Saturday, December 4, 2021

The Spirits of Christmas

My aunt died yesterday.

And this morning, well before the crack of dawn, the smoke detector went off. 

Five ear-splitting "chirps" a minute. Which brought my son Nino, who is staying with us for the holidays, bounding up the stairs. 

With good reason. It was Nino's absentminded neglect of the bathroom ceiling fan (broken, my absentminded neglect) that burned down half the house seven years ago. Not that I'm bitter. Half the house actually needed burning down, since it was apparently the only way I was going to convince my husband Anthony to do any redecorating.

"Did you hear that?" Nino asked anxiously, the emotional scars from that incident on full display. It took us twenty minutes and three Google searches to discover that the smoke detector was chirping for no good fucking reason at all, other than it was old and needed replacing. One Amazon order later, the problem was solved. 

Nino went back to bed. I didn't. Anthony slept through the whole thing. It was 6:30 am and I had the whole house, gloriously quiet, to myself. Time to reflect.

The smoke detector going off did not surprise me. The year my mother died, the smoke detector mysteriously went off, also at Christmastime. Three nights in a row. For no obvious reason, only at night. Sleep deprived and more than a little frustrated, I told my friend Kathy about it, and she said, "Connie! That's the spirit of your dead mother ruining your Christmas!" 

She was right, of course. My aunt was my mother's little sister, and not to be outdone. So, good Sicilian American woman that I am, I consider the chirping smoke detector as a message from The Other Side. Where my mother and my aunt got together and decided, "Let's wake up Connie. It'll be fun."

My aunt was all about fun. She was a (very) wayward teenager, a wife (twice), a mother (four times), a bartender, a clown (professional), and a pilot (!). In the '60s, she was all about gold lamé, blue eyeshadow, hot pants, and Priscilla Presley hair. She went on a second honeymoon. She had a Leap Day baby. And a player piano. And took banjo lessons. My aunt painted my nails and bought me rock-and-roll records. When I became of age, she would leave me with her kids and the keys to her car. And packs of unfiltered Pall Malls lying around the house. When she had a drink, it was Kahlua, straight. She was my godmother, and I was the flower girl at her (first) wedding. 

The night her mother (my grandmother) died, the family decided that the funeral should be on the following Monday. And my aunt told her brother, "I can't do Monday, I've got tickets to Vegas." Which pretty much set her reputation forever in stone as far as the rest of the family was concerned. 

I didn't care. I loved her and she loved me.

And she could bake.

Here is one of her masterpieces, Red Velvet Cake. With a frosting (not the cream cheese stuff) like nothing I've ever tasted since. I'm going to reprint it just as she sent it to me, and you can try to figure it out. Because that way you'll be able to hear her voice.


Waldorf Astoria Red Cake (Do not substitute any ingredients)

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
mix together  then add to mix 2 tsp cocoa into1 oz. red food coloring
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
mix together 1 tsp soda  2 tsp vinegar (it will fiz) add lastly to cake mixture

Pour into 2  8 or 9 in pans greased Bake at 350 25 minutes
When cake is cool  slice into 4 layers  You are making a torte cake 

heat and bring to a low boil stirring constantly
3 tab flour 1 cup milk (will look like oatmeal) will only take less than 5 minutes COOL in ice box* COMPLETLY (Must be cold before using)

Cream   2 sticks butter  1 cup sugar  1 tsp. vanilla  then add cold flour mix  frosting never gets hard
This is the original recipe from New York
The rich lady had a piece at the hotel and liked it so much she had to have the recipe and asked the Chef for it. He gave it to her with a bill for 1000.00. She was so mad she turned it into a chain letter and that's how my Mother-in-law got it. But the Chef was so mad she did this he put a whammy on the cake and said every time someone would make it it wouldnt come out. I have at least 4 or 5 incidences that it happened to me. I'll tell you about it sometime.


But she never did. Oh, well. 

I have something to look forward to. 

*ice box = American Sicilian for "refrigerator" i.e., do not freeze. You've been warned.

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