Bill: the Macho Fisherman

I received a text message Monday morning that said: “Bill went home to be with the Lord at 3:15 this morning.” I thought of Cookie, who wrote the message. Her central focus was Bill's welfare. Bill – the Robert Shaw kind of macho fisherman had made the journey of journeys, and Cookie, one of the kindest people I've ever known, accompanied him right to Heaven's gate. And before he left, Cookie vowed to follow right behind him, so he would not have a moment’s peace...

We met Bill over thirty years ago, when I worked for the district attorney's office. At Christmastime, there was no shortage of parties, and one day I accepted a random invitation to a precinct celebration and brought along two of my friends: Cathy and Cookie. When we drove home afterward, Cookie bragged about the wonderful conversation she had with a really nice guy named Bill. Their relationship that spanned over thirty years was born that night.

After they married, Bill gave me the fish eye at a family function: “You’d better watch where you step, Margaret,” he said. “Me and Jim are making your cement shoes.” It was payback time, he said, because I brought their wives into their realm, disrupting their euphoric state of singlehood. I said something cliché, like: you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. That was true, he said, but I should watch where I stepped.

When Bill was a detective, he was interviewed and hired to chauffer the district attorney, because it was said that he was just crazy enough to do whatever was necessary to protect his boss. Bill was a Vietnam Vet, and he accredited his time in the military for his life. He said that most of his friends were dead from drug usage.

While Bill was center to every discussion at gatherings, Cookie facilitated his popularity with great food and generosity. He spoke with authority about things like food and food prep, investments, politics, real estate, the best vacation spots, retirement communities. And he knew the best places to fish. Back when Bill and Cookie first dated, he took us out on a boat and I crabbed for my first and only time, using a string tied onto a chicken leg. I don’t eat seafood, but I loved the ego boost from the success rate of his crabbing method.

Cookie and Bill gave us a big, beautiful sauce pot and two handwritten pages that contained the recipes for Bill’s much-loved meatballs and sauce. It saved this Irish girl from Brooklyn in those early years of adulthood, when cooking was, in large part, risky experimentation. Today the pages are worn and tattered and I'd like to share them.

Cookie said that before he went “home,” Bill gave his life to Christ. No doubt her loving kindness and friendship impacted his trust in God for the final metamorphosis.

In honor of Bill, and with Cookie's blessings, I’d like to share the recipes that we were given over thirty years ago. Bon appetite!

Billy's Sauce

2 large cans of peeled tomatoes (blenderized)

2 small cans of tomato paste + 2 paste cans of water

5 large cloves (not heads) of garlic, crushed

1 small onion, chopped

Italian seasoning (4 shakes)

1/2 tsp. oregano

1 tsp. sweet basil

hot red pepper to taste

chunk of pork and/or pork brassiole


olive oil or corn oil

salt and pepper to taste

Cover the bottom of the pot with oil, saute onions and garlic with spices until onions are a little transparent. Add blenderized tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add tomato paste and two cans of water. Simmer at a very low boil with cover. After the sauce starts simmering, brown the pork lightly on all sides in a fry pan that's slightly oiled. Then simmer for 3 - 5 hours (The sauce will taste better the longer it cooks.) Stir every 15 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the meatballs during the last hour with the pork.

Billy's Meatballs

2 lbs. chuck chop

1 lb. ground pork (buy it at the butcher. The store doesn't grind it fine enough.)

(Or use 3 lbs of chuck chop)

1/4 cup of milk

1 1/2 cup of bread crumbs

1/2 cup of Romano or Locatelli cheese, grated

2 eggs

3 tbs. parsley (Bill uses fresh parsley, but dried is okay)

1 small onion chopped fine

3 or 4 garlic cloves (not heads) chopped very fine

salt and pepper

Squish everything together well and make meatballs. Fry them on both sides until brown. (Bill fries his light, I fry mine crispy.)

Put the meatballs aside, then cook them in sauce for the last hour. If the meatballs have pork in them, I hide them so that the gavones don't eat them before they have been fully cooked in the sauce, and get trichinosis.