By late afternoon, Mom had showered and both of us had napped. Tanta, my great aunt and titular head of the Schumann clan, would soon return for dinner with her entourage. Grandma Rose was upstairs checking on her sauce. Sauce, in our house was only one kind; tomato; Napolitano-style. Grandma’s recipe, while never written down was a tribute to melting-pot-America. Its roots came through Marie Jelianti, Tanta’s friend who became her sister-in-law.Read More
One More Thing Before I Go
Last spring when the scent of lilacs followed me from the backyard into my kitchen, I thought of my mother’s distant cousin and her daughters, who, like my lilacs, visited yearly when the earth warmed and the days grew longer. I pictured us all in idyllic memories of jump rope games and playing with dolls. But, except for MaryAnn, the littlest daughter, I could not remember their names.
A few years ago, I could have called my mother. She would have teased me for my forgetfulness, asked what I was making for dinner (there was never a phone conversation where we didn’t talk about food) and repeated her mother-to-daughter mantra, “When are you coming over?” We would have shared stories of those long-ago days before hanging-up and re-joining our lives. But my mother has passed on and while the images of our family lingers-the details are lost. I write One more thing before I go, my living record for my son, in hope that one day, when he has a question I can no longer answer, it can be found in this blog.
The Schumanns were all there; lined up on the stairway between our apartments like bowling pins. Grandma Rose stood her ground as the head pin. Grandpa Robbie who looked like movie gangster George Raft and their firstborn, Bert positioned themselves respectfully behind her. Remaining above was Uncle Herby; the most sweet-natured of the five siblings. My Aunt Evie, only fourteen years older than I and my favorite used her fingers as a comb to untangle Aunt Sandy’s curly hair. Sandy, who up until that moment was the baby of the family, rarely hid her disdain for me, making our encounters mostly unpleasant and sometimes a little scary. Even Spotty, the street dog that returned each night to sleep on the tiled floors between the two apartments, stayed in that morning sensing another scrap-source was arriving.Read More
When I was 8, Memorial Day at our house began as it always had-- in controlled chaos. As if by a call of revelry, our downstairs and upstairs doors swung open. Exiting from above was Grandma Rose, a little dumpling shaped woman, carting our picnic supplies down to our shared hallway. Like giant tin soldiers, Guardian-Ware cooking pots were lined up at the wall in size order. The tallest was a soup pot that reached my knees. It’s thick silvery bottom sat on a mat made of ice cubes wrapped in saran wrap and folded into a towel. Inside was potato salad made the night before for today’s picnic. The heaviest was the stew pot; squat, bumpy and chilled the same as its neighbor pots, but with its lid tied down by cotton cord. It made me giggle to see this metal man with his hat-lid and ear-handles wrapped like he had a toothache. Inside were dozens of chicken parts; drumsticks and thighs, breasts and wings all soaking up my Dad’s secret barbeque sauce*.Read More
Grandpa Robbie’s voice is as clear and strong as his image. True to his Hell’s Kitchen* roots, he spoke like a film mobster. On the occasions he dressed up, he’d look like an extra in the rub-out scene. Sadly, the only photo I have is the one I shared with you last time, showing an overweight, tired grandparent. Unlike digital storage, I can’t share the real man in images, but my mind can easily summon up one vision of him; Brooklyn tee tucked into his trousers as he shaved at the bathroom sink.Read More
Growing up in an extended family gave me limitless face time with grandparents who couldn’t pass each other in a room without scowling. Every other grown-up relative at home had only one persona: My youngest aunt was always petulant with a noticeable disdain for me. (My crime was usurping her position as the baby of the family.) My second aunt, along with my parents were open-hearted, affectionate and oh-so-easy to love. But the same Grandparents who indulged my whims and showered me with kisses were openly hostile with each other. Leading me to love them separately while we lived together on Thatford Avenue, in our two-family house with the rusted front gate.Read More