#StJoseph’sDay #Zeppoles #OpenSesame! #DoBabiesHaveKneecaps?
Two Saturdays ago, I woke up to my alarm. And when I tell you that I rarely set an alarm or that I’m not a morning person or that I typically spend my day sequestered in my basement writing in my pajamas, you’ll know that I had a big day ahead of me. I put on real clothes, grabbed my new Yeti cup of coffee, and hit the road. We were having dinner guests later and my assignment was to get the dessert—the zeppoles.
For those of you who have never heard of them, zeppoles are the traditional Italian pastry eaten once a year on March 19 to commemorate St. Joseph’s Day. St. Joseph is the “foster father” of Jesus, aka Mary’s husband, that magnanimous guy who didn’t ditch her when she informed him that, yes, she was still a virgin but that, yes, she was also pregnant. And that the father of her baby was God, who was about to become the original dead-beat dad. I like to amuse myself on occasion by imagining how that whole scene might have gone down.
“And you know this how?” Joe probably asked after she’d confessed her lack of knowledge of anyone in the “biblical sense” and all . . .
“Well, an angel told me.”
Admittedly, not the most auspicious “in the beginning” for a lifetime of wedded bliss, though they did seem to overcome it; much more believable in this day and age of alternative facts. And because God was very, very busy with his expanding global empire, Joseph became the de facto dad, raising Jesus and teaching him his own simple trade—carpentry.
According to Wikipedia, St. Joseph’s Day is a feast day of the highest rank in the Roman Catholic Church, celebrating one of the mysteries of faith. In this particular instance, I think the mystery may have something to do with why Joseph didn’t put Mary on that donkey and kiss her a** goodbye, a sentence for which I’m probably going to burn in h***. March 19th is also the feast day for carpenters, even though Jesus didn’t stick with a hammer for very long, his career path ultimately taking off in that “like father, like son” direction, which was kind of a kick in the old tool belt for poor Joe after all he’d done for his stepson. And it’s also Father’s Day in Catholic countries like Italy and Portugal.
Since 1479, yes, St. Joseph’s Day has been celebrated by attending mass to make yet another offering while wearing red clothing and carrying dried fava beans (and not just any old fava beans from your pantry, the ones that have been blessed), after which you return home to admire the altar you’ve assembled for St. Joseph, AND THEN, finally, you collapse in exhaustion and eat your zeppoles. Whew! Wait! I forgot two things. Here in our own great country, St. Joe’s Day is associated with the return of anadromous fish to our Mid-Atlantic region which, as a fish biologist, I should have already known but didn’t. And it’s the day traditionally associated with the annual return of the swallows to San Juan Capistrano over on the left coast. SO many activities!
But why the zeppoles? Well, way, way back in the middle ages, God saved the Sicilians from a serious drought, a feat which gave birth to the feast. And God made this rescue, I’m assuming in the form of rain, at the behest of Joseph because Joe is the patron saint of Sicily so he is believed to have intervened on their behalf. See? And because the road to heaven is probably paved with Italian food because it is, after all, heavenly, the Sicilians created St. Joseph’s Day cakes, which are also called zeppoles, to be eaten that day in Joe’s honor.
And so it came to pass over 500 years later, that I, in honor of my Catholic dinner guests, was headed to La Salle Bakery in Providence to buy our dessert because Sicily is just too damned far to go and zeppoles aren’t something you can just whip right up. And because La Salle is purported to have the best zeppoles in RI with nontraditional fillings like Irish Cream and chocolate mousse. But I was worried. Or rather I would have been worried if I hadn’t given up worrying for Lent to replace my original vow of giving up wine, which was a bad idea. So let’s say I wasn’t worried, but I had planned ahead of time just how to keep these cream-filled pastries fresh for a day in my car, where they’d be waiting for me while I attended an all-day writing event called Workshop-Palooza put on by the Goat Hill Writers, all of which I mention because you just can’t make this stuff up.
Yes, in addition to setting an alarm and wearing clothes, I’d brought along a cooler and some ice packs to keep my zeppoles fresh. And once my GPS had directed me to School One in East Providence, I parked in the shade of a tall-ish building, thinking that would also help to keep my little cakes cool on the bright sunny day. I nestled them in behind the driver’s seat on the floor for good measure, covered them in a random coat someone who is probably Bella had left in the car, and packed up my large red purse, which is akin to a small suitcase and would definitely cost extra to carry on Spirit Airlines. Then I grabbed my Yeti cup and walked across the street, turning at the corner to head down the final stretch of sidewalk to the school.
But as the distance between us grew, I took one more look back at my car to assess if, indeed, that building would keep my zeppoles in the shade all day. Which was both a big mistake and a technical violation of my Lenten vow. Later, my friend Rachel told me she was in an all-day mindfulness workshop in the general vicinity, which didn’t make me feel any better. Because as I distracted myself from the task at hand–walking down a city sidewalk–I failed to be mindful of the fact that the edge of the section of concrete in front of me was raised several inches from a frost heave or whatever. The toe of my boot connected with that edge while I was busy looking backwards and I went flying forward, landing on too many joints to name but including my knees.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” I might have exclaimed, but probably it was something more unsuitable to print.
The older we get, the harder we fall, to misquote a Jimmy Cliff song, and I lay there in disarray with pain flooding my senses along with disbelief and embarrassment. Because the older we get, the more ashamed we are of falling, also, like we are way too old for this shit. And we’re definitely out of practice. When was the last time you fell down? Exactly. I took a few deep breaths and began to take stock. My Yeti cup was covered in sand but miraculously still fairly full of coffee, so that’s some kind of future commercial potential there. I captured some escaped pens and such, stuffing them all back into my purse. Nobody had seen me in all my shame but I did hear voices approaching and this was not how I wanted to meet my fellow workshop attendees. I quit trying not to cry, collected myself and managed to stand up, brushing the road sand and salt off my navy coat and brown corduroy knees, none of which were torn, miraculously.
Taking a test step, I realized right away that one of my knees wasn’t working the way it had only moments before, or for the past 55 years of my life for that matter. But the brick exterior of my destination lie just ahead and I could see there was a wheelchair ramp so I limped towards it, shuffling up to the old building and through the front door. Bathroom was on my brain and right away I found the new “everyone is welcome to rest in this room” facility, this being an alternative school for the arts and all, where I barricaded myself in the handicapped stall to further assess the situation. My elbows and knees were bleeding so I cleaned up as best I could, amazed that my clothes had proven to be sturdier than my skin. I rinsed my Yeti off and shuffled out to join the registration line, a bit shaken but nevertheless intact.
“Okay, you’re all set, we’re gathering downstairs in the basement to begin,” the nice lady informed.
Stairs, I thought? Uh-oh. “Is there an elevator,” I asked, hopefully.
“No, sorry,” she said, probably thinking I looked perfectly capable of managing a few stairs, after all.
It’s a good thing you’re tough, I told myself, channeling my inner Leese sister (which only a very few of you will understand as it’s totally an inside reference so sorry, read on) as I shuffle-stepped back down the hall and took the stairs down one at a time, leaning on the railing for all it was worth and dragging my injured knee along for the ride. When you move that slow, you meet more people, and once in the basement, one nice woman brought me ice, another ibuprofen, and the day began.
My morning workshop was called, “Can you really get paid to travel?” and I was looking forward to meeting the presenter, who was a friend of a friend in the 6 degrees of our smallest state. And once I made it all the way up to the second, yes, floor, she, in turn, contributed to my ibuprofen collection, advising I take 5 or 6, even. During our introductions, I think I refrained from adding my recent trip to my travel history but I’m not sure. The class was fun and informative and my knee didn’t hurt if I didn’t move it, although I could see it growing like a grapefruit beneath my corduroys.
Next up? Lunch! Back in the basement. This time, my new travel-writing friend, Quinn, carried my red suitcase and we discovered we had SO many things in common because, in addition to meeting more people when moving mindfully, you have time to learn much of their backstory. Some time later, we arrived in the cafeteria where everyone was already eating, only to learn that the bathroom we both required was, yes, back up on the first floor. Up I shuffled, encouraging Quinn to move along without me. Happily, I discovered there was a women-only restroom so we didn’t have to suffer the awkwardness of sharing that particular commonality. By the time I arrived back in the basement for the third time, there was a chair right by the door and my friend, Ann, helped me gather my lunch and sit down. I met some great folks while eating and even felt lucky, somehow, when I won a book in the raffle.
After lunch I’d signed up for a hip-hop verse workshop called “The Art of the Hot 16” which, wonder of all wonders, was right across the hall so maybe Jesus or one of his dads was watching over me after all. By now, I’d figured out that I could both sit and stand comfortably, possibly thanks to the pills, but anything in between caused a great deal of pain. I perched on a high stool and the five of us learned the spider method, creating a rap song about trees, of all things. We even recorded it and it was pretty good for a debut. We each had one solo and mine was the very last line of our song, which was, ironically, “Hey, what are these bumps on my knees?” All in all, we had a most excellent time, totally cracking ourselves up.
After class, one of my fellow rappers went and got my car for me and since it was my left knee that was injured, I could drive. All day I’d figured I’d go to the hospital after the workshop but, after calling my doctor-averse husband, I drove home and had a bath instead. I did need to get those zeppoles in the frig, after all. Bella dug a pair of crutches out of the basement and we had an excellent dinner with the dessert a worthwhile conclusion.
I limped around for a few more days but finally went to the doctor to discover that my kneecap is broken right straight across! The good news is that 9:10 require surgery and mine is that other 1. The other good news is that no ligaments were harmed in the breaking of this patella. So I’ll be hanging out for awhile, on the rocks, so to speak, using the old RICE acronym—rest, ice, compression, elevation. The patella is the largest sesamoid bone in the body; a sesamoid bone being one that’s embedded within a tendon or muscle, in this case the quadriceps tendon. Sesamoid is derived from the Latin word, “sesamum”, meaning sesame seed, because most of them are small, see? Sesamoids act like pulleys, providing a smooth surface for tendons to slide over and increasing the tendon’s ability to transmit muscular force, which is way more than most of us need to know about them but is kind of interesting all the same.
Have you ever felt a baby’s kneecap? No, you haven’t. A long time ago I read that babies don’t have them and felt my own kids knees to verify this fact. This is what enables us to crawl and then walk, as this bone begins as soft cartilage and only starts to harden when we’re getting vertical, around age three. And I know I said we’d learned enough, but I also read that sesamoid bones have a very limited blood supply, which you wouldn’t know by the rainbow-colored bruising from the blood which has pooled from the back of my kneecap on down to my calf muscle. And they’re difficult to heal. Great. I’m not even going to mention the avascular necrosis they warn of which, as you probably know, means bone death from a lack of blood supply. So let’s just pretend we never read anything about that.
In conclusion, to wrap this long story up, last night I went to my book group, catching a ride with my friend, Chris. “So, what happened?” he asked and since we had a good 45-minute ride ahead of us to Providence for the meeting, I launched into the telling of this whole story, except for all that historical stuff. And most of the medical stuff, too. But when I mentioned School One, he interrupted. “What? School One? That’s right across the street from John and Jill’s house!” Which was the house we were driving to at that very moment. Yes, I had fallen right across the street from our friends’ house, not recognizing it as I’d never been there in the daytime nor had I driven there from La Salle Bakery before. I couldn’t believe it, all analogies to those other famous fallers, Jack and Jill, aside. And not to mention that we were gathering to discuss the book, The Dinner, either. Had I known all this in advance, I might have brought zeppoles. But probably not.
PS Clearly St. Joseph is not the patron saint of patellas but he is still a very busy guy. In addition to raising Jesus, saving Sicily, and bringing us zeppoles, St. Joseph will help you find a buyer for your house when you’re selling it if you bury a small statue of him upside down in the front yard. Which is either proof that there’s no rest for saints or a brilliant marketing ploy for the makers of saint statues.