One evening Nonno and I were sitting on the back porch after dinner. He was smoking one of those Parodis and I was smoking something else. We were talking about being in business and dealing with different types of people and we got around to what people say things behind your back. Nonno laughed and said, “You know I have had people say lots of meana tings about me, but you know what, mine it they are all dead now and I am still here…ho, ho ho!”
I remember a cute story from Nonnie about a flock of pigeons that my father had raised and housed in the back yard of their home in Cumberland. When dad wasn’t around, Nonnie would sneak into the pigeon coop, snatch up a few of the squab, and fry them up for dinner! Now a days a kid would have been in therapy over something like that! But my father had other plans for those pigeons. One of his first business ventures was to raise his pigeons as homing pigeons…and then sell them! Dad pocketed the cash, and within a day or two the pigeons would return to the coop in his back yard. That’s a 100% return on his investment!
When nature called on a picnic outing with the family Nonnie said, “I remember the women in the fields (in Italy) used to wear very long dresses and when they had to go to the bathroom they would just spread their legs and pull their skirts out in the front and the back like this (demonstrating) and wee-wee.”
Nonnie taught me to make beds correctly with hospital folds. She also told me that if I employed domestic help, I should work along with the person, otherwise the employee would be unhappy and wouldn’t do a good job. When Nonnie’s helper arrived, we all worked together. Nonnie and I made the beds and dusted. The domestic did most of the heavy cleaning.
During the Nixon years, Ed and I were visiting. We were discussing politics over cocktails. Ed and I were very liberal Democrats, Nonnie was a strong Republican. The discussion evolved into a strong argument. Ed was fanning the flames a bit on purpose to tease Nonnie who became red in the face from yelling her opinion and ended by slamming her fist on the little yellow kitchen table. The blow made our drinks jump, so we all looked to the table to see if anything spilled. Ed pointed to an old crack in the table top ( It had always been there) and said, “look, you cracked the table!” Nonnie, who was still red in the face, burst out laughing. She laughed showing the same enthusiasm as she had when she yelled in anger just a few seconds earlier. It was an instant turnaround of emotions!
When I was about ten Nonnie and Nonno came to visit us. It was dark outside. Nonno had a surprise for us kids in the trunk of his car. I’ve forgotten what it was. So I accompanied him outside. He said “Aren’t you afraid of the dark? Don’t you believe in ghosts?” I told him I didn’t and he said, don’t say that, “you don’t want to upset the spirits.”
Nonnie told be the story once that on one of their trips to Italy (I don’t know if it was during the trip they made when Mom was with them at age 3 or the later one with Viola and Bill in the 60’s) Nonnie said she and Nonno were walking along a road in Italy, and she felt the physical sensation of someone “pushing her around” roughly…she said she believed it to be old spirits, and that it was a very unsettling feeling, as if they weren’t wanted there.
There’s also the story about when one of the Nevi brothers worked in a mine (in Marsailles marble mines or Pennsylvania coal mines) on the night shift, and saw a group of men tromping past with lunch pails way too early for the morning crew…they called to them “what time is it?” but the men continued on silently. The next morning when their shift was over, they asked the people outside the mine what group of men had reported to work early, and the man just stared at them like they were crazy, saying, “what group of men? No one was in there but YOU.” They learned later that a crew of miners had been killed a few weeks prior to that night, in a cave-in.
I remember as a young girl when my family was visiting Nonnie’s house in Cumberland, she would always be cooking a big pot of minestrone soup or something as yummy. I would get on a little stool and help as much as I could. She gave me the task of cracking some eggs into a bowl and I was cracking them with two hands. She looked at me and then showed me how she did it, one handed! We went through how to do it one handed together. From then on I strived to master the one-handed-egg-crack, which to me became a symbol of an expert Italian cook.
Nonnie would also whistle tunes every now and then, and it always seemed as if she could hold a note forever without taking a breath. Then I realized that she could not only whistle while blowing the air out of her mouth, but also whistle by sucking in. I thought it was a great trick and was another thing that I asked her to show me how to do. Now I can whistle entire violin sections without having to break for air. However, even now I still can’t hold a whistling note when grandpa tries to make me laugh!
Even as a young girl I loved seeing Nonnie and hearing the various stories she would tell. Every time I visited her in Cumberland, I’d say, “Tell me the little chick story!” – my favorite. And she would begin, “When I was about your age, I would watch my mother go into the hen house and bring out a hen for dinner, and ring the chicken’s neck. I too wanted to help with the task. One day my mother came yelling from the hen house, “Why are all the little baby chicks necks all rung??!!” I had gone to help and not being big enough to right a chicken’s neck, I had rung all the little baby chicks instead!”
What about the story she used to tell of how her mother would give her the money and send her on her own to go to the seamstress and select a dress and be measured for it. And there would always be enough fabric left over to make a dress for her doll as well. Nonnie looked back and thought that maybe her mother had some sense that she would die while Nonnie was still young, because she trained her to do so many things for herself at such a tender age.
The first time she laid eyes on Nonno, (someone she worked with pointed him out to her as a possible beau) she said, “Who, him? I wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole.”
Nonno told us that the two best peoples on the face of the earth are the Germans and the Italians. This was of course based on his extensive experience of all the types of peoples on the face of the earth. And the English are some of the worst, according to Nonnie. What was the story about the British soldier accidentally stepping right on her foot, and not even having the decency to apologize? I think she wrote off all the English after that incident.
She and Gloria were left in the care of relatives much of the time. She thought as a child that her mother was off having fun and visiting other friends and relatives, but looking back after what we know now, she figures that Nonnie was going daily to the hospital to see her father, and that was why Mom and Gloria were left in the care of the relatives. Hospitals didn’t allow children, I’m sure. And probably he was not in good shape for the little ones to see him. She knew nothing at all about a sick grandfather at that time, or at least she doesn’t remember anything about it, and it seems it would have been brought up at some time during her growing up years, that that was the reason behind their trip to Italy. I believe that she did not realize that that was the reason until Bill came out with the whole story of Giacomo’s life. It seems to me to fit with Nonnie, to keep unhappy things private, and not speak about them in front of the children.
About the name “Alpine Eagle” I guess it is not news to anyone that when they were trying to think up a name, Nonno, who had just returned from the war, thought of the name of his regiment in the Italian army, Aquil Alpina” (Alpine Eagle).
They chose Cumberland, MD for their factory site because it was situated between 3 states, and they could do better business that way. They liked the mountain water there too.
The story Ralph and I found most fascinating was the one Nonnie told us of when she and Nonno lived in Denver. She remembered that there were only two or three cars in the entire city at that time and Indians would come into the city in their full headdress. She decided to get a job and went down the street to the National Biscuit Co. The man there told her he couldn’t hire her because she was too young and didn’t have any experience. She wanted that job so the next day she dressed herself in dark clothes, fixed her hair differently and wore a hat. When he asked if she had experience she lied and said yes. So he put her on the assembly line where they were putting the biscuits in little papers and then in a box. He wanted to make sure she was a good worker so he stood behind her and watched. She told us that in a quiet voice she asked the woman next to her to tell her what to do and in atypical Nonnie fashion she turned to the gentleman and yelled at him that he was making her nervous. He quickly left and she proceeded with her on the job training!
Just wanted to add one detail to the story that Georgie wrote about Nonnie at the National Biscuit Company. When Nonnie went in the second day and lied about having experience, the man asked her where she had worked before. She chose a town off the top of her head and said “Pittsburgh!” She was in luck. It just so happened that National Biscuit Company had a factory in Pittsburgh at the time.
I was editing the text when I noticed something that has always been there. Nonnie’s parent’s, Giacomo and Angela, were married April 3, 1898. Nonnie was born October 26, 1898. Do the math. This may explain why Nonnie always claimed she was born in another year. Not for reasons of vanity, as we have always assumed, but to protect her parents.
I would really like to get into the home at 779 Fayette Street. The smell of the garage out back. The rock garden, back porch. All the wonders in the basement including the door to the wine cellar.
And only the older grandchildren will remember the alligator chair…
This story reminds me of one that Nonnie told once, and I don’t know if she told anyone else.
Anyway, on one of their trips to Italy (don’t know if it was during the trip they made when Mom was with them at age 3 or the later one with Viola and Bill in the 60’s) Nonnie said she and Nonno were walking along a road in Italy, and she felt the physical sensation of someone “pushing her around” roughly…she said she believed it to be old spirits, and that it was a very unsettling feeling…as if they weren’t wanted there. And then there’s the story about when one of the Nevi brothers worked in a mine (in Marseilles marble mines or Pennsylvania coal mines…too late to call Mom–she’d know) on the night shift, and saw a group of men tromping past with lunch pails way too early for the morning crew…they called to them “what time is it?” but the men continued on silently. The next morning when their shift was over, they asked the people outside the mine what group of men had reported to work early, and the man just stared at them like they were crazy, saying, “what group of men? No one was in there but YOU.”They learned later that a crew of miners had been killed a few weeks prior to that night, in a cave-in!!
One time when Nonnie was a little girl in Italy, she and her father were staying at a hotel (or bread and breakfast or something). They heard a peddler down on the streets below, and she asked her father for money to go buy a cantaloupe. He gave her some money, and she bought the cantaloupe. She came back up and they shared it for breakfast. It was so delicious!! Her father gave her more money and told her to go find the peddler and buy another one. She found him, and bought another cantaloupe. She hurried back, and they quickly ate another one!! Then he gave her MORE money, and told her to buy ANOTHER one!!! So she bought another one, and they ate that one too! She told mom that those were the best cantaloupes she had ever had. I hope that I got the number of times he sent her back down right.
There is one other thing to consider. Italy, sometimes a person’s legal “courthouse” wedding and their church wedding weren’t on the same day. In Nonnie and Nonno’s case, they were legally married 2weeks before they were married in the church. This might possibly have been the case that their “legal” marriage was recorded first, then a church marriage happened later, and Nonnie was conceived after that. Just a thought. We’ll never know.