138 Litchfield Street, No. 3
Here are Noni and Papa on a cherry picking adventure. Nearly every year we would pack up the car and head over to Dutchess County, New York to pick our own cherries. The day would be spent climbing ladders and limbs, filling baskets with fruit. My grandfather would bring his hibachi and prepare lunch. The menu rarely changed and consisted of some prosciutto or salami accompanied by slices of Roman Meal wheat bread, pasta, steak, hotdogs, salad and fruit. The pasta, prepared earlier at home and kept in repurposed plastic containers, was lightly sauced and topped with parmigiano. The steak was marinated in olive oil, garlic and rosemary. Papa would grill it rare and always preferred wood to charcoal. The hot dogs were for us kids, but there was never a shortage of food and we ate our share of steak. The salad was usually dandelion or chicory, thinly sliced onion, a little olive oil and homemade vinegar. A thermos of espresso, a nondescript bottle of homemade red wine and a bottle of Stop and Shop soda completed the spread.
Many cherries were eaten on these days and in the week or so afterward, but the bulk of the harvest was frozen after being lightly sprinkled with sugar. Others were put into jars with grappa. Even on a winter afternoon, Noni could brighten the bleakest day with a bowl of cherries that we had picked the previous June. Mostly thawed, but still firm with chill, the cherries were sweet and the frozen juice like granita. My father would raid the grappa jars, many of which were hidden.
Noni could climb like nobody’s business and could often be found at the tops of trees where no one else dared. Another unusual skill Noni had acquired was masonry. Frequently, one would find Noni out in the yard mixing cement and then repairing or building with it. She built a number of pedestal type birdbaths covered with small beach stones and other objects pressed into the wet concrete. There’s a family story of my mother giving Noni a nice pair of sunglasses and then having her discover a few days later that Noni had crushed them and used the pieces on one of her birdbaths. Everyone seems to agree that it was one of her finest.