“From our Panera fairy,” Kate said, rinsing off a handful of red grapes that she transfers to a silver strainer. “She brings us stuff all the time. Bagels, bread… oh. You’re back from vacation. Welcome back!”
“Hey,” Sarah said, coming into the kitchen, a lone can of beer in her hand. “You guys should try this. It’s an ale brewed with rosemary. It’s interesting.”
“That is very interesting,” Kate said, transferring the grapes into a small serving bowl as the kids all rush in. They are very giggly and very excited and bouncing up and down.
“Look!” they all say, parting like the Red Sea and revealing four-year-old Emmeline, who is now sporting a mohawk.
“Very nice, Emmeline,” Kate said. “Ok. The volume needs to come down five notches.”
This is Pasta Night. Every Friday at the Shimko’s house on the North Side. No RSVP necessary. Six o’clock serving time. Totally casual. Always a homemade sauce. Always spaghetti.
“Well, one time we had tortellini,” Kate said as her husband, Bill, comes into the kitchen and grabs a bowl of freshly sliced pineapple. “Do you want me to take this out?”
Pasta Night started in 2007. The Shimkos had just moved into the neighborhood, had no idea who most of their neighbors were and figured spaghetti would be a good ice breaker.
“We just wanted to build a community and get to know people, so we said, ‘How about pasta?’ It’s cheap. We have a great sauce recipe. And I was so nervous for the first one. I worried no one would come.”
But people came. The neighbors. Their kids. And then, sisters-in-laws of neighbors, the neighbors’ neighbors, and moms and dads who were in town for a few days. “Hey, can I bring my friends?”
Yes, was always the response. “Although one time we ended up with 50 people here. So the deal is that if you are within walking distance, open invitation. If not, just give us a heads up that you’re coming. Can you grab this please?” Kate said, handing the grapes to Bill as she grabs the pot of spaghetti and heads out to the front porch to a long, wooden table covered in multicolored tablecloths. It is surrounded by many benches and covered with things like basil pesto sauce, and a fresh block of parmesan cheese tucked in between plates and bottles of water and cups of silverware as a party of eight shows up around 6:15.
“Emmie got a mohawk!”
“Emmie! You look good, sister.”
“Can you do me a favor and taste the melon?”
“I brought wine.”
“Has anyone seen a red and blue Thomas the Tank Engine train?”
“We have more pasta on the stove,” Kate calls out as another crew of five makes their way down the sidewalk. She stations herself at the middle of the table, grabbing a ladle and one small bowl after another. “We serve youngest to oldest. Do you want sauce?”
The Shimkos never know how many people are coming. They never know who wants pasta, who just wants to hang out, who doesn’t get the cue that it’s-been-a-long-day-and-we’re-going-to-bed-soooo…
“When do we kick people out? Sometimes, it’s eight. Sometimes, it’s ten,” she said, reaching for a small plate. “Sometimes, people just figure out they need to leave. Do you want sauce? How much?”
“Mom, can we see your phone?”
“No,” she said evenly, picking up another bowl, not missing a beat.
“No,” she repeats, picking up a plate. “Do you want sauce?”
By 6:35, there are 14 adults crowded around the table. Danielle, who lives that way; Jared, who lives up the street, kinda over there; Pete, with the cast on his foot. “No crutches today,” he said. “This is the first flight of steps I went up without them.”
There are kids sitting on the front stoop, kids sitting at the kids’ table, kids blowing bubbles out on the front lawn, kids still wanting the phone.
“No,” Kate answers evenly again, picking up the ladle. “Do you want sauce?”
There are bowls being filled with spaghetti, beverages being poured, and adults talking about New Guinea and the rosemary in that ale and how great the pool was today and, “Has anyone seen a red and blue Thomas train?”
“Great,” Kate replies. “Bill, do you want pasta?”
“No,” he said, filling a bowl with green bean salad. “Not tonight. Too many carbs already today.”