Mom wound her way down the long hill on Conrad Street to the traffic light at Midvale Avenue in front of the Free Library of Philadelphia, East Falls Branch. I could smell the greasy hamburgers cooking from the Gino’s fast-food restaurant just a few yards away. We were on our way up Henry Avenue to the Sacred Heart nuns to pick up some hand-me-downs. I didn’t sleep well for the third night in a row after nightmares about Barnabas Collins. Grandmom had been letting me watch “Dark Shadows” after school against my Mother’s orders. She said a rosary while I watched in horror.
Meanwhile, Mom loved her new Chevy Nova and we started onto Warden Drive. At Coulter Street, an old Lady driving a 50’s era Ford Fairlane pulled out in front of us. The speed limit was 25 but she was maybe going 15 mph! It was exceptionally slow. Now, Mom has the patience of a saint, especially for an Italian woman, but enough was enough. She started mumbling under her breath “stupido” and “chooch” and something about “hit the gas, Lady!” Then, suddenly, as if announcing she had just won the billion-dollar lotto, she screamed, “GET OFF THE ROAD YOU OLD FART!”
Silence was followed by cascading laughter as me, my sister and brother doubled over in an exaggerated display of hilarity. “You kids think that’s funny?,” as Mom passed the old driver, “good thing you’re not in the Old Country in Italy. You know what Grandmom says, now capisce!”
My 7-year-old brain flashed back to Grandmom’s famous story, now told hundreds of times:
“Richie, Grandmom gonna tell you story about de old country…..when Grandmom was little, she take donkey and go down to river to get some water. We go clippity klop clippity klop with donkey, but then, donkey stop. He no go! And then you hear them…a dozen at a time…whistlin’….(creepy whistling sound) hanging on the tree…..snakes! coming for Grandmom! So, we turn around and go back. Donkey, he no go!!”
Naturally, I slept horribly that whole week. The thought of Barnabas the vampire with snakes hanging from a tree whistlin’ surely kept me awake!