by Vince Guerrieri
Ya gotta love livin' baby, 'cause dyin's a pain in the ass! — Frank Sinatra
It's about 2:30 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday. I'm preparing for my sixth annual Super Bowl Party. About a dozen people should cram into the living room of my penthouse apartment in Carnegie. I'm making spaghetti sauce the way Grandma Guerrieri taught me, a recipe she learned from her mother.
Her words of wisdom hang heavy. "Don't burn the garlic," she told me. "Not only does it make the sauce bitter, but it'll stink up the house." The garlic and onion at the bottom of the pot is now covered up with tomato sauce, a little wine, sugar, salt, pepper, basil and the secret ingredient, baking soda (it cuts the acid ... watching it melt into the sauce is a soothing moment, a little like watching Guinness settle).
The sauce simmers. I'm on my second glass of Dago Red. Frank Sinatra's singing, "Strangers in the Night," the first album of his I ever heard, on vinyl in my grandparents' basement. I was about 11, shooting pool with Charlie.
I called home. Normally I'd call Grandma, but she's not there any more. It's been three weeks. It hasn't been a week since what would've been her 78th birthday, and what is the eighth anniversary of the night Charlie (her husband and my grandfather, to the uninitiated) went to sleep and didn't wake up.
Chuck (my father, to the uninitiated) told me I should have been weaned off this. Grandma stopped answering her phone at the nursing home shortly before Thanksgiving. But like my father, I'm a creature of habit. Chuck told me last week that he didn't know what to do with the time he had now. He'd spent a lot of afternoons after work at the nursing home, looking after his mother and my last surviving grandparent.
Grandma's birthday usually fell around Super Bowl weekend, but for the better part of the past eight years, I approached this time of the year with a mix of dread and celebration.
The first Super Bowl I really remember watching was XXV (that's 25, for those of you who only know Roman numerals from Rocky movies). I was XIII years old, and we were all at Grandma and Charlie's. Grandma was LXV years old that weekend. Whitney Houston sang the best version of the National Anthem at any Super Bowl I've ever seen, and the New York Giants beat the Buffalo Bills, XX-XIX, after Scott Norwood missed a field goal to win it for the Bills.