My friend said to me, “I never had grandparents of my own.” This brought back a flood of happy memories. What a wonderful privilege to have grandparents. They gave me some of the happiest memories of my life.
I remember the first bus ride I from Philadelphia to Blenheim, New Jersey (I think I was about six-years-old), to check on Grandpa’s progress. There was the strong smell of cement in the air, and Grandpa and his crew had a dozen rows of red bricks up from the ground—the basement had been finished. This was going to be the best house—and it was. After it was built, it took in the grandchildren for summer vacations.
It was a grand brick house tight on the Black Horse Pike, where the old pike meets the new pike—a landmark. The house had a rose trellis at the front gate, a cheerful sun parlor, and a roomy living room and dining room with beautiful hardwood floors. If someone wasn’t playing the piano, one of the grandchildren was pumping the piano rolls. The house had a big kitchen with the latest kerosene cooking stove and a banquet-size table. Everyone who visited could fit around the table.
At the back of the house, outside the kitchen door, was a high back porch because the cellar was built above the ground to let the sun shine in—a bright dry cellar for storing vegetables and fruits and chicken feed. The grandchildren just couldn’t resist feeding the chickens every time they passed the sacks of chicken feed. We had the best fed chickens.
Also at the back to the left was a cement block garage that had wooden cubbyholes for pigeons to nest. Chickens and ducks were always in and out of the garage. A German police dog and a hunting dog were tied to the doorway. I remember in the early days there were also two pigs and a goat, Susabella.
Spread out all around the house and way beyond was the warm brown earth with a potato patch, green beans, lettuce, lots of tomatoes and herbs, corn, onions, scallions, squash, etc., and all kinds of fruit trees. Grapevines and blackberry hills bordered the grounds. A creek with cold water also ran through the grounds.
On the right side of the house, a well pump supplied the best tasting cold water.
This all was mine to enjoy along with the other grandchildren (and these were many) with Grandma and Grandpa every summer.
My mother’s parents, Germane and Filomena Marzili, were born in Rome, Italy. They moved to a small town, Cori, a province of Rome, when they started a family. They came to America in 1906 as a family with two sons, Joseph and Mario, and three daughters, Pia (my mom), Viola, and Margaret, and my great-grandmother, Marianna (my grandmother’s mother). My grandparents had five more daughters born in America that included a set of twins.
Grandma was a gentle, quiet, and hard-working person. I remember looking out the window when the rooster crowed, and there was Grandma hanging out the wash. The house always smelled of good cooking. Grandma always had time to sit and sing to the grandchildren. Mostly the songs were funny made up stories in Italian that always left us laughing. She took us into the fields to pick potatoes, green beans, or a ripe watermelon. What a thrill the first time she showed me how to dig for potatoes with my hands in the warm earth.
Grandpa was a strong and stern person. His words were the law. He did all his chores on the grounds early in the morning and then left on the bus for his job in the city.
Grandpa was a strict disciplinarian—disciplines we thoroughly enjoyed. We all had chores to do. Many of them had to do with preparations for dinner. Three pitchers of cold water had to be pumped for the table. Everyone had to be present for dinner, and no one left the table until everyone was finished eating. The grandchildren helped with the clean-up and also helped keep the house clean. For this we were allowed to go swimming in the Blackwood Lake in the afternoon or go see a good movie in the early evening. We had to be home and in bed at a certain time—that was one of Grandpa’s rules.
The country place was a happy place. I went back many times to Blenheim to try to recapture the happiness of my summers with my grandparents. It took a while to figure out why it wasn’t the same after they were gone.
I have stood on the warm sandy road with the pebbles and the stones I was forever collecting as a girl. The leaves rustled. The tall grasses swayed in the warm breezes. The sun was hot with blue, blue skies up above. The birds chirped. The crickets were so noisy. All this going on the same as always, but for me the world was so quiet and seemed to stand still. I felt the forever gone of my dear grandparents—except for my precious memories.