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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Sunday has never been my favorite day of the week. Sunday is the August of the week. The end of freedom, the sliver of hope left before going back to school and work.

Thursday is good because you get to look forward to Friday. Friday is good because it’s Friday. Saturday is good because it’s when you do stuff you want to do. Sunday is when you think about the stuff you have to do. The homework you didn’t finish, the work that is going to happen in a few hours.

But it did have one thing going for it. Sunday was bunday. We would go to church, then stop at the bakery on Dyre Avenue in the Bronx and get a box of buns. During the week I’m sure my mother fed us healthy food. Probably cereal, maybe instant oatmeal. But on Sunday we ate buns.

Buns then did not mean what they mean today. Today you think of hot dogs or sandwich rolls. But Sunday buns were thick, round crumbuns topped with giant chunks of buttery crumbs. Sunday buns were donuts filled with Boston cream and covered in chocolate. Sunday buns were fat, sugary cinnamon rolls. Sunday buns were black and whites, REAL black and whites, not those paltry food-like packaged cookie substances you see on deli counters these days.

Sunday black and whites were soft, cake-platter-sized cookies covered in a thick layer of icing – half chocolate, half vanilla – with about an inch of icing overlap down the dividing line. That inch was the coveted magical inch.

You know how there is always some debate about how you eat an Oreo? Whether you eat the whole thing or lick the cream off? You know how there is always some debate about how you eat a peanut butter cup? All at once, or nibble around the edges until you’re left with a gob of peanut butter deliciousness? You know how there is always some debate about how to eat a cupcake, whether you eat the cake with the icing, or eat the icing off the cake and throw the rest away, or eat the cake just to get it out of the way and then eat the icing?

There was never any debate about how to eat a black and white.

You started with one half or the other and saved the middle for last, that glorious one-inch wedge of double icing, both chocolate and vanilla.

I remember crullers. I remember Linzer tarts and things with jelly. But what I really loved were those black and whites.

On Sunday bunday we got to eat two buns. I’m sure a correction will be forthcoming when my mother finds out and reminds me that we could eat three, and how dare I malign her good name. But I seem to remember eating a black and white and a crumbun. I also seem to remember sneaking in a Boston cream, so quite possibly we were supposed to eat two, but really ate three.

Those crumbs! Walnut-sized chunks of cinnamon and sugar and butter and whatever other magical unicorn tears went into it. The cake was gooey and soft, every bite a little dopamine hit.

Eventually that bakery closed and there was no joy in Mudville after that. We found another bakery but their crumbuns were like every other crumbun you’ve ever left on the side of your plate. Square, fat, dry, with a little sprinkling of something that might have been crumbs or maybe dandruff on top.

I have never had another crumbun like the ones on Dyre Avenue.

I have never had another black and white like those, either.

I literaly have to go ride 16 miles on the Peloton right now just to make up for all the calories in my head.

After buns for breakfast, we had lunch. Sunday lunch always happened late, maybe 1 or 2 in the afternoon. I mean, after three buns who was hungry? But Sunday, in addition to being bunday, was family day, and it involved six or eight or ten or twelve of us around the table, siblings and parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles.

It always involved a pre-meal spread of antipasta. Cheese and meats and crackers and olives. Inevitably the black olives made their way onto our fingertips and we’d systematically pluck them off, one at a time, like human vacuum cleaners.

These days we call it charcuterie and act all snobbish about it, but back in the day it was just an appetizer, a little Italian calorie-fest just to tease your appetite.

That was always followed by macaroni and meatballs. These days we call it “pasta” and we leave it off our shopping lists because of all the carbs. But when life was about more than the size of my jeans, it was macaroni and we ate it with sauce and meatballs, ricotta and parmesan, and a loaf of Italian bread, every Sunday.

It’s wild to me now how ritual it was but it was our every Sunday, without fail. It was something to hook onto, an event and a tradition, a weekly sort of Thanksgiving minus the pumpkins and turkey. The pretty place settings, the candles and flowers, maybe some Perry Como in the background, possibly even a little Neil Diamond playing on 8-track. I say we ate lunch but to call it a single meal would be to severely underrepresent its scope.

We don’t really have that anymore. I don’t think I’ve made Sunday macaroni a day since I’ve been married. I will make it on a random Tuesday, or maybe on a Friday night with a loaf of homemade bread. Don’t get me wrong, I still do macaroni and meatballs. But Sunday has lost its status.

Maybe it deserved it, it is the day before Monday, after all.

And there are only so many miles I can bike.

My grandmother made the best meatballs I’ve ever eaten. Of course she shared her recipe with me, if you can call “put more pepper” a recipe. Since I cannot recreate the conditions under which her meatballs were cooked, I can never reproduce the meatball itself. Part of the process, after she spent ten minutes elbow-deep in a bowl of ground beef, eggs, cheese, spices, and breadcrumbs, maybe another egg, and a little water, was to hand my grandfather a piece of the raw mixture to taste.

He would eat it, say MORE PEPPER! And she would oblige. He was the macaroni taster, too. My grandmother would dump boxes of Rigatoni into a giant pot of boiling water, then after a few minutes she’d fish one out and hand it to him to taste. Was it done? ONE MORE MINUTE!

The meatballs always needed more pepper and the macaroni always needed one more minute.

Sometimes, depending on whose house you were at and which aunt was doing the cooking, this was then followed by a roast chicken and potatoes. The entire shebang was accompanied by wine for the grownups and soda for the kids.

We concluded lunch with salad. That’s another thing that went haywire the minute I went out into the world on my own. Suddenly salad was the thing you ate before a meal. I don’t know why, it always seemed very strange and backwards to me. We had ours afterwards, followed by fruit, almost certainly followed by leftover buns.

The perfect circle of life.

And lest you think “lunch” concluded the day, we also had a “snack” late Sunday night, which always involved ordering pizza.

I honestly have no idea how any of us survived.

Sunday may have been demoted to just another day but the warm, happy memories of it survive. As do the fat cells added to my hips.

Photo: me in my designated spot at the family dinner table, always between my grandparents. In the background, a lovely table set for a meal. To this day, it’s why I have dinnerware in sets of service for twelve.