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Thankful for My Garden


A Month–Not Just a Day–of Thanks


Part 3.  Thankful for my Container Garden


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



NOTE:  This post is “Part 3” of my Thanksgiving series because on Veterans’ Day, I posted “Part 2.  Thankful for Our Veterans.”  If you missed the extra post of this week on Sunday, November 11, please continue reading after the end of today’s post.


As I make my list of what I am most thankful for, I add to the list my container garden that has been displayed on both my front porch and in the back of my townhouse for six months.  Although each year, I hope that my geraniums will survive until Thanksgiving, this year’s pink, white, and lavender blooms were zapped at the end of last week after 3.1 inches of snow covered some of them when the wind chill dipped to six degrees.  Thus, the actual blooms were pretty until November 9.  Having started this year’s garden effort with just two lavender (herb) plants the week before Mother’s Day, I calculated that I should be pleased and thankful that my container garden endured six months in Milwaukee.


Besides the beauty and fragrance of my container garden, caring for these plants was calming, even therapeutic for me–most especially on the days of the worst construction challenges.  Amidst all the streetcar construction, Willow and I could always find a little peace in my container garden.


Earlier in the summer, I lost one basil plant, but planted a replacement which thrived until October; another basil lasted just a bit longer.  Before the basil plants lost their leaves, the first three plants to succumb to autumn’s frosty touches were the lavender mum, then the spearmint plant, followed by the huge yellow mum.  Meanwhile, the seven geraniums persisted and even bloomed again after a later autumnal rain.  If our temperatures were not running twenty to even thirty degrees below average, I am certain those hearty and healthy geraniums would have lasted until Thanksgiving.  Somehow the two lavender (herb) plants survived the first drastic chill, but seem somewhat questionable after this morning’s seventeen degrees with wind chill of eight.  On the other hand, my purple sage plant seems to be a miracle plant–still soft and supple–defying Mother Nature’s cold hands.  At last, my two rosemary plants are still so fragrant and strong in the chilled air.  Rosemary is for remembrance, and I, through these gray days of late autumn and the snowy white days of hard winter, will remember the joy which this container garden gave to me for six months of 2018.  I will happily remember the days of planting, nurturing, watering, touching, and smelling my beautiful garden.  Additionally, I will recall my sweet little garden assistant–my Leader Dog Willow, who also seemed to enjoy the container garden.  Giving my “mini” garden tours and conversing with others about gardening brought other special treats of the season.


Like the rosemary, my little garden has always brought to me the memories of the wonderful and lush gardens of my dad, grandfather, and numerous other relatives and friends.  These gardens of my dad and other family members form a clear and pleasant photograph in my mind.  How grateful I am to have enjoyed the fruits and vegetables of these gardens and to have learned a little about gardening and the love of gardening from my dad!  I recall that in those younger days in Indiana, almost every household of the extended family had a “number three” tub in which was growing rosemary.  Yes, rosemary, with its lasting fragrance, is for remembrance.  Yes, I do remember and am grateful for gardens.


After saying “goodbye” to my garden, I will turn to the preparations for the holiday season.  Then, during the coldest and shortest days of the upcoming Wisconsin winter, I will turn to dreaming of … my container garden of 2019.


With thanks to all of my WORDWALK readers,

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


November 14, 2018, Wednesday


BOOKNOTE:  Please remember that my book The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season begins with three Thanksgiving pieces:  a memoir, a short story, and a how-to with a poem.  These three Thanksgiving pieces are followed by nine Christmas pieces, two “Post-Christmas” pieces, one New Year’s Eve short story, and finally three January pieces.  My 101-page book makes a delightful little gift which I hope will be on your gift-giving list this year.  For additional ordering information, please visit my author’s web page:

Also, you can go directly to Amazon to order print copies of my book.  I am thankful that my holiday book is available on BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download, DBC 08305), in audio, and in braille–as well as in print and e-book formats.


I am thankful to all who have already read and/or ordered copies of my holiday book.




Happy Veterans’ Day!


Happy Veterans’ Day!


Part 2.  A Month–Not Just a Day–of Thanks:  Thankful for Our Veterans


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



On this Veterans’ Day which includes the centennial marking of the end of World War I, I am, as ever, thankful–enormously thankful–to all veterans who have served our country during times of war, conflicts, and peace.  Amidst this extraordinary patriotic group, my dad (James) and his three brothers(Charlie, Johnny, and Jules)–all of whom served in the United States Army, in Europe, during World War II–are especially in my thoughts today.  While my father was in a tank destroyers’ unit at the Battle of the Bulge, cousin Dom Lanzone was among those first paratroopers at that famous battle.  My relatives and I are ever grateful that these brave veterans of our family came home safe and well after the war. Additionally, on this day, I think of family members of younger generations who have served in the US military:  my cousin Dale Hendricks (Army) and my brother-in-law Ric Fanyo (Submarines).  (One nephew and two cousins continue to serve our country.)  A special thanks to all veterans who have served our United States of America!


Yesterday, despite an early morning wind chill of six degrees, the sun did shine on the Milwaukee Veterans’ Day Parade that passed directly in front of my townhouse for one hour and fifteen minutes.  With a display of three United States flags in my front window, I was pleased to stand and listen to this impressive and thought-provoking parade.  When “Thank you for your service” and “God bless you for your sacrifice” seem not enough, I turn to poetry and share with you the following poem from November 11, 2015.


A Poem of Thanks for My Dad on Veterans’ Day:


James F. Massa (1913-1997)


by his younger daughter, with love



Lady Liberty welcomed your parents to this country

and then welcomed you back home, well and free,

to go on with your life,

to leave behind

all the war’s perils and strife.


When your service was completed,

those memories, experiences were not shared–

emblematic of the “Greatest Generation,”

emblematic of the greatest dad.


While there are statues

to some veterans in D.C.,

you–the veteran,

hero, father to me–

who always wore a St. Christopher’s medal

and carried with you throughout the war

and ever after

the good-luck silver dollar

given to you by your mother–

you–the veteran,

hero, father to me–

would never have wanted a statue,

but only a permanent place

in my heart

where your valor and devotion

to family and country

touch my

tears of remembrance

on this Veterans’ Day.



God bless all the veterans and their families!

Thank you for your service!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


November 11, 2018, Sunday



Thankful for Leader Dog Willow


A Month–Not Just a Day–of Thanks


(First in the Series for November, 2018)


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



During the month of November, giving thanks has become a tradition for this WORDWALK blog.  Although I initiated this blog on January 19, 2013, I began this tradition of writing about thanks in November of 2015, when I used the phrases “A Cornucopia of Thanks” and “Altitude of Gratitude.”  In 2016, I began the series “A Month–Not Just a Day–of Thanks” and now continue with this annual series about gratitude.


Throughout this entire month of November, I hope that you also will frequently pause to notice the altitude of your gratitude, season each of your November days with little thanks and big thanks, write your thanks, and speak your thanks.  For many of us, November is a rather gray month; however, when you are at a high altitude of gratitude, you will feel the sunbeams.  Happy November!


Part 1.  Thankful for Leader Dog Willow


How amazing is the heart that, after being so broken, can open so widely to embrace another guide dog!  After the passing of my extraordinary and much beloved third Leader Dog Zoe, I was given my little British Black Labrador Willow.  Despite her smaller stature, her having such big and amazing paws to fill, and her having to contend with some health issues and long-term and ever-changing construction–Willow has been and continues to be a wonderful and remarkable guide dog for me.  Each day, I am immensely thankful for her guide work, patience, politeness, devotion, and love.


On November 2, “The Hop” (the Milwaukee streetcar) officially began taking riders after three years of construction and then several weeks of practice runs without passengers.  Willow adapted very well and quickly to crossing the tracks, as well as crossing an intersection when one of the streetcars is either at her left or right.  On a daily basis, we walk across streets where we must traverse  four tracks during one street crossing.  On some of our less-traveled routes, we take crosswalks each of which has only two tracks.  I am grateful that Willow naturally shifts her pace so that a paw never touches one of the rails:  I know this habit of hers from the observation of sighted people, including a trainer from Leader Dog School.


Besides the traversing of tracks, Willow demonstrated her fine guide-work abilities by how quickly she learned the new “curbless curbs,” about which I have written in other blog posts.  How thankful I am for her adapting to all of the new tactile markings that once were actual curbs!


As I am writing this post, I hear the horn of the trolley sounding from a nearby street.  The horn, bell, and other sounds which the streetcars make have not at all affected Willow’s work and concentration.


One point which I have never mentioned in previous writings is how Willow is so mindful as we approach a driveway as we are walking down a sidewalk.  Not only do I feel her turning her head to look into a parking garage, but I have also noticed her looking back when a vehicle is approaching to turn into the driveway.  Can you imagine how many times she has stopped at driveways when a Milwaukee driver has not?  Oh, yes, I am thankful for my Willow!


While my first two outstanding guide dogs Keller and Heather were patient, they did not achieve the height of patience of Zoe and Willow.  Our world would be a better place if more people had the patience which Willow regularly demonstrates.  When we have to wait in long or slow-moving lines, she is content with my periodically petting her and praising her patience.  When we are at a restaurant and she lies beside my chair and/or under the table for a prolonged period, her behavior is always exemplary.  Sometimes, she watches the happenings at the restaurant; sometimes, she takes a nap.  When I stand to leave, my Leader Dog stands for her praise and next command (direction).  I am very grateful that Willow’s behavior is always so admirable in a variety of circumstances in all public places; I am pleased that my Leader Dog receives many compliments from strangers, acquaintances, and friends.


On our walks, Willow is the most polite of guide dogs and dogs.  (I think she is a magna cum laud graduate of the Miss Manners’ school.)  In a variety of situations, Willow chooses to stop while other pedestrians pass by; my Lab gives this same courtesy to pet dogs.  I am truly amazed at her level of politeness.  Sometimes, I have to explain Willow’s polite manners to other pedestrians:  I am proud and thankful to do so.  On the other hand, I would like to explain politeness that other people should have to these individuals.  For safety reasons, my Lab also stops when a skateboarder or bicyclist is zooming toward us; somehow, Willow also manages to be polite to the runners and joggers who come bounding toward us or zip around us without saying a word.


On a happier note, as both a guide and companion dog, Willow gives me daily the gift of her devotion which is warm, wonderful, special, and much appreciated.  Due to the depth of her devotion, I easily and constantly trust her.  This trust plants me at a very high altitude of gratitude.


From the first day I met Willow at Leader Dog School (Rochester, Michigan), loving her and accepting her as my guide dog thankfully were feelings that came quickly and easily and that endure.  Through work time and play time, Willow and I are always together:  our lives are intertwined.


Once again, I am happy to write that I am enormously grateful to Leader Dogs School for all four of my memorable and magnificent Leader Dogs–Keller (March 21, 1990), Heather (April 15, 1998), Zoe (June 6, 2009), and Willow (June 7, 2016).  Additionally, I abundantly thank all who donate to Leader Dogs for the Blind for helping to make possible these life-changing and life-enhancing Leader Dogs for so many people who are blind and visually impaired.  Forever thanks to the puppy-raisers and professional trainers of Leader Dogs!


God bless all four of my Leader Dogs!  Thanks, Willow, for being my loving and lovely, daily guide and inspiration!


Wishing you a good month of thanks,

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


November 7, 2018, Wednesday


Halloween Song for Children


NOTE:  Halloween Greetings to all!  Since this October 31, 2018, is such a treat of an autumnal day in Milwaukee and since my recent blog posts have been lengthy, this week I am sharing with my WORDWALK readers the Halloween treat of a children’s song of the season.  For a little Halloween fun with the little ones in your life, sing the following lyrics to the tune of “Frere Jacques” (also known as “Brother John” or “Martinillo”).  (A closing note follows the lyrics.)


Trick-or-treat Song


by Auntie Alice


Carving pumpkins,


trick or treat,

trick or treat!


Sing scary like a ghost now–

scary like a ghost now!

BOO to you!

Boo!  Boo!  Boo!


DEDICATION:  The above Halloween song is dedicated to my grand-nieces (Emmy and Lanie) and my grand-nephews (Caden, Tyson, and Trey), as well as to my little cousins (Gracie, Emma, Isabella, Mia, and Luca) and my special friend Harper.


WORDWALK NOTE:  Please return to WORDWALK throughout the month of November for my third annual series entitled “A Month–Not Just a Day–of THANKS.”  Almost always, I post onto my blog each Wednesday evening.  I look forward to your joining me on WORDWALK during the upcoming month of Thanksgiving.


Happy Halloween to all!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


October 31, 2018, Wednesday


Historical Perspectives: October and Shoes


Historical  Perspectives:  October and Shoes


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



Reading local history often helps us to put into perspective national history and, at times, even world history.  In my list of retirement -stage readings, I find that I tend to alternate nonfiction and fiction books.  Usually only a book which is scheduled for one of my book clubs will shift this trend of a fiction book followed by a nonfiction selection.  While I have read a number of books by the prolific, Wisconsin writer Jerry Apps, his WISCONSIN AGRICULTURE: A HISTORY (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2015; Madison, Wisconsin) has especially intrigued me in a variety of ways over the past few days.  You need not be a current or former resident of Wisconsin to enjoy and learn from this outstanding history book.  From one of the book’s charts entitled “Items Rationed During World War II,” I learned that shoes were rationed from February of 1943 through October of 1945.


The thought of rationing of shoes prompted me to recall the first essay which I posted on WORDWALK in January of 2013.  After writing the essay on January 11-12, 2013, I posted the essay on January 19, 2013.  For this re-posting, I have revised the following piece slightly, including the changing of time references to be appropriate from this date of writing.


* * *


Big Shoes on Little Feet


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



Clippity-clop.  Clippity-clop.  The approximately three-year-old child was trying as hard as an Olympic competitor to keep up with her impatient, young mother.  The scene unfurled in front of me as my second guide dog Heather and I walked down the State Street sidewalk toward the Big Lake—Lake Michigan.  The obviously too big shoes for the little feet were tugging at my heart strings and my wallet.  How I wanted to buy the little girl a pair of shoes of the perfect size!


As I walked with my Leader Dog, I wondered how I could approach the young mother who was assuredly in a hurry.  What exactly would I say?  As a teacher for most of my adult life, I was accustomed to telling people what to do, offering suggestions of what to do, counseling individuals.  Fortunately or unfortunately, my thrusting out my opinions was never limited to the classroom:  A need to teach has always exuded from my being whenever and wherever circumstances arose.  Nevertheless, on this one occasion with the clippity-clop reverberating in front of me, I could not step into the scene.  I just thought:  I did not act.


Although I am blessed with having few regrets in my life, just observing and not entering this scene is one of my regrets.  Even though this incident occurred about a dozen years ago, the scene periodically replays in my mind.  Was the young mother taking the little girl to the park?  Was the mother taking her daughter to day-care before hurrying to a job or job interview?  I thought I would meet them again sometime on a walk, but I never have.  I have only met my regrets.


When my sister Mary Elizabeth and I were young, our parents took us either to McCoy Shoe Store (on the square of Paris, Illinois) or to Horning and Hahn (a shoe store in Terre Haute, Indiana).  At both stores, my feet were carefully measured to insure a good fit on my growing feet.  Although the people at McCoy’s were quite nice, I especially enjoyed going to the shoe store in Terre Haute because it had a life-size, beautifully-painted, wooden horse I could ride back and forth, back and forth.


Growing up, I always had at least a pair of play shoes and a pair of dress shoes that were well-fitted.  Additionally, my cousin Carole had patent leather tap shoes and shiny pink ballet slippers.  Of course, we had house slippers and boots also.  I do remember having a pair of boots that seemed a bit too large for my feet; however, I never experienced trying to walk quickly in shoes that were so very much bigger than my feet as the little girl on State Street.


At the onset of another “Milwaukee Gray Season” (late autumn and winter), I do make resolutions.  One of my resolutions for this upcoming “Gray Season” is to live the next six months without regrets.  Finding a way to offer help to someone who needs help is a wonderful path to walk and avoid regrets during any season.  I wonder if that little girl is now in high school.  I wonder if she is now walking in perfectly-sized jogging shoes.  I wonder how she is doing, and I hope that she is living her days with happy feet and a happy heart—with no regrets.


* * *


BOOKNOTE:  Besides being available in print (322 pages), the book which I mentioned in the introduction of this WORDWALK post is available in digitally recorded format for patrons of the National Library Service (NLS) of the Library of Congress as DBC 04745.(13 hours, 21 minutes).  I hope you will enjoy reading WISCONSIN AGRICULTURE:  A HISTORY, by Jerry Apps.


PAW-NOTE:  In my essay, you read about my second of four Leader Dogs, Heather, whose birthday was October 22, 1996.  This Yellow Lab was my guide dog from April 15, 1998, until June 6, 2009–the day that Leader Dog Zoe came into our lives and the day when Heather officially retired from guide work.  Then, for thirteen months, I was blessed with two Leader Dogs–one retired and one active guide dog.  Having Heather and Zoe together gave me some of the happiest days and months of my life.


With thanks for reading WORDWALK,

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


October 24, 2018, Wednesday


Leader Dog Willow Celebrates Fifth Birthday!


Leader Dog Willow Celebrates Her Fifth Birthday


by Granting an Interview


NOTE:  On this WORDWALK blog post, I am including the transcript of Leader Dog Willow’s interview on Face the Dog Nation.  For her fifth birthday, Willow decided that rather than her usual press conference, she would sit down for a one-on-one interview, conducted by Face the Dog Nation‘s own John Dogerson.  Thanks to Face the Dog Nation for sharing with me the following transcript.  –Alice Massa


* * *


John Dogerson:  Welcome to Face the Dog Nation, and Happy fifth birthday!


Leader Dog Willow:  Oh, thank you.  You are PAWticularly kind.  As you know, my birthday is October 19.  My mother’s name is Holly, and my father’s name is Sergeant.  They are PAWticularly proud of their British Black Labrador’s becoming a Leader Dog.  My alma mater is Leader Dog School, in Rochester, Michigan, where I first met Alice on June 7, 2016.  Although she was still sad about the passing of her third Leader Dog, Zoe, Alice welcomed me into her life with lots of love and special attention.  I knew that the trainers at Leader Dog School made a good match.  Alice and I immediately got along very well.


John Dogerson:  How long did the two of you train together?


Willow:  Before I met Alice, I worked with a professional trainer for four months after I learned so much from my puppy-raisers.  Then, Alice and I trained together at the school for three weeks with GDMI (Guide Dog Mobility Instructor) Christie Bane.  Next, we went to a big airport in Detroit, and I flew in a jet to Milwaukee.  Although I was very good on the airplane, Alice still says that she has resumed her retirement from flying.


John Dogerson:  What did you notice was most different about your new hometown of Milwaukee?


Willow:  Construction!  Alice had mentioned construction to me, and I heard the trainers talking about construction.  The trainers picked me for Alice because I was what is called a “city dog” and a “sound dog.”  That is, I have a very calm demeanor for dealing with city life, traffic, loud noises, and construction.  Alice is extremely grateful that I have been able to deal with all of the ever-changing construction from our first day together here to just recently.


John Dogerson:  What have you learned in the past year–since your previous birthday?


Willow:  Each stage of the three-year construction project for the streetcar has brought new challenges.  My predecessor, Zoe, worked through the initial phase of construction from September of 2015, until her passing on March 16, 2016.  Then, I took over the guiding of Alice for the remaining more than two years of construction.  All of my education and training were put to very good use on a daily basis.  During the previous several months, I had to re-learn the new “curbless curbs” which have tactile markings.


John Dogerson:  Can you explain what these tactile markings are?


Willow:  Alice calls them “bumpies.”  They are raised bumps in the sidewalk for indicating tactually where one should stop before a street crossing.  After all the dirt and debris from the construction washed away, Alice has been able to feel these bumps through her jogging shoes.  She tells me, “Willow, find the curb and bumpies.”  When I stop just in front of the patch of tactile markings, Alice is very happy and, as she is swiping her shoe over the bumps, praises me, “Bumpies, good dog!  What a good dog!”  Of course, when snow covers these tactile markings this winter, I will have some new challenges; but I know that I will receive the highest of praise when I find in the snow my marks for stopping before a street crossing.


John Dogerson:  What about all of those new tracks in the streets?  How do you approach the tracks which are embedded into the asphalt?


Willow:  Last November, a trainer from Leader Dog School came to check how I was doing with crossing over the tracks.  Like my Aunt Mary observed, GDMI John Bertram confirmed that I was shifting–and still do shift–my pace so that not one of my paws ever touches one of the four tracks or any of the gaps beside the tracks as we cross a street.  So, as I am guiding Alice, I do not stop at each track:  we proceed at a safe  and smooth pace across the tracks and street to the next “curbless curb” and tactile markings, where I receive more praise and a “Charlie Bear” (small, dry, dog treat which I love).  Then, Alice gives me my next command to go “Forward” or “Forward, right {or left}.”  We like to walk at least forty blocks a day, and often walk more–even fifty-four blocks in a day.


John Dogerson:  Have you learned any new English words lately?


Willow:  Oh, yes!  In the evening and at night, in September, the streetcar made trial runs; then, on October 1, the streetcars began their full schedule–but with no passengers.  Every time we walk alongside one of these streetcars, Alice tells me the new English word “trolley.”  As with most important words, I learned this new word very quickly and well.  Although I had lived in Alabama and Michigan, I had never before seen a trolley.  I have learned many new things during this past year and know that I will have much to learn during the upcoming Wisconsin winter.


John Dogerson:  I do not want to bring up a touchy subject, but I do recall that you were not too happy with the fallen autumn leaves in 2016 and 2017.  Do you have a comment?


Willow:  Yes, I will admit that leaves of the autumnal, dancing variety were a particular challenge for me; however, I am very pleased to say that I have matured in the Leaf Department.  This autumn, I am not at all bothered by those autumnal projectiles.  My mama, Alice, is especially proud of me.


John Dogerson:  Good to know!  Congratulations!  Now, I understand that you have a PAWticular concern you wish to mention.


Willow:  Absolutely!  In the past eighteen months to two years, Alice has noticed that more pedestrians have no idea that I am a guide dog.  This number is more than the entire number from her previous 26 years of working with guide dogs combined.  How can this be?  Aren’t Sesame Street and other children’s programming teaching what a guide dog is?  Mr. Dogerson, please help us to spread the word that the kind of special harness I wear indicates that I am a guide dog who is professionally trained to lead a person who is blind or visually impaired.  People should realize the immensely important work that I am doing.  I am honored to be a Leader Dog and am still waiting patiently for my blue ribbon from the mayor for all the challenges which I have met during this streetcar project.


John Dogerson (reaching under his desk):  I have a birthday surprise for you.  A birthday cake with an edible blue ribbon!  From all of us here at Face the Dog Nation, HAPPY FIFTH BIRTHDAY!


[Willow wags and thumps her tail, tilts her head slightly, and seems to have a “Labbie” smile on her beautifully expressive face.]


* * *


POST-SCRIPT:  If you have a question for Willow, please post your question in the comments section.  I think Willow will agree to answer your questions.


With loving, daily, and tremendous gratitude to my Leader Dog Willow,




October 17, 2018, Wednesday(two days before the big birthday!)


Zinnias for My Grandmother


NOTE:  Since I posted a new essay about my maternal grandfather last week, I decided, for this week’s post, to slightly revise a piece which I posted about my maternal grandmother and which I first posted on WORDWALK on September 25, 2013–the 130th anniversary of her birth.  To my amazement, I realized that today–October 10, 2018–is the 40th anniversary of Grandma Store’s passing.


Zinnias for My Grandma on the 40th Anniversary of Her Passing


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



Even before my memory began, my one set of grandparents became known as “Grandma and Grandpa Farm” and my maternal grandmother as “Grandma Store.”  You guessed correctly:  My grandparents lived on a small farm; and my grandmother, whose husband died long before I was born, owned and operated a grocery store.  Thinking of my Grandma Store on this 40th anniversary of her passing on October 10, 1978—I am astonished that in my youth, I spent so much time with someone who was born in 1883.


My memories begin to fade in when I was five and my grandmother was already 72 years of age (amazingly, just one year older than my sister is now).  Of course, to me, as a very young child, my grandma always seemed very old.  Nevertheless, as she had done for so many years, she was still working in the store—waiting on longtime customers.  Unlike most women of her era, Grandma Store was a businesswoman.  I can picture her behind the oak counter, beside the adding machine—which she never used because she preferred to add up the items of a bill in her head.  She was always wearing a mid-calf dress of black or gray print, with what appeared to me as the oldest-fashioned shoes to be made in the 1950s and 1960s.  The only other color I ever remember her wearing was a dark green sweater—except for the ever-present white, starched apron.  Throughout all these years of my memory of her, her long black hair, streaked with gray, was woven into one long braid and then twisted into a bun at the nape of her neck.  Large tortoise-shell pins held her bun in place at the back of her head.  I do not think she ever wore make-up, but she had few wrinkles and often had naturally rosy cheeks.  At that time, most older people I knew had false teeth; and I knew my grandma did also.  Dark-framed glasses covered her dark brown eyes so that she could clearly read all the obituaries in The Daily Clintonian.


On September 25, 1883, in the northern Italian village of Levone, Stefano and Lidia named their baby Domenica Marianna Allice.  Almost 67 years later, my parents named me after my maternal grandmother’s maiden name:  thus, the Italian surname “Allice” became my first name “Alice.”  I have always thought that, perhaps, I am the only “Alice” named after the Italian surname “Allice” because this surname is not at all common in the United States.


Sadly, I know little of my grandmother’s young life in Italy.  When she was twenty years of age, my grandfather, who had been in the United states from 1896 to 1903, returned to Italy to marry Domenica.  Then, the young married couple set sail from Le Havre, France, on the ship La Touraine, for America and arrived in New York on August 28, 1903.  When Domenica Mariana went through Ellis Island, she became “Minnie.”  Upon landing in the United States, the young couple had $80.


After leaving their homeland—Levone and Cuneo, located in northern Italy—Domenica (Minnie) and Martino (Martin) first settled in Clinton, Indiana, and later created their home and businesses in the small rural town of Blanford, Indiana.  After the early deaths of their first two sons (one who died in infancy and one who died at age five), my grandparents were blessed with four healthy children—all of whom lived long lives.  In 1908, my grandmother gave birth to Zita; then, Peter (1910), Lydia (1912), and Mary (1914) followed.  In addition to the joy of these four children, my grandmother must have enjoyed music because my grandfather played a brass instrument in a local (Clinton) band.


After establishing the grocery store in the early 1900s, my grandparents started an Italian bakery in 1914, the year of my mother’s birth.  My grandfather was the baker, in charge of the large, brick oven from where he took the crusty loaves of Italian bread and long, crispy breadsticks.  Despite the sudden loss of this husband, father, and baker in 1935—the family went on with the bakery until 1942.  At that time, my grandmother and her son Pete continued operating only the grocery store for the next four decades.  In March of 1982, Uncle Pete closed the grocery store for the final time.  Throughout all those years of having the family business, my grandparents helped numerous neighbors and extended credit to so many people—long before a credit card was even imagined.


Since my grandfather was not only the bread baker, but also placed other main meals in the brick oven, my grandmother was not really known for her cooking skills.  Nevertheless, I remember many family members gathered around her big oak table for Thanksgiving dinner.  I distinctly recall so much lively talking that I thought I, as a young child, would never get a word into the conversation.


Although my grandmother spoke English well, she naturally continued to speak Italian also.  We were equally embarrassed and amused by my grandmother’s shifting from English to Italian to tell a family member something about the customer who had just entered the store.


Despite some of her unusual ways, Grandma was quite tolerant of my cousin Carole and my making the store one of our favorite “playgrounds”—a place where we played many imaginary games, ate orange push-ups and penny candy, investigated new and old merchandise, and giggled through girlhood.  Rarely reprimanding us, Grandma was either quite patient or managed to overlook our antics.


Grandma’s two-story building was not only a playground for me, it was also a refuge during thunderstorms.  When my dad was working an overnight shift as a firefighter, my mother took my older sister and me to Grandma’s building each time an electrical storm popped up in the middle of the night.  I could never understand why we left our cozy house in the midst of a storm to go to Grandma’s big building.  Whether we slept in Grandma’s bed or on the roll-away bed in the living room, her very tall windows supplied a panoramic view of the lightning-streaked sky.  However, Grandma never complained about the midnight guests nor her adult daughter’s unusual fear of thunderstorms.  Grandma just quietly and calmly welcomed us into her home behind the store.


Before I was born, the four bedrooms on the second story had been used, along with a spacious dance hall.  Throughout my early youth, the only upstairs bedroom which was occasionally used was the first room at the right of the top of the extremely long stairway; the three other large bedrooms and the dance hall were only used for storing some items and for our exploring.  During the years I knew Grandma, her bedroom (which had once been a parlor) was always on the main floor—in a room off the kitchen/living area.


As my Grandma Store aged and my cousin Carole and I became an age of double digits, we thought that we should be waiting on customers.  We tried to urge Grandma to sit in the back of the store—beside the large, wooden refrigerator—or in her own living area.  Waiting on customers was much easier than convincing Grandma to stay aside while we turned our well-practiced “playing store” into real transactions.


The store was my grandmother’s life.  After traveling all the way from Italy to Indiana, she never returned to “the old country.”  Only once did she take a long road trip:  after the death of her brother, my dad (her son-in-law) drove her to Pennsylvania so that she could attend the funeral.  Otherwise, she only left the store building to go to the homes of nearby relatives—but not often.


Once when my mother was driving my grandmother, my cousin Carole, and me back home from a visit to the farm of Grandma’s second daughter, the local deputy sheriff of St. Bernice decided that my mother was driving too fast for Highway 71.  I was astonished that my mother was pulled over by a law enforcement officer, but Grandma Store quickly converted into an award-winning actress to save her youngest daughter from receiving a ticket.  With a fine mixture of Italian and English, my grandmother very dramatically intoned: “Oh, my!  Oh, my!  I am so sick—so sick.  What a bad headache I have!  Oh, Marina, I need to go home.”  Well, that deputy took one look at my seemingly sick grandmother and gave my speedy mother only a quick verbal warning.  As soon as we drove away from the St. Bernice official, my cousin and I could no longer contain our laughter.  To the dismay of my mother and the grand-actress, my cousin and I laughed uproariously.


On summer evenings, Grandma would sit on a metal lawn chair on the lawn between the store building and her son’s home.  She watch the cars go by, neighbors walk by, and cars park in the lot of her eldest daughter’s Italian restaurant.  During spring and summer days, she sometimes left her store and residence to tend to her zinnias that grew in two flower beds bordered by diagonally placed upright bricks.  One bed of zinnias was to the east of the water pump, and one was to the west of the pump.  Besides the larger zinnias, Grandma had nurtured some zinnias of a smaller variety; her flowers were a myriad of autumn colors.  I have always equated these sturdy flowers with my grandmother.


During the seasons of giving, Grandma’s gift-giving policy was strict:  whatever she gave to one adult child, she gave to all.  The same held true for all the grandchildren.  For example, all her daughters and her daughter-in-law were given Hudson Bay blankets; then, there was the time when each received an electric mixer and then a mangle (large appliance for ironing).  While Grandma Store gave much, she guarded much also:  although cash was at easy access in the store’s wooden cash register and in the large safe in the storage room, Grandma always kept a close watch on her purse.  On many birthdays, each grandchild’s gift was a savings bond.


While in the final two decades of her life, Grandma Store did not want any of us to divulge her age.  If one of us began to mention Grandmother’s age, she would bring her index finger to her mouth and hush any comment about her specific age with a shake of her head.


When in the ‘60s and ‘70s, shouts of women’s liberation rang through the land, I was not too affected because my grandmother and all of my aunts (from both sides of the family) had always been prime examples of “working women,” of women who were modern before the more turbulent eras.  My grandmother was a strong woman who raised three very strong daughters who were extraordinarily close with each other and their one brother.  In the final years of my Grandmother’s life, her four surviving children cared for their mother.  Although my mother had a full-time job, she rarely missed driving fifteen minutes (over a road with one lane of gravel and the other of bricks) to the nursing home to visit her mother.


Shortly after my Grandmother’s 95th birthday, she passed away on October 10, 1978.  I only wish I had asked her many more questions about her young life in Italy and her early years in America.


Residing in Wisconsin since 1991, I wish I could return to Indiana more often.  When my sister and I returned to Indiana in July of 2013 (among other times), we went to the cemetery to pay our respects at my grandparents’ graves.  Although we placed a bouquet of silk flowers on Grandma Store’s grave, I wish we had placed there for her a bouquet of

fresh-cut zinnias.  With this essay about my Grandma Store, I send to her a bouquet of “virtual” zinnias.


POST-SCRIPT:  In my mother’s address book, we have found much more than addresses, birthdates, and anniversaries—we have found some dates and information that I have used in this essay and in some of my other writings.  Although my mother did not keep a diary nor a journal, I do appreciate all the family information which she did diligently record over many years.


From trying to write personal narratives about my family tree, I have learned again and again one very important lesson which I want to impress upon each reader:  ask your oldest family members all the questions that you can about your family’s history; and in whatever mediums possible, record those family memories.  As you enjoy the present, keep in touch with the precious moments of the past!


Wishing you happy memories and time to record them,

Alice (one of eight grandchildren of Grandma Store) and Leader Dog Willow


October 10, 2018, Wednesday