The line is long and the smell is invasive.
People swarm the place, jostling for position at the glass counter. They wave their tickets and shout their orders.
“Three pounds of cooked shrimp! A fillet of cod, and six lobster tails!”
And on it goes. The workers hustle and push past each other. They argue amicably at the register, and a few spouts of laughter erupt intermittently throughout the morning. It’s a reminder to the impatient customers, we aren’t unfriendly, just busy.
This is City Fish, in Wethersfield, Connecticut, the day before Christmas Eve.
I love it. It’s my favorite day of the year. My dad pays for the fish, we have a beer then I head home. Carols blast from the speakers and I start wrapping scallops, making clam chowder, and sipping my way through some Christmas cheer.
I’ve shared this day with my Dad and brother for the past twelve years.
My grandmother was Italian, and invited us every Christmas Eve to her house for a traditional seven fishes meal.
It was always strange to my siblings and me. The house would reek of fish and bony shards of smelt would hide among the tangles of oily angel-hair pasta. We’d smile and chew and fill up on bread, but our distaste of seafood only grew.
When Grandma got too old to handle all of the preparations, the meals came less and less often, and I felt the tradition slipping away to a faded memory. I decided to take on the holiday, a passing of the torch I suppose.
She guided me through the first few meals, and after she passed, I became more determined to continue the tradition.
I know I am supposed to complain about this.
It’s too stressful, we need to stop using food to celebrate, it’s too much money, it’s too hard to keep up the tradition…
But then it’s 11 o’clock at night the day before the party and the only sound in the house is Elvis crooning Blue Christmas and the sizzle of bacon in the pan. The house looks incredible and I am alone in the kitchen too focused on when to add the cream to worry about anything else in the world. My heart and soul is the space between stove and counter and fridge, and my religion is bathed in olive oil.
Holy Spirit: Garlic and onion
This is the secret to life my friends. I have unlocked it for you. Immerse yourself in the kitchen and cook for people. Find what makes you happy and use it to make others happy. You will never be disappointed.
The next night and the house is filled with love. Cousins chase one another and cheeks are red from the fire and wine. Music plays and I watch the scene unfold from behind my apron.
As the last hors d’oeuvres is slid into the chaffing dish I stand on the hearth to make a toast. My youngest son runs to me as I start talking. He is my shy one, but now, he looks out at the faces with me.
I didn’t prepare a speech. My mind reels with what to say. How do I capture it? I want to say to everybody how much this night means to me. How this year has been eye-opening to me. How I struggle everyday to discover my purpose, how I fear for my future, how self doubt and self loathing threaten any progress I make in my new career if not for their support and for the morals and tenacity passed down to me from them and those now gone. I fear for my kids’ safety and for their own futures. I struggle and I worry and I eat and I wonder and I freeze. But this night and the days leading up to it I am who I most want to be. I am decisive and creative, and I have family and tradition on my mind. I am happy and relaxed and finding joy in the little things like watching my son scrunch up his face at the smell of fresh garlic, or the intoxicating aroma of food and coffee, or the refreshing sting of cold night as I run barefoot across the driveway to the garbage can. How I worry about our country, not for what I see on tv, but for the unrealized potential I see in all of us, and how when family gets together like this, like this night, we feel happy and loved and this is how we will prevail as humans, by remembering our traditions and ancestors and keeping their spirit alive, by staying together and progressing from what they taught us…
But fish gets cold quickly and the smelts are burning, so instead I say, “Thank you all for coming. I love tonight, and I love all of you. Now let’s eat.”
Owner Spowerks LLC