226 Church Hill Road

Woman with Glass of Orange Juice Outdoors It’s funny how scent evokes memory.

This morning as I entered the park I got a massive whiff of freshly cut grass.  When I gazed in the distance Dog Hill was being mowed in perfectly even sections.

Made me think of my Uncle Danny and Auntie Ida’s backyard in Trumbull Connecticut.

First a little back story: she was my mother’s older sister and he, her husband whom she utterly adored – Donato was his formal 7 ply Italian name and they had two bitchy daughters otherwise known as my cousins.

She was also my favorite aunt who I played bottles with. No, not liquor bottles, store bottles like vinegar and Milk of Magnesia…we played store like two kids even though I was 4 and she was 44.  She was by far the best aunt any kid could have.

We’d gather at their house most holidays because of its size and charm. My aunt loved to entertain and after digging through my memory bank I remembered the 4th of July and a huge metal trash can filled to the brim with ice and bottles of Coca-Cola and Canada Dry Ginger Ale.

I’d shove my whole arm in it up to the elbow till it felt sufficiently numb. I’d then run around pretending my arm had fallen off insisting this was why I couldn’t help set the table since I needed to look for it.  I couldn’t have more than 5 or 6.  Even then I was dramatic.

My uncle had a huge outdoor grill before they were commonplace to sear steaks and chicken till it was black on the outside while my aunt boiled corn on the cob in a colossal soup pot.  Those were the days when I ate whatever I wanted including meat without any conscience nor edit.  Hey, I was raised Italian where cow’s tongue was considered a great delicacy.  My grandfather, to be funny, would chase me around the kitchen with it.

It’s no wonder I’m so neurotic.

I loved going to their house partly because of the vast lawn that was always neatly mowed.  The house sat on a hill so the land sloped down picturesque like in a Norman Rockwell painting.

On Christmas Eve, when we went there, I’d moodily peer out of the porch window at the grass hidden by snow todd-gipstein-picnic-tables-in-a-park-after-a-snow-fall dreaming of summer when it would once again be soft and green.

“Ma, how far away is summer?”  I’d want to know, even going so far as to interrupt a conversation to find out. “Get away from that window Miss and stop dreaming your life away.”  She was right about my dreaming since in my child’s mind I would slip off my navy Keds so my toes could wiggle in the grass I missed so.

I could see the festive colors of the k6334426 croquet set and hear the badminton net billowing in the warm summer breeze.     k1969094

I realize now those were the seeds of writing taking root teaching me all about the five senses.  Even then I was a solitary being lost in adolescent reverie.

I loved being near my uncle while he cooked.  My mother would yell to come eat at least three times before I’d listen pretending to help him load up his platters.  He’d finally give me the smallest one to carry up the hill so I’d go.  No one wanted to take the chance of irritating my mother who could easily ruin the whole day with a rapid mood swing.  Of course she did make the best potato salad that would lend her quite a bit of leeway no matter what she did.  Once when she had too much to drink she locked herself in the bathroom.  All the men kept peeing outside while the women went next door to the neighbor’s house.

She’d always pick at least one fight with my father who would be dozing on a chaise alongside my grandfather already having a little too much wine.  They’d both blame their lack of verve on the sun as they took turns refilling their mutual jelly glasses.

Tiger, my aunt’s beloved, overfed Rhodesian Ridgeback, would be sprawled on the patio like a sweaty throw rug you had to jump over to get inside the house.  If anyone insinuated Tiggy was fat she’d take great offense and say, “He is not fat, he’s just a big boy.”

We’d sit as an extended familia at the long redwood picnic table with the striped canopy overhead eating on scotch guard paper plates, the kind barbecued chicken couldn’t soak through.  My aunt hated paper cups so we had plastic goblets 1791315 in assorted colors that she promised I could have when she died.

Italians are known for their spontaneous bequeathing.  Of course I never got them, my two greedy cousins would never have stood for it and she did live another thirty years so who, besides me, remembered anyway.

My mother would say, “Ida you’re too good to her,” since I’d run around telling everybody I was getting her picnic- ware, as she called it, when she went to heaven.

Ah, to be little and clueless again never ever thinking life would change so dramatically.

My uncle, who was the head foreman for E and F Construction had a massive heart attack  on the job dying where he fell.

My poor aunt, so devoted, was crestfallen.  I remember her at the wake staring into space hardly recognizing me.  I kept saying, “Auntie Ida, it’s me, Susie,” but she still looked through me like a pane of foggy glass.

My mother said she was never the same after my uncle died.  It was as though her happiness had been stolen right from beneath her leaving a body without a heart that was buried along with him.

I do remember how she kept exhuming him, once from the fancy mausoleum he was first interred in to the ground then back inside again.  The poor woman who took such good care of him in life said it was too cold in the winter to leave him outside as if he were a giant geranium.

My two cousins stopped talking to me for reasons I forget.  One of them did accuse me of stealing a lip gloss once when I babysat, the other causing a permanent rift between my aunt and me after telling her that, when I was 16, I had an abortion. I should have stopped speaking to them but they were my only link to a childhood that was slowly ebbing away.

Auntie Ida, a hardcore Catholic, couldn’t bear the idea of me killing a baby causing the relationship so special to the both of us to end when I was 20.

I still ache when I think of it.

She also had a breach with my mother after my grandparents died so that was the end of going to her house on holidays.  I always made my boyfriends drive past 226 Church Hill Road hoping I’d catch a glimpse of her watering her plants or hosing down the driveway, the Italian national pastime.

I’m grateful for those hours daydreaming from that porch window sealing in those sights and smells that still live within me – imagine how the mere aroma of sheared grass could bring back so much.

I see my aunt waving from the patio in her full apron while I stood sentry by the grill, my uncle flipping wings and steak like a short-order cook.

If I really close my eyes and drift I can actually see my goblets, at someone else’s  picnic table, but still mine since she did give them to me and Auntie Ida never broke a promise.

I’m pretty sure, wherever her spirit lies, she’s not mad at me anymore understanding that people make mistakes and that doesn’t mean you should no longer love them.  Actually you should love them even more so they’ll heal faster from their fall.

get-attachment So happy to be a dreamer…happier to be a writer.


About Susannah Bianchi

I'm just a girl who likes to write slightly on slant. I've had a career in fashion, dabbled in film and to be honest, I don't like talking about myself. Now my posts are another matter so I will let them speak for themselves. My eBooks, A New York Diary, Model Behavior: Friends For Life and Notes From A Working Cat can be found on Amazon.com. Thanks.
This entry was posted in food, humor, Love, religion, women, Women and men, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to 226 Church Hill Road

  1. Beautiful, Susannah, just beautiful…


  2. Absolutely heart warming! You made me think of my Aunt Rose & Uncle Gino with this piece. He died suddenly on the job as well and Aunt Rose wore black from head to toe for the rest of her life. She also put care in the resting spot and buried him under a tree by the road so “he can keep cool while people watching.”
    I’m so glad something as simply as fresh cut grass brought out such a wonderful story. Hope you’re feeling better these days.


    • Aunt Rose and Uncle Gino…I love that you had a set of your own just like mine. They sound interchangeable. Italians love big…and continue even when one dies. It’s so crazy and poignant all at the same time. I love that she buried him under a tree so he could keep cool. Maybe she knew my Auntie Ida and they compared notes 🙂


  3. skinnyuz2b says:

    Dumb Windows decided to update in the middle of my comment, so if it comes twice, sorry.
    Extended family gatherings provide great memories for the cousins. My mother and her four sisters each hosted a holiday – Easter, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas, Christmas Day. My special aunt was Aunt Sophi. She taught me to walk with my toes pointed forward.
    My mowing story found in 1950 Suburban Adventures (Cheap Mowers) is slightly different than yours. I discovered another one of Grandpa’s secrets. Thanks for the memories.


    • Aunt Sophi, with an i…we all had an aunt like that I think who made an impact in some way when we were small. I can still see my Auntie Ida perched on the floor purchasing Noxema in an empty jar as we played store.


  4. Rob says:

    This blog is a wonderful hodge-podge of worldliness and childish innocence. I don’t know how you manage it Susannah but it makes very entertaining reading.


  5. Lisa says:

    I loved the image of you running around with a cold numb arm saying it had fallen off. That sounds like something I would have done. (Many times as a kid I said I couldn’t go to bed cause there was some kind of monster in my room, it never worked). Food tends to bring memories for me rather than smells. Though they both kind of work in the same way.


    • I bet you were a funny kid and let’s remember it wasn’t all that long ago 🙂 Wish I could say that.


      • Lisa says:

        There’s a video of me when I was little (maybe 4 or 5) running around my grandma’s pingpong table in their basement doing laps and talking to one of my mom’s cousin’s who was filming. It was Christmas and I was sure I was doing somewhere between 300 and 500 laps. I can kind of remember thinking I was trying to impress them with my willpower to run a lot of laps even though I wanted to stop. Wish I could remember why I felt it was necessary to run laps!


      • You needed attention, that’s all. Sometimes we all need to do laps…even when we’re big girls 🙂


  6. jimmie chew says:

    that was so good.


  7. Michael says:

    Magnificent. Purely magnificent.


  8. D. D. Syrdal says:

    Wow does this bring back memories for me. I had an aunt and uncle in Danbury that we traded Thanksgivings with (one year their house, one year ours) along with other visits. You’re making me think I should write my own post about those visits. This was wonderful.


    • You should. I have to say, it made me homesick for a childhood I forgot I had. She was a wonderful human being my Aunt who was also a product of her circumstances. I loved her so…and her kindness I believe resonates in me…she got it form her Dad…my grandfather also a big influence on me. Yes Dame…I think you did to pop those files 🙂


  9. manty67 says:

    Lovely story and as usual wonderfully told. Your aunt sounds like a very special lady and will always hold fond memories, I can only imagine that the cousins were jealous of your relationship with your aunt and that’s why they were so horrible. They may have taken away the picnic set, but they can never steel your memories. Xx


    • Such a nice comment. Thank you. My cousins were sour girls…the homely, smart kind. There wasn’t much of a connection between us and yes, I think you are right when you say there was envy involved. My Aunt was such a warm and wonderful lady and she did love me so much the way we choose to fall in love with a little kid without knowing why. She was more maternal than my mother so naturally I gravitated toward her. She was a cancer born July 22nd…I still remember her birthday, my Auntie Ida and those goblets of hers. Be well.


  10. Lynn says:

    I love this piece Susannah. When I smell fresh grass or hear a lawn mower in summer, I think of my Dad. I don’t have a ton of great memories of my father but I do know that he seemed to take great pride in his lawn & gardens.

    I am sorry that your Aunt was not able to see past her religion to accept your decision, & personal right to make it, based on what was best for you. I can only imagine, based on her love for you, she must have regretted cutting those ties as much as you missed having her in your life. A loss for both of you.

    I have a niece who I share a very special bond with. One of the first pieces I wrote when I started blogging was related to her. She will forever hold a special place in my heart, I am certain there was a similar place in your Auntie Ida’s for you, despite her inability to forgive.


    • First let me say, I’ve yet to read the dog piece because I can’t read just yet…almost…hard for me to be upright.

      My aunt was a very simple woman with a great big heart…but her Catholicism ruled a great part of her life. She just couldn’t get passed what I did.

      I loved her anyway and always think of her on summer holidays where we’d troop up that hill to sit at that long, wooden table our hands chilled from reaching in that trash can to get a coke.

      Nice to have memories to lean on. Thanks for reading. I know it was long.


  11. katecrimmins says:

    Love this story! Our childhoods were so carefree, then something happens and zap it’s gone. Too bad you don’t have the picnic ware. One of my relatives had those bold colored aluminum drinking cups and I always wanted them. I saw you can buy them now and maybe I will. Reminds me of my childhood.


  12. This post makes me want to walk to NYC with some picnic ware and give you a long hug and assurance that you are a blessing to many. This is how my summer went, the smells thrusting me back in time where my happiness was not always present. Thank you for this.


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