|BWS Stories - NABBW and GRAND Magazine Contests Winners|
NABBW and GRAND Magazine Contests Winners - WHERE'S THE HUDSON? - Runner Up!
James Vescovi is the editorial director at Columbia Law School. Stories about his grandparents have appeared in the New York Times, Creative Nonfiction, Ancestry, Alimentum, and other venues. He has two children in college. He lives with a third and his wife in New York.
WHERE'S THE HUDSON? - Runner Up!
My grandparents, Desolina and Tony, were immigrants from Italy. When they reached their late eighties, I began helping them with weekly marketing. One torrid July afternoon in New York City in 1990, I trudged down to the C-Town supermarket with my grandmother’s shopping list. Her handwriting was getting worse and, after I paid and left the store, I had the feeling that I’d missed something.
I entered their sweltering apartment to discover the fan that I’d set up had been unplugged and put away. Desolina insisted that breezes from fans, even on 98-degree days, caused respiratory problems. She and Tony, my grandfather, stayed cool by spending hot days in their tiny apartment sitting still as wax figures.
T-shirt clinging to my sweaty back, I lugged the shopping bags to the kitchen and began unloading.
The hallway linoleum creaked with slow, heavy foot steps.
Desolina appeared. She poked her nose into the bags.
“Dove il gelato?” she asked. “Where’s the ice cream?”
That’s what I had forgotten! Desolina loved vanilla ice cream. She’d take a heaping portion, chopped it up until it was the consistency of soft serve, and go at it like a cat with cream.
I was twenty-nine years old, not a kid. Did she really expect me to return to C-Town, on sidewalks baking at 110 degrees? She pulled money from her apron and planted it in my hand.As I departed, she called out, “See Jimmy? Si no usa la testa, use le gambe. If you don’t use your head, you end up using your legs.” She chuckled.
This was Desolina’s way. Later we sat down to tortellini in brodo. She discovered she’d forgotten a ladle.
“Jimmy, vai prendre il mestolo,” she commanded. “Go get the ladle.”
She had more ladles than screwdrivers in a hardware store: big, small, metal, copper. I picked one from a utensil drawer and returned.
Desolina rolled her eyes.
“Non, il mestolo grande,” she said. “The big ladle.”
I huffed back to the kitchen. I found the largest one and brought it to the table.
She slapped her forehead. “Ma, Jimmy dai!” she said. “C’mon!”
“Well, which one do you want?!” I asked, testily.
“The one in the oven.”
Desolina’s cooking days were long over. She used the oven for storage.Big, small, tall, short! What did it matter?! By this time we all could have eaten two bowls of soup!
Inside the oven were two ladles with enamel. Had they been animate, they could have been identical twins. The only difference was a tiny dent. I returned with the other one.
Desolina slowly got up, tottered down to the kitchen, and returned with the twin.
She ladled out the tortellini. My face was red with anger and shame.
She said, “Don’t get married, Jimmy. You’re too stupid...In fact, you couldn’t find the Hudson River from here if you walked west.”
Tony found it so funny that broth dribbled down his chin.