Random Thoughts

The Odors of October

 ... homemade wine, vinegar and tomato sauce 

Marie Salamanca

The crisp October afternoons remind me of running home from grammar school and into the back yard of the house where I grew up in East Boston. There was the unmistakable smell of tomatoes, peppers, and basil through the open windows and door. My grandmother (Mamanon to her 50+ grandchildren and the predominately Nova Scotian, Irish neighborhood) was always at the big black stove boiling jars of homemade tomato sauce, tomato paste, and peppers. I can still see her now in her cotton house dress covered by a printed cotton apron and her cut-out black shoes. Her gray hair was pulled into a bun at the back of her head.

The smells of these October afternoons were so familiar to me. Besides the bottling of vegetables, there was the strongest smell of all. It was that of bubbling wine. In large round open vats in the center of the cellar the new wine was fermenting and boiling all by itself. For days the house reeked with the intoxicating scent of wine which if I breathed closely for any length of time would surely have made me silly.

Later my grandfather (Papanon) would pour the new wine into barrel which would have been previously flushed out of the remnants of last year's. He also filled a large demijohn with what would somehow become the wine vinegar which was on our green salad every evening.  

Through the year it was my job to meet Papanon each evening as he returned from work with his black round lunch box so that he could fill the shiny cut glass decanter that held the wine to be served that evening. Once in a while when the table vinegar bottle was empty I was allowed to siphon the vinegar from the big bottle into the small one by sucking on the thin hose until I tasted the sour taste of vinegar and then quickly pushing the hose into the smaller bottle. To this day I cherish good wine vinegar. It recalls the scary, dark, cool cellar and my precious grandparents.

In his mid-eighties, Papanon had vascular surgery at Mass General, and when his surgeon asked him how his legs were feeling, Papanon answered, "They ache a little when I climb the ladder to prune my grapevines."

The doctor answered, "So do mine."

October 3, 2003


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