Kathryn Curto

Kathryn Curto

Pea Soup for Lunch

        It’s one of the warmest winters in decades and I’m hungry for a snowstorm that makes people eat canned food, watch old movies and forgive.

        I’m the first to sneer at the lunatics who clog supermarket aisles when the hint of a nasty weather forecast is leaked. But here’s the truth: I love them all–every one of those alarmist, pessimistic, Armageddon types–and I’m seduced by their spastic energy.   I watch them fill shopping carts with everything from milk and bread to curious combinations of canned goods: tomato soup, creamed corn and sliced mandarin oranges.

        I watch with the same bewildered mixture of desire and worry I felt as a kid when a storm loomed. Desire, because I loved when something bigger than us might take hold. Worry, because I hoped for that bigger something.

        But how I loved those bigger somethings.

        There was the thunderstorm when lights went out and the planets that monitored the ongoing Pontoriero family drama and violence somehow mysteriously aligned. My version of Christmas in July ensued. I was about nine at the time. My parents, sisters, my brother and I sat around a shaky folding table for hours. We ate sliced peaches out of a can. We laughed and pretended to smoke, putting lit punks to our lips. From my vantage point, it was about as close to heaven as you could get. A strawberry-scented candle and the ends of the punks shed light.

        And then there was that Tuesday at noon when my brother and I slurped chunky sips of piping hot pea soup and watched The Three Stooges all afternoon because the roads are brutal, as my mother kept repeating over and over, and school was cancelled. During commercials, we arm wrestled and he let me win.

        I treasured those unexpected blips on our radar screen because the problem we faced as a family during those times-the storm of the moment-was just that, an actual storm.

        Not a lie.

        Not a missing seventy-five dollars from yesterday’s cash box at the family gas station business.

        Not a Windjammer Hotel matchbox found in the pocket of my father’s dress pants.       

        Just a storm. Just weather. Rain. Wind. Maybe even a blizzard. But whatever it was, it was coming from a place far beyond my reach.

        While everybody else who listened to the weather report inhaled and wondered what damage the impending storm might cause, what windows might be blown out, what part of the basement might flood, I exhaled. Finally, a mess that was impossible for me to clean up!  Finally, a problem I had no way of solving and one that forced us to be together in ways that were nothing like our everyday life. Ways so far from everyday life that they reminded me of the movies.

        It was the 70s. Movies like The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno were all the rage. I loved every minute of them. Buildings  collapsed, ships sunk and highways splitting in two yet people on the screen went right on loving and forgiving.

        These movies helped me cope with a role that, on most days, felt impossible to handle. I wanted us all to be good and I felt guilty when the job of making us good got too hard. I turned to wishing. I wished a lot. But in this story the little girl didn’t wish on a star, she wished on a disaster.  

        Maybe that’s why I loved these movies so much. I was desperate to live that final scene. The one that spoke to me like this: Despite cracked earth and sunken ships, life goes on.  I felt less guilt loving the movies than I did wishing for the storms. But it didn’t stop my wishing. I longed for those natural disasters.

        Dear God, please forgive me for last night’s prayer. The one that involved my asking for a monsoon or a landslide that would knock our power out for a week.

        And since monsoons and landslides didn’t come around often on the Jersey Shore in the 1970s, I still had the movies. And the exaggerated versions of beautiful mess and love they supplied.

        Like that summer night on our screened-in porch when punks hung from our lips like cigarettes and we breathed in the strawberry-scented humid air.

        Or that winter day when the roads were brutal, school was cancelled and my brother and I watched The Three Stooges.  And ate pea soup for lunch.



Kathryn Curto teaches at The Writing Institute/Sarah Lawrence College and Montclair State University.  Her work has been featured in The New York Times, La Voce di New York, Talking Writing, Italian Americana, VIA-Voices in Italian Americanaand many other publications and anthologies. She has been a Kathryn Gurfein Writing Fellow and an Engaged Teaching Fellow at MSU. Kathy also serves on the faculty of the Joe Papaleo Writers’ Workshop in Cetara, Italy. Visit her Facebook page here.