Special to The Journal Posted May. 12, 2016 @ 9:30 pm
To Grandma, looking fashionable was as simple as taking off the white baker’s apron that usually hugged her pastel-colored house dress. It was only on Sunday, when she dressed for church in her navy blue gabardine dress with the lace collar, that we could see her sense of style.
When her daughters tried to take her shopping, she would say, “I’m not like Papa’s mother, your great a nonna, who was always out and about. I’m here cooking and baking.”
Nonetheless, Grandma appreciated fine cotton and linen and, to keep us looking fashionable, she became a barterer — her biscotti for the newest in fabric.
Our mother worked in the city at the telephone company, where she and her friends tried to dress according to fashion. They would shop on their lunch hour at Horowitz Bros., a fabric store with textiles, patterns, buttons and zippers. When our mother discovered that Angie, a saleswoman, lived near the Water House, she told her to simply knock on the door whenever she walked by and could smell Grandma’s freshly baked biscotti.
Every few weeks, Angie would catch the aroma of Grandma’s baking, and a predictable routine ensued. She would stand under the grape arbor and call out, “Nancy, are you in the kitchen? It’s me. Angie.”
Grandma would lift the window frame and call out, “Angie, I was just thinking about you. Come in. The back door is open. You are just in time for some biscotti and demitasse.”
On cue, Angie would say, “I don’t want to bother you, but I did want you to know that we had some new fabrics. I think that your granddaughters will look adorable if you and your daughter have time to sew them some new dresses.”
Then, seating herself at the table, she would say, “Now don’t fuss. Just sit with me and we can talk.” That was the sign that Angie was having company and wanted to bring home some biscotti.
Grandma kept Angie and her husband happy with sweets and, in exchange, Angie brought fabric swatches and sometimes even fabric remnants.
On some Saturdays, our mother and her sisters would invite Angie to their sewing bee. They transformed the front parlor overlooking the water into a sewing room. There they spent the afternoon designing their own patterns, cutting and basting dresses, and then waiting for Grandma to “run them up” on her old Singer sewing machine on the second-floor balcony overlooking the parlor.
Angie was never as much fun as our aunts, but Grandma said it was because she had a difficult husband. “That’s why I tell you all the time, be nice to everyone. You never know what troubles they carry in their hearts.”
—Rita Esposito Watson is writing “Italian Kisses: Grandma’s Wisdom.”