Antipasto, Family Recipe

Every region of Italy has its own version of antipasto, depending on local products that are readily available, and if the desired end result is a quick first course to a meal or if it’s preserving a huge batch to keep on hand for personal use and/or to share with extended family and friends. The antipasto recipe I use came via my Aunt D (her source unknown) who passed it on to my sister-in-law M who passed it on to me and generously provided hands-on training during my first attempt. Over the years I’ve made a number of adjustments to Aunt D’s and M’s recipe because I can never leave well enough alone. In any case, here’s the standard recipe, along with a variety of options. By all means, add your own …

Antipasto, Family Recipe

¼ pound butter

1 bottle catsup (family size)

1 quart olive oil

½ cup sugar

1 quart white vinegar

2T salt

1 quart sweet pickles

1 quart or more canned mushrooms

1 quart string beans

1 quart celery

1 quart cauliflower

1 quart pearl onions

1 quart carrots (optional)

1 quart peppers

1 quart olives

1 quart anchovies

1 pint tomatoes

Other veggies to add or substitute: baby ears of corn, hearts of palm, hearts of artichokes, assorted varieties of mushrooms, olives, etc.

3 or more cans tuna (large family size)

2 cans sardines in tomato sauce (regular small size)

Blanche raw veggies

Drain all canned items (do not reserve liquid)

Cut all ingredients into small pieces (2 to 3 per tablespoon)

In a very large kettle add oil, vinegar, butter, catsup, and sugar. Heat.

When hot, add blanched veggies and all other ingredients. Bring to a simmering boil. Spoon into sterilized jars and seal. Should produce around 30 to 40 pints, depending on total ingredients. Although original recipe does not require cold-packing, I process sealed jars in boiling water for 20 minutes for added safety.

Allow to sit for at least 3 weeks before using. Eat with a fork or on top of bruschetta or crackers.

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What’s for Dinner?

How about bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin served alongside prune and walnut filled ravioli? That’s right–prune, p-r-u-n-e. And no screwing up of faces please. Don’t knock what you’ve never tasted. Trust me. Two or three of these Italian agnolotti will give you a whole new perspective on good eats.

 Prune and Walnut-Filled Ravioli My Way, Loretta Giacoletto

 (Note: This is a variation of my basic ravioli recipe. Filling and sauce ingredients have been changed for the Prune and Walnut version. These ravioli pair nicely with turkey or pork.)

Here’s the Ravioli My Way tools you’ll need, the ingredients, and step-by instructions for 50 ravioli, give or take, depending on their size.

Tools

  • Food Processor (unless you prefer to hand-mix your dough and hand-grind your filling)
  • Rolling pin (D prefers with handles; I prefer without)
  • Large work surface for rolling out dough and assembling ravioli
  • Pastry crimper or ravioli cutter to seal ravioli (no need to moisten the edges first)
  • Cookie sheet or two (on which to set ravioli while they dry out and/or later while they freeze)
  • Plastic freezer bag or two (unless you plan to cook right away)

Ravioli dough

  • 2 C all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 C fine 00 semolina flour
  • 1 t salt
  • ½ C water
  • ¼ C olive oil (I prefer extra virgin)
  • 3 extra large eggs

From the above ingredients, add to your food processor:

  • 1 C of the all-purpose flour
  • 1 t salt
  • ½ C water
  • Pulsate and then blend into a wet dough

Add the remaining ingredients to the wet dough:

  • Flour, semolina flour, olive oil and eggs
  • Pulsate again and blend until dough combines and moves away from the side of the processor, eventually forming a soft, pliable ball.
  • Remove dough from processor, knead briefly into a disc about 1” thick, wrap loosely in plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and set aside.

Ingredients for prune and walnut filling

  • 1 C pitted prunes
  • 1 C walnut pieces
  • 1 C ricotta cheese (drained)
  • 6 amaretto cookies or ½ C wafer crumbs
  • ½ C raisins or currants (optional)

Add the above ingredients to food processor and pulsate until well-combined without turning into a pate.

Remove filling from processor and add:

  • 3/4 C good-quality grated cheese and/or
  • 1 or 2 T olive oil, if needed to hold mixture together.

Put filling in a container and store in fridge while rolling out dough.

Note: I don’t use a pasta machine but if you have one, go for it.

Rolling out dough

  • Lightly flour a large work surface. Your ergonomic preference may vary but mine is waist-high.
  • Divide dough in two pieces, unless you are really good at rolling out a monstrous piece, which is why I use Hubby D for this task.
  • Lightly flour rolling pin.
  • Lightly flour the disc of dough, only if it’s sticky.
  • Start rolling from the center toward you and from the center away from you.
  • Use light pressure to keep the dough even as you roll.
  • Roll to the edge of the dough, using the same amount of pressure with each stroke.
  • Lightly flour top of rolled dough, gently lift the dough and again flour the work surface underneath to prevent the dough from sticking. Increase pressure on rolling pin to achieve a thin layer of dough.
  • When dough is rolled to about 1/16 of an inch, it’s time to assemble the ravioli, one row at a time.

Assembling Ravioli

  • Starting one inch from the bottom of the rolled out layer and ½ inch from the left edge, place one teaspoon of filling every two inches until you reach the right side. (Lefties, reverse.)
  • Fold the one-inch border over the row of fillings and lightly press down with your fingers all the way across.
  • Still using your fingers, press firmly between each filling, making sure to release any air pockets. Again with your fingers, press firmly along the entire row, again making sure to release any air pockets as you go.
  • Using a pastry crimper, or ravioli cutter, cut across the row and then between each section. Bingo! You have made your first row of ravioli.
  • Set those ravioli on a lightly floured cookie sheet and continue the process until all the filling has been used.

If you don’t plan on cooking the ravioli that same day:

  • Set the cookie trays of ravioli in the freezer.
  • Hours later, or the next day, place the frozen ravioli in plastic freezer bags and return to the freezer until ready to use.

Cooking the ravioli

(About 8 ravioli per serving)

  • Drop ravioli in a large pot of gently boiling water containing 2T salt.
  • When ravioli float to the top, they’re done (about 3 minutes)
  • Remove ravioli from water, using a strainer or spider wire or large slotted spoon.

While the ravioli are cooking, make a simple sauce

  • Melt in a large skillet ½ C (one stick) unsalted butter
  • Add ½ C raisins or currants (Optional: soaked in rum or brandy)

Stir cooked ravioli into sauce, assemble both on a large platter.

Or:

  • Arrange cooked ravioli without sauce on a large platter and
  • Drizzle with a mixture of melted butter and honey.

Too much trouble, you say? Come on, you won’t know for sure unless you try.

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See One, Do One, Teach One

See one, do one, teach one. I first heard this surgical term during my years as an administrative coordinator at one of the most prestigious medical schools in the country. It’s an adage that works just as well with any number of life’s lessons. In my case, the kitchen. To be quite honest, I’ve never cared one iota about cooking. Growing up, I left the cooking to my mother, a task she actually enjoyed, especially with me cleaning up afterwards and in spite of her working outside the home 48 hours a week. After I married and had children to feed plus a husband who grew up loving local diner food when he wasn’t eating his immigrant grandma’s cooking, I finally took a half-hearted interest in preparing a few dishes well. Okay, one dish—ravioli, which over the years has become my go-to staple.

Eons ago it was my mother who taught Hubby D and me how to make ravioli. She learned from her mother or maybe her sister-in-law or maybe both of them. After that one and only lesson from my mother, I became the official ravioli maker in my home, in spite of HD having an extensive background in baking—hands-on, formal training, and later management. Baking vs. Cooking. Never the twain shall meet without the proverbial locking horns since baking is a science and cooking is an art. Translation: D believes in following recipes to the letter whereas I prefer a bit of a bit of recipe tinkering to satisfy my creative juices.

Which brings me round to the see one, do one, teach one. While the offspring were growing up, they all took a turn or three helping to make the ravioli. Some more so than others—the old-fashioned way, using a hand-cranked meat grinder for the filling and mixing flour and eggs by hand for the dough before rolling it out by hand. Fast forward to the present Son #1 as well as daughter D have been making their own ravioli for years, using the simplified method I passed on to them. That would be a food processor for not only the filling but the dough too, although we still roll out our dough by hand—with a rolling pin instead of a pasta machine.

Several years ago Hubby D and I gave Daughter a hand with her first ravioli school. More like a half day with her longtime friend and her friend’s longtime friend, but school sounds much more impressive than a three-plus-hour class. And we did, after all, squeeze in a lot of technique in a short period of time, including the occasional locking of horns between D and me. Otherwise known as the entertainment break.

Around that same time, while Hubby D and I were visiting #1 Son and family in Wyoming, I wound up helping #1 make a batch of ravioli—whoa! Somehow he veered off course in the assembling process, which resulted in a spirited discussion on the proper and practical way to assemble—as in my tried and true method. Such a racket we must’ve made since #1’s youngest son and a friend came running up from the basement to make sure no blood was being shed. Of course there wasn’t. Mother and Grasshopper were merely engaging in a bit of misremembered nostalgia. Recently, that same concerned grandson called me on his way back from college, bringing with him a batch of frozen ravioli he’d made at home (technique taught by his dad). He wanted to know how to convert those babies into toasted ravioli. I gave him explicit instructions and several days later he called to say his toasted ravioli were a hit with his college friends. Way to go, Giac!

Then #2 Offspring of our #4 Offspring came home from college. Per #2’s earlier request, D and I had another ravioli school for her and her mom J. What quick studies those were—no yelling, no whining, no grumbling. They left with enough ravioli to cover a number of small meals. Or a big one for special friends, which #2 quickly vetoed.

Now on a roll, Hubby D, Daughter, and I recently conducted another ravioli school, this time at Casalago, our family retreat at Lake of the Ozarks. Again, two students—Grandson #1 (Offspring #1 of our #2 Offspring) and his bride K. Another set of quick learners who never gave us any lip, except for kisses goodbye. They took home a very generous batch of ravioli and served them at K’s family Thanksgiving. Perhaps another tradition in the works?

And the beat goes on. That same Thanksgiving weekend, Daughter D and her hubby traveled to Albuquerque to visit their daughter E who couldn’t come home for the holiday when she usually gets a helping or two of my sweet potato ravioli. So, instead of bringing the leftovers on the plane, D spent a few hours teaching E how to make another version, this one using pumpkin instead of sweet potatoes.

So the tradition of learning continues but with a slight twist in the Giacoletto family. Eat one, do one, teach one. Eat again.

What about you? Is there a how-to passed on to you that you’ve passed on to others?

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Proud to be an American

Proud to be an American, you bet. And so very thankful, especially on this and every Veteran’s Day, what my parents always referred to as Armistice Day. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 that for all purposes signaled the end of The Great War that was supposed to end all wars. My dad, who had turned eighteen that August of 1918 in Marinette, Wisconsin, was inducted into the army one morning and along with a group of his peers put on a train headed for basic training. During their journey word came through that the expected armistice with Germany to cease fire had indeed been signed in France; and when he and the other inductees disembarked, they were mustered out of the army and sent back home.

My heartfelt thanks go out to all the veterans who have served our great country over the many wars since. I’m old enough to have a few sketchy memories of WWII, including the tears our family shed for the handsome young airman who would never come home. And for the one who did return, having spent six months in hiding after the plane he was piloting went down in the Netherlands. Sixty-five years later my cousin still cried when he told me about his fallen comrades and the Dutch farm family who aided him and another airman. The head of that family paid the ultimate price, dragged away by the Germans and never seen again. Vietnam—like so many others, my brother-in-law returned with memories that haunt him to this day. And now our more recent battles: Iraq and Afghanistan, a nephew who served his second tour of duty there; a grandson who enlisted at the age of 18, trained at Fort Drum, and spent nine months in Afghanistan before returning with some disabilities, non-life threatening but serious enough to never leave him.

Proud and thankful to be an American, yes indeed. I’ve had the privilege to visit the U.S. cemetery at Ardennes Belgium where many of our military who died during the Battle of the Bulge are buried, their 5,000-plus headstones forming a Greek cross spread across acres and acres of impressive lawn. How well I remember Ann Frank’s house in Amsterdam, the tiny space she shared with other Jews in hiding; the Holocaust children’s museum in Budapest, its walls lined with crayon drawings by children in concentration camps, children who would never grow into adults. Nor will I ever forget others who died in the name of freedom: in Thailand the war museum in Kanchanaburi, dedicated to thousands of British, Australian, and other POWs who died during WWII while building what later became known as the Bridge of the River Kwai; and their final resting place, the Don Rak Cemetery nearby where almost 7,000 POWs are buried, the epitaphs on their headstones written by grieving families so far away. Thank you, Freedom Fighters everywhere.

Proud, indeed I am, and so very thankful to be an American, this and every day.

Reprinted and updated from November 11, 2012

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Everybody has the right to be an artist

In the summer of 2004 I went to Northern Italy with Hubby D, a cousin, and my brother, After visiting our family villages in the Piemonte Region, we headed for the South of France, via the picturesque mountains and stopping roadside to lunch on the soft toma cheese of Piemonte, along with a loaf of crusty bread and a bottle of red wine. We drove a good five hours before reaching our destination: the medieval village of Vence, perched with quiet dignity above the hustle and bustle of the touristy French Riviera.

Our time in Vence was limited but well-spent, indulging ourselves with to-die-for French crepes and croissants washed down with carafes of French wine. While strolling through pedestrian cobblestone streets, we wandered in and out of various shops, eventually opting for the less pricey offerings of street vendors, where I bought a hand-painted bowl from one and a tapestry handbag from another, both brightly colored to reflect the sun-drenched Riviera. All that walking combined with all that looking soon evolved into tired feet and watery eyes. Break time. We settled onto the nearest bench and watched a few games of boules, the Italian version of bocce.

Of course, no trip to Vence would’ve been complete without visiting the museum of Henri Matisse. Other cultural venues, although we visited only a few, honored the many artists and authors of long ago, those who once called Vence their primary home or home away from home.

It was only by chance that June day, D, my brother, and I wandered into an amazing art studio located in Vence’s Old Town. There was no mistaking the owner and artist-in-residence—Brett Neal. Wiry and animated, Brett moved with the grace of an athlete. He wore his hair spiked, ear lobes decorated with unmatched earrings, clothes as funky as his painting and sculptures. Although born and raised in Thailand, he spoke with the British accent reflecting his nationality. A single word would’ve described him as charismatic.

I hadn’t planned on buying any artwork when I entered Brett’s studio, but then a particular piece displayed on the wall caught my eye. And perhaps my ear. Could it have been those two aproned women in the print calling to me, asking me to check them out? They were standing at a kitchen sink, creating a towering sculpture of pots and pans reflecting the images of their surroundings. How appropriate, the title of this work: ‘Everybody Has The Right To Be An Artist’. I bought #120 of 500 prints; my brother bought the next number. With the dollar against the euro so low in 2004, Brett even gave us a discount, a nice gesture I’d never considered requesting.

‘Everybody Has The Right To Be An Artist’ soon found its rightful place, framed and hanging on the brick wall above our kitchen fireplace, forever a reminder of its creator, Brett Neal. Sadly, I recently learned from his brother Boyd that 55-year-old Brett passed away last year, in Asia where he’d returned in 2006 to make his home. Boyd also said that ‘Everybody Has The Right To Be An Artist’ was one of the winning paintings in the Daily Mail’s ‘NOT The Turner Prize’ competition in May 2003, out of 10,000 entries. As Brett explained at the time “This picture pokes fun at the contemporary art scene. I’d seen a museum sculpture of welded and pans on sale for thousands of dollars, so I created a picture of ladies making their own pots and pans sculpture.”

Fortunately, Brett’s amazing art lives on and can be viewed here at the Brett Neal Studio.

‘Everybody Has The Right To Be An Artist’ image courtesy of Boyd Neal.

Some years after visiting Vence, I wrote a piece of short fiction entitled “Youthanasia.” One of the main characters happens to be a rather eccentric artist—wiry and animated, blessed with the grace of an athlete and the talent of viewing life from a different perspective. But that’s where any resemblance to Brett Neal or his amazing art ends.

If you’d like to read more about my fictional artist, I’m pleased to share a brief excerpt describing him and his studio located on an obscure street in Florence, Italy.

“Youthanasia” as told by middle-aged St. Louisan, Lidia Drago …

Tempo Principale the sign read in the gallery window. Simon glanced at his watch again before following me inside. We were greeted by a haphazard array of easels displaying visual renderings, the subjects so lifelike I wanted to run my fingers across their faces. The first, a young mother nursing her sleeping child, brought tears to my eyes. An ageless woman sitting in a lotus position reminded me of the yoga I gave up years before. A hunter kneeling with his gun and dog seemed to mesmerize Simon, as did the muscular athlete suspended in mid-air while kicking a soccer ball.

My shoulder rubbed against Simon’s; I felt his muscle twitch. “Forget the Ponte Vecchio gold,” I said. “These paintings are absolutely incredible.”

 He responded with an I-couldn’t-care-less shrug. Then I remembered: we didn’t have a wall on which to hang pictures anymore. Damn the fire that freed us of responsibilities but took away our home. Damn the fire that allowed us the trip of a lifetime but no place to relive our memories. Still, we shouldn’t deny ourselves some vicarious enjoyment. Simon thought otherwise.

 “I need some air.” He made a break for the door, stopped when a cough erupted from the maze of artwork.

 Between two easels emerged a mop of jet-black hair, followed by a small, wiry man, his skin free of wrinkles and dark eyes probing. He wore a roomy shirt, tight trousers, and ankle-length boots. “Please Signora, Signore. May I show you more?” He bowed from the waist, the shoulder-length mop flopping over his face until it fell back in place when he straightened up. “I am the proprietor, Peppe Valenti.”

 “And the artist?” I asked.

 “Alas, we are one in the same. Welcome to Tempo Principale.”

 He motioned us to follow him. Simon rolled his eyes but didn’t disappoint me. As with the illustrations we’d already seen, each one Peppe showed us told a personal story. I can still picture the returning soldier embracing his wife while two toddlers wait their turn, a septuagenarian blowing out birthday candles to the amusement of her daughter and granddaughter, an older man sitting in a rowboat, beaming as he pulled his catch from the water. I slipped my hand into Simon’s. His felt clammy in the warmth of mine.

Peppe smiled. “As you can see, I have captured my subjects in what they considered their prime. Perhaps the Signore and Signora would sit for me?”

Simon dropped my hand. He stepped back, showed both palms as if warding off an evil spirit. “Thanks for the offer, but we won’t be staying in Florence long enough to pose.”

“Actually, we’re looking for this place.” I showed Peppe the business card.

“A-ah, then fate has brought you to me. The pensione is footsteps away, two floors above my studio.”

“Then you must know Boswell,” Simon said.

“Si, he represents me occasionally.” Peppe waved his hand toward the door. “Please, the stairs are located outside, to the right of the gallery entrance. Just tell my nonna that Peppe sent you.”

“Then you are—”

He swept into another bow. “Si, I am also the landlord.”

End of excerpt.

“Youthanasia” first appeared in the 2006 November/December issue of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and later in the 2010 Spring/Summer issue of Allegory E-zine. It is currently available at various online distributors, as a single story or part of the full-length eBook entitled A Collection of Givers and Takers.

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Deceptions in 1930 Montana

Here’s one of my favorite scenes, from an area I researched in great detail, more like up close and personal. Pietro Rocca has left the wife he deceived and their two children back in Italy while he comes to terms with his new identity in America—that of Pete Montagna.

 Butte, Montana—1930

A distinctive blend of musty earth and ripe perspiration inundated the dry room of Anaconda Copper Mining’s premier facility as men from The Speculator’s first shift stripped off their silicone-laden blue overalls and dank long johns before jockeying for one of the eight shower positions. Pete Montagna stood under the hot water and worked a thick bar of Lava Soap into his ropey frame. With eyes squeezed to the showerhead, he let its unforgiving needles pound dust and grime from his tired muscles, and then turned to brace himself for a final assault before relinquishing the water to an impatient Pole.

“Gave up my real name, just like you probably did, and a lot of others,” the man told Pete when they first met. “Good names but too damn hard for these thick Americans to pronounce.”

Or, too damn revealing, Pete thought. He preferred the language of America unless he was in the company of Northern Italians. Most of them came to America before The Great War but still remembered Pete’s Piemontese dialect, a bastardization of French and Italian. “Speak the common language of the streets,” Leo had told him. “That way nobody can make a monkey outta you.” Not that Pete still counted on Leo’s advice.

While Pete was buttoning up his cropped union suit, Leo sauntered up to the washbasin, swiped one hand across the foggy mirror, and peered at his image, a face on the verge of losing its angular structure. With a snap of his trouser suspenders Leo said, “I got Lady Luck with me today.”

“Well I got second thoughts so count me out,” Pete replied, knotting a striped tie into his shirt collar.

“Honey, that’s what you need.”

“Honey can’t cure my problems.”

“What the hell, Pete. You did good last payday.”

“Yeah, but I gave it back on Wednesday.”

“So why work if you can’t play. We been busting our chops all week.”

“No, we been busting our chops three days,” Pete said, referring to the job sharing that kept the Butte miners working part time for daily wages of five dollars and forty-one cents.

“I gotta take a piss,” Leo said, “so don’t leave without me.”

Pete dawdled at the mirror, slicking back his hair and grooming a recently acquired mustache that covered the scar on his upper lip. Women still considered him handsome, or so they said.

A stocky man, his face sun-deprived from too many years underground, shuffled up to Pete and placed a gnarled hand on his shoulder. “How ‘bout coming home with me,” Tony Coronna said, projecting a broad smile under his droopy gray mustache. “My Donatella, she’s fixing spiedino and there’s some real good vino, straight from Meaderville.”

Wine from Meaderville sounded almost as good as wine from Faiallo, but Tony’s invitation came with a catch: a daughter twenty-four and ready for marriage. For a brief, delicious moment Pete pictured the Coronna kitchen: tantalizing strings of cheesy pasta simmering in beef broth, the scent of garlic softening in olive oil. Basta! He clutched his mid-section and feigned a painful cramp. “Grazie, Tony, but not today. I’m dealing with this stomach problem.”

Tony’s smile faded. “Sure, paesano, catch you next time.”

Pete grabbed his lunch bucket and tight roll of dungarees but before he could escape out the door, Leo yipped at his heels like some pesky mutt. They walked into a warm summer breeze caressing Butte’s summit and while Leo cupped his hand to light a cigarette, Pete surveyed the sprawling town below. Quiet from where they stood on The Hill. But down below Boisterous Butte never slept, thanks to revenue from an abundant supply of copper, silver, gold, lead, and manganese. Leo was on his third match when Pete lifted his head to the distant mountains. Their snow-covered peaks made a nice picture but Montana’s jewels couldn’t compare to his native Alps. A glow finally appeared at the end of Leo’s cigarette. He took a few drags and tipped his hat to The Spec’s head frame, a gallows supporting cables that raised and lowered men, equipment, dynamite, timbers, and ore cars three thousand feet into the unforgiving earth.

Pete fell into step with Leo and six other co-workers. They started the long downhill trek, passing the Little Minah and other mines intermingled with sooty, frame cottages and two-story flats perched above stonewalled streets. One by one the men drifted off until only Pete and Leo were left to trudge the unpaved portion of Main Street. At the modest white frame church of St. Lawrence O’Toole, Pete made the sign of the cross, a routine he’d begun with his first day on the job.

“You shoulda never started that,” Leo said.

“Bullshit, what are the odds?”

“No shit, just playing against the odds. Picture us in The Spec’s hellhole, slaving away on the day you forget to bless yourself.” He clashed an imaginary set of cymbals. “POW!”

“And what about you: saluting that damn head frame every time we leave.”

“It’s a habit, and nothing else.”

“The same goes for me,” Pete said. “One thing’s for sure: I ain’t superstitious.”

“Well, maybe you oughta be.”

“As if superstition ever brought you any luck.”

“I’m here, ain’t I?”

“So’m I, but luck didn’t get me here.”

“That’s right. It was me, Leo Arnetti.” He thumped his fingertips to his chest. “And don’t you forget it. What’s more, I got you this job, showed you how to talk like a real American.”

“How to lose like one too. And don’t get me started on America’s lousy economy.”

So far Pete’s luck had been nothing but bad, same as Leo’s, damn. When they weren’t mining copper or listening to old-timers extol the good old days—before The Company rid itself of the union—Leo talked him into panning for gold or taking chances on every conceivable game in Butte. And Pete seldom balked.

After they passed the Lexington, Leo brought up Tony Coronna. “You shoulda gone with him for some of that Meaderville wine, for some of Donatella too.”

“That ain’t funny Leo.”

“Ooh-h that Donatella. She’s got … whatchamacallit … the hots for you.”

“Basta! I’m a married man.”

“Not in America. Not to these people. Better they don’t know the real you. And don’t forget your godfather. Giovanni ain’t about to forgive or forget.”

“If God is good, Giovanni’s dead. And I’m going back home, just as soon as I get enough money.”

“Then what the hell are we waiting for, partner.” Leo draped his arm around Pete’s shoulder, pushing him where he didn’t need to go.

“First things first,” Pete said, moving away from Leo’s grip.

The two men took a right on Summit and dropped off their dirty clothes at Adie Turner’s aging three-story Victorian. Eight dollars a week bought them separate sleeping rooms, one bathroom shared with ten other men, laundry service, and three meals daily, including a full lunch bucket on workdays. Pete had tried rooming with Leo but that didn’t last. Not with Leo helping himself to Pete’s money and sneaking in floozies after dark.

As they continued down Main Street, commercial buildings outnumbered the houses and concrete replaced the dirt road. When the street traffic picked up, Pete moved onto the sidewalk and wiped dust from his leather high tops.

“Dammit, not now,” Leo said, kicking up more dust. “We only got a couple more blocks to go.” He stuck his hands in his trouser pockets, jiggled coins to accompany the beat of his footsteps.

Leo the Loser: all talk and no show. And Pete always wound up on the losing end. Getting out of Butte meant first getting rid of Leo.

When they neared Uptown Butte, Prohibition saloons passed as soft drink parlors and billiard parlors stacked hustlers against greenhorns, a lesson Pete had learned the hard way. “My stomach’s turning somersaults,” he said. “We shoulda grabbed a sandwich back at Adie’s.”

“As if I need one more glob of navy beans on stale bread,” Leo said. “Just you wait, tonight we’re gonna feast on thick, juicy steaks.”

They eased into the swelling ranks of businessmen, professionals, skilled craftsman, teamsters, laborers, uppity matrons, bored housewives, and all varieties of miners. Vehicles crowding the streets and threatening pedestrians prompted Leo to lift his middle finger to a Model T rolling through the stop sign. “A car, that’s what we need. Then we’d show those bastards a thing or two.”

Not with my winnings, Pete thought. His getaway money dried up after Leo needed a loan to repay old debts, a loan he had yet to repay. After they turned on Broadway the pace slowed down while Leo lit another cigarette. At Honey’s Soft Drink Parlor, Pete hesitated at the beveled glass door.

“Now what?” Leo asked.

“I ain’t exactly in a rush to throw my hard-earned money away.”

“In that case we drink first.” Leo reached around Pete and turned the sticky knob. “And then we play to win.”

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On the Great Wall

In another life I did climb the Great Wall of China, as indicated on the sweatshirt I bought that autumn day some twenty-five years ago. Of course, I didn’t climb the entire wall. To be more precise, I walked rather than climbed because the Great Wall is actually a stone road, big enough for two-way traffic with room to spare, at least that portion I traveled. The entire wall extends over 13,000 miles throughout China, its rolling landscape often bare and desolate. Still, my particular experience not far from Beijing involved significant climbing—up and down a never ending series of uneven stairs, also made of stone, worn with age and constant use. And for the most part, void of handrails. Accidents waiting to happen—the dream of every personal injury lawyer in America. Except this was China.

The wind whistled that day on The Wall, the weather ideal for tourists. The group I was traveling with consisted of fifteen or so Americans, our guide a charming young Chinese man who lived in Beijing and spoke what he referred to as The Queen’s English. I asked him the correct way to pronounce Beijing. It’s Bay-jing. Not Bay-shing. Perfect, as were the jeans and Nikes he wore every day. He planned on going to America in the near future, to attend college on a ping pong scholarship. No chance of his staying in America long term since the Chinese government would not allow his wife and child to accompany him.

In looking around The Wall that day, I soon realized there were no other Caucasian tourists. And much to my surprise and amusement, I, the only blonde, soon found myself surrounded by a group of teenage girls, dressed in school uniforms, and giggling with a series of hand gestures—our only way of communicating. It seems they wanted their picture taken with me.

Everybody smile. I was their oddity.

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