Tracie Mauriello, VA

Senior Writer

Tracie is the Washington bureau chief for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a ghostwriter specializing in memoir and historical biography. Tracie has served as education writer for the Republican-American in Waterbury, CT, assistant city editor of the Springfield News-Sun in Ohio, education and municipal government reporter for The Herald in New Britain, CT, and executive director of the Journalism Association of Ohio Schools. She taught journalism at Urbana University in Ohio and co-wrote a chapter about libel law in the 2006 textbook Emerging Issues in Contemporary Journalism. Tracie has a bachelor’s degree in English from Central Connecticut State University and a master’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University. She is a former National Press Foundation Paul Miller fellow and is a member of the Washington Gridiron Club, the Regional Reporters Association, the National Press Club, and the Association of Ghostwriters.

As a Story Terrace writer, Tracie interviews customers and turns their life stories into books. Get to know her better by reading her autobiographical anecdote below.

Christmas Pizza

My great-grandfather’s cellar was always filled with rakes, hoes, watering cans, hoses and spades—the tools that would make his summer garden come to life. Orange-stained cabinets along one wall were filled with the jars Gram collected. At the end of every summer she would fill them with the tangy sauce she made from Pop’s fresh garden tomatoes and basil.

But on Christmas Eve, the gardening tools got pushed into a pile in the back of the cellar to make room for what Gram and Pop were proudest of cultivating—their family.

Pop set up long tables on the cement floor of the otherwise unfurnished basement. When he ran out of tables he arranged an old door on top of two sawhorses to extend the dining surface even more. By the time he was done the cellar resembled evoked the Whoville Christmas table. Gram’s good kitchen chairs were set out among folding chairs, handmade benches, babies’ highchairs, and assorted lawn furniture. The cellar wasn’t fancy but it was big enough for the whole family, and that’s what was important. Well, that and the pizza.

By 1984, our last Christmas Eve gathering at the DeLuca house, the ranks had grown to five children, 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren plus spouses, fiancés and friends who were freely accepted into the family ranks by cousins who teased, uncles who offered instruction on the proper way to twirl spaghetti, and grandparents who called them “honey” and “sweetheart” when the name of a newcomer eluded them.

Cousin Kevin always brought his Matchbox cars. He would begin at one end of the table, beeping and vrooming as he pushed them around salt shakers, bottles of Pop’s homemade tomato and dandelion wines, piles of sour black olives, bowls of stale cheese curls, and plates of cookies made with a not-so-secret ingredient, Special K cereal. Eventually someone would tell Kevin to stop and he knew this, but until then he would take advantage of the racetrack.

Compliments were passed freely from one generation to the next but seldom within a generation. We knew in advance what the compliments would be. Elders gushed over Kevin for being a mathematical genius, Susan for playing the clarinet so well, David for his athleticism, Joey for his strength, and me for having white teeth. This was the best compliment they could think of for me, who has average in every way except to Pop, who saw something the other’s didn’t and called me “Miss America.”

Before long, Gram would come upstairs to make the pizza. She was a petite woman who had to stand on her toes to flatten out the dough with her squeaky rolling pin. She would step over the coloring books and around the toy hammers and baseball cards on the floor as she worked, and every few minutes she would look down at us to tell us what good artists we were. I remember distinctly the way the aroma of Crayolas blended with the salty-sweet smell of garlic, anchovies, and tomato sauce.

After the pizza came coffee, which we drank out of Styrofoam cups because it was before anyone in our family cared about the environment. On this night, even the children were allowed some. Drinking it was less interesting to us than watching it fizz after we dropped in gravelly bits of sour Brioschi that we found rummaging around in the kitchen cabinets. Our fathers ignored us, our mothers pretended to be disgusted, and our grandmother warned “Waste not, want not,” and “You better drink that now.”

We never did.

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