I was lying in my old bed thinking about what happened today. I have the house where I spent a fair bit of my childhood. “Thanks, Nonna and Pa,” saying that I felt the love they showed me while they were alive. I swore to myself that I would honor their trust by maintaining the house and lifestyle that existed when they were alive.
For me, that meant keeping the gardens, including the grapevines, and driving Pa’s car. I wanted to feel their presence.
With those thoughts, I fell into a deep sleep. In my dreams, Nonna and Pa came, along with three other men. By looking at them, I knew who they were. They smiled at me and nodded their heads as to say yes.
As they faded away, I woke up. Looking at my watch, they must have spent the whole night with me. It was 7 am.
After I fixed my breakfast of coffee and toast, I went to start the car. At first, I wondered if the old model T would start, decide against trying. I checked the gas tank on Pa’s car, and it looked empty. Then I thought, this car has sat here for several years. Before I try to start it, I should have a mechanic check it out. That sounded like a good idea, and then I began to laugh. No mechanic today would understand this car. I needed someone who worked on antique cars.
I made a list of things I needed to do. Since it was a nice day out, I decided to check out the gardens. Pa had a vegetable garden, but Nonna had an herb garden and a flower garden. Walking past the vineyard, I noticed some new shoots, the vegetable garden needed to be weeded, and the herb garden. The flowers were in bloom. I thought I’ll leave that area until last. Now I needed my dad’s input. He and Mom lived on a small 50-acre farm. My dad was a farm boy at heart.
I also had to go shopping to stock the larder, as they say. The food Mom brought with her would only last today. Going shopping wasn’t the problem, but getting the food back home would be. I could walk to the grocery store; that was easy. I didn’t see myself carry shopping bags of groceries back home. There’s only one solution; I needed to call Mom.
“Hello Mom, I need a favor. I want to go grocery shopping, but I don’t have transportation. I would’ve taken Pa’s car, but it hasn’t been driven for several years.…Yes, I was going to see if I can find a mechanic to check it out. I’m afraid if I start it, I’ll cause more damage. …I also need Dad’s help with the gardens. I want to get them in shape. …Okay, check with Dad and let me know.”
While I waited for Mom to call me back, I decided to check out the safe. Removing the painting, there was a wooden cover that covered the wall behind the painting. I wasn’t sure how to remove that piece of wood. I knew it had to be removed to get to the safe. Looking at the edges, running my hand carefully, I found no levers or hinges along the border. I placed my hand on the board and leaned into it while thinking about removing the board. When I heard a click, taking my hand away, the board fell. I looked, and the board was designed with clips. By pushing on the board, I had disengaged the clips. From that point on, it was easy to open the safe. I knew the code, entering the code, the door opened. When I looked inside, I couldn’t believe what I saw. There was a tray of jewelry. I saw some of Nonna’s, but there was a lot I hadn’t ever seen. There was a letter addressed to me. I heard a car out front. I closed the safe, put the board in place, and rehung the painting.
I just finished when I heard my name. It was one of my cousins. “Marlene, what brings you here?”
“Dad said you’re going to take the house.”
“Yes, when no one else wanted it, it was left to my mom. She deeded it to me. The house is close to the University, where I’ll be teaching.”
I watched as she looked around, “Did Nonna leave any of her jewelry here?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t been in their bedroom. Last night I slept in my old bed.”
“You have a bedroom here?”
“Yes, I spent most of my summers here. Come on, and we can check Nonna and Pa’s bedroom. If there is any of her jewelry here, that’s where it will be.” I wasn’t about to tell her about the jewelry in the safe. She reminded me of those vultures who come to pick the bones of the dead. I don’t even recall seeing her at Pa’s funeral.
Entering Pa’s and Nonna’s bedroom, I could smell Nonna’s perfume. Marlene started to look around. I just stood there and watched. She opened drawers, rifled through what clothing was there, opened cupboards, doing the same thing. “There’s nothing here except clothes.”
“This is the first time I have been in this room since Nonna died.” Thinking to myself, this will be my bedroom. I swear I felt something patting me on my back.
“Marlene, if you drive me to the grocery store, I’ll fix supper for us.”
“You know how to cook?”
“Yes, Nonna taught me how to cook.”
“Okay, maybe we can talk about Nonna’s jewelry.”
I phoned Mom and told her Marlene was here, and she’ll drive me to the grocery store. “Why is she there?”
“I’ll call you later and tell you.” Saying goodbye, I made sure to have my credit card. I went to get Marlene.
She was in the library, “There are a lot of books in here.”
“Yes, some of these belong to our grandfather, who arrived in the 1800s. Most of these are written in Italian.”
“I don’t know any Italian. Dad said we’re in America, and we need to speak English.”
“I’m sure your dad knows Italian. I know my mom does. I think Nonna and Pa only spoke Italian unless there was someone here who didn’t understand Italian, then they spoke in English.”
“So what are you going to cook for dinner?”
“How about chicken cacciatore over pasta with a nice fresh salad?”
She smiled, leaving the house. I locked the door, and we walked to her car. The drive to the grocery store was like 20 minutes. I could’ve walked, and I will for small items. But today, I had to stock up.
“Marlene, I need to get a lot of groceries, so we’ll need two carts.”
Walking down the aisles, I loaded up with enough groceries to last a little over a week. Then I need items like soap for washing clothes, toothpaste, shaving cream, razors. I must have spent 30 minutes in the aisle where household items were displayed.
The store manager saw us heading to the cashiers to check out. He told us to go to the cashier at register No.1. Marlene emptied the carts, I packed and placed the bags into an empty cart. When Marlene saw the total, she looked at me.
“Marlene, do you have a dollar? I might be a little short?”
She just looked at me, the cashier, and I started to laugh. “Come on, sooner we get this home, the sooner we can eat.”
Arriving back home, I liked that, home, my home. We carried all of the bags to the kitchen. “Did Nonna always have a gas stove?”
“No, when she and Pa first lived here, there was a wood stove. I think Pa told me he bought this stove after they were living here for five years. He said Nonna wanted a gas stove.”
“Is this the same stove?”
“Yes, help me put this stuff away, then I can start dinner.”
She did. She would ask me where this goes, I would tell her. About 30 minutes later, most of the stuff I bought for the kitchen was put away. Items for the bathrooms, I’d put away later.
As I started to cook our meal, she pitched right in. We chatted about Nonna and Pa. I told her about me spending my summers here, helping Pa with the gardens, making wine, sausage, and salami.
I knew Uncle Angelo also made wine, salamis, and sausages. I think all of my uncles could do that. As Pa taught me, I’m sure he taught them. Nonna taught the girls how to cook, and me as well.
“I’ll be right back. I think Nonna has some of her tomato paste in the basement cupboard.”
“Can I come and look around.”
“Sure” She followed me down the stairs, I showed her the cabinet, and there were small jars of tomato paste as well as jars of canned tomatoes. I noticed her looking around.
“Where does that door lead to?”
“That’s where Pa cured his meat for making salami and sausage.” She opened the door, looked in, and then closed it. I didn’t tell her about the other door.
We sat in the kitchen eating dinner. “This is very good. You’re going to have to teach me.”
I knew she knew how to cook. Uncle Angelo was the chef at the Italian club. I’m sure he taught his children how to cook. Aunt Katy was also a good cook, and she would’ve taught Marlene and her sisters how to cook.
“Don’t worry about cleaning up. I’ll just put the leftovers in the fridge. I appreciate you going to the grocers with me. I could never get all of this home without your help.”
“If you find any of Nonna’s jewelry, will you let me know?”
“Sure, when I start cleaning, if I find anything, I’ll let you know.”
I gave her a hug she left, waved goodbye as she drove down the driveway.