On Sundays, everyone meets at my mom's house for dinner. It's just what we do. There's wine, cheese, other varying appetizers (today it was shrimp with remoulade sauce), and spaghetti. If one of us can't come, we don't come. If we don't want to go (perhaps we're fighting with our sister who continues to usurp Shopping Days With Mom, or some other such issues), we don't go. If we change our minds at the last minute and go, there is always enough. ALWAYS.
Today, it was just me and my boys. My mother just got a new roof over her back patio, something she only waited forty years for, and we snuggled under blankets in the cool fall afternoon and chatted while Joey and Noah drew with chalk and played. After a little too much cheese and shrimp, my grandparents arrived.
It used to be more irregular, but now my grandparents come every Sunday. That's not to say that at any point I didn't see my grandparents regularly, because I did. Very regularly. Just not always at Sunday dinner. But the last year has made the pattern dependable, and now it is rare for my grandparents to miss.
My grandfather is an old world Italian man. I don't know how tall he was in his prime, but now he is smaller than I am at 5'3". His once-black hair is stark white, but he still combs it back off his forehead in an impressive wave. He walks like he owns the world, and in a way, he does. He surrounds himself by the family and the world he built through a lifetime of work. In my life, he's probably only ever said one thing directly to me: "How's Mares?" And when he says it, he smiles a huge smile and looks right at me and then keeps on walking.
My grandma, on the other hand, was the person who took care of me as a child when my mother couldn't. When my parents vacationed, when I was home from sick from school and my mother worked, I spent that time with my grandmother. She makes amazing fruit salads. Truly. Like you eat it and you think, "My God! Is this really just fruit salad?" and it is. She loves church and always carries a rosary. She drives ridiculously slow but ran marathons until last year. She never baked cookies, or even had them in the house. Her fridge was always filled with fruit, milk, eggs, chicken, and diet pop. She makes delicious salad and meatballs. She never once missed any milestone in my entire life, or in my brother's or sister's. In fact, my mother was on vacation for my sister's prom, and it was my grandma there snapping the pictures and recording the memories. She kept calling, "Look at the camera now, Bert!" His name was Brett.
She is wonderful with children, but not too many at a time. She is at her most magical when it's just you and her. Noah adores her, which we discovered when we visited her and my grandpa in Florida last spring. Today, he set up all the kiddie folding chairs my mother has (and there are a lot) and asked my grandma to please ride his roller coaster. "Gwamma? Will you PWEEZE wide my wolla coasta?" She crunched herself up on the tiny little chair. Noah had imaginary milk and served her imaginary wine. She threw her hands (and, it would seem, her imaginary wine) in the air and yelled, "Weeeee!"
After dinner, my mother got up from the table and began clearing the dishes.
"Judy," called my grandmother, "where did you get this cheese? It's out of this world." My grandma never lets a meal go by without saying something is out of this world.
"Wegmans," said my mom. "Isn't it delicious?" My mother never serves a meal without receiving compliments. She owns Sunday dinner like God owns church.
"Oh, I love Wegmans," said Grandma. "And I love Aldi's, too. It's right down the road, you know."
"Oh, Aldi's is a little too far out of the way for me," said my mom. She pulled out a French press and put water on the stove to boil.
"Oh, but Aldi's sometimes has better deals," said Grandma. "I like to get my canned tomatoes there." But she says, "tamay-tas."
"Get your tomatoes at Wegmans," said my mom. "They're seventy-nine cents a can right now."
"I get them at Aldi's," said Grandma repeated, kind of ignoring my mom.
"But Mom," my mother said, knowing her mother hadn't listened the first time, "they're only seventy-nine cents at Wegmans."
"What?" asked Grandma, blinking. "Seventy-nine cents?"
"Well, that's a great deal!" Grandma seemed baffled by this news, and turned to my grandpa. "Did you hear that, San?" she asked. San is short for Santo (pronounced SAHN-TOE). "Tomatoes are seventy-nine cents at Wegmans!" Tamay-tas.
"Judy gets good tomatoes," he said blandly. Tamay-tas.
"You want coffee, Dad?" my mom asked, now pouring the boiling water into the French press.
"Watcha got there, Jude?" he asked, eyeing up the press.
"I'm making coffee, Dad," my mother said irritably. "Do you want it?"
"That is the best coffee," my dad piped up. "I mean, it's really good."
"Isn't it good?" asked my mother.
"The best," said my dad.
"What kind do you get?" asked Grandma. "I got my Maxwell House at Aldi's for seven ninety-nine."
"I got mine at Market in the Square for six ninety-nine," said my mom.
"Well what the hell!" sputtered Grandma. We all froze for a minute at the expletive, and then began to laugh. "Well how does she do it?" my grandma went on. "I mean I say I got a deal on tomatoes, and she gets a better one. Come on. What kind of coffee is it?"
"I don't know," my mom said, shrugging. "Maxwell House, Folgers. It's good, Ma."
"Well I only like gourmet," she said. "That's why it's seven ninety-nine, which is a good deal."
"You just said you bought Maxwell House. I got it for six ninety-nine."
"Well I get a dark blend," she said. "The darkest."
"Well this is the same thing," Mom said, handing the container to my grandmother.
Grandma squinted and read the label. "This is only medium dark," she announced. "I don't buy that kind." She looked around the table and then back at my mother. "Well are you going to get me a cup or not?"
And this is Sunday dinner.