Friday nights of my childhood were spent doing many things: watching TGIF shows on TV like Full House, telling ghost stories to my friends over sleepovers and, of course, going out for pizza. Filippi’s Pizza Grotto was our favorite family stomping ground; my sisters and I played tic-tac-toe on Mom’s scratch paper while we waited for what seemed like forever for pizza. Dad would ask what pizza toppings we all wanted, and even though I didn’t care for it I would request sausage—just because my older sister hated it and would predictably glare at me from across the table. My dad would try to teach us how to eat spaghetti with a spoon, and my mom would wipe at my face with a napkin and tsk, “Oh, sweetie!”
Nostalgia won the best of me when my dad asked last week where I wanted to eat while I was back home visiting. It was Friday night—duh, pizza. My mom had gone to an event and we’d forgotten to take my sister’s wheelchair out of her car trunk, so I helped my younger handicapped sister walk step by step from the car curb into the restaurant, missing the “pizza window” out front. My dad used to lift me up to this pizza window to see a huge kitchen full of cooks spinning wheels of floured dough, and catching them with the spindle of their forefingers. Gazing into this window held the same fascination as magic to a kid. I shrugged off my slight disappointment. I was too old to be awestruck by some silly pizza window now anyway.
Inside, we sat in a bright room that had been built as an add-on years later that struck no spark of familiarity in me at all. It was not the same dim-lit room filled with garlands of garlic, and glowing red candles on the red and white checkered tablecloths. It was a bright room filled with families singing “happy birthday, cha-cha-cha!” and men staring up at the basketball games on T.V. Looking around me, I sipped on wine—something else I also never experienced as a kid. We were in the same restaurant I’d known all through my childhood, but everything felt so…different.
The food was just as good as I remembered: salad soaked in vinaigrette and strings of cheese pulling from each bite of pizza, the sauce a bright zest of tomatoes. We slurped up spaghetti and swallowed down raviolis, dipping buttered bread in the leftover plates of sauce. All of a sudden, my dad hollered out across the dining room: “Mauricio!” Over to us walked one of the waiters; a lanky man with a square jaw and wavy hair tied back in a ponytail. My dad was excited. “You used to wait on us all the time! These are my girls, they’re grown now.”
My sister thrust out her hand to Mauricio, although it looked like she was waiting for it to be kissed rather than shaken. “I Laura,” she giggled.
I followed my sister’s lead. “Hello,” I said, my voice sounding suddenly shy. “I remember you, too.”
My dad helped Laura walk out of the restaurant. He didn’t have to drive up to the curb since he’d parked in the first space on the side reserved for take-out orders. That’s when we saw the pizza window. I was awestruck all over again as the men were busy at work in the kitchen. Even Laura stopped to stare, pressing her tiny fingertips like suctions on the glass. One of the cooks pointed at her and tossed the saucer-like dough extra high in the air just for her. She grinned, satisfied at the special treatment. As we turned the corner to the parking lot, I remembered the one thing I’d almost forgotten: the oven’s fan, blowing its scorching pizza fumes into the thick cold of night. How strong is the sense of smell! It’s a phenomenon beyond the simple base of sight because you feel it explode and burst through every waking cell in your body. After dinner, the sweet coolness of spumoni had put all my hunger pangs to rest, and still, my mouth began to flood as I stood beneath the fan.
The rain began just as we left, cascading down on the windshield as my dad drove us home. “It was great to see Mauricio,” my dad chatted, the windshield wipers squeaking against the glass.
I nodded. “You know, he looked exactly the same. Just…older.”
I thought about this as the car splashed out sheets of rain beneath its tires. Almost everything had been the same...just older.