If I didn’t know my Thea (Aunt) Beth was real, I would think that some writer had made her up as “the favorite Aunt” character in a cozy novel. Warm, sweet, loving, full of hugs. Visit her condo in Florida (2 doors down from my folks’), you get a piece of chocolate, a deconstruction of the last Downton Abbey episode, and a lowdown on all the best spots to hit in the area for boutique shopping. She also makes the most delicious spinach squares I have ever had. Not spanakopita for a purist, but who cares! Raised in Alabama, she is a Greek “Steel Magnolia” (so, a “Steel Anemone”?). She is 85, but looks and acts many years younger.
Aunt Beth is also a religious “Bocce” player. For the uninitiated, Bocce is a game of Italian origin played with one small ball (the Pallino) and eight larger balls (Bocce singular or Bocci plural)—four for each team. The Pallino is thrown first and becomes the target. Then, each Bocce is thrown by a player with the goal of placing it as close to the Pallino as possible. A point is scored for the team with the Bocce closest to the Pallino. You get additional points when your team’s Bocce are closer to the Pallino than the closest Bocce of the other team.
Aunt Beth was introduced to the sport by her Italian neighbor Camille. Beth is now a crackerjack player who doesn’t miss her weekly league. After many years of hearing about her Bocce nights, I decided to invite myself along. What I found was a group of lively ladies in their 70’s and 80’s who not only have a lot of fun together, but are also fiercely competitive, and even do a bit of “trash-talking”. Despite injuries (Barbara was sporting a sling) and surgeries (Irma had a recent hip replacement, Rhoda had a valve replacement a year ago and uses a walker), they were giving it their all. The ruler was brought out a number of times to resolve close calls and no one was giving anything away.
At one point, there was actually a moment where they tried to draft my non-sporty mother into the league. “C’mon! You should join us”. My mom demurred politely. As the octogenarian peer pressure intensified, my mom said “you wouldn’t want me, I am completely uncoordinated”. Not recognizing my mom’s strategy of self-effacement, my 9-year old son yelled out, “Yia Yia! Never give up on your dreams!” Literally LOL. Not sure Bocce was ever on my mom’s bucket list, but Theo’s sincere cheerleading is hard to resist. Only time will tell if my mom will buckle to Bocce.
The ladies played for a good hour and a half. Aunt Beth is truly a great competitor, her sweet demeanor checked at Bocce court gate. She wanted to win and wanted it bad. I think it slightly bugged her that we had to leave before the last game as her team was behind at that point. And to wit, Aunt Beth called later that night to tell us (sweetly) that her team had triumphed and had won the Round.
As a gift to the reader, here is her Spinach Square recipe. Enjoy!: