I first heard the term “Bolognese” when we lived in England. Before then, I just called it “meat sauce”. All the “mums” on my square were making “Spag Bol” (spaghetti Bolognese) as their go-to dish on week nights. We lived in a very international part of Cambridge, England. Built in the era of Charles Dickens, our grey brick flat was something out of an Victorian era movie.
We had neighbors from Australia, Italy, Russia, and of course, local Brits. Most were professors at Cambridge University. Professors are an interesting lot. They are not attached to material gains and pie-in-the-sky dreaming. They exist to acquire and pass on knowledge. Hours can be spent discussing the bay tree in your back yard or other small and interesting phenomenon of the physical world. One thing we never talked about was politics. Before, I always imagined that if you got a whole bunch of really smart people together they’d hash out the problems of the world like a panel of CNN experts, nod in agreement then take a long “sigh”, and smile, and know that the world was finally going to be on the right track because they had it all figured out.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Over the years, I learned that the more educated someone was, the less likely it was that they would walk around spouting facts and proselytizing an agenda – and the more likely it was that they would spend hours over Mediterranean style meals and enjoy the peace of the moment when it lasted. Because they know that peace never lasts.
When you don’t take peace for granted, you can enjoy it when it comes – and not create your own drama in the middle of a perfectly good day, just because you want something to do or you want a problem to solve.
The only other group of people who seem to fully understand how fragile peace is (and how not to ruin an entire day with imaginary problems)are war veterans, and their families.
Thirteen years after the start of the wars that changed our lives forever, there is a hush that comes over us, a quiet, and a mutual respect for the peace and sanctity of our little lives. The lives we’ve managed to bandage. The wounds that finally don’t seep anymore. Or maybe they do – but we have now accepted our new routine of changing the bandages before they start to smell. We give ourselves space and time that we never knew existed before.
We are sometimes utterly confused over the way other people live. Sad, because these people are often our neighbors, friends, and even family. And the more the blaring and brandishing of petty drama and time-filling words push into our quiet lives, the lonelier we feel.
“Twenty-two a day”, is what my husband told me last night. Twenty-two vets kill themselves every day. After all the blaming and policy and overarching conclusions we draw, maybe it all comes down to the fact that some of us are living in a life we never imagined and were never prepared for. We look back at the hardest times and ask, “Did that really happen?”. And others are living the way we used to and we wish we could have that level of awareness back. But we will never see the world like that again.
And it’s not just the combat veterans themselves who are at risk. I’ve lost enough military spouse friends to suicide. As someone who has seen what depression and anxiety can do, and as the wife of a vet, I can tell you that it’s a silent epidemic in the whole military community. And it all seems like harmless gossip during book club and at the playground – that someone’s “losing it”, or eye-rolls and jokes that someone is “CRAY-ZAY”, until they go and commit suicide, and then everyone just stands around wondering what they could have done differently. Indeed, there’s plenty we could do differently.
The undeniable truth is that vets need each other. And families of vets need each other. Not so we can rehash all the horrible things that happened, or talk about each other like some sort of dysfunctional family, but so we can just be. Be in a state of quiet where no one throws a tabloid in front of us. No one causes an uproar. No one makes a big stink about stuff that doesn’t really matter.
Fortunately for us, war came with babies. Lots of babies. The fear that we would not “have what it takes” to raise a passel of children was obliterated when we could see how valuable life was. And life went on.
But I remember the moment when it all changed. When the old me met the new me. It was when I watched the march into Bagdad when my second child was one week old. I remember sitting in a state of shock with my tiny baby boy, watching the unfathomable. Right, wrong or indifferent, it was happening. Asking, wondering, contemplating….then knowing that the baby boy in my arms would fight some similar fight. That the world would never be the same. And feeling the seismic shift, at the age of twenty-eight, that the mission of my life would heretofore be to create the best, most peaceful and most positive and loving existence for this boy. So if, (or when) he did go and confront the unfathomable, he would have memories and traditions that would ground him and hopefully, hopefully, provide a lifeline back to some sort of sanity after it was all said and done. Thirteen years later, he’s just starting to step his toe into the world. He dreams of being a fighter pilot and spends hours putting together model aircraft carriers and planes. He reads comics. He laughs. He plays baseball and dodge ball. He dreams. He adores his baby sister and will do anything to make her laugh. And he’s all boy in it’s glorious innocence and rambunctious-ness, and cookies-dipped-in-milk till the cup overflows zealousness. And there are arms and legs and feet everywhere.
And three more daughters. And two more sons. For a total of seven. Seven whole amazing, wonderful, imperfect, beautiful people.
And we have lingering mediterranean style meals. And we have managed to juggle the pain and the past and the knowledge that they will all grow up and inherit this world. As horrible and beautiful and ugly and hopeful as it is.
And it’s quiet. For now.
While they are all little. It’s quiet.
Thank God, it’s quiet.
Shannon’s Butter Bolognese
I’ve made countless versions of Bolognese over the years. Different meats, different combos of vegetables, different types of tomatoes. This one is special though. There is a story behind it, but probably one I won’t tell for a while as it involves dinner out with military types that are a higher rank than my husband, and that one time I inhaled dessert before I was supposed to. And yes, everyone noticed. I was in the middle of a diet, and dang it, I hadn’t seen dessert in weeks. And I was just really hungry. And a little drunk. Apparently not too drunk however, because I managed to make a full analysis of this sauce as it crossed my palate. I don’t know if I blurted “GREAT SCOTT! THERE’S BUTTER IN THIS BOLOGNESE!”. Maybe I blurted it out in my own head? Ya, ya that’s it. That’s exactly how it went down.
2 onions, diced
8 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon oregano
3 – 28oz cans of imported, whole Roma tomatoes in sauce (or whatever good-quality canned tomato you can find). I have cases of the Carmelina Brand of tomato on auto-ship from Amazon.
2 lbs mild Italian sausage, de-cased
salt, 2tsp or more, to taste
1 cup Chianti ……I always think of Hannibal Lector whenever I say or write “Chianti”. Truly disturbing.
1/2 cup unsalted butter
In a heavy-sauce pan, heat the 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat and add onion, garlic and red bell peppers. Saute until soft and onions are semi-translucent. Add oregano. Scoop contents out of sauce pan and immediately brown the de-cased sausage.
Using a food processor or blender, puree the whole Roma tomatoes and sauce/juice.
Pour tomato puree into crock pot, and add the browned sausage and the sautéed vegetables. Pour in 8oz (1 cup) of chianti, and make that “th-th-th-th-th”, sound that Hannibal Lector makes and completely scare the crap out of yourself.
Then add about 2 teaspoons of salt, just to get the seasoning started. You can add more later.
Set crockpot on high and cook for 6-8 hours.
Add butter and season again with salt (if needed) right before serving.
This recipe makes a metric ton of sauce. Basically, enough to feed my family and enough for a couple pans of lasagna down the road. You can freeze this sauce with great success, as well. Or make lasagnas and freeze them – which is exactly what I’m going to do because lasagnas in the freezer make me feel like a strong, no-nonsense mother who’s ready for anything.
See you later, alligators.