Deus ex macaroni

My favorite movie is the John Ford classic, The Quiet Man(1952). It stars John Wayne as Sean “Trooper” Thornton, a disenchanted American boxer who travels back to his birthplace, Inishfree, Ireland. His co-star is the red-haired beauty, Maureen O’Hara, who plays a strong-willed Irish woman, Mary Kate Danaher. O’Hara and Wayne starred opposite one another in five films. They were a perfect pairing.

The Quiet Man is a who’s who of Hollywood character actors: Ward Bond; Victor McLaglen, Barry Fitzgerald, Mildred Natwick. Filmed in the groundbreaking process, Technicolor, the film’s deeply saturated hues make the Irish countryside a character in its own right. It also makes O’Hara’s hair dominate almost any scene. One reviewer notes a similar phenomenon about her performance in Comanche Territory (1950), “Framed in Technicolor, Miss O’Hara somehow seems more significant than a setting sun.”

As the son of a mother whose long flowing red locks elicit much the same response, I’ve always liked O’Hara. The actress passed away in 2015. This made me a little sad. 

As one friend said, “Well, she was 95.”

I get that… long life… but O’Hara’s passing means that she took a secret to the grave with her. At the very end of The Quiet Man, Mary Kate leans over to Sean and whispers something in his ear. Most people speculate that this was more likely Maureen O’Hara whispering something to John Wayne than a passage between their characters. Wayne would never tell what she said. Neither did she. 

I’ve always wondered. I’m not alone.

Go to 1:12 to see the whisper.

There’s another film I like, Lost in Translation (2003), starring Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson. Directed by Sophia Coppola, the film is emotionally dystopian. It’s the story of two lost souls finding each other in the din of Tokyo’s complex media culture. He’s a fading American movie star. She’s ignored and left alone by her hipster photographer husband.

Again, at the end of the film Murray’s character whispers something in Johansson’s ear. We don’t know what.

As with The Quiet Man, inquiring minds… Judging from the amount of Internet discussion devoted to the topic, I’m not alone here, either. Maybe Murray or Johansson will fess up before being ferried across the River Styx.

All of this brings me to a point about taking things to the grave. My Aunt Reba, my maternal grandmother’s sister, made the best macaroni and cheese to ever grace a table. Before you unleash some angry invective defending your grandmother, aunt, or other relative’s macaroni, just accept that you’re wrong. I know you can’t understand. Just accept it. Reba is the undisputed Queen of all that is macaroni. That’s really all you need to know.

Just accept it. Reba is the undisputed Queen of all that is macaroni.

Everyone wanted to know what her secret was. Aunt Reba wasn’t clandestine about the mac and cheese preparation. She freely let daughters, nieces, cousins and whoever else was curious watch while she made it. She openly discussed all of the ingredients. Even so, nobody can duplicate her macaroni. Nobody. Whatever her divine spark of macaroni genius was, she too, took it with her to heaven.

This leads to holiday meals where people say things like “This macaroni is really good. It’s not Aunt Reba good, but it’s good.” 

Nobody is offended at the backhanded compliment, because these people remember. If you’re old enough to have had it, you too would remember. Deus ex macaroni.

I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. If I do say so myself, I make some exceptionally good cupcakes. I get a lot of requests. People get fussy if I show up to a holiday party without them. When I do arrive cupcakes in hand, the resulting dash is like a scene from The Birds.

Following the ignoble tradition, I won’t tell anyone what the trick is. I just won’t. Except that I once did. To the holder of the cupcake grail: You know who you are. Guard the secret wisely.

Note: Portions of this essay were previously published.

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