It all started with the discovery of a set of pasta making attachments for my Kitchenaid mixer. They were hidden in a box labeled “Kitchen Things—not important.” In the chaos of a cross-country move, they had been shoved into a storage room and forgotten for ten years.
Then one day, I went down to our storage room on a quick errand and ended up spending two days organizing, sorting, rearranging, and opening boxes I hadn’t seen in years. I didn’t expect to find much in the “Kitchen Things” box. After all, the Sharpie said it was unimportant.
But the Sharpie lied.
There, underneath a few extra pieces of flatware and a stack of manuals, was the box of brand-new pasta plates. These were the pasta plates I wished I had owned, the pasta plates I had drooled over whenever I ventured into the kitchen section of my local Fred Meyer. These were the pasta plates that could transform this lowly domestic housewife into a bustling Italian grandmother who served up copious amounts of fresh pasta to multiple generations of little Glovers as we gathered around our dinner table in the glow of the setting sun.
Now, that dream was within my reach.
I rushed upstairs and showed the kids. “Can you really make spaghetti?” Faith asked, wide-eyed.
It was 5:30 pm, but how long could it take to learn how to use my new gadget? I had watched enough Iron Chef to know that making pasta was child’s play. I fished the instructions out of the box and soon I was on my way to making some mean linguini.
The kids were anxious to help. I could almost hear a little violin playing in the background as we ground the sprouted wheat and threw in some fresh eggs and a little water. Soon we had a lovely dough. At least it looked lovely, but my inner Italian grandmother was taking a while to warm up, so I wasn’t really sure.
“We’re going to make spaghetti! We’re going to make spaghetti!” the kids chanted. All five of them crowded around the machine. “Put the dough in!” They pleaded. I stretched over their heads and dropped in the first ball of dough. We waited. Soon little strands of pasta began to appear. The twins clapped. It was official: Mommy’s mixer was the coolest Play-doh fun factory of all time.
My husband walked by. “What are you guys doing?” he asked, peering into the side of the bowl.
“We’re making pasta!” I said cheerfully.
He looked confused. “Can’t you buy pasta? At the store? For like, a dollar?” I sensed I was about to receive the “Isn’t-your-time-worth-anything?” speech.
“Of course you can buy it at the store,” I said, resisting the urge to smack him in front of the children. “But look! I can make it myself!” I thought that said it all.
“Why?” he asked. The question took me aback. Why? Because I can, that’s why! Isn’t that reason enough? I thought back to my childhood, where dinnertime discussions often led to a search through an encyclopedia or manual and ended with a trip to the barn to look for just the right scrap that might just work to make that thing that somebody wondered if they could make. The question of whether or not we could do something was always more fascinating than question of whether or not we should. We had a litany of successes and failures to prove it.
I shifted my weight from one foot to the other and tried to come up with an actual, rational reason for making pasta myself. But before I could, the kids piped up.
“We’re making pasta because it will taste better!” Faith said.
“And it will be better for us!” added Kya.
“Don’t you know that everything Mom makes is better than the store?” Jonathan pointed out the obvious. I secretly resolved to buy those children a pony.
“We’ll see,” Jeff grinned as the pasta started oozing out of the machine at a frighteningly rapid rate. For a chaplain, that man has remarkably little faith.
He walked out of the kitchen and left me with my project, which was beginning to take on a life of its own. The little strands had gotten longer, and longer, and the pasta began to come out faster and faster. I wasn’t sure what to do. The instructions cautioned against letting the pasta stick together, so I threw some flour at it whenever it seemed appropriate.
“Mom’s throwing flour!” the kids squealed with delight.
The pasta kept on coming, faster and faster.
“Should I cut it?” I asked my sous chefs. The instructions hadn’t said anything about cutting the pasta.
“Yes, cut it!” Jonathan shouted. He was always willing to support any activity that involved knives.
But cutting pasta while it was oozing out of the machine and attempting to keep it from sticking together required more dexterity than I proved to have. The beautiful linguini clumped together hopelessly.
“Is it supposed to do that?” began the chorus by my side.
“I’ve never seen any pasta that looks like that.”
“It looks like a big pile of worms!”
“I’m not eating that!”
“Do you have any macaroni and cheese? I’m hungry.”
I stared at my pile of pasta. The kids stared with me. Many adjectives came to mind, but most of them involved the kinds of words I had banished from our family thesaurus.
“Well,” I said, trying to sound positive, “I guess we let it dry for a bit and then we’ll see.” But secretly I was thinking, I’ve totally messed this up. I wasted three cups of flour and an hour of our time and now dinner is going to be hopelessly late and the kids are going to be scarred for life because they will forevermore associate pasta with dried up worms! What was I thinking?
The magic was over. The violin players turned back into a Veggie Tales CD, the fresh bread sticks turned back into Cheerios, and my inner Italian was transformed back into an Anglo-Saxon mixed breed who was genetically programed to boil things. I should have made potatoes.
Instead, I boiled up the pasta and served it piping hot at exactly 7:15. By then, the children were so hungry, they didn’t mind eating worms. They chewed through their clumpy strands of pasta with valor, oblivious to the fact that al dente shouldn’t require the use of molars. Epic failure, I thought to myself.
“I’m sorry the pasta didn’t really turn out,” I said.
“What do you mean?” Jonathan asked between bites. “It’s the best pasta I’ve ever had!”
“It’s beautiful delicious!” Kya proclaimed, munching happily.
“Mmmm! Nummy!” Micah said with his mouth full.
Paul just nodded. The sauce on his face matched his hair.
“And next time we make it, it will be better,” Faith added. “Not many people get it right the first time,” she said knowingly to Jonathan.
I thought I could hear that violin again. I looked at my family gathered around my dinner table, and it occurred to me that one day, when I am old and the grandchildren gather around my table and my children tell stories about their mother, they probably won’t remember the time I attempted to make pasta for the first time. They probably won’t remember how it all clumped together in one massive lump, and how dinner was so late, it almost qualified as breakfast.
But I hope they will remember that their mother was infinitely curious and recklessly determined. I hope they will remember that their mother was not afraid to try, to investigate, and to learn. I hope they remember that she threw flour and served worms for dinner. I hope they will remember that their mother did not always get it right the first time. But she tried. And if someone asks them why they make pasta themselves, they won’t have to think up a reason. I hope they’ll know why.