Gill has an odd way of surprising me every once in a while — by mentioning something from her childhood that I had totally forgotten. The other day she mentioned, in the context of her current job, a computer summer camp that she attended. In much the same way, Crazy D and L’il Sis occasionally mention things like pizza joints that they used to love. It occurred to me that the pizzas we remember provide the background for our lives, much like our favorite songs do.
That got me thinking…I recall, mouth drooling, the favorite pizza hangout of my high school years. It was George’s Spaghetti House in downtown Toronto. I think they had a live jazz band. But I do remember going there after proms for the most delicious, mouth-watering pizza ever, the kind that oozes mozzarella cheese, the cheese so hot it burns your mouth. And the day after, the roof of your mouth is sore from the combo of hot cheese and tangy tomato sauce. That stands out as my favorite pizza of all time…and reminds me of the best days of high school. Some of the other memories, not so great. Best forgotten, along with the chain restaurants that litter the pizza landscape today.
A couple of years later, I remember the pizza joint of my university town…the town where I still live and where my kids were raised. Back then, we had to walk across a barren, windswept campus that looked more like the Arctic tundra than a place of higher learning, to catch a bus that went down the main street of town, to get to this little hole-in-the-wall pizza place. It was ‘our place’ during the five years of university.
In Berkeley, it was Giovanni’s pizza on Shattuck Ave.During the Vietnam War era, National Guard troops with rifles and fixed bayonets were served with your pizza. It was still there the last time I visited California…still had the stone pizza oven and the pizzas were still wonderful. We introduced the kids to their food (the day memorable since we mistakenly forgot our dog in the park in the Berkeley hills, Crazy D, still a toddler, rode the antique carousel too many times and threw up, and the brakes on the car failed.) It is, in retrospect, amazing that the thing I recall the most vividly is the pizza. And don’t panic, dear readers, we went back for the dog! Typically, when we returned to the park, she was mooching at a picnic table near where we’d been…hadn’t missed a beat.
I also remember Mother’s pizza, a favorite when the kids had food allergies. One wacko ‘nutritionist’ was trying to ‘cure’ them by maintaining strict diets six days of the week with protein sources like rabbit, fish and lamb–none of which the kids liked. Then on day 7, all hell broke loose and they were allowed to eat ANYTHING. So off we went to Mother’s for pizza dripping with cheese and preserved deli meats…and marshmallow ‘salad’, ice cream for dessert. Then we went home quickly before Crazy D’s ‘milk rage’ hit and he had a meltdown in the restaurant.
Fast forward a few years to the move (after divorce) to my current house. Charlie’s pizza was the only thing that would do to celebrate the move and discard bad memories.. We ended up with a dead battery on a very cold night and had to be rescued by CAA. But the kids could, I’m sure, tell you precisely what toppings they had on their pizza.
And to this day, the kids (especially Crazy D) remember the pizza place in a small plaza near our rented house in Orinda, CA. It was on the other side of the hills, along The High Road to Rheem. This was, coincidentally, the road upon which Crazy D was forced to march (his dad ‘urging’ him on) when he couldn’t get to sleep at night. By the time he got to the top of the first hill, he was ready to sleep. And everyone wonders how my kids are still able to walk long distances! Forced marches through the California mountains and Black Forest hills in Germany.
We hadn’t found a great pizza place here–until recently. We accidentally stumbled upon it and are their new best customers. When our across-the-street neighbours (relatively new to town) asked for a pizza recommendation, I was pleased to be able to give them one — I had come full circle. So, along with my favorite songs (“When you go to San Francisco, Be sure to wear flowers in your hair”, “Lady in Red”, “Desperado”, and “Just Another Day in Paradise”), pizzas past make up the fabric of my life.