“Hi, Mama.” Antonia’s voice was weary through the phone.
“Hello, my bambolina. Everything okay?” Mama kept her tone conversational.
“Yes, everything is fine.” Antonia sighed. “I’m just afraid about this move. I know it’s best for Brad’s career, but this is a terrible time for such a big change.”
“Since when are you afraid of anything?”
“I want my child born here, where you and Daddy are. This is my first baby, Mama. What do I know about being a mother? I need you with me.”
Mama drummed her fingers on the table. “Why don’t you come over? I promised a batch of gnocchi for Italian Night at St. John’s but my arthritis is acting up. You can make the gnocchi and I can cheer you up.”
Antonia chuckled. “You know I can’t make gnocchi.”
“See you in a bit.”
When Antonia arrived Mama met her at the door and gave her a hug.
“Ooh, the little bambolina just kicked me!” Mama laughed and patted Antonia’s belly. “She must like gnocchi, too. Come, let’s go to the kitchen.”
Antonia breathed in the omnipresent smell of garlic, oregano, onions and tomatoes, all staples in her mama’s kitchen. She inhaled the scent of coffee chug-chugging through an ancient percolator and helped herself to some homemade pizzelles.
“These potatoes are perfect now. Let’s start peeling.” Mama said.
“I’ll do it.” Antonia shooed her mother away. “You said your arthritis is bad today.”
“So tell me your troubles,” Mama urged. She sat at the table and waited.
“I don’t want to move to California. I want to stay here so you and Daddy can help with the baby and watch her grow.” Antonia sighed. She peeled the last potato and grabbed the ricer from its place under the counter.
“Brad will be at work a lot. I don’t want to be in an unfamiliar place, trying to make a new home. I want to stay here, Mama.”
“What does Brad say?”
“He offered to turn down the promotion, but I said no. This is an important move for him, for us. I know that, but,” she paused, pushed another potato through the ricer, “this just isn’t the right time. My baby will be born in a strange place, come into a strange home. You won’t be there to help me decorate, or shop.”
Antonia filled a large pot with water, added salt and set it to boil. Next she filled a bowl with water and ice. She took eggs from the refrigerator and opened the canister of flour. Mama watched as Antonia collected each item and ingredient.
“I love my home.” Antonia said. “I don’t want a new one.”
Still Mama said nothing. She watched as Antonia kneaded the dough, smiled as her daughter separated it into balls, nodded as Antonia rolled each ball into a rope. Mama sipped her coffee as Antonia worked, cutting each rope into pieces then rolling them down the back of a fork to create ridges. Then each piece was dropped into the boiling water, removed when ready and transferred to the ice bath.
Antonia spooned the gnocchi from the ice bath, put it in a bowl and tossed it with her mother’s special olive oil.
“There! All done.” Antonia set the gnocchi aside and sat next to her mother.
“Yes,” Mama nodded. Her eyes misted as she searched Antonia’s face, touched on every beloved feature. It was a face Mama knew as well as she knew her own and loved a great deal more. “You said you couldn’t make gnocchi.”
“I can’t,” Antonia laughed. “Not as good as yours.”
“It will be as good, maybe better. You knew exactly what to do; not because I sat here telling you, but because your heart remembers every lesson you have learned in my kitchen.”
“Mama,” Antonia squeezed Mama’s hand. “I want you with me.”
“Si, bambolina. You want me. But, my darling girl, you do not need me. And that is good. It means I have been a good mother, done my job. You will be a good mother, too.”
“I made gnocchi. That doesn’t mean I can be a good mother.”
“Of course it does.” Mama beamed.
Antonia glanced around, saw the pots, pans and spices; the Cross hanging above a picture of the Pope. She breathed in the smells, remembered arguments, laughter, prayers and secrets shared and she knew it was true. Everything she needed to know she had learned right here. . .in Mama’s kitchen.
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