It is late August and the sun is already casting that certain nostalgic light. There is just something about this entrance into fall. Summer’s end and my heart recalls lovely Donna Paula.
In Italian, Donna Paula means “Lady Paula”. You pronounce Paula like Pow-a-la. I do not know why to this day, but she has left her imprint on my soul.
I remember meeting her when I was a child. She was a friend of my grandmother’s.
My mother always spoke very highly of her. My mother loved Lady Paula very much.
My mother spent summers with her away from her own mother.
Lady Paula was a typical looking older Italian woman. She was short and stout. Her hair was tied into a bun. She wore baggy cotton dresses. She had the biggest and most impressive vegetable garden that I have ever seen in my life. She lived in a small and simple house and the garden on the side of the house was almost as big as the house itself.
My Mom and Dad would take my sister and me to visit her. She would pluck fat, deep orange carrots out the earth, rinse them off under the outside spigot, and hand them to us to eat as if they were cotton candy. Indeed, they tasted as sweet!
We continued to visit her and she grew older and older. She lived alone. It was the summer that I turned 18 and I had just earned my driver’s license. I decided to visit her on my own. I knocked on her door. She opened it and looked right at me and asked who I was. She was losing her eyesight. I announced, ” It is Geraldin-a, Donna Paula, Grace’s daughter”. Her arms were strong as she embraced me at the door. She invited me in. She said she was about to begin making her dinner. On the counter was an opened box of spaghetti half full, a bottle of olive oil, and 1 unpeeled clove of garlic.
She told me that this was an easy dish. She said you could any vegetable. “Come-a with me”, she said with her endearing Italian accent. It was dusk on a sultry August day. I recall the rich smell of the earth that is so familiar as evening approaches. She grabbed two small zucchini off the vine. I was impressed with how well she moved through the garden and back up the 4-5 steps to the kitchen with her limited vision.
She put the pasta on to boil. She minced the garlic and simmered it in some olive oil.
She thinly sliced the zucchini fresh from its source. She quickly moved the zucchini through the garlic and oil. She poured this mixture over the pasta. Then she carefully sprinkled it with parmesan and just a dash of salt and pepper.
“Come-a join me. Mangia!” She stood in front of her stove holding the fragrant bowl of zucchini and pasta and smiled.
We sat together, in silence, eating our small feast. From her kitchen window outlined with crisp white curtains, I watched the beginnings of the sunset over the garden.
Lady Paula would not have been labeled as a beautiful woman by today’s standards, but to me, she was beyond beautiful. Lady Paula possessed the “simple” beauty of a radiant spirit.
To this day, whenever I begin to sauté garlic in olive oil, the aroma brings me back to that summer day in her kitchen. I see her gentle smile. I hear the love in her voice as she says to me, “Come-a. Sit down. Mangia!”.