The nonnas wash, iron, and pack  clothing  that their grandchildren have outgrown. Every couple of months, they go to the post office and mail the shorts, shirts, and skirts to relatives, no matter how distant, who live in Naples, Sicily, Calabria, or, as they call it, “on the other side.”

And now the clothes are reappearing  on children  “on this side,” at the candy store, in the grocery store, and — most important — across the alley.  Families from Italy, through the efforts of religious and civic organizastions, are making their way  from their war-torn villages to the States, to New York City, to South Brooklyn.

The grandchildren round up the new arrivals for games of kick-the-can, ring-o-levio, and tag. Horsing around requires no fluency in English. Older guys show the boys how to construct a scooter out of  a fruit crate, a small slab of wood, and a set of skate wheels. The girls are welcome to bounce a Spaldeen, jump rope, and play pottsy. Their  fathers find construction jobs through the help of  friends, nephews, compari, or cousins.  The work requires no fluency in English.

It’s different for the children’s mothers, homebound, baffled by the language, and too shy to ask for help.  They sigh, relieved, whenever they meet  a nonna in a non-Italian  store. And as curt as each nonna is toward the other nonnas, they are all bundles of patience  and feel their day is a good one  if they can help a mother make sense of  “doing shopping.”

Through the open windows the words of “Cuore ‘NGrata”  and other Neapolitan songs waft from the new arrivals’ apartments across the alley. The nonnas enjoy the serenade while they sip their afternoon coffee. Their talk turns first to dinner. “I’m doing pork chops tonight.”

Then their talk turns to the music and the Italian station, and the programs  the new families enjoy.

“Maybe we should try the Italian station at night, even if  the kids don’t like it,” one suggests. But the others appear not to hear her as they rise, straighten their front aprons, and make their way home to start dinner.

That evening after the dishes are done and the front aprons put in the hamper, the alley is silent. Then, as if at a given signal, Italian songs fill the air.  Each nonna, unbeknownst to the others, has  tuned her radio to the Italian station. The nonnas do not turn off their radios or tune into a show on CBS, instead they continue to listen to  the music.

In one apartment, a surprised son-in-in-law, moved by the music,  says “Ma, this song — I listened to it with  my buddies when we were stationed in Italy.”

Throughout the alley, the music continues very late into the night.

The following day, the nonnas meet on the corner on their way to clean the Church. Each has listened to the entire show the night  before, but no one brings it up. Instead, they talk about the weather.

Pork Chops With Wine and Sage

Serves four

  • 6 loin pork chops, 3/4-inch thick
  • 4 tablespoons  flour
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2  cloves garlic, quartered
  • 6 sage leaves
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  1. Mix flour with salt and pepper.
  2. Dredge chops in seasoned flour.
  3. Heat oil in skillet; add chops.
  4. Add garlic and sage leaves.
  5. Over medium heat, brown chops well on each side.
  6. Add wine; cook over high heat until wine is reduced by half.
  7. Cover; simmer over low heat 15 minutes, or until chops are cooked through.



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