My grandparents bought their house when my dad was a kid. My grandfather lifted the house off the ground with a crane to dig the basement and gutted the house with his bare hands, to make it their own. My grandmother’s house hasn’t been her house for over 20 years. The house is still in the family and has been remodeled with as much hard work and love as my grandfather put in to it all those years ago. I’ve brought my husband and children to the house, after it was no longer my grandmother’s house. It looks good. Different. Many years later I still remember how it looked though, when I was a little girl.
The house had an L shaped porch with a nice size front window. I remember running up the steps to get to the door. The screen door had a nice metal design. Woven in the metal was the first letter of my maiden name. The door had several dead bolt locks. My father used to call it Fort Knox. The front hallway had a hollow sounding floor and I often wondered if I stomped hard enough if I’d fall through the floor. The front hallway let out into the dining room. There were two bedrooms off the dining room. The living room was in the front of the house. Straight through the dining room from the front hallway was the kitchen. Behind the kitchen was a bathroom, another bedroom, the basement steps and the back door. The top floor had a little apartment where my grandmother’s sister and brother lived. The house smelled as every other Italian household does, like sauce, like home. I adored my grandparents and I loved being there with them.
My grandmother was the fourth child born to Sicilian Immigrants. There were five boys and three girls. My grandmother as the oldest girl was the matriarch of her family. Her house was always open to family so naturally her siblings congregated at my grandmother’s house. Even though I called them Aunt or Uncle, they were like having more grandparents and that was really cool. Several of my grandmother’s siblings were serious card players. They’d gather on Friday nights and some Sundays after dinner at my grandmother’s house to play cards. My grandmother never played in the big complicated, competitive card games. She only played the smaller card games with her sisters, my cousins, my brother and I. My grandmother would whisper in our ears not to laugh when one of them had a bad hand or announce what cards everyone had in their hands. We had to quietly observe. Sometimes we’d snicker though. My grandmother’s brother’s wife liked to instigate and egg the card sharks on and they’d get annoyed at her and all of them would start bickering. I begged them for years to deal me into that game. Finally I was allowed to play at age 15.
As the years passed, the card game began to shrink as my grandfather died and my grandmother’s siblings began to die. My grandmother died in 2005 and was the sixth of her siblings to die. Her youngest brother died four years later. Yesterday, the final sibling, my grandmother’s sister passed away at age 97 peacefully of natural causes. I have no doubt that when my aunt got to heaven yesterday, her siblings were there to deal her into their favorite card game once again.
My grandparent’s generation of our family represents the first generation of American born Sicilians and they played a significant role in helping shape my generation, the third generation grow into who we are as American born Sicilians. They are now all gone and the simplicity of life as we knew it back then, no longer exists. Even though I’m an adult and married with children, part of me is still that little girl who couldn’t wait to get to her grandparents house to watch those card games and be with that generation and part of their world.
If you picture it like a scene on a stage where the lights are shining on one particular setting, that setting would be of my grandmother and her siblings in her dining room playing cards. It is one of my favorite memories, frozen in time, in my heart forever. Those card games not only represented a favorite past time, but a gathering of family, the love they had for each other and how they enjoyed spending time together. As for the passing of my aunt. Sure I miss her but I’m happy she’s reunited with her family and able to rejoin the card game.