Monday, March 5, 2007

St. Bernadette of the Broom Factory

My Grandma Lena had a St. Bernard named, you guessed it, Bernadette. Kinda like naming a wiener dog Heidi. Or Oscar. Grandma and her sister, Aunt Mary, had previously owned two standard poodles: Percy and Pierre. Maybe that's why her bathroom door had a tiny black poodle door knocker on it. Go figure.

I remember riding Bernadette like a pony, but she was only one of the many fantastic attractions at Grandma's house, an old frame two story that had been converted from a broom factory sometime in the '20s. The basement had a dirt floor, there were fabric accordion screens instead of doors in the rooms upstairs, and her pantry had in indescribable smell and a near magical quality.

Gram had a fridge with the freezer drawer on the bottom where we'd pull out delights such as orange sherbet push ups or ice cream sundae cups we'd eat with flat wooden spoons that came wrapped in paper. Gram had lots of tricks. She used to fill a 2 litre bottle half way up with tap water -- not just any tap water, Chicago City Water, the absolutely coldest, most delicious water in the world -- and lay it on its side in the freezer. Once it froze, she'd fill it the rest of the way up and put it in the fridge along side her carton of Salems with it's half frozen side slowly melting, ensuring a brain freeze for the drinker. We all drank straight out of that bottle and felt like we were doing something forbidden that our parents would never allow at home.

One particularly scorching summer when the tar in the street was molten and we were all too wilted to move, some boys opened up a fire hydrant across Roosevelt Road. They held a piece of 2x4 in front of the spout, diverting the gush into a wide arc . Kids came from several blocks away to run through that gloriously cool spray of Chicago city water until the CFD showed up and stopped our fun.

(I know, this tangent doesn't have much to do with the dog theme, but there was a fire hydrant reference.)

Lena and Mary in front of their old house on Campbell Park.


GeorgiePorgie said...

what a walk down memory lane. Thank God you spent time with her and found out all these wonderful stories or they would have been lost forever. The house that Aunt Mary and Gramma are standing in front of is on Wood street. Aunt Mary and Henrietta lived downstairs with your grand grandmother and gramma, me and grandpa Sam lived upstairs. I still remember her combing my curly hair while tucked between her legs so I couldn't escape the tangles and knots. What sweet memories. Thank you again for reminding me. Love your mom

Brogato said...

I enjoy so much the talent you have to create all these memories but even more the way you are able to convey them. I have so many great memories of Grandma and especially the house on Roosevelt Road. I picture her in the kitchen just like it was yesterday. Always calling me at work to stop by to get leftovers for Michael for dinner. I am honored to be able to carry on her name through our own daughter (Lena). Who would have ever thought back then we would end up having 2? I wish she would have been able to know my girls and they would have been able to know her. Thanks for reminding us. I have such great memories of taking her shopping on Saturday mornings. She'd get in my car with a stack of coupons and from there we'd go to 10 stores to save about $10! But our last stop was always the liquor store on the "island" on Roosevelt Rd so she could get her infamous lottery ticket. She would always come out smiling and wishing for a million.

Brogato said...

The girls and I are looking at these wonderful pictures and we can't believe how much you and Lena look alike at the same age with the picture of you in the sink! Just amazing....unbelievable talent that you have. We love and miss you....The Brogato Babes xoxo aka - Lena, Sabrina and Aunt Nancy

I love you and i miss you so much! I can't wait to see youu<3
I love you so much =].
--- Love Sabrina

Anonymous said...

Pierre was my dog and my mother, Your Grandmother's sister Mary, used to send him to Mr Virgil to have him clipped, and my father and I dreaded when she did that. He was a cokapoo and he was also a hunting dog, a bird dog, to be more precise, and after he would get his hair cut Mr Virgil would paint his toe nails purple and tie lavender ribbions to his hips and on top of his head, and if he happened to be in the back yard and he saw a bird I'd just wanted to hide because he would point. His little paw would be up and bent at the wrist with his little bows and lavender toe nails. And he would point. It was most embaressing.