Friday, June 25, 2004

Chapter two: the dinner

Danny grabbed the two bags stuffed with groceries and hurried into the house. Even in her rush, she took a moment to appreciate this little house and its incredible view of the Hudson River. It had belonged to her grandmother and her father before her.

In 1921 this was a tiny shack built to house the early stars of the silver screen, in the wilds of New Jersey at the base of the George Washington Bridge. Her great-grandfather had been a technician with one of the film studios and bought the shack from a director who was moving to Italy to pursue more artistic film-making. It remained a shack for more than sixty years. Not well-insulated, and with a barely functioning furnace, winters were cold. And "cold" was an understatement.

But even though the temperature was frigid, life in the house was warm. Danny, her mother and her father would sit around the wood-burning stove and drink hot cocoa and snuggle under hand-knitted blankets made with love. They would listen to music together, and read, and play word games. And the house always smelled of rich and exotic foods. They ranged from Persian, to Moroccan, to Indian and Thai. Her mother had traveled extensively when she was younger and had brought home recipes that reminded her of the sunsets and sunrises and sounds and smells of the bazaars and open markets. These recipes filled a handmade book that wafted spices whenever it was opened, still after all these years.

Danny didn't always appreciate her homelife. She complained that her friends never ate these crazy foods. And protested for hamburgers and grilled cheese. Her mother would respond with kufta and quesadillas, which were as close as she could manage to Danny's more plebian tastes. As much as Danny would moan whenever her mother would cook new exotic fare, she eventually realized that these meals made her mother more alive. Yet, the battle between them about household menus continued until Danny was 14 years old, when they came to a sudden and sad halt. Had she known that her mother wouldn't live past her 37th birthday, Danny would never have complained about the curries, pickled garlic and fresh mint hot tea. She would have given a million dollars to taste puttanesca rigatoni made by her mother and hear her tell about her summer in Naples and Capri.

Danny was making her mother's puttanesca recipe tonight. She was nostalgic and besides, it was Jeff's favorite dish. He didn't have homecooked meals often and Danny liked to pamper him once in awhile.

Jeff was a "river rat" just like Danny. He was raised down the lane in a better insulated and updated shack. When a shack in The Colony was updated they were called "cottages" and usually had a plaque with the name on it. Jeff's cottage was no exception. He grew up in "Riverwalk."

Growing up in The Colony wasn't easy. The roads weren't really roads, they were more like tiny lanes. There was one lane for traffic and everyone had to pull over to let another car through. Most of the shacks and cottages and the one or two fully-rebuilt homes had no garages or driveways. Everyone parked down at the [commons} and walked the hundred feet to their front doors. The people who lived in The Colony were more like Cape Codders than typical Jerseyites. And they liked it that way.

But the kids from other areas of Edgewater uniformly made fun of the kids from The Colony. That's where the "river rats" nicknames came from. But the contrarians who weathered the storms on the shores of the Hudson took that name with pride.

When Danny had left home to live with and eventually marry Robert Jr., she missed four things. Her father's grumpy breakfast greeting and the smell of his pipe, the incredible sunsets over the Manhattan skyline that she could see from all the front windows in the house, being able to run next door to share secrets with jJeff and being safe. Everyone was safe in The Colony.

The Colony protected its own. Strangers couldn't enter the tiny enclave without everyone knowing they were there, and who they came to see. Her teenage transgressions were reported to her father before she reached home. The number of beers she drank, what she wore and how long she sat in the car making out with Robert Jr. were public knowledge. And the same energy her neighbors spent tattling on her to her father, they spent protecting their own.

She was safe now. She was back "home" to the house she loved. Robby was too. Her neighbors didn't ask any questions. They didn't have to. They knew everything already. And they welcomed her back, as did the house. The kitchen was now once again filled with spices, music and love.

Danny grabbed the bunch of fresh parsley and ripped it into little pieces, frying it along with the garlic. As the garlic sizzled, Danny walked over to the wine rack and pulled out a bottle she had been saving for a special occasion. This was as special as it got these days. She expertly uncorked the bottle and poured herself some of the rich red wine. She swirled it a bit and the aroma greeted her nostrils. She inhaled and took a sip. It was a good wine. She stirred the garlic, added the tomatoes and waited for Jeff to arrive.

to be continued....