Since I can remember, there has always been a T-Day during my summer holidays, a day that alters our quiet routine and the peace of Castronovo’s countryside. Usually, T-Day takes place on a dry August day, and lasts from the early morning to the late afternoon. You could object: “Why is T-Day so notorious? If you do it every year by immemorial time (in fact, it’s a tradition dated back to the XVIII century), what could go wrong?” Well, nothing, in theory. But, believe me, as surely as the sun rises in the morning, something unexpected would always happen.
Actually, T-Day’s first stage begins the day before the one chosen; it consists on washing 13 or 15 crates of tomatoes (that means 168 kilos of dirty vegetables), operation that will leave your hands wrinkled after having held them in the water for more than three hours. Now, T-Day can begin!
Auntie Nunzia, my grandmother’s sister and coordinator of operations (a true general), and my grandmother get up at half past four (a.m., of course!) and start cutting tomatoes, while my father drives to the nearby village of Castronovo to pick up our housekeeper, a sprightly ninety year old lady, Auntie Nunzia's second in command and employed to cooking tomatoes. She knows the precise quantity of sugar and salt that tomatoes need, and mixes them in a huge centenarian copper pot, using a long wooden pallet as tall as she. In the meantime, my mother is arranging about one hundred bottles on a table; my Uncle Ciccio (Auntie Nunzia’s brother) and my grandfather are assembling an antediluvian machine to squeeze tomatoes and an equally elderly bottler, tools probably invented by homo sapiens at the dawn of his history. Telling the whole process would take too long, so I summarize it in the following scheme:
Auntie Nunzia and Grandma cut tomatoes ... the Housekeeper cooks them ... Uncle Ciccio squeezes them ... I fill bottles with basil ... Mum pours tomato sauce in the bottles ... Grandpa seals them ... Dad sterilizes them.
Year after year, our tomato sauce "DIY" production, which probably violates all national and EU hygiene and food safety, occupational safety, workers’ and environment’s protection, etc. etc., has undergone little changes: Auntie Nunzia is dead, so I help Grandma cutting tomatoes; Grandpa has no more strength in his arms to seal bottles and my Dad has taken also this commitment; my sister, that before was too young to help us, now fills bottles with basil; as regards me, I have a part in quite every stage of the process: I wash tomatoes, cut them, squeeze them, fill the bottles with tomato sauce and carry them to the cauldron where they’ll be sterilized.
My family, except my mother and I, is tired of this tradition, so every year they say that it will be the last time we celebrate T-Day, but, regularly, we still do it. Who knows, T-Day may still live for tens of years, or last only a few more. In any case, I’ll never forget that trepidation and excitement before that day, the delicious smell of tomato sauce in the air, that sticks to your skin, so you need a long bath and shampoo at last to wash it away, the little burns on your arms caused by scalding sauce, and red tomato stains upon your clothes, so they appear to have measles… How could I!