One of my Grandfather’s greatest pleasures and talents was his green thumb, which, because he was so tanned, I’d jokingly refer to as his “Italian Brown Thumb.” In the mid-seventies, when he came to live with us in Roxborough, my father and uncles made a small garden patch for him at the side of the house, and every inch yielded vegetables, plants, and flowers – there wasn’t a seed which wouldn’t grow for him. Grandpop’s favorites included the Italian herbs, oregano, parsley, basil, and rosemary. His summer harvest yielded far more than we and our neighbors needed, so he decided to dry the herbs and bottle them for use during winter months. He’d methodically cut the herbs, wash them gently, and then string each leaf with needle and thread in a long strand, hanging them on the clothesline, rigged up from our garage door to the end of our driveway. The herbs which dried best were oregano and basil.
The neighborhood kids knew exactly what my grandfather’s herbs resembled, so the rumor spread that Grandpop Archie, as he was known to the entire neighborhood by then, was growing pot. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I finally told him why he’d see kids pointing at the clothesline, waving at him, and giving him the thumbs-up sign. He let out a roar of laughter when he realized what the kids thought. After Grandpop acquired this knowledge, the bumper crop increased one hundredfold.
Today, on the anniversary of his death, I went to the cemetery, fresh basil and oregano in hand. Defying cemetery rules, I furtively spread the herbs across his name on the gravestone and placed some at the base of the tombstone. I spread the rest among my parents’, uncles’ and aunt’s graves. Perhaps some bold seeds would take root.
I smiled through my tears.
The cemetery is full of Italians. They will keep my secret safe.
Linda M. Romanowski is a resident of Ardmore, Pennsylvania. She traces her roots to South and Northwest Philadelphia. Linda obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree from Rosemont College in Psychology and Elementary Education. She is currently enrolled in Rosemont’s MFA program, specializing in Creative Non-Fiction. Her primary focus is portraying her experience of her Italian heritage. She joined the Rosemont Alumni Board in 2008, where she is presently the President Elect, following her role as Secretary. Linda and her husband Ken have served as presenters for Pre-Cana marriage preparation sessions since 1982. She is an active parishioner of St. Denis Parish in Havertown, PA, primarily involved in their adult choir. Her interests include a passion for art, in its various forms, and a reverence for the beauty and the limitlessness of the written word.