This was the month that Aunt Mena died. She was 87 and she was my mother-in-law’s stepsister and what one would call ‘a character’, a spirited woman, much given to outspokenness when she wasn’t playing coy. She was highly religious with a show of piousness that I found frankly annoying … and she could be blunt to the point of rudeness but she was also engaging, enthusiastic and nobody’s fool. She adored her three sons and her grandchildren, loved a closed number of other family members and friends — and tolerated most anybody else (including me). She had worked and been much respected first as a teacher and later as a school inspector and was generous when it came to helping people out, enjoying her role as benefactress. She had suffered a double mastectomy in her forties, but she got through it and indeed seemed indomitable and aged beautifully, preserving a svelte figure and dressing elegantly to the end. A string of pearls were her hallmark. Classic.
It was thus with a terrible sense of dismay that those closest to her realised she was losing her mind a few years ago. When in a state of self awareness, she still dramatically declared her wifely love for her husband, Amedeo (who was born in 1918), and her concern for his numerous ailments. Physically, however, she was in fairly rude health whereas Uncle Amedeo came down with one thing after the other, and even underwent extreme unction on one occasion. It was a terrible shock for Amedeo when she died because, as he said with tears streaming down his face, he had taken it for granted that he would die before her, it would have been the natural thing.
The funeral service was on a very cold December morning, in a cavernous modern Roman church, and saw me weeping too. I could never say that Aunt Mena was ‘adorable’ – her qualities were other — but at the same time, she was definitely someone who had left a mark on people, she would be sorely missed — it takes all sorts to make the world go round and, from a feminist perspective, I could really say, ‘What a woman’ admiringly.
What came to mind during the memorial service, as I saw so many people young and old gathered there to pay their respects and/or unashamedly showing their grief, was the Mark Anthony quote from Julius Caesar about the good being interred with people’s bones. And I thoroughly disagreed. So, as a tribute to Aunt Mena (short for Filomena), I can say that, on the contrary, it is “The good that men do lives after them; The evil is oft interred with their bones”. (Note: not that she was ‘evil’ by the way …. just quoting Shakespeare, that’s all.)
I have written before that lunch is not usually my ‘thing’ but when my husband and I got home we discovered we were both starving and the only thing I could think of preparing was a matriciana sauce for our pasta. It doesn’t take very long to prepare. I am sure that Aunt Mena, for all her flamboyent show of piety and sense of occasion, would have thoroughly approved!
For this Amatriciana variation: the usual guanciale, no onions, fresh tomatoes, splash of red wine. Without thinking, I added a little olive oil at the end. That’s not usual for a matriciana. But that’s okay, it didn’t hurt.