Tuesday, August 8, 2017

What Would My Lucille Say?

Mr. Ernest Gismondi met Lucille. They fell in love and married. She kept the home fires going while Mr. Gismondi served in the Army Air Corps as a pilot flying B17's during World War II. Following the war, he became a test engineer for United Technologies in Bridgeport and Stratford while he and his wife settled in the 1950s and raised their children in Newtown, Connecticut.
I met Mr. and Mrs. G., that's what I called them, when I was 15 because their son was my high school sweetheart. We'd get off the school bus near their neighbors and walk the worn path through the trees that bordered their back yards. We'd come up the back cement porch steps to enter the house. For as along as I've known this family, I didn't realize they had a front door until I was an adult. Everyone came in through the back. On the small porch, making my way to the door, I passed the little blue bench that had a basket filled with Mr. G's Yukon gold potatoes from his annual garden. Nailed up next to the door was Mrs. G's cloth bag filled with clothes pins. Monday was always laundry day. Outside the back door I wiped my feet on patches of old carpet where Mr. G's worn out garden boots sat. After school, we would be greeted with warm apple pie or peach pie or the absolute to die for, Father Sarducci cheesecake. Friday nights was one of my favorite meals at their home, homemade potato fries in the deep black cast iron frying pan along with steak.

When I met them at age 15 Mrs. G. called me quick lip because she said I always had an answer for everything. Once I had my license and could drive my Duster over to their house to see my boyfriend, they always accused me of speeding because they said I just hung up from them on the phone. Of course I had an answer for that, too! They also called me trouble, really just in fun. But when Mrs. G. wagged that finger of hers it yielded more power than a magic wand. More times than not, it seemed I overextended my visit. Maybe it was because I hoped for another piece of apple pie with hard cheese sliced on top. But I always knew it was time to go when Mr. and Mrs. G. stood up and politely started scooting my clogs to the back door.

Once a young adult I would visit Mr. and Mrs. G. every Monday morning and have coffee with them because Andrea's Bakeshop, where I worked in Newtown center, was closed on Mondays. We sat on the bench of the little corner table nook in their kitchen. Well, I sat on the bench, next to the bag filled with bags, and Mr. & Mrs. G. sat on a stool of sorts at either sides of the little table. I loved the bagels with cream cheese and lox and a fresh brewed cup of coffee!

It wasn't until my 30s, and after much begging, when Mrs. G. finally gave me her recipe for the cheesecake. She wagged that finger of hers at me and declared, "Don't you ever give this recipe away!" "No ma'am," I promised.
Her son said, "Boy you're special, mom never even gave me her recipe."

Since the day I met them, Mr. G. planted a garden faithfully every year. He always shared the fruits of his labor with me; garlic, parsley, oregano, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, Yukon gold potatoes, beets and whatever else he planted, if the deer didn't get it first. But the one thing he always planted was beans. I learned that you never pick green beans after a rain or when they still have the morning dew on them because that's what makes them get the rusty look. "Wait till they've dried off," he would say.
pre-chicken wire fence
As an adult, when I'd visit, he'd say, "Let's go get you some vegetables." We'd walk out the back door, go over to the old dented aluminum garbage bin in his back yard and pull out one of a hundred plastic bags that he saved for a moment such as this and then we'd walk up the back yard towards his garden. He always had a knife near his chicken wire make shift gate which made it easy to cut the squash from it's thick stem. One year he introduced me to the delicacy of squash blossoms and suggested I take some home and lightly saute them with olive oil and garlic. How I loved them.
We had a special bond because he always called me his bean buddy. I don't know if it was the beans, even though I helped pick them from his garden, or because I was his son's friend, or because they always said, "you're like our third daughter." Or maybe it was because they wanted to adopt me when they learned of my home life, but I didn't know that until Mrs. G. passed away in 1999.  After Mrs. G. passed, Mr. G. made sure to plant her favorite flowers every year at the edge of the garden, white gladiolas. Oh how he missed his Lucille. After she passed, he refused to move her nightgown from the foot of their bed. He slept in the other room. He called her the love of his life.

March 17, 2017 Mr. G's first selfie
March 17, 2017 still had snow on the ground. It was an impromptu visit but I'm so glad I followed the prompting of the spirit. I stood on the back porch with Mr. G. and said, "Hey, let's get a selfie." He was polite but unsure.
I said, "Have you ever had a selfie?"
He said, "No."
"Oh, come on. Let's get one!"
Willing, we posed on his back porch for a few selfies for the first time in his 97 years of life. Snow still covered his garden waiting to be planted. Soon I would be back for beans.

Since his Lucille passed eighteen years ago, in 1999, our conversation wasn't over, whether through a note card or a phone call or in person, until Mr. G. would say or write, "Now what would my Lucille say?"


May 2017 Mr. G. was found at the bottom of his basement stairs. Possibly he tripped or he was looking to cool off for a minute from the heat. We don't know for sure, I mean, the death certificate said heart attack. But what we do know was he had just gone to a friends house for dinner a day or two before and drove himself. I mean the guy drove to the YMCA to swim three times a week. And what we do know was he had cleared a swath from his back porch to his garden to begin his annual planting. What we do know is he lived his life full and expectant!

Sunday August 7, 2017, I visited the old homestead for the first time since Mr. G. passed in May. His back yard was quiet and his garden was empty except for the white gladiolas that stood to attention in the warm sun along the edge of the chicken wire fence.

How glad I am that I followed the unplanned nudge to go visit in March and insist we take a selfie.

The simplicity of those visits since I was 15 were so sweet and precious because they were reliable. Not only have I known these people for 39 years, I've been his bean buddy that long.

How blessed I was to have these people in my life and have them welcome me into their home. But boy how I'm going to miss that love in his voice when he'd end every phone call with, "Now what would my Lucille say?"

And together we chimed, "STAY OUT OF TROUBLE!"

Then he'd say, "Bye for now."
81 years old 2001

96 years old 2016
and Father Sarducci Cheesecake 
97 years old 2017
Dear Angel and What's His Name,
Wishing you a Happy Easter and spring season. Something to enjoy and make life happier. Daffodills, Crocus, and Snow Drops and all coming in bloom. Hopefully the gloom of winter is broken and the wonderful message of life prevails. In other words its "Bean Time."
Love Ernest
Well not quite

"Happy Birthday to you
you belong in the Blue
with the rest of the Angels
who look just like you"
It doesn't seem like a year has gone bye since I sang this ditty to you. Does it? This year in particular went by so fast. I was just getting used to the Spring weather when "Bang" its gone.
Love Mister 'G'
PS Stay out of trouble!!

Dear Tammy Sue "the Angel."
Wishing you a very Happy Birthday and many more of the same. Still getting a few tomatoes, cucumbers, string beans from my garden but the end is near for most and they don't taste as good as summer. It has been an incredible growing year with the rain coming just when needed. For me its back to the Y and exercise to get back as I was. Now: "Stay out of trouble." Love, Ernie



Anonymous said...

This line brought a tear to my eye: "Sunday August 7, 2017, I visited the old homestead for the first time since Mr. G. passed in May. His back yard was quiet and his garden was empty except for the white gladiolas that stood to attention in the warm sun along the edge of the chicken wire fence."
I feel very blessed to have met Mr. G so many years back - I love that he wore our HKBC hat!! Thank you for introducing me to him, TS - he was and always will be, a GEM. I'll never forget him.
Love, HKBC 1.5

Linda Loegel said...

Kudos, Tammy Sue! What a nice tribute to a super couple that have been such a solid part of your life for ever. I remember him taking you and me out to his garden one year to get vegetables. And I feel blessed that I got to spend 45 minutes with Mr. G on the phone earlier this year reminiscing about his WWII days as research for my book. The two of them are looking down right now, glad to know they made a difference in your life and are not forgotten. I remember Mrs. G always called you her angel.