Grandpa's Masterpiece

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One of the last memories I have of my Grandpa was of making pizza with him. My Grandpa loved to cook and his cooking skills rivaled those of the chefs of the Food Network. He could make anything, and anything he made tasted delicious! Each dish was a masterpiece created with love and skill. Deep in the basement of our home, my grandpa had his own special kitchen where he created his edible masterpieces. His greatest masterpiece of all was his pizza and I, his special assistant chef, brimmed with excitement each time we kneaded dough together.

The last time we kneaded dough in tandem was a steamy August afternoon, a day made for consuming ice cream, rather than pizza. My Grandpa, who tinkered in his subterranean kitchen everyday, was doing so less often, as cancer made his once strong body weaker. But on that day, his eyes lit up and he stood tall when I asked him if we could make a pizza.

“Of course dolly, we can make a pizza,” Grandpa beamed.

“ Grandpa, can we make a really big one?” I inquired.

“We’ll make it as big as the moon, honey,” he responded. Clapping and cheering, I took his hand and led him down the stairs to his kitchen so we could get started.

Combining flour, water, olive oil, sugar, yeast and salt, Grandpa began mixing the dough. I watched as the powdery and wet ingredients melded together and took shape to become a kind of edible play doh. Donning an oversized apron emblazoned with the Italian flag, I finally got to plunge my hands into the dough and knead. Cold and sticky, the dough covered my fingers like a thick glove. Pound, stretch, pull and squish, over and over with my tiny hands, until Grandpa’s large hands took over the kneading. He pulled and stretched the dough and tossed it in the air, as I squealed with delight.

While the dough was rising, Grandpa began to create his special sauce. I can still smell that simmering pot of sauce. Garlic, tomatoes and spices flecked with pieces of Grandpa’s handmade Italian sausage filled the air as it slowly simmered. Standing on a chair, my nose nearly perched on the edge of the pot, I watched the sauce bubble and blister. I waited for the moment when Grandpa would dip a chunk of Italian bread in it so he and I could taste it and test the seasoning. I licked my lips in anticipation of that glutinous sponge soaking up all that saucy, spicy goodness. That hunk of sauce drenched bread satisfied nearly as much as the pizza itself. Actually, just being with my beloved Grandpa satisfied even more.

The final part of the preparation was the grating of the cheese, my personal favorite. After every few grates, my little fingers grabbed a pile of shredded cheese, promptly directing it to my mouth. “Baby, don’t eat it all, it’s for the pizza,” Grandpa halfheartedly scolded. After a little smile and a bat of my eyelashes, he laughed and cut a hunk of the cheese for me to eat, a cold and creamy prelude to the main course.

After we prepared and tasted and laughed, it was finally time to put the pizza together and cook it. Grandpa let me spread the dough in the pan all by myself. In fact, he let me put all of the toppings on it, too. Proudly, I helped Grandpa place the pizza in the oven. Watching and waiting by the oven door, I kept pestering, “Grandpa, is it ready yet?”

“Not yet honey, you have to be patient,” was his gentle reply after each repeated inquiry. Apron covered in flour and hair falling in my face, I suppressed an impatient sigh. Rather than roll my eyes in frustration at having to wait, I glanced at Grandpa sitting at the table perched over a cup of black coffee. His deep brown eyes, always twinkling, winked at me while he gave his silver mustache a quick twist. I laughed heartily and he beamed. He was wrapped around my finger to be sure, but he had my number. At that moment, the pizza could have taken forever to finish and I wouldn’t have cared.

Finally, the pizza was ready! We took it out and let it cool. My mouth watered for a taste of that pizza. As I took a bite of that wonderful pie, my taste buds danced. Hot and bubbling with cheese, swimming in sweet Sicilian sauce, littered with fennel studded sausage pieces, it was the best pizza we ever made.

“Grandpa, aren’t you going to have some, too?” I inquired. Grandpa just smiled at me and slowly shook his head from side to side. He was sitting down and he looked tired. My always busy, ever moving Grandpa never just sat down so quietly after we cooked. He had always loved to taste his food and was always anxious to clean up. This time, he just took me on his lap and held me close and kissed my head. “You’re the best pizza cook ever Grandpa!” I exclaimed.

“Honey, you’re going to be the best pizza cook one day,” he whispered. He kept holding me for what seemed like hours. Cozily ensconced in my Grandpa’s arms, I almost forgot about eating the pizza. The best part about the pizza was not making it, or even eating it, but being with my Grandpa.


Three weeks after we made that wonderful pizza, my Grandpa died. Gone were the aromas of edible masterpieces wafting up from the basement kitchen. Over were my days as Grandpa’s special assistant chef. I still like to cook and I often help my mom in the kitchen. We sometimes even make a pizza in honor of Grandpa. But it’s not Grandpa’s pizza and never will be. In the years since that basement stove grew cold, pizza has never tasted the same.





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