Noni Up the Hill
by Valerie Ann Vecchio Martelli
When I was growing up in Providence in the 50s, I had two grandmothers as most children do. One owned the tenement house that we lived in. She and my paternal grandfather lived on the first floor. I lived on the second floor with my father, mother, sister, and brother. My maternal grandmother, Anna
Geremia, lived on Plainfield Street in the Olneyville section of Providence. We called he Noni "up the hill." Going to Noni up the hillís house was always a great adventure. She lived in her own big house with shopping stores on the street level. You could get into her home by going up the front stairs, which we rarely did, or by parking in the back parking lot. The back parking lot was on a different street so you had to go around the block and then pull into a dirt driveway with several garages that were painted green. I understood that Noni owned and rented these out. She also owned another big, white house next door to her but Iíll get to that later.
To get into Noniís house, you would first walk through her gardens. On the right, was a flower garden. The most vivid recollections I have of the garden is the wonderful fig tree. In the fall, she would dig a long trench the size of the height of the tree. She would rope the top of the fig, pull it down into the trench, and cover with the soil and there it would lie dormant all winter. In the spring, she dug out the fig and released it to the sun and it produced delicious fruits that I enjoyed very much. I believe I inherited my love of gardening from her. On the left side was her vegetable garden. I remember the beautiful tomatoes and the sight of her opening her window on the second floor and throwing out coffee grounds into her vegetable garden. Obviously, those tomatoes grew to love that acidic soil. There was a bench on that side of the garden and there I remember my mother, grandmother, and me sitting. Behind the garden on the fence that separated her house and the big white house was another favorite fruit and plant - the blackberries. Behind the fence were several absolutely beautiful peach trees. This area was a feast for my senses and taste buds. I loved everything about it. I used to sleep over my grandmotherís house in the summer. The best breakfast I ever had was her blackberries in milk with a little sugar. I have had breakfast in many places and I must say I remember the blackberries the most. When we entered through her back door there was a dark entryway with narrow stairs going up to her house. Before going up the stairs, you could stop in a little room on the right where she kept preserves from the labor of her summer vegetable garden.
The first room you entered was a dining room. I donít remember ever eating at that dining room table but I remember we gathered around it at the Holidays. Behind the room, facing the front of the house was the piano room and Noniís bedroom. I remember as a child seeing her napping in her bedroom. The piano room was a special room for me because I took piano lessons at the convent where I went to school and Noni would let me play it. It was the old upright type with old rolls of music that we could play. Sometimes when my cousins Gail and Janice came over, we would be able to play the music that we all loved. The dining room and piano room both had houseplants in them.
If you took a right when you entered from the back stairs, you would go down her corridor. Here was a bathroom on the right, then the shrine room and then the spare room. The shrine room was where I understood her mother passed away. The room was full of saintís pictures, statues, and candles. It was somewhat spooky for a young child. No one ever went into that room. Then there was the spare room that I enjoyed going through with its boxes and trunks of old clothes and dishes and whatever. The end room was a bedroom that was used when cousins slept over. I think that my older cousins Barbara and Leslie used that room a lot. I slept in the room that faced the front of the house that was around the corner from the end room. This room had an attic in it. When the three of us would sleep over, Barbara and Leslie would sneak into my room at night and they would pretend that there was someone in the attic and try to scare me. It worked!
I saved the best rooms for last! The pantry and the kitchen were my favorite rooms. The pantry had the old beautiful cast iron stove in it. It had handles on iron circles that you lifted up to check and see if the fire was burning.
This is also the room where Noni kept her washing machine. This was the kind that you put the clothes through a roller and squeezed the water from them. She had a clothesline outside and inside. On the inside one she not only hung clothes but also hung homemade pasta to dry. I helped her make her homemade pasta and then take it off the line. Off the kitchen was an informal dining area where we ate her wonderful orzo soup and chicken. I learned quite a lot about preparing meals watching and helping Noni. Some of the recipes I still use today and have served these meals to my grandchildren.
As I said, the first floor of Noniís house contained stores. One was a lemonade shop. How lucky I was to be able to go downstairs and get frozen lemonade in flavors of cherry, lemon, or grape. There was even some penny candy in there. On Friday the fish & chip store was open and they would wrap in newspaper this incredibly delicious fish. There was one empty store and my mother told me it used to be her seamstress store and wealthy women would come in and ask her to sew buttons on their coats.
The Big White House Next DoorAs long as I can remember, the white house next door was empty. It was a beautiful old house and I would wander through its many rooms wishing it were my home. It seemed to me to be in very good shape. My cousins Gail, Janice, and I would play house in there and I remember it being fun and an adventure. It had a large front lawn that sloped down to a wall. As I got a little older, I would sit there and some of the kids from the neighborhood would come over to get lemonade and talk.
submitted to IGSA by Edward Iannuccilli #336 on behalf of the author