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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Madloch

Mary Ann Martello

I knew and loved both my grandmothers. However, on my father’s side, I was one of many grandchildren and my grandmother died when I was only 10 years old. Unfortunately, I did not have many one-on-one memories with her. On the other hand, grandma Merlo, whom I called Nanny, was an important and constant presence in my childhood.

Nanny lived on the next block and I spent a lot of time in her house, practically every day after school and most of my time during summers. My grandfather died when I was still a baby. My grandmother lived with my aunt and uncle, who were still unmarried. It was an interesting neighborhood, as many grandmothers lived in this area. One of my best friend’s grandma’s house was next door. By the evening all the grandmothers sat together at the stoop “Italian Neighborhood Watch” style.

Josephine married a man who was 27 when she was only 13-years old and they had shortly after left Sicily and came to the US. They settled in Philipsburg and had 10 kids (one died at birth). When my grandfather went to work on the railroad, Nanny ran a small general store at the front of the house. This is where I hung out most of the time. I learned a lot about shop keeping from her. I played with her old cash register and she taught me how to count coins in rolls. I also observed her and how she dealt with the public. Everybody who came to the store called her “mom” or “gran,” as if she were everyone’s grandmother. Thinking of her, and seeing photos of her, she did not change that much during her lifetime. When she was in her 30’s, she looked pretty much the same as when she was in her 70’s.

Even though she did not finish any school, Nanny valued education. She supervised me when I did my homework at her store, and always asked about my grades. She also tried to teach me some Italian. I liked to draw and doodle, which I learned to do before I could read or write. One time, I drew illustrations for every syllable of the famous Mary Poppins “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” song. When seeing my work my father cried, “She is brilliant!” about me. She helped me with that.

In my memories, I can almost smell the menthol ointment she used to ease the pain in her legs, which she always wrapped carefully. She spent a lot of time on her feet. Her life was hard, but my grandfather had a good paying job. He was a good provider, and she always could count on family and neighbors for support. While she barely left her house, the world came to her, and she was never alone. At home, she was almost always busy, cooking or cleaning, but she never complained and seemed always happy. She relaxed watching TV, soap operas and I Love Lucy. She particularly liked Andy Griffith and Dick Van Dyke. One might say that her world was small, but she had a huge impact on the entire family. Even if we do not live close to one another any longer, we try our best to keep in contact and stay family oriented. I am grateful to have had two loving grandmothers, and very happy that my children had an opportunity to grow with their own grandparents. I hope to be as present in the lives of my grandchildren when I one day am blessed to have them.

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