CPR Section House

CPR Section House

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Caruso and Spaghetti

 After the Second World War , not just soldiers filled ships coming to Canada. When Mum came over after Dad , her ship was filled with war brides , children and immigrants from many different countries . CPR rail gangs often included men from Europe who were trying to make a place in Canada ...a place that they would be able to bring their families to once enough money was earned .

 During the summer of 1948 , a work gang was brought to the Northern run out of Mattawa to build new track . The gang cars were parked at the siding in Snake Creek . The men lived in these cars when they weren't working . A bunk car , a dining car , a kichen car and a wash car plus a row of freshly dug outhouses took care of their needs . If they wanted anything else , they would find that in Mattawa on the weekends . Most men came back on the last train on Sunday suffering from a 'wild' weekend and flat broke .

Dad noticed that there was one man who never went to town with the others . He spent the weekend alone and often on weekday evenings , he would walk the track or go sit near the river until
mosquitos drove him back into the bunk car . Dad got into the habit of greeting him whenever he met him in passing . The man looked forward to those short moments and would time his walks to meet up with Dad . Soon , they were stopping to talk and developed a friendship of sorts .

He was an Italian who had come over in 1946 to make a new life . He was trying to earn enough to bring his young wife over , who he hadn't seen in nearly two years . Every cent he earned except for a couple of dollars was sent back to her to build the nest egg they required . His food and accomodation were taken care of by the CPR but his loneliness for his wife and family left him suffering always . Dad said the Italian cried at the thought of his wife so far away . Dad was touched by the man's committment to achieving this goal . He remembered when he had to leave Mum behind in England after Canadian Troops returned to Canada . It was very hard on him , so he could understand a little of what this man was going through .

When Dad was telling Mum of this Italian man's suffering , she said that Dad should invite him to supper the following weekend on Saturday evening for supper and visiting . She began to make plans . Having someone over to supper was a rare thing indeed ...and an Italian at that . What do Italian's eat ? Could she get what she needed at the Snake Creek store ? So out came the Womans Day Weekly Magazine that she had not passed along the line  that happened to have a few ethnic dishes that she could handle . Spaghetti Marinara it was going to be !

 The ingredients for the sauce were simple enough although can tomates would have to be substituted for fresh . Some onions and carrots from the garden would suffice to add extra flavour . The herbs and spices might be a problem since oregano was exotic to Snake Creek . But Mum was never anything but confident about her ability to improvise ...thyme and rosemary with salt and pepper would do . 

 Spaghetti Pasta itself was another matter . Such things were not common at that time in Canada and most certainly not in Northern Ontario . There was no such thing as dried spaghetti in boxes at the store . It would have to be made from scratch . It only required flour , salt and a drop of water . From the picture , the pieces were long and skinny - there was no spaghetti to be had during wartime in England so Mum hadn't even seen it before . The first time she had ever seen macaroni was upon coming to Canada . Luckily , the written instructions explained the process , although she had no cutter . " Oh well , I'll figure something out ," was a regular phrase in Mum's lexicon .

For dessert , it would be blueberry pie . With her plans made , Mum spent the week , gathering what she needed for a rare and special social evening the coming Saturday .

Saturday morning she was up early , to put the sauce together and leave it to simmer slowly all day at the side of the stove . Then , she made pasta dough which she dutifully kneaded until it was elastic (as the recipe explained) . She divided the dough into small balls , which she rolled first into sausages , then elongated by rolling with her hands until they were as long as her kitchen table . She left them dry flat in place until they were firm enough to pick up without breaking . Then very carefully , she hung each long string in half on the towel rack behind the cookstove to dry until cooking time . They weren't perfectly uniform , each piece ranging in thickness a little from end to end , but Mum was sure they would be fine once boiled and served under the sauce .
She was a little sceptical that all that work , which produced so few pieces , would be enough . " Well if it isn't , they can fill up on pie , " she concluded .

She then cleaned her kitchen and set her table with her best embroidered sugar bag tablecloth , the heavy white CPR plates and cutlery  and placed a candle and a mason jar of fresh flowers from her front garden in the centre . A plate of thick slices of bread with butter and the pie sliced for serving made the table a festive sight . The aroma of freshly made food and scented phlox greeted Dad and the Italian as they came through the door into the warm , steamy kitchen .

The Italian breathed in deeply and smiled from 'ear to ear' . He then politely shook Mum's hand saying " Bella ...bella " while he alternately patted Dad's back and took her hand . When he saw that Mum was about to cook the pasta , he took off his coat and offered to help . After some polite teasing about the length of the spaghetti noodles and many laughs , the pasta was cooked and ready . Three or four pieces filled the plate easily and the sauce made it all look exotic and beautiful .

 The Italian then went to his jacket pocket and removed a small package which he carefully unwrapped .With great pleasure , he introduced Mum and Dad to a hard block of parmesan cheese . " My wife send.. to me...from my village " he proudly announced . At my parents' hestitant looks , he declared that it was very good and scraped at the block with butchers knife over each plate . Then the three of them sat to a boiterous supper , laughing at each others inadequacies at naming things on the table in English , French and Italian .

After eating to 'stuffed' they all went to the livingroom where Mum brought in the tea . When everyone had a cup , Dad wound up the old secondhand Victrola and placed one of the 78's carefully on the turntable . The clear notes of Enrico Caruso filled the room ...and the Italian started to cry . Mum eyes welled up at the sight of this grown man so clearly overwhelmed with the emotions of hearing familiar music and his language after so long away from    home . Dad was a little concerned that he had hurt the Italian deeply but the ensuing hug at the end of the song reassured him that it had been a good choice . So they spent the rest of the evening listening to the six records that Mum and Dad had inherited with the record player ...including Mario Lanza singing Caruso . Long into the night , the music drifted out across Snake Creek into an otherwise quiet night .

Each Saturday , the Italian came to have supper with Dad and Mum ,and a new menu to try with them . When the gang moved on , my parents missed their friend . Much later they received a letter , saying that he now lived in Toronto where there were many Italian immigrants , and that his wife had finally joined him in Canada . He could not thank my parents enough for making his life so far from home less lonely , and  that he told everyone of the kind and generous couple who had opened there home to him .  He added that he would always remember them everytime he ate spaghetti and heard Enrico Caruso .

No comments: