“Mom, I don’t understand how I inherited Nonna and Pa’s house. I thought Uncle Angelo would have inherited this property.”
In Pa’s will, there was a stipulation that the house couldn’t be sold. Your uncles and aunt have their own homes and wanted to sell this house. You’re lucky, and when it passed to me, as the youngest, there was a clause that if I was the last, I was free to do whatever I wanted with this house. So I’ve decided to give it to you. I know you always loved this house, and since you’ll be teaching at the University, this will be the perfect place for you.”
“I hope the rest of the family doesn’t get upset and cause any trouble.”
“They won’t. I have spoken to all of them and told them what I was going to do. They realized that the house should stay in the family. Your great, great, great grandfather built this house when he immigrated in the early 1800s. It has been in the family for four generations. You’ll be the fifth generation to live here.
“I love this house. You’re right. It’s close to the University, and I can walk it or ride my bike.”
“Let’s go in, and we can put these groceries in the kitchen.”
My grandmother, Nonna, died three years ago. My grandfather, who I called Pa, lived here by himself. I spent my free time here. I even have my own bedroom. I have good vibes about this place.
As we walked through the house, I needed to check two rooms, the library and the office. The library contained books from 1800 when the house was first built. As a history major and now a history professor at the University, this room was priceless. I remember reading the books and the family logs with Pa. To totally understand the family logs, I had to learn Italian. I spent many evenings in this room with my grandparents, teaching me Italian.
As we walked through the house, I felt as if my grandparents were still here. There were so many memories, so many laughs. My Nonna and my mother taught me to cook. I spent many afternoons learning my Nonna’s secrets. In the early mornings, I would walk through the gardens with Pa. If a vegetable was ready to pick, we would pick enough for lunch or dinner. I would often wipe off a yellow pepper or a green pepper and eat it like an apple.
Pa always included me in his conversations as we walked through the gardens. I remember the grapevines. “Tony, what do you think? Maybe we could plant some grapevines here. The soil looks good, and the full sun will help. What do you think, should we plant a vineyard here?”
My answer was always yes, and I would volunteer to help.
In the following Spring, we planted a vineyard. In the fall of that year, I got to taste our grapes. There weren’t many, but that was okay, according to Pa. “Next year, there will be enough to make a little wine.” And he was right. The following season we had enough grapes to make wine. I think we got six bottles from that crop of grapes. Each year we planted more grapevines. Three years before, when my Nonna took ill, was the last time we made wine.
Mom and I walked through the house. “Gather up the sheets and towels, and we can wash them before we leave. They’ll be clean when you move in.”
Going into the basement is something else. The room at the end of the stairs was where the washer and dryer were installed four years ago. Nonna thought that was great compared to the old fashion washer with a ringer that she had before. No more hanging clothes outside. I remember when I was here, I’d carry the basket of wet clothes upstairs and out to the back of the house where she had her clotheslines.
Behind this room was Pa’s butcher shop where he made his salamis and sausages. As you entered the room, there was a large sink on your left and to the right were tables where he would place the sides of meat in preparation of rubbing them with salt. He told me you have to do that to cure the meat before grinding the meat.
The three times I helped, after he showed me how to do it, he would smile. “This will be a special salami. It has your soul in it.” I never understood that, but I did like the finished product. I’m not sure why I was his favorite. I did spend a lot of my time with him. I know several of my cousins didn’t visit as often as I did. I think I was the only one who spent my summer with him.
There was a room behind this room, I knew what was in that room, and I don’t think my mom knew. “ Mom, do you know what’s in that room?”
“No, I never noticed it before. Do you know?”
“Yes, it’s Pa’s wine cellar. I used to help him make his wine. There are a grape crusher and wooden barrels. It wouldn’t surprise me to find a few barrels of wine there.”
When I opened the door, you could smell the wine. Those oak barrels were used, I’m sure, for generations, and the wine had probably saturated the oak.
“Do you want to taste some of Pa’s wine?”
Mom laughed, “No, you can have it all.” I’m sure she thought it was probably vinegar by now, and I’m sure she was right.
Mom left, and now I was alone. I knew Pa had a secret drawer in his desk. He had shown it to me one time. “Tony, when I’m gone, you need to open this drawer. I’ll leave a special letter there for you.”
There was a trick. The drawer opened like any drawer, and the trick was there was another drawer behind that drawer. Anyone opening the drawer would not be able to see the other drawer. You had to know it was there. Thanks to Pa, I knew how to open that second drawer. I sat at the desk, thinking of Pa and how often he would sit here questioning me on my Italian lessons. Now I opened that drawer, reached for the clasped, triggered it, and out popped the hidden drawer. In it was a letter, written in Italian. Now I understood why he wanted me to learn the Italian language. As I read the letter, tears came to my eyes.
“Antonio, if you are reading this letter, then I know my plan to make sure you inherited this house has succeeded. Of all of my sons and daughters, you have been the only one who has felt the love this house has offered. Many people think a house is only brick and mortar, but that isn’t true. A house that has been the harbor of love and family develops a personality. The house will show you its love. There is a surprise for you in the safe behind the picture of your great, great, great grandfather, and the safe will need your birthdate for the combination. Nonna and I love you. I know you will take care of our family home.”
I couldn’t believe that Pa left me that letter. So he did plan his will in such a way to ensure I would get the house. Pa was not only smart but clever as well. I placed the letter back in the drawer, closed the hidden drawer and the desk drawer. I would open the safe later, I had all of the time in the world, now that I owned the house.