Today for some reason I am thinking about my Grandma, my father’s mother who used to live next door to us in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. I have such fond memories of my Grandma who has been gone for many years. She was a wonderful person, and I learned so much from being around her. I decided to resurrect this story that I wrote two and a half years ago. Maybe you will enjoy it.
I grew up living next door to my Grandmother. I can remember being small enough to stand on a chair at her kitchen sink as she taught me how to wash dishes. Her kitchen was the largest room in the house, and whenever she baked bread, everyone could smell it outside.
Unlike the majority of Italian immigrant women, Grandma did not spend most of her day in the kitchen. Instead, she spent all day in her beloved garden, which took up the entire back yard. It was such a comforting, familiar sight for me to look over from my yard, and see that familiar shape of her, bent over, in her garden.
She used to stay outside from morning till night, and if she could, she probably would have slept out there. So many times, I remember my Grandpa coming home, and after working all day plastering, he would find my Grandma in her garden. “Carmella,” he’d call, “What’s for dinner?” Of course, that was the last thing on Grandma’s mind, so she would quickly gather up some fresh greens and tomatoes, maybe some peas, and walk back up to the house, to prepare a dinner of greens and eggs. Sometimes she would pick dandelion leaves, and make a salad with them. Almost everyone I knew considered these weeds, but Grandma could make them taste good with the right amount of olive oil and vinegar.
Although Grandma couldn’t read or write, she taught me so many things which were much more valuable. She was such a loving Grandma, with her warm smile and generous spirit. My Mom used to send me over to her garden in the late afternoon to pick some fresh vegetables for dinner. As I was running to her yard, I’d call to her, “Grandma, I’m coming for the Swiss chard.” After she heard me, she would stand upright, giving me her great big smile, and using her hand, signal me to keep coming. She would help me pick the large dark green stalks of Swiss chard, which we would eat at dinner, half an hour later. Swiss chard is another of those somewhat bitter leafy greens, which tastes great with a little salt. To this day, whenever I have Swiss chard, my thoughts go immediately to my Grandma.
Grandma could grow anything in that garden of hers. She kept seeds in the pockets of her housedress (she never wore slacks, always a housedress and stockings), and she scattered them everywhere, and they would grow. She kept a huge barrel filled with water and used it to get water for the plants she nurtured in a homemade horizontal greenhouse. For everything else, she kept a long hose, so she could properly water the rest of her plants. I can still smell the mint that surrounded a lot of the other vegetables, and she’d tear off a piece, and encourage me to smell it. She even had pansies growing in between the beans and peas.
It wasn’t until many years later when Grandma was no longer on this earth, and I had children of my own, that I learned the reason she so loved her garden. When she lived in Italy, she never owned any land, and she worked as a farmer, or peasant, for a landowner. This was her life, working all day in someone else’s fields, tending to the crops that were not hers. When she and my Grandfather came to this country, and eventually were able to afford to buy some property, she was thrilled beyond belief to have her own garden.
This past year, for the first time, I planted my own garden, not sure if anything would grow. I prepared the soil with a combination of topsoil and manure, and laid out a small area, about six by eight feet. I planted a few tomato plants, a basil plant and some basil seeds, some parsley, and some arugula. Arugula is a somewhat bitter lettuce type of green used in salads, and tastes wonderful with some Balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
To my amazement and joy, in less than a week, small green seedlings began to appear from the arugula seeds. A week later the same thing happened with the basil and parsley seeds. In the meantime my tomato plants and one basil plant were doing well. Every day I watered them, and every week or two, gave them some fertilizer. The entire time, week after week, I was inspired by the memory of my Grandmother, and I was smiling to myself with memories from 50 years ago.
When I could pick my first arugula leaves and make a salad from them, I was ecstatic! I think now I understand a little more the feeling that Grandma had when she was in that garden of hers. I only wish my Grandma could be here now, so I could call to her and say, “Grandma, look what is growing in my garden!”
Do you have memories of your own nonna? I’d love to hear them, Please leave a comment.
And if you haven’t been to my Facebook Author page lately please stop by.
Grazie and Ciao
What a lovely tribute to your beloved Grandmother. I’m so glad you have such a tangible way to stay connected to her!
Margie – I have been following your post for some time. My closest friend is named Rose and her grandmother was from Sicily. She too, lived with her son (Rose’s father) and his wife June in Pittsburgh. She also did not speak English. My friend Rose is the biggest fan of Italy you have ever met. She works in the travel industry and has taken me to Italy 4 times. She regales me with stories about growing up with her grandma that remind me of the stories you write. Reading your blog and talking with my friend is almost like what is often referred to as a parallel universe. I hope someday you two can meet.
I have forwarded your posts and pictures to Rose many times and she is planning on buying your book about Sicily. She is planning a trip to Sicily next year in 2014. I cannot remember the name of the town her grandparents were from but she is planning to go there. She and I are particular fans of the Piedmont region (because of the Barolo wne).
If you are ever in Phoenix, please give us a call, I would love to meet you and of course, so would Rose.
So many memories – of the gooseberry bushes at the end of my Grandparents’ garden; the rhubarb planted in our allotment where I would go with a small brown bag with some sugar in it and pig out on freshly pulled rhubarb.
So glad it took you back to some wonderful memories Ruth!
Oh Margie, you break my heart. I remember my Great Grandmother who was the only civilizing influence that I had in my life for many years. She and her oldest daughter, Thelma, were my best friends forever. Thank the Good Lord for the Grammas of this world.
On Fri, Feb 1, 2013 at 11:50 AM, margieinitaly
Thank you so much! I know Your Grandma meant the world to you! Glad I could stir those good feelings again!
I loved this one especially. My grandfather came from Italy to NY and when he was finally able to purchase a small home with an even smaller yard, he planted a garden that took up the entire back yard! His tomato plants towered over the roof of his small bungalow. The neighbors were in awe of him and he made sure that everyone on the block got a basket (or two!)
I cannot eat a homegrown tomato without thinking of him. Thanks for sharing this post with us 🙂
Thank you Michele and I am glad this story evoked memories of your own Italian ancestors. Grazie!
Heart warming story. Andrea
A very nice story- reminds me of my mother and Grandma Colpo (Picciano).
Thanks Jan I knew you would appreciate this!
I love this post…it made me think of my own grandmother and her incredibly green thumb. You are fortunate to have such precious memories of this wonderful lady…thanks so much for sharing her picture as well.
Thank you Angie..So glad you liked it!