Every year at this time I think about spaghetti sauce (marinara for you fancy-pants types).
Late August was a whirl when I was a kid. Squeezing those last bits of fun out of summer, the State Fair, back-to-school looming large. It also meant spaghetti sauce. We'd all pile in to my grandfather's mint green Mercury Marquis and head out to the farm to pick tomatoes. My brother and I would head off with a bushel basket, and as soon as we were out of sight of the adults, it was time to throw as many tomatoes as possible into the air. Eventually that got boring and we'd get to work filling the basket, and head back to the car when it was full.
Meanwhile, my grandmother, all five feet of her (and a full 8 inches of that was hair) would come up to the car and dump the tomatoes out of her apron, which somehow ended up being more than I had in my basket. After a couple of hours the trunk of that Marquis was finally filled up and we got to go home. But the work was just beginning.
Then it was down into grandma's cellar, in a back room crammed with a washer and dryer, a freezer, stove and sink. There was barely-BARELY-room in the middle for the old enamel kitchen table that we worked on. Grandma stood on a stool at the stove, all four burners going full steam, stirring the tomatoes. I was in charge of the grinding, taking the raw tomatoes and extracting the juice, leaving just the stem and pulp. My grandfather and uncle had hooked up a motor to the grinder, so it should have been a fun job for a kid. I'd throw a tomato in, the motor would screech, and the juice would come out with a very satisfying splat. Then I'd reach for the next tomato but my grandfather would stop me. "One more time" he'd say. And I'd run it through one more time, again and again, and each splat would get smaller and less satisfying, until there was nothing left except a hard lump the size of a walnut. It would clang when I finally threw it away.
Even though the grinder was the best of the jobs, I hated it. Late August in a small, damp cellar room with all four burners going was sweltering. It felt like it was 120 degrees in there and the week seemed to last forever. But it was all worth it every Sunday when we had that delicious spaghetti or shells or rigatoni with meatballs and sausage and braciole.
After my grandmother died we stopped making sauce, and when the supply ran low we had to supplement the stores with *gasp* Ragu. Spaghetti sauce has come a long way in the years since, and to be honest I can't quite remember what that homemade sauce tasted like. I just remember it was delicious, and that it was made with love.