Other than two years in London, I’ve spent every Christmas Eve with my mother, Louise Maria Zeppetella Martin. And this woman “brought it. Every  year. The (Italian) spirit of Christmas. Old world tradition. The seafood that Uncle Phillip and her would go find in Santa Monica at 5:00 a.m. because, apparently, it was the freshest.

I remember those years of listening to Nonno and Nonna and Uncle Tony and Uncle Phil and Mom all yelling. “The clam-ee look-uh good… but-uh-the squid-ee, they look-uh too small. What are you going to do?” Hours of  near obsession over the color of the octopus and shrimp and eel and hovering around the sauce and sampling the salt and consistency and they’d argue about it and you’d hear things like sta ‘zitto here and there.

Oh, and the pasta was hand made. From duck eggs.

You’re supposed to have ham and turkey and prime rib. All my friends did.

And our family doesn’t even get normal pasta and red sauce. Ours is made from duck eggs—of course fresh duck eggs—with clams and octopus—of course fresh clams and octopus—smothered in red sauce—of course fresh red sauce made with fresh tomatoes.

Every Christmas Eve for my entire life except the time in London—every one full of the chaos of gifts and baking and seafood runs and preparation and I never really thought much of Mom during it all and just how much her culture and traditions meant.

Oh, and those waffle cookie things with powdered sugar. And those long fried cookie things. And that real dark hard cake thing with walnuts, and lots of pepper. Why would anyone put pepper in a cake?

She always–ALWAYS–wanted me to eat the things I didn’t like, as a child, as a grown man.

Last year, keeping with the tradition, she made me eat that detestable pepper walnut thing.

This year she won’t

Thank God, Mom is alive. Recovering from the massive stroke she had in August. Now talking and laughing. And as witty and as sarcastic as ever. And she flirts with the male nurses and it’s hilarious.

But, this year at least, she’s not in a place to remember all those wonderful traditions that I took for granted.


She’s here. And she’s gone.

On and on and on, the paradoxes of life.

Sometimes only loss allows us to appreciate what we have.

Or, what we had.