Friday, January 14, 2011


It Snows, Oh It Snows by Grandma Moses
© 1951 - 15" x 12" from

I am unpacking some winter memories today, and after unearthing them after all these years, I must admit I never thought about how odd they might seem to folks today. My memories of the eccentricities of my childhood seem now like clothes left forgotten in the attic. After seeing such things, so long out of style, one can scarcely believe anyone wore them. But they did.

When I was 11 years old, my mother and I spent part of the winter in her hometown of Rutland, VT, as she was trying to help two of her brothers get started in their new restaurant. It was a wonderful Italian restaurant, proudly named Bernardina's, after my grandma. She decided to do this one day, so she packed us up and put me in school in Rutland. My father was probably laid off for the winter from his construction job, and she just left him and my teen-aged brother there to hold down the fort while she went on her mission.  I suspect my brother might have been happy for this turn of events.

It seems kind of odd that she would do that now when I think back on it. My mother was a special person, but not as rare as one might first think. She was indeed very independent, but enjoyed her independence within the soft nest of being in a traditional, religious (then typical) family. Hard to explain, but she was married to Dad faithfully for 48 years until her death, raised my brother and I beautifully on my father's small salary, but was blessed in that she had a quick mind, a vibrant spirit, and a husband who had no issues with her flitting on and off a little project now and then.

For instance, when I was seven and in the second grade, she decided to start her own diner. Again it was winter, again my father was out of work (which perfectly fit her plans as she made him the dishwasher), and Grandma was available to come down from Vermont and cook. As I have mentioned before on this blog, Grandma was built just like a Sherman tank and had the raw strength and power of one, as well.

 Unlike the tank she was a lot faster, though, as I personally witnessed her cleaning up the entire kitchen many times (no dishwasher or disposal) after having fed tons of people, in under 10 minutes. This included putting all the dishes away. You really didn't want to be in her way when she was working like this, and since you might be slain on the spot if you got close enough to breath on any of her windows or starched curtains, it was best to just go outside.

So my mother, as good a cook and baker as Grandma, a whiz with numbers, and the kind of person who, upon meeting, most people just became their true selves with and compulsively coughed up personal information, giving up secrets and everything, went into business. Up went the sign bearing the very original and clever name for a diner: "Mary's".

She was wildly successful, made lots of money and endeared herself to anyone who walked through the door. After three months, she up and quit. Went out of business. Why? Well, she was tired of it, and missed being home with my brother and I, and besides, now it was spring and my father was getting hired back onto a construction job. Grandma packed up her aprons, and called one the "boys" (my uncles who all lived up home in Vermont), to come get her. She put herself into the Cadillac, along with a huge order from the Italian importing store in Schenectady, and her new foundation garments and dresses from Nelson's (affectionately referred to as the "fat lady store") and rode off into the sunset, waving and blowing kisses.

My father, I seem to remember vaguely, was only too happy to escape "Mary's" kitchen and get back out with the men, digging ditches. And he was equally happy, extra money and success aside, to say good-bye to "Mary's", and get Mary back where she belonged as queen of the realm at the house. Funny how men back then were not so concerned with income so much as they were with living a cozy, well-ordered life.

My mother came home, which delighted me. For the past three months I had been tended to in the morning by an older lady named Clare. She was nice enough, but I felt lonely. She was a stranger in my house, making me soggy french toast and bringing me to school. I just couldn't acclimate myself to this! She wasn't my mom and there was no getting around it. After school my dad would get me and bring me to the diner where I would stay with them until after the dinner hour, and then we'd all come home around 7 pm and go to bed early. I don't remember where my 12 year old brother would spend his time after school. Maybe he would be there a lot, but more likely he was probably hanging out in the neighborhood, hitting passing cars with snowballs, and just being the biggest smart-aleck. What a trouble maker that kid was!

So my childhood was pretty interesting, really. While I was in Vermont staying with my favorites, Uncle Pat, Aunt Margie and their six kids, it was, as I said, the dead of winter. Back then, of course, there was not much electronic amusement for youngsters, and the grown-ups were not in the habit of providing money, and pre-fabricated entertainment to children nor so-called "quality time" with them. They were more prone to spend "quantity time" with us, the women home all day, the men at work, but everyone around the dinner table at night. After that, the adults would sit in the living room and watch a sometimes fuzzy TV that received about three channels on a good day.

There was, I should point out, no "family room" in anybody's house, as I recall. Heck, my uncle's house had a dirt cellar which held the most amazing and unique feature: a huge boulder sitting right in the middle of it!  I guess back in the 1860's when they dug out the foundation, they found it and just decided to leave it be - wouldn't hurt anything, would it?

So most every night, my cousin Marcie and I would, just for fun, venture out into the still, frozen darkness and down the road about a half a mile to a little store owned by an old, almost totally blind, lady. She lived in the back of the store, and you had to pull a string when you entered, which would ring a bell back in her quarters to let her know she had a customer.

Have you ever heard the expression, "robbing you blind"? Well, it did not apply here, amazingly enough. Apparently this system had gone on for years, and in that part of the universe (perhaps it was a parallel universe, after all) all the customers were honorable. Including us. We would chat with the old lady, buy something cheap and then walk home. Most of the time, strangely enough, we would buy an ice cream cone. Vanilla, I think was the only flavor she had. But ice cream on January nights in New England! Intrepid youth!

Often, snow would be falling on our ice cream cones, as we leisurely made our way back up the road, fantasizing to each other about our future husbands. Oh, they would be lucky, handsome, and insanely rich husbands! We would  pick them from the royalty and rock stars we'd undoubtedly meet and smite with our beauty one day. The snow would pile onto our cones, making them last a little bit longer. And how clever of us to eat ice cream outside when it was too cold for it to melt and drip down the cone like it does in summer.

Well, I have unpacked a couple of boxes today, and I see lots more to be gone through in the time to come. To some these things might be clutter, but to me they are precious keepsakes which have helped to form me along the way.

As I look back over my shoulder, I see lots of adventure here, because this attic is packed!


  1. Hi Gail,

    Where was Mary's Diner located? I remember your mom working in a diner, I forgot she owned it. I do remember you going to Vermont on occasion and spending time with Marcie and her family. Great blog.

  2. Love this! You had a grand childhood, it seems to me. I adore hearing about your mom, too. Very good writing here, dear friend.

  3. Thank you, Annie. Quirky, but grand, yes! And it means a lot, coming from you, that you think my writing is good!

  4. Arlene, "Mary's" was on McLellan, on the left, just before the intersection with Eastern Ave. It later became Uncle Fuzzy's for several years. Yeah we'd go once or twice a month to Rutland, but the time I am talking about here was when I was in 6th. grade, so you were at St. Columba's then, right?


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