Saturday, January 30, 2010

Keeping animals and Trichinosis

Dear Nonnie,

Aunt Fran rung the necks of chickens. She cut the main artery in the necks of pigs, letting the blood flow out into a bucket to save for blood pudding. “She knew just where to cut. It was usually at Christmastime, because that is when we would eat the blood pudding. Most people think it sounds disgusting, but they don’t know how delicious it is. Oh what I wouldn’t do for some right now. When it is cooked, it becomes a lot thicker, and she would put the spices in and give it some flavor. It really is quite delicious. It has been a long time since I had such a treat.”

Nonna, your very large family kept many animals you told me. “That is how we made it through the Depression. We never went hungry. We had the garden and we had the animals. Fresh eggs from the chickens, fresh milk from the goats. The goat’s milk saved my life when I contracted the Trichinosis. I drank that everyday to keep my strength up. I am sure that is what saved me. When pork is not cooked properly or thoroughly the germ from the Trich is still alive and can get inside of you.” She often called the disease “Trich”. It took many years of listening to these stories to figure out what Trich was. You told me so much starting when I was very young.

The stories fascinated me, they still do. That’s why I am hurrying to write. Your voice is still in my head, exactly as you told me these things. I want to preserve that voice as best as I can.

Many of your brothers and sisters died before you. But somehow you survived. You were a miracle child. It did not seem that you were strong but you were. Or maybe it was the daily visits from Poppie that saved you.

In bed for a year with trichinosis, Poppie visiting and winning over Aunt Fran and Uncle Phil’s hearts. “They must have seen that he was a good boy, because they let him in to see me. I told him, ‘Why do you come here? Go away! I don’t need your pity.’ But he stayed and kept coming everyday on the bus, out to our house in the Columbia County countryside. We didn’t have a phone. It was a long distance. He said, ‘I don’t have pity.’ He would just sit and talk to me. He had made up his mind that he was going to marry me no matter how many times I said no. I didn’t even know him.”

On Halloween, I sang Salve Regina at our high school. He came outside afterwards to talk to me. I knew he was on the basketball team, and wrote for the newspaper, he was two years older than me. His younger brother Jack had passed away from a burst appendix. But I didn’t him very well. He said that I sung beautifully. Back then we had paper straws to drink with and he took one of those and made it into a ring. He said, “I’m going to marry you,” and he put that paper straw ring on my finger, just like that. I thought, this guy is crazy. I said, ‘You’re crazy. I will not marry you. I am only 17 years old and I am planning on going to school to become a nurse.’ I also had the dream of becoming a nun. I was just a girl. 17 years old. He just repeated, “I’m going to marry you.” I laughed. I didn’t take him very seriously, but he talked about the future and what he was planning. He was going to put a few dollars in the bank and save it for our wedding. He was planning his career as a journalist. He was confident about that.

I remember later on when I was scared about what we would do. We had nothing back then. But he talked me through the finances and how he knew we could make it on his meager salary writing a sports column for the paper. He had plans for getting his Masters, for getting a higher position in Journalism. It was his passion. Always was. He put my mind at ease. In the bank, he put away a few meager dollars , but I knew that it would be okay.

* * *

While I walking down the aisle of St. Mary’s Church, I was thinking, “What the hell am I doing?” I was getting married and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. All those dreams of going to school to become a nurse. Or becoming a nun.

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