Nataline “Nora” Saraceni was born, Nataline Chicklo on June 15, 1914 in Pennsylvania. Her mother and father, my great grandparents, were Italian immigrants. When “Nora” was 15 years old, her mother died. She was taken out of school and brought home to help care for her father and 6 brothers and sisters. I remember her telling me she was only educated through about the 8th grade. Her simple life of giving and serving others started at such a young age. As far as I’m concerned…it didn’t end until the day she died.
My memories of her…so many…too many to write about. The earliest ones are sweet and simple. She was beautiful. I have a photo of her that was taken when she was about 18 or 19 years old. She’s wearing a summer type short outfit, and let me tell you…she had great legs. Even in her 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, the women had great legs.
Whenever I’d give her a hug and a kiss, she smelled of Emeraude cologne and Oil Of Olay. I was priveleged to grow up with my grandparents living close by. My sister and I would frequently spend weekends at Grandmas house.
To me, Grandmas house always smelled like pasta and coffee. We would sleep on clean, crisp cotton sheets and wake to Cream of Wheat and butterd Roman Meal toast for breakfast. I loved listening to my grandma talking on their one, black, rotary dial telephone at the end of the hallway. She use to play checkers with us, taught us to play Black Jack, and a game she called “Piggy” that I swear she made up just to keep us busy.
She used to cut my hair with a razor. Boy did that hurt…not to mention looked terrible. I have many childhood pictures of me with “Grandma haircuts”.
She loved garage sales, and would have them herself quite frequently. I attribute this to her being a product of the Depression Era. She saved absolutely everything. If she found some value in what she was saving, she would carefully wrap it in tissue paper and place it in a plastic bag. After her death we found many things in plastic bags. A few years ago she blessed me with a wonderful gift. Her wedding dress. It’s a beautiful, off white, 1930’s style dress. It was much too small for anyone to ever wear again. My grandma was a tiny little thing. When she gave it to me, it was wrapped in tissue paper and placed in a plastic bag…and just as lovely as ever.
She worked in her garden, and washed down her front driveway with the hose all the time. She loved to keep up “apperances”, even in their tiny, 1950’s crackerbox house in Santa Ana.
Oh my…so many of my Grandma memories include food.
Summertime meant weekends at Grandmas house. She’d make us K-Mart ham sandwiches on buttered hamburger buns. We’d take them along with potato chips to Balboa Beach for a picnic in the sun. My Grandpap would fish off the Balboa pier.
I have to say that Nora was an amazing Italian cook. I’m sure her culinary perfections were handed down from generations past. I always knew what to ask Grandma to cook for a birthday dinner. Potato Gnocchi of course. She made the best. It was a family affair with all of us at the table to “dig out” the little dumplings.
She also made the best meatballs I’ve ever had in my entire life. I asked her for her recipe once. Yet when I’ve made them, they taste nothing like hers.
She was also know for her Pizzells. Lacy Italian cookies with a hint of orange zest, sprinkled with powdered sugar. I’ve purchased a Pizzell iron, and I use her recipe, yet once again…nothing compared to hers.
Everything was a cooking lesson with Grandma. She liked to call my sisters and I into the kitchen while she was cooking to see if we wanted to help. I seemed to like this less and less as I entered my teen years. She would call us in to give us a lesson in the “proper” way to dish up Jello. Or, instruction on how to chop up a Zuccini. Being a teenager, her particular attention to the proper things in life frustrated me, and I would turn down her requests to join her in the kitchen. How I would give anything to go back there and spend more of that priceless cooking lesson time with her. I sure could use it now.
My mother and sisters and I were looking through my grandma’s things after her death. We came across a collection of handwritten recipes that she had tucked away. Some of them on scraps of old, yellowed paper…definitely in her own hand writing. A pinch of this…a dash of that. What a treasure for us to find.
The other day I asked my mom to tell me about the various jobs my grandma had worked in her lifetime. A glass factory in Pennsylvania. A coat factory in California. A heart valve manufacturer, as well as a business that delivered food to the military PX.
But the one job she worked that I have a vivid memory of, was when she sold Sarah Coventry jewlery. Now, for those of you who don’t remember this, back in the day, Sarah Coventry jewlery was “da bomb” of costume jewlery. All the soap opera stars wore it. Now my grandma could sell iceboxes to Eskimos and Arugula to hungry wolves.(hello…garage sales) Therefore, she was one of the top Sarah Coventry sellers in the state…maybe even in the nation. I was the proud owner of much of this jewlery as I was growing up. We always got it for birthdays and Christmas. I’m happy to say I now own a few more pieces. I’ll keep them forever.
There is so much more I could write. So many memories. I know why it’s taken me so long to write about my grandma Nora. It’s just hard. I miss her so much. I know I’ll see her again, but I miss her now.
Who knows…maybe I’ll post a treasured recipe.
Nataline “Nora” Saraceni 1914 – 2008