I was not qualified to be a head coach, which goes against everything I tell potential head coaches. I played three years of football in high school. Jared’s youth team head coach included me in all the film study and strategy for his team and I learned much. Our high school head coach held coaches’ learning camps for our organization. I was an assistant coach on Ryder’s previous two seasons. I had great help with a wonderful crew of friends as assistant coaches. In reality, I was more qualified than most. I did not feel that way, however.

What I felt was a constant agony and fear that I would let these boys down. I spent many sleepless nights, in prayer, asking God not to let me screw this up. I did not care so much about our record, I am competitive but I am also realistic. I wanted to develop and foster a knowledge and love of the game these kids can take on to the next level. I wanted them to have fun but also to tough out adversity when it befell them and it would fall on them. I wanted them to think of their time on this team as one they will cherish and remember.

Here we are 7 years later and those little boys are now seniors in high school. Many kids have gone other directions, including my own son, and that is perfectly ok. I have respect for all those seeking their own paths and sometimes that path is not football or even sports. I am proud of the young men they have become, showing character, integrity, and grit.

So to the little boys of the CPYFA Green team, Dylan Rodgers, Cole Valiente, Colby “Big Country” Norwat, Kingston Parker, Connor Mason, Logan Flores, Brock Foster, Garrett Gazlay, Grayson Deal, Brendan Payne, Drew Foster, and Houston Molinaro, who will be playing their first varsity game as seniors this Friday, I say, “Thank you”. Those times as your coach were some of the best of my life and I will cherish them greatly! I hope someday you will share the same experiences with a team of your own, as head coach.

Now go out there and lay the wood!

Coach John

The Road

There is a road, in our community, that starts at the high school and stretches out about 8 miles. Around here we are only concerned about the first 5 miles, because that is the distance to our football stadium where this road takes us, every other Friday night.

Last Friday, our boys lost their third game. Our youngest, Ryder, was working and #47 cares more for college fraternity events than attending a Friday night game of his alma mater. We are now becoming just spectators with no skin in this other than community pride and our relationships with the families of the current players.

Kathy and I walked to our truck, quietly, by ourselves. In the past ten years, the walk from the stadium to our truck involved loud raucous boys messing with each other and talking about the highlights of the game. They may or may not have a friend with them and if they did, the decibel level and the ballbusting, increased exponentially. A few years later it would whittle down to just our youngest walking with us but the discussion would be about him bragging about how well his big brother played. This last Friday night, it was just Kathy and me, and there was only silence.

The drive home was as familiar as any of the multitude of rides we have taken on this road, after a game. It is the quintessential Texas high school, small community feel. The traffic consists of mostly pickup trucks, all adorned with a Cedar Park school sticker for some extracurricular group, such as band or cheer. Our “Cedar Park Football” sticker is still in good shape and stuck to our back window. It has been there for years and I don’t intend on taking it off anytime soon. We put our boys, and our lives through this program for many years; we earned that sticker.

For the most part, Kathy and I were silent. At the risk of sounding arrogant, we are not used to driving home from our stadium after a loss. We have only done it once and that was #47’s first varsity game against Waco Midway but that was a preseason game. We have never done it for a district game. The only discussion was a light commentary on what this team needs to do in order to get back on track. We still have faith they will find their groove. We still believe. It was a somber drive and I think the majority of the occupants in the other vehicles felt the same, as we all made our way home, on this road.

It took us past City Hall on the left and up a ways to the little league baseball fields on the right, where our sons used to play, every spring. You can hear the screams of baseball parents, especially the TBall ones when you drive here on a weekend. They are a loud bunch, those moms and dads cheering for their 5 year olds. The lights of the fields this night, however, were dark but that is expected, Friday is for high school football. We passed the single, 4 light intersection, which is the center of our little community. Most of our lives involve trips to the Walgreens here or the two 7-Elevens that are across the street from each other. Yeah, that is a weird one.

We came upon the Whataburger, next to Sonic. I cannot tell you how many times, after a game, we would wait in line at that Whataburger getting the boys food. We would usually pick something up for #47 for when he got home, as he was usually hungry after games. I think the entire population of the stadium would go straight there, afterward. The teens would be parked in the lot hanging around their cars, throwing a football around. Parents would be in the drive through ordering meals for a carload of kids. It was an impromptu gathering of the community. Tonight, however, we would not partake in this ritual, we would silently pass it by.

At this time I would start wondering, “Are the boys on the bus yet?”. What is #47 talking about with his teammates? Are they talking about the game or what they are going to do for the rest of the night? They will be traveling on the same road, I hope they make it home safely.

Our turnoff to our house is a 1/4 mile from the high school but sometimes I would drive past to see if maybe the busses got back while we were getting food; to see if we can get a glimpse of the boys and our son. I have no reason to do this now; #47 is far away from here and high school football. I am beginning to think, so are we.



I find it very strange we can spend 40 hours a week with people, for years, but never allow them further than the parking lot, into our lives. This is normal for American life, 5 days out of the week. Of course there are a small few who get invited to happy hours and lunches or maybe even a birthday party but for the most part they are not A-listers in our lives.

I also find it strange, when we finally leave the place where we gather daily, we are perfectly ok with never seeing these people, ever again. Oh we have the greatest of intentions and always say,  “Hey, let’s meet for lunch or happy hour next week” but those plans never really come to fruition. We don’t have the desire to value those kind of commitments any longer. We instead tell them to look us up on LinkedIn or Facebook.

We have gone through adversity with these people. We laughed together, complained about the “Man” together, got angry and even sad at times. We have spent many late hours collaborating and working to achieve great goals or to put out great fires.  If you think about it, some of the most challenging times when we need to depend on people the most, are sometimes with fellow employees. 

Why is it ok to completely leave and put them on the social media shelf to be accessed later when we need a reference or get our resume in front of someone?

I have had the displeasure of working with people whom I would not spit on if they were on fire but those interactions are rare. What I have had is the honor of working with some of the finest, nicest and most compassionate people I will ever meet and it saddens me, at times, that we are conditioned to treat our past relationships like the past jobs we left. 

I think a culture shift needs to happen where we consider relationships to be our greatest assets no matter where we cultivate them and we should value them as any other friendship.

I do miss those friends.


1st Year of School is over

Another school year is in the books and this one has been a tumultuous one. Here is what we have learned:

High School:

This was a year of trust and letting go. It was another lesson that parenting is not painted with a broad stroke but with fine lines on individual canvases.

“All good things must come to an end” is not only true and foreboding but is also incomplete. The phrase should be, “All good things must come to an end when it is least expected.”

This happened with football and we are now treading through uncharted territory. It was a year of accountability and allowing our son to decide his own way and the heartache that comes with it. I am proud of him, he knew the repercussions of making that hard decision and he has had to suffer them on a daily basis, since. It will get easier for him next year, he’s made of tougher stuff. Maybe a little obscurity is not a bad thing to wish for also.


My son’s freshmen year of college is over. We had to say bye to our baby boy 9 months ago and let him walk out into the world. Some parts were easy for him and some proved to be daunting but that is life. Here is what I learned about having a child in college.

We parents do not have the pull like we did in high school – Unlike grades k-12, we don’t get grade connect alerts to our son’s progress and when we ask the college they actually say “No”. We have to rely on our son to tell us how he is doing. In fact, the college only acknowledges the significance of us parents when they need someone to sign financial papers. Don’t they realize we need to continue to helicopter our children all the way through even adulthood?

– 18 years old is not an adult. I don’t care what the government says. I am glad the drinking age is 21, not that it matters. Yes, you may have a little genius on your hands that is perfect in every way and the school of hard knocks is the best free education you can get; however, these kids have no clue what it is like to be on their own. With that said, college treats them as adults with full accountability so its time we do the same.

– If your children get to attend a local college, you will see them all the time. Yes, I wrote about how saddened I was at his leaving and those feelings are real. I will continue to miss him every time he leaves his home. HOWEVER, when they are 20 miles from the house there are a multitude of reasons you will see them in your home throughout the year. Let’s go through them, shall we?

Clothes – A laundry room with free access to washing machines and dryers are but a few feet from his dorm yet he is at our doorstep, weekly, with his Santa sized bag of dirty clothes for his laundry service, mom and nan, to fluff and fold. I think the complete mind-numbing boredom of waiting for your clothing to wash and dry, not to the mention the deafening noise of responsibility, was too much for him to attempt to do this himself. I really can’t talk though, I also had my own home laundry service and still do.

Food – Along with free access to a laundromat he is also provided three, free squares a day on campus, one of which is a buffet in his dorm building. By the way nothing is free, it’s just all included with the bargain basement cost of staying on campus. If it were me they would have to pry my ass out of those eateries as I would take full advantage, hourly. No, that is not the case with my oldest. Another benefit of living so close is that he gets mom and dad to take him to lunch and dinner, weekly. He still has half of his food credits left which he will lose half of in one week. Money well spent.

Car – He is one of the fortunate students to have a car at college which means, maintenance services, tires and gas money are only a short 20-minute drive north to Dad’s Garage. Open all night.

Shopping – All he needs to say are the magic words, “I need new clothes” and poof, the magic shopping fairy, who goes by many names, but we will run with “Mom”, is at his doorstep with credit card in hand.

– College isn’t cheap. When I was his age I worked a full-time job and attended college, at night, to get my bachelor’s degree. When I received my degree, my education was paid for in full and I still had money left over to blow it on stupid things. Not now, the tuition and costs associated with attending even a public college, is a small fortune.

– Fraternity life is somewhat like the movies. My son’s frat house makes Delta House look like a mansion in Bel Air. If you don’t know what Delta House is please stop reading. They drink cheap beer and the only time they actually get to drink “expensive” beer, Shiner, is on parent’s night. They are a brotherhood and after high school football ending, I can see how he would want to be part of something like a fraternity. It suits him well.

– Grades. He found out that college is actually hard work. It’s deceiving, as college provides so much freedom and opportunity for fun that it’s easy to let it get away from you. He got to spend many a late nights in the library.

That is it! Everything now is right as rain as my son is home and my family is intact again, at least for the summer. I will relish these days and hope they go by slowly, much like my boys do, but for different reasons.


Off to College, Goodbye Son

It was 5:00 PM and I was alone at work, after hours in my cubicle, but I was not working. Instead, I was sitting in front of my computer sulking with my arms crossed, pissed off at God, my wife, and the world. I mean I was fuming pissed off. “Why would you put this on me now?”. “Why?!”

You see, I had just received a phone call from my wife, If you can call it a phone call. I answered and the only words she spoke were “I think I’m pregnant” and then hung up. I sat there frozen, with my mouth wide open and phone receiver still in one hand.

“What did she just say?”. “Did she say she was pregnant?”

Yep, she hung up. She knew what my reaction would be to the news and she wanted me to stew on it for a while. Looking back it was pretty funny and kind of cute.

I was going to get nothing done now. I called her back and asked the typical stupid questions:

“How did this happen?”


“Did you take a test?”

“Yeah, about 6”

“How do you know it’s not wrong?”

“Kerry took one too and it was a different result” Kerry is her best friend and our roommate. Kerry was not pregnant.

I was upset to the rafters and accused her of sabotaging her birth control to get pregnant. Yeah, I was a jerk and I handled the news like a selfish little baby. It was not like I did not want to become a father, I just did not want to become one in the next 9 months.  I said to myself, “I am not ready for this, I have plans, there is still more to do”.

Let me add, however, to this day my lovely bride still has not confirmed nor denied she had sabotaged her pregnancy. Oh, the chickens are coming home to roost, Katherine Irene Lucero. HA HA.

I got in my car and drove home. It was a 20 minute drive to our house and it gave me time to think about everything including my behavior. By the time I pulled up to the driveway, anger had given way to wonder.

“Wow, this is all going to happen.”

Yeah, it was going to happen regardless of how angry I got or how hard I pounded on the ground and screamed to the heavens. I was going to be a father.

I found her in our bedroom, lying on the bed looking very solemn. It was obvious she was scared and my reaction on the phone offered her no comfort. In that time period from our phone call to now, she must have felt very alone and that was my doing. She looked at me with large tears in her eyes and said, “I don’t know how to be a mother”.

I put my arms around her and asked these questions.

“Do you know how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?”


“Do you know how to bake cookies?”


“Do you know how to put bandaids on booboos?


“Do you know how to read bedtime stories?”


“Do you know how to give hugs and kisses?”


“Then you know how to be a mom and you are going to be the best.”

I walked out of our bedroom to the living room where my buddy Malvin, our other roommate, was sitting and I announced loudly, “I AM GOING TO BE A DAD!”

Every day since that moment, I have announced loudly that I am a dad.

Today, that “interruption of my plans” just walked out of my house to live in his dorm at college. The anger and irritation I experienced, at the first hearing of his coming, pales in comparison to the complete heartbreak and sadness I am experiencing at his leaving. I am not ready for this, I had plans, there is still more to do.

When youth sports were over, my role went from coach to spectator. Now, in life, it is time again for me to slowly walk off the field and take my seat in the stands. I will forever thank God for ignoring those plans of mine and presenting His to me, in all its glory and joy.

Goodbye son.


My oldest graduates from high school

My son graduated high school yesterday. Although it was 13 years ago, I still vividly remember his first day of school. Here stood this sweet, little boy with his Thomas the Tank Engine backpack, ready to take on the world. His world, at the time, was no further than our reach but to him it was still so big and unknown.

Here he is again with his backpack, not a Thomas the Tank engine although that would have been funny, but now his world is much larger and goes beyond anything we can grasp. I know he will take it on with the same dogged determination he has taken every challenge but to see my baby boy walk out of our world into his, leaves a deep chasm in my heart. I am sure this is the same for every parent whose child graduates this year.

In the spirit of being a father, I will dispense my wisdom to him and to all the graduates of the class of 2018 and beyond.

  • Do not become a stranger to home, no matter how far you venture, and know you can always come back it.
  • Continue to believe and lead others by example to do the same.
  • Continue to make sports, both playing and watching, a big part of your life. Become a coach at least once; one time is all it will take.
  • Sign up to volunteer and humble yourself for the sake of others. You have no idea the impact you will have on humanity by simple gestures of kindness.
  • Stand for what you believe to be right and I pray the repercussions of being staunch in those beliefs are not too dire. If they are, you have many who will have your back!
  • You will make new friends but never forget the ones who helped you get to where you are and the wonderful times you had with them.
  • I hope you fall flat on your face and must rely on your own efforts to get up, but know we will always be right there behind you.
  • Find every opportunity to have fun but also know when it is time to do work.
  • Always say, “Why not me?” but don’t think you are entitled to it. You have to put in the work.
  • Take risks when opportunities present themselves and do not be afraid of failure. Nothing is unrecoverable.
  • Let me repeat, nothing is unrecoverable. Nothing is so final that you should despair. Never think you cannot find another way from failure and that includes school, work, life and relationships. This too shall pass.
  • On partying and drinking – Greatness is never achieved while under the influence. Of the accomplishments I am most proud, they were never achieved by alcohol. On the contrary, my lowest moments are directly proportional to my BAC. Indulge but be smart.
  • Search for adventures, always, and please tell us about them.
  • Get in the habit of writing and never stop, no matter what it is.
  • Chronicle the most mundane times of your life in both picture and video because someday, someone else will not think they are mundane at all.
  • Discover that joy comes from giving joy not from attaining treasure.
  • Kick the crap out of your comfort zone.
  • Don’t be an idiot.
  • Feed people, both friends and strangers. It is the most basic of human wants and the easiest way to bring joy.
  • Don’t let this world harden your heart and don’t let those Capra colored lenses I gave you when you were little, fade.
  • I pray the school of hard knocks is not too brutal and life lessons do not come with too steep a price. Again, nothing is unrecoverable.
  • I pray you experience, someday, the same love I did when I first laid eyes on you.

May I present to you and the World, Jared Lucero, my sweet little boy for whom I could not be more proud. Good job J-ROD!

Advice for my children, sage or not

We are the wholesale distributors of advice to our kids. It is a right, an obligation, a duty and to be honest, it is just fun to bs the younger generation when they still believe every word we say, before becoming jaded and cynical. Please allow me to pass some advice I have told my children throughout the years, ad nauseum. Here is my list in no particular order.

1. Always stand when greeting someone.

2. Never start a fist fight, finish it.

3. No electronics at the dinner table no matter where that table is.

4. If you are not getting better at it, you are not having fun.

5. Give a firm handshake and look into their eyes.

6. Always say sir and ma’am, always.

7. Stand up for the weak, not take advantage.

8. Never disrespect another man in his own house.

9. Do not use your phone and drive.

10. Do not ever get upset for others having more than you or you will never be happy in life.

11. You were not blessed with size or speed, you will have to prove yourself over and over again, every day of every season. That is your lot in life, embrace it.

12. Do whatever you want to do but just be the best at it and then see #4.

13. Always hold doors for people.

14. Do not fill the glass all the way unless you intend on drinking every last drop.

15. Stay away from drugs. They take over your life and waste your time.

16. What was YOUR part in all this? What did YOU do?

17. Don’t be a quitter but also know when it’s time to move on.

18. Don’t ever get mad if a woman does not want to get physical or intimate. Get used to rejection.

19. Don’t ever talk back to your mother.

20. Scenario: Department store with the wife and kids. Wife is shopping for Xmas.

Son: “Dad this is so boring”

Me: “It’s all part of the experience, son. This is to prepare you for when you get married and have to go shopping with your wife…here hold her purse”

21: When you get older teach your children about God and take them to Mass.

22. Son: “Why do I have to make my bed it will only get messy again?”

Me: “Why do you take a shower, you are only going to get dirty again?” (Does not work with younger children who care nothing for personal hygiene).

23: Because I told you so.

24: Do the right thing when no one is watching, that is integrity.

25: Fair is not getting the same as everyone else. Fair is getting the same opportunity as everyone else.

26: Never be happy with losing. Once you accept it, it will become a disease. Never sacrifice your values to win, either. Always show sportsmanship.

27: Keep your promises.

28: That is called an excuse son and never make excuses. Find a way to adapt and overcome but never blame others if you don’t get what you want or if you fail

29: The team is more important than any one player.

30: It hurts but it will go away sooner than you think and you will look back at these times and laugh at what you thought was important.

31: Never disrespect your coach. Offer to play every position you can and be the best at it. Coaches do not reward players with bad attitudes. Coaches reward gamers and scrappers who are coachable. Be coachable!

33: Never, ever raise your hand to a girl. I don’t care if she is kicking your ass.

34: Money does not make you a better person nor will it make people love you. It is not a measure of success unless that is all you value. If that is all you value then I have failed.

35: Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.

36: Are you injured or are you hurt? Play when you are hurt, sit when you are injured.

37: Take the initiative son and figure out how to do it. Don’t rely on someone else, all the time, to show you how.

38: Stop complaining. It accomplishes nothing. Argue your point but don’t complain.

39: Admit when you are wrong or if something was your fault. It takes courage to do it.

40: I love you and I will always have your back.

Advice I will say to my sons in the future:

– #1 to #40, over and over again.

– Work your butt off while you are young. Get the experience you can.

– You will never be remembered for all the time you spend at your job but you will be remembered for all the time you spend or do not spend with your family.

– Experiences and memories are more important than items.

– Be the kind of person who hosts parties and don’t go cheap.

– If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room

– Don’t be the guy who finds things broken without offering to fix them

– Being “Real” or “Honest” should never trump compassion, it is not an excuse to be an asshole

– Pick your battles

– Don’t look back on woulda, coulda, shoulda, it is a complete waste of your time.

– If she makes your life harder, she is not worth it. If she makes your life great, hold on to her and do whatever it takes to make hers better, even if it is hard.

– Call your mother

– Happy wife= Happy life (my father-in-law told me that one)

The Game is Over

His name may not be etched on any plaque nor printed in any article. His picture may not be hung on any of the walls or highlighted on any Friday night broadcast but make no mistake, he has left a mark deeper than any engraving and a story more telling than any sportscaster could report.

He has imprinted on this field and in these halls a story of perseverance and of heart, of fortitude and of resolve. Forever these places will tell the silent tale of a young man whose loyalty to his school, devotion to his brothers and love for this game were greater than anything that could be measured by accolades or recognition.

Every tear in his uniform and every gouge in his helmet will be a testament to all who come after that the owner of these items was a young man who played the game from his soul. They will tell of an adventure both of pain and of joy but no one will really know his trials and triumphs. For season upon season, he has had to rise and overcome. He has had to prove to the world that his determination was larger than his stature and his abilities far outweighed his size. No one will really know except those he calls his brothers and any who have faced him, for they too have their own story to tell. They too have had to give of themselves for others and have had to shoulder the hopes and expectations of not just a team or a school but of a community.

He played fearless with pride and grit and these are the threads woven into the fabric of his tale. Like every boy before him and every boy after him, he will leave behind his story, his legacy, his love. It will echo softly in the locker rooms and the classrooms. It will gently resonate across the turf on a cool fall night and quietly remind the world that he once walked these halls, he once wore this uniform and he once lived life for his friends…for this game.

This is my son and he is the best part of MY story. This long and joyous chapter of our lives is now at a close and I was more than privileged to be witness to it, I was honored to be part of it.

Without further ado, please allow me to present for the final time, #47 Jared Lucero, my little boy for whom I could not be more proud. I do so love to watch him play.

Sunday Gravy

My grandmother was born Madeline Simone in New York in 1924. She was a first generation Italian American and English was her second language, like most immigrants. She stood 4ft nothing, as sweet as a saint and as staunch as one too. Like all the women in the household, during her day, she cooked but Italian households were a little different back then, at least the ones she talked about; the men cooked also.

My great grandfather, Salvatore Simone, made the “gravy”. That is what the Italians back east called spaghetti sauce. It is a meat sauce not typical of Bolognese but a Sunday meat gravy. My great uncles would hunt or get the meat for the sauce. My great aunts would have to help with making the pasta and peeling tomatoes. They would have to boil down the tomatoes for paste which took hours. They would then have to blanch and peel quite a few more for the sauce which they cooked in pork lard.

The sauce took days to make. It was impressive to hear how they made everything from scratch, fresh from the vine. It was more impressive to hear how the family had to work together to complete and serve this meal. These were the stories she would tell me of the family.

My grandmother lived with us so the stories I have are of me waking up to the aroma of onions, green peppers, and garlic “browning” in the meat stock. I often say this stage of the sauce is where the essence comes out; the soul of the sauce, if you will. I know it is corny but when you realize the generations who have made this before and the multitude who have sat around the table to dine on it, it’s not so corny.

Her version, the more modernized method with canned tomatoes and supermarket items, now only takes about 6 hours to make so waking up in those early mornings meant we were going to eat that night. I could never wait until the sauce was done, however, so I would grab some slices of Weber’s sliced bread and conduct dipping raids on the large bubbling pot on the stove. She would always warn me of the raw pork in the sauce and the danger of eating it before it was fully cooked. That never deterred me. It was well worth risking a bout with trichinosis.

When I got a little older, I started helping her with the sauce. She never had it written down and in fact, my mother and I don’t either so we better not get hit by a truck or the 100 year old family recipe will be gone forever. Don’t ask us for the recipe because we would not have the time to write it down. My reasons for helping her were selfish. I figured the more help she got the faster I will eat. I never realized I was partaking in an old family tradition although I never had to peel one tomato or make one string of pasta.

It seems like whenever she made this sauce everyone we knew would coincidentally show up at our house. It was like a beacon and I would invite my friends and even ex girlfriends to come over because I knew they enjoyed it. It was always a gathering and my parents had this huge, old round table in the dining room. It was perfect because we would all sit around it and the house would fill with laughter and conversation. At the time I cared only for the pasta. It took a few years away from my home to realize it was much more than the food, though, it was family.

My grandmother! If you knew her you loved her and that is no lie. She died in that house in 1996 from lung cancer. The last pot of sauce made when she was alive was made by me for her and on that day, at dinner time, the house was packed.

Today, I continue the tradition and with that, I have recruited my oldest to help. My house will now fill with the “soul” of the gravy and my sons will carry on what was started years ago by my family. I still can’t wait to eat it though. Maybe I will look in the pantry for some Weber’s bread. What do you think grandma, is it ready yet?