Did I Ever Tell You?
Having a radio, kept Grandmother’s mind alert to what happened around the world and the neighborhoods. She taught herself to read and write now someone else told stories.
“This is a special report.”
She heard the whistle blow at the plant announcing the end of a shift at General Electric – such an odd time, she told me, as I sat at her kitchen table, listening – you see with Grandmother upstairs I learned her life had been so different from mine.
“This is a special report,” came over the air.
Grandmother placed a finger to her lips; I understood – everyone must be quiet, she waited to hear and learn what had happened; her radio, a lifeline to the world.
She told me about a rich family, from the G.E. Plot, an area of homes owned by only the best Engineers at the General Electric Plant.
Grandmother found surnames difficult to pronounce; she tried but waved her hands into the air and continued telling her story.
“A man talked on the radio; he told about his son who was kidnapped.”
When Grandmother told a story – her body would move, stiffen – she leaned forward, her mind captured by her memory of that day – it was as if she left the here and now, no longer sitting at the table across from me.
“John, you know, your Grandfather – he leaves to search for a missing child. But – I know how those people feel about immigrants; no one wanted us because we were different.”
Her face showed pain, she probably thought how women from those fancy neighborhoods called her names – she mentioned how they would yell at her and her friends to go back where she came from.
Leaning on her elbows, rubbing her chin and staring through me, she said, “Taken like that,” she snapped her fingers. She went on to tell me that my father was home, sick from the measles. She stared at her hands, shook her head as she remembered that day. “In those days we didn’t have fancy medicine. I would touch his head and know he was sick, and then run to the tub… All I had to do was touch him, she repeated, her voice became louder, explaining, “I filled the tub with ice water and placed clothes on his body.” She told me over, she would wring out the cloths, changing cloths to bring his fever down.
She knew her baby, Sammy, was sleeping in his crib in Frankie’s room, my father’s room. She also knew friends would be arriving soon, and they would help her.
“I wrapped your father in clean white sheets, ran down the steps to the front door – a strong wind blew against me,” she touched her forehead, “I started to scream for some help, a neighbor heard, and they called for a doctor.”
I could see the sadness in her eyes as if pictures of that day flashed in front of her.
“First to come were our pisons’ you know, close friends. Their names were Antonio and Maria. Antonio grabbed Frankie and ran back into the bathroom. He continued pouring ice water over his body. Maria watched as I began wringing the cloths again. Antonio, he started to yell at your Father, telling him, “Wake up, don’t sleep.”
I began yelling, telling Frankie about Antonio coming to see him, to read a book, but my son, he never opened his eyes.
The doctor – so far away, and we – well – we were no one, so much time, lots of time had gone by before I heard a rap on the door. I was in the chair holding your father, he was wrapped in sheets, his fever came down and I was singing to him in Italian. I rocked him back and forth.
“So, where is the child?” the doctor asked in a raw voice. “In my arms, I told him, and his body is not as hot.”
“Your kitchen,” he pointed in the direction.
I listened; a zipper from his black bag, he returned to give Frankie some medicine. “There, he will be fine.” Looking around he asked, “Any other children in the house?”
My Grandmother told me she pointed to Sammy’s room – but suddenly she thought about the doctor rushing buy her and ran after him; first handing Frankie to her friend Maria. I yelled, “No, not with the same spoon. No, stop!” She told me she shoved the doctor’s hand away from Sammy, but it was too late.
Grandmother lowered her head, covered her eyes. She whispered through her fingers. “I told him no, not the same spoon – not the same spoon.”
So the doctor closed his satchel, never said a word –
“He paid no attention because we were not like him, we were not considered American. I knew he was wrong. I knew it – but he just opened the door and left.”
“In the parlor, Antonio holding Frankie, and my boy’s eyes were open.” I saw grandmother smile and shake her head up and down as if telling me she was right.
“Aununzietta, Aununzietta,” John repeated and asked why the door was unlocked. Grandmother ignored him; she told him their son was sick, a high fever, then she mentioned the spoon for the second time.
John, my Grandfather, lowered his head – he told his wife he never should have left the house, searching for another boy. He blurted out, “Those men blamed the immigrants; the father of the lost boy shouted from his big house, “Go home, it was one of you WOPS who kidnaped my son.” Your Grandfather shook his head, and then he stared at me for a few moments as they strayed off into another direction. I tried to talk to him; he listened with his eyes when he looked at me, this time with a look of disgust – one I had never seen on his face.
Grandmother told me Frankie fell sound asleep in my Grandfather’s arms; he tucked him into bed. She checked in on Sammy, felt his head – she hoped she was wrong about the spoon.
Grandmother stared at me, “I was right.”
She spoke again of cloths and cold water; she told my Grandfather about the doctor – she shook her head as if to say no – as if he were sitting at the table.
“Frankie was burning up,” – I kept telling him, I told him, “I thought he would die.”
My Grandmother kept looking into my eyes, saying nothing. She would chuckle now and then; she knew I heard these stories over and over. She knew I would listen. Usually for a fever, it would be a white cloth tied around a forehead – a glass of warm water at night and one in the morning. She even ate Vick’s for a cold – that, I could not do.
She began telling me about the whistle at the plant; waking her from a sound sleep. I knew it would be two in the morning. She said, “I turned on the radio and heard the man telling his story, “The Little Boy was Found!”
Grandfather had been out searching, that’s when they called him a WOP, blaming the Italians, or the Sicilians, they would steal a child – but John swallowed his pride, thought about the children and kept searching.
I smiled, Grandmother continued to tell me John was not one of the men – the man on the radio said so – she smiled again, and her gold front tooth shined. “It was not one of us,” she quickly announced to her husband, telling him it happened to be a group of men they caught on the Canadian Border. Not us.”
Frankie felt fine, the medicine worked. She crossed over to the crib and felt Sammy’s head; he was cold. “I remember how cold his skin felt.”
My Grandmother leaned back in her seat, clasped her hands together, glanced up toward the ceiling and whispered, “Some babies are God’s Angels.”
“I rocked him until the morning light – I rocked him, kissed him and would not let him go, I refused to give him away.” The undertakers arrived, and they kept trying to tell me I had to let them take Sammy; it was time.
“Time, time – for what,” I thought . . . they said I began to scream and kept saying a doctor killed my son.” I kept rocking Sammy on my lap.
I noticed she was shaking now, right in front of me, right now, I saw tears in her blue eyes, tears – I reached out, touched her hand and told her, “You have been blessed, over and over with family.”
She never said another word that afternoon. We enjoyed pizza without cheese from the store across from the bakery who argues if you park in their spaces and purchase from those who sell pizza next door. But, no one makes pizza like Grandmother on Saturday morning – you can smell it from my bed – without sauce.
“Hey,” I wanted to ask Grandmother, “You do have powder sugar for tomorrow morning, right?”
Grandmother smiled –
I knew she’d be standing at her stove – frying pizza in her cast iron frying pan wearing her old worn apron and the radio would be turned on – turned up really loud. I would be sure to slam some doors, quietly, so she would know I arrived. Then we would be sitting at her kitchen table, and it would start all over again – she’d probably ask me if I remembered the story about . . .
I would tell her, no.