THROUGH HER TEARS, Anna Pozzi struggled to read the recipe for her famous baked macaroni and cheese. The dish, a Christmas Eve staple, was her daughter's favorite.

But Theresa Pozzi wouldn't be there to enjoy it. Not this Christmas. Not ever.

On Tuesday, a truck driver struck and killed the 33-year-old woman as she tried to cross State Road in Holmesburg.

The next day, Christmas Eve, despite a heart laden with sorrow, Anna Pozzi, 62, somehow willed herself to get out of bed and make the gooey casserole.

"I just put all these ingredients on the kitchen counter and I kept trying to read that recipe and I said to my family, 'Well, this is either going to be the best-tasting or it will be the worst,' because there were so many tears in this baked macaroni," Pozzi told the Daily News in a Christmas Day interview in her Bella Vista kitchen.

"Guess what? It was the best one ever," her son-in-law, Victor Rescigno, quickly proclaimed.

"Maybe that was the special ingredient," Pozzi said, forcing a slight smile.

She stood near her refrigerator on Kimball Street above 6th, surrounded by loved ones who cried and laughed, sometimes at the same time, as they told stories about Theresa. Like when she was in grade school and her mom dressed her in all pink for picture day.

"She looked like a bottle of Pepto-Bismol," said Theresa's older sister, Carol Ann Rescigno, 42.

Or how she liked to refer to herself as "The Queen" and would wear only designer clothing labels. She swore that discount brands sold at Walmart made her skin break out in a rash, her family said.

Theresa Pozzi was the most "strong-willed" of Anna's four children, the mother said.

"Theresa could be your best friend or your worst enemy and she was very good at both."

The family went through the motions of the holiday: They went to Mass on Christmas Eve, did the Feast of the Seven Fishes, baked cookies for Santa. On Christmas morning, Pozzi's three grandchildren, ages 11, 9 and 4, eagerly shelled the wrapping paper from presents stuffed under the tree.

"No time is a good time to lose a child, but to have this happen during the holidays . . . ," said Ellen Nuciforo, 67, godmother and aunt to Theresa Pozzi. "And you have to put a smile on your face and pretend for the little kids that everything is OK when it's not. You have to pretend, when you really want to rip up the tree and throw it in the middle of the street."

Nuciforo added, "This scumball who left my niece on the side of the road and drove away . . . You ripped the family apart. You destroyed a lot of people's hearts."

Accident investigators yesterday continued to search for the perpetrator, who drove an older-model, dark-colored truck, possibly a pickup or tow truck, police said.

The driver struck Pozzi and kept going, apparently with hardly a tap of the brakes, about 5:20 p.m. Tuesday. She had just visited her boyfriend at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. She was standing on the painted line in the center of State Road, waiting for a break in traffic to cross to the bus stop, police said.

"I know they will find this guy very soon," Victor Rescigno said. "He didn't stop. He just left her there. How does somebody do that? It's inhuman. It's like taking a gun to somebody's head and shooting them - it's the same exact thing."

Relatives said they were grateful to two witnesses who stopped their cars and rushed to help, trying to keep Pozzi warm until an ambulance arrived. Paramedics took Pozzi to Aria Health's Torresdale hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 6:38 p.m.

Despite her feigned merriment, Anna Pozzi said her grandchildren knew that she hurt deeply. On Christmas Eve, her youngest grandchild, age 4, put her stuffed elf in her grandmother's bed at night and said, " 'I want you to sleep with my elf, Mom-Mom, because I just want you to be happy,' " said Anna Pozzi.

Tipsters should call the Accident Investigation Division at 215-685-3180.

On Twitter: @wendyruderman