Cesari Street (A Grandma Gallo Memory)

Grandma explained to us that it was a tradition to give a gift to the priest who says your spouse’s funeral mass.  So just before she left for a trip to Italy with four of her grandchildren, Grandma asked Father Peter, who said Grandpa’s funeral mass just eight months earlier, what she could get him while on her trip.  His wish was for a green vestment from Rome.  He told us that even with the internet, it is still hard to get a true Roman vestment unless you go there yourself. 

Having been to Rome before, I knew there was a street lined with shops for such things – a Fifth Avenue for holy types.  Complete with mannequins dressed in nun’s outfits in the windows.  

My brother found this hard to believe and so decided to join me and Grandma on this expedition.  Unfortunately, we timed our visit to Cesari Street just in time for the afternoon closing period they have all over Italy.  Sometime after lunch most shops close for a couple hours.  So we found the only shop on the street that stayed open and perused the racks, but found nothing to our liking. 

Jeffrey had seen enough at this point and decided he’d like to spend some more time doing one of the things he most admired the Italians for – relaxing in a piazza, a cup of wine in hand, watching the people go by. So he told us when we were done to just come find him in the nearby square.

When the shops finally reopened, Grandma and I found a store filled with vestments of every color.  The walls were lined with clothing racks – the lower racks we could reach, the upper racks could only be accessed by climbing a ladder.   We paged through the green vestments and tried to decide if we wanted gold embroidered grapes or an embroidered lamb. 

After a few minutes, a small, old Italian woman came over to us and asked if she could help.  Grandma, in fluent Italian, told her what we were looking for.  As happened all over Italy every time Grandma spoke Italian, the woman got very excited and asked where my grandmother was from.  She declared “Brooklyn, New York.”  And then, as usually happened, the woman asked how she knew Italian.  My grandmother explained that her mother was from Avellino.  “Ahhhhhhhhh, Avellino!!”   We learned earlier that my grandmother speaks a dialect of Italian that only those from the Naples region speak.  The dialect is dying off – it’s spoken mostly now just among the older generations.  In fact, when we went to visit our Italian relatives, our cousin was brought to tears at hearing my grandmother speak.  

Grandma and the owner of the shop continued their conversation.  Between the Italian CD’s I had listened to before the trip and hearing this same conversation numerous times at this point, I was able to follow along.  My grandmother explained that she was here with four of her sixteen grandchildren. 

“Sixteen?!”  The woman looked at grandma.  “How old are you?” she demanded. 

In true Grandma Gallo fashion, Grandma asked, “How old do you think I am?”  Like everyone else to whom my grandmother posed this question, the woman said Grandma looked to be in her 60’s.  Thrilled to hear it again, my grandmother stated that she was 82.  

This wasn’t the first or even the fifth time my grandmother had this conversation on this trip.  But here’s where this conversation differed from all the others:  At hearing my grandmother was 82, the storekeeper’s mouth dropped open and she hugged both me and my grandmother while saying over and over again, “Complementi, complementi!!” Then, she went behind the counter to get her husband.  She told him our story and he did the same – big hugs between shouts of “complementi, complementi!”  

Now we were “in.”  The woman climbed a ladder and started pulling down more vestments for us – each more glittering and more expensive than the next.  Thankfully, Grandma and I had pre-determined our spending limit and we had the woman bring down three dazzling garments.  We deliberated for a time and made our decision.

I pulled out my credit card.  The husband stopped to point out the discount he had given to me and my grandmother. Grandma then decided she also wanted to purchase a statue for my mother and that these people were the ones from whom we should purchase it.  Once again, the husband showed us the discount he had given us and we, once again, thanked him.

Two hours after we entered the shop, we emerged, wrapped packages in hand, and went to find my brother.  We found him in the piazza – content as could be.  “What took you two so long?” he asked.  We started to tell him the story.  Then my grandmother decided that Jeffrey must meet the shopkeepers, so back to the shop we went.  

My grandmother introduced her grandson to the shopkeepers, and Jeffrey was promptly greeted with big hugs and shouts of “Complementi, complementi!”   Laughing and eyes rolling, Jeffrey wondered what happened in here. 

After 99 years on the planet, Grandma Gallo has left this world to have more adventures with her husband of 60 years. She showed me, over and over again, that it’s true what they say about traveling: our memories are rarely of the planned things, but of the unplanned. May we all have a life as rich with memories as she did.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Dominic Bonavolonta says:

    Again, great story! So sorry to hear about your grandmother. It seems like she had a full life.

  2. Ursula says:

    Beautiful, wonderful story. I shall be smiling all day. Thank you.

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