I would agree in parts with Thorton Wilder that love is the bridge between this world and the next. I know that it is my love that keeps us together through times of celebration and heartbreak. But I would argue that tradition is the bridge that roots us to the past, that gives us something to cling to when the waves of life are unforgiving.
I grew up in a mostly Italian American household. My mother was Polish but she catered to my father’s tastes. He immigrated to this country from the Marche region of Italy as a young boy and his mother, my Nonna, cooked delicious foods from their hometown from scratch. As a child I took part in many traditions but it was the holidays that stand out to me the most. My family here lived close by and we partook in the same traditions year after year. It was important to my parents and little did I understand how important it was to me; how it would sustain me when I needed it the most.
At the end of December of 2011 my Nonna was diagnosed with cancer in her brain that had all started a few years before as skin cancer. Fourteen days later, as 2012 began, she passed away. I remember writing to a friend that 14 days didn't seem quite enough to prepare me to have someone larger than life turn into a ghost in front of me. I may not have been ready but she was ready and told us so often. She had a strong faith and was prepared to see my Nonno again, her husband who had already been gone too many years for her. Making cappelletti (we pronounce it "cap-a lett") just a few weeks prior, she said in her thick accent “If I’m here, God willing” about the next year’s noodle making. She prefaced many things like this and she said this every year. I would rebuke her and tell her that I was sure she would live for a long time. She had to, I had so many more memories to make with her.
I had no idea.
To lose a woman like her from your life was to snuff out a candle in a dark room. How could I have known that months later my own mother would pass away un-expectantly and we would be left, like lost children at age 30, 34 and 38. To be a woman who still didn't really know how to be a mother, and to have had so many things about being a daughter that I needed to do better felt like a kick in my gut.
As the darkness grew around us it was my sister who believed in my mom’s spirit of Christmas. As if to say that we would not lose the love and essence of the holiday that my mother showed time after time, Nicole strung light after light on every bit of foliage around her home. She lit the night in a holiday glow with more twinkling lights than I had seen previously on her home. From far down the street (because that's where I live) her house shined. To me, it was almost as if to say to my mom, that this all was still important. Christmas would not be dark for us, not for her children, not for our mother.
The Christmas of 2012 was the first year we made the cappelletti on our own. Tear streaked cheeks and unsure hands we fumbled through a half written recipe that we jotted down two years prior on a scrap of paper, and a memory of a woman we loved.
Every year it gets closer to being correct and every year there are more children to learn. It’s impressive to reflect on the years before this that my Nonna would make enough noodles for soup to feed 25 people or more all on her own. I can imagine her hands working tirelessly just as her Mother-in-law’s hands did in Italy so many years before. The only instrument of change between the two being the pasta rolling machine. It has carried us over 100 years, a noodle in soup served around a table of our family.
I could try to share the recipe with you but I don’t think it would come out correct enough to do it justice. It’s not a secret that we are trying to keep. To be honest we’re not sure that we have it down quite yet. They are delicious, but maybe the loss of her thick accent and the things she did before we even arrived those last ten years that we began our training in the evenings after work, are keeping us from perfect replication. I can tell you that the noodles are filled with chicken, cheese, and swiss chard. The dough is so thin that it melts in your mouth and when you mix it on the board.... Well it starts as an egg volcano and then you incorporate it until it looks just right. What’s that, you might ask? Well you’re just going to have to come and learn.
Thinking on this I want to take and give so much more than a recipe because it's so much more to me. I can only hope that my daughters know a few things. That I love them with all of my being, that traditions will sew our lives as a family together, and that when it’s my turn to leave this world, I have lived, loved, and am ready. I'm not sure how I will get all of that done in my time here but hopefully with a little guidance from this world and the next I can shed a fraction of light I have been given into this world.