The great animated thespian, Homer Simpson, once proclaimed pizza to be “The food of kings”. His grandiose statement may have been a bit exaggerated, yet pizza has existed in one form or another since the time of the ancient Greeks, and has been a staple in many cultures, and witnessed the rise and fall of many kings and rulers. The modern American incarnation can be traced back to the late 19th century in Italy, and consists mainly of a round bread base, covered in savory tomato sauce, and topped with a thick layer of mozzarella cheese, with number of toppings being added for individual tastes. This delicious food also been an attachment and witness to my own existence. Pizza has been a friend and guidepost on my life's journey, taking me step by step from earliest childhood memories, the excitement of my teen years and young adulthood, and finally, as husband and father.
There they were, a tower of square boxes, with an unreadable word boldly printed on their sides, reaching towards the sky, with an irresistible aroma that filled the senses, calling me, dragging me, towards a desire that I had yet to sample, so close yet so far away. This is my first memory of the delicacy I would soon come to know as pizza. My parents, as was their custom, had a weekly adult gathering in my house where I, a wee child of four years, was introduced to the display and aroma of pizza. In spite of my best attempts to procure a piece of my desired, I was blocked at every turn by my parent’s wall of words which I could not scale. "You're too young". Not long after, but what seemed to be an eternity for a preschooler, the family went to a local pizza joint and I was finally able to lay hands on my heart's yearning. We sat around the table, my parents, four brothers, and me with anticipation for the round cheesy delight. Finally, I would be rewarded for my lack of patience. I waited with baited breath as the first piece, dripping with melted cheese, was placed on my plate. I quickly took my first bite, not caring about the consequences. So hot! This was my first impression as I felt the fiery sensation overtake my mouth. I fought through the pain and with all my might and hastily devoured it. Then, in my pained state of confusion, I mumbled in broken, barely intelligible baby jargon for another slice of pizza. Thus began my lifelong relationship with the greatest food on earth.
As I progressed from childhood into my teen years, there would be other events that would define my lifelong relationship with pizza. I came from a large family with seven children, five boys and two girls, I was the middle child, and the battle over food was a constant them, and as one could imagine, the war over food was taken up a notch when it came to pizza. The key to successfully grabbing a succulent slice with one's preferred toppings, or getting any at all was a matter of timing. If I was out of the room when the pizza delivery came, or even not the closest to the box, the odds of getting what I wanted would significantly drop. I would either get nothing or end up with what I called an everything on it "garbage" pizza. I hated pizza with vegetables such as onions, green peppers or the dreaded olives. So out of necessity I learned to time my appearance to guarantee a slice with cheese or the glorious pepperoni. As I entered my teen years, pizza would be a guidepost marker in the bonds of friendship and romance. I would share pizza with many friends as we discussed the various happenings in our small world. Topics included favorite music, movies, or since I was in the high school marching band, the cute girls in the flute section. On the topic of cute girls, many romantic interludes began or ended in the consumption of pizza. From my first loves and first disasters, pizza was there watching over me, pushing me forward to the next step in love or the last step in a relationship.
After I graduated high school, I entered a brief foray into the working world, and then joined the military. I survived basic military instruction in
, and soon after
was quickly shipped off for technical training in military photography. A key
survival food during my training was pizza. Pushed with little sleep day in and
out, I quickly learned to rely on pizza, be it cold or hot, as a main
sustenance. Leftover pizza filled in the gap when I could not get to the chow
hall, and on weekends I consumed little else. Every Friday evening I would
order two large pepperoni pizzas, eating one for dinner and saving the other
for my late breakfast or lunch the following day. This routine would continue
almost every weekend for four months until I graduated from military
photography school and prepared to move on to my first permanent duty station. Texas
My first duty station was at Rhine Main Airbase, a
military installation outside of Frankfurt . It was here that I was
introduced to European pizza terminology. Pizza marinara is a pizza without
cheese, and if you ask for pepperoni, you will get peppers. For the beloved
pepperoni, one must ask for pepperoni-wurst. It was in Germany where
my desire for pizza was tested. I had to get my wisdom teeth pulled and was
told to eat soft food for a few days. This would not do. Two hours after the
surgery, I was gingerly eating a pepperoni pizza, being careful not to chew
with my back teeth. I could endure being denied many things; however pizza is
not one of them. I would meet my future wife, Karen, in Germany , and what did we have on
our first date? Pizza of course. Her favorite is pepperoni, just like me. We
must have been born with the same pizza genetics. I believe it is this pizza
compatibility that has kept us happily married these past 25 years. Germany
The pizza gene was passed to my oldest son and only daughter. From an early age, Alex, my oldest son, desired little else besides pizza. As a teenager he would devour two entire pizzas in what seemed mere moments. If somehow there were any leftovers for the morning, this eating machine would be up bright and early to finish it off. Fiona, my beloved daughter, could think of only pizza. Although cheese was her favorite, she would draw pictures of pepperoni pizza slices, in anticipation of my coming home with pizza. If for some reason I forgot to bring home the pizza, she would revise her drawing, putting a red slash through it and then draw a picture of me with the same red slash, thus showing her displeasure in my failure to bring home her coveted pizza. My youngest son Andrew somehow was passed over for the pizza gene. He turned up his nose at the mere suggestion of pizza. I sometimes wonder if he really is my child. Perhaps he was mixed up with my real boy at the hospital infant ward. This can be the only explanation. Perhaps someday he will follow in his sibling’s footsteps in their love for pizza. I can only hope.
In conclusion, pizza, which to the naked eye is little more than a concoction of baked flat bread, tomatoes, and cheese, has played a watcher's role throughout history and has been witness to many of the events that make up my life. From earliest childhood recollections, the difficulties of my youth and teen years, it has watched over me as I searched for life's meaning, found a wife and had three children, and I suspect it will continue to watch over me as I progress towards the future.