Linda woke the next morning to the miserable sound of mewing coming from the garage. Mom had agreed that Mittens could stay there until they could come up with a better idea. Mom had to work and Joey had a paper route, so Linda was under strict instructions to help Nonna get breakfast and then to keep her company for the remainder of the morning.
Linda soon found however, that Nonna seemed to need no help and seemed to desire no company. After feeding and attempting to comfort Mittens, she offered to make some toast, but Nonna just frowned and had a cup of tea instead. Linda sat dutifully on the couch and listened as Nonna practiced the piano and then began to sing some sort of voice exercise. Doing her best to be objective and rid herself of any resentment, she decided that Nonna probably did have a nice voice and was quite a good musician though she certainly did not have much experience on which to base this conclusion. After what felt like forever, Nonna stopped and Linda took the opportunity to offer to show her around the neighborhood.
“I’ll show you my school, and the drug store, and the park,” she began.
“No. It is too hot. I am still tired, I am going to rest.” Nonna replied. Her voice softened a bit, though, when she added, “If you would like to go play though, you certainly may. But change your clothes first. Girls don’t wear trousers in public.”
Linda chose to ignore Nonna’s advice about changing out of her shorts and bolted out the door with her roller skates. She met Susan in front of her house who greeted her with an operatic version of “Hell-oooo, Lin-daaaa!” Linda grinned, and they skated the rest of the way to Molly’s house just like any other day.
The next several days passed in a similar fashion, and with the exception of Mittens’ housing dilemma, Linda decided that her friends had been right and there was nothing wrong with having Nonna stay with them. Mom had hardly been home since Nonna had come, so it was actually nice to have someone else in the otherwise empty house. Nonna was picky about chores and always checked over Linda’s work to be sure they had been done properly. Usually the feedback she received was “Hrumph,” but Linda decided that translated to some sort of verb-less approval. Nonna was a good cook and had been putting a hot meal on the table each evening in time to eat when Mom got home. Granted, there hadn’t been any pizza yet, but the food was more or less like what Mom made. Nonna had made it clear that the whole family would go to mass twice a week, so Linda and Joey had sportingly had made no fuss even though the church was stiflingly hot on Wednesday evening. Linda was still not sure what to talk with Nonna about or what they had in common, but she was cautiously optimistic that things were going well. Staying out of her way seemed to be working best.
The day before school started Linda, Molly, and Susan sat on Susan’s back steps excitedly talking about their new teacher and the coming school year. The girls’ friend Emily was coming to join them as well. She was staying in the United States with her aunt, having left her home in England for safety during the war, but had lived with Molly for a month last spring. Her aunt’s neighborhood was further away from the other girls, so they hadn’t seen her as much during the summer, but they were all excited to be in the same class starting the next day.
When Emily came through the back yard gate the other three jumped up and greeted her in the operatic fashion they had adopted for each other. Each on a different starting note, the girls warbled, “Hell-ooooo Em-il-yyyyyyyyyyyy!” Between giggles, they filled Emily in on the joke and then tried to teasingly coax lady-like Emily into performing her best opera voice.
After several minutes, Linda glanced up to see a daunting sight. Nonna was standing on the Rinaldi’s back porch, two yards over, with her arms crossed and giving Linda a steely glare. Linda gulped. “I better go, I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said as she scrambled through the gate.
“Wha–hey, Linda!” Susan cried after her, but Linda wasn’t listening. She knew she was in trouble. Nonna must have thought they were making fun of her, which, she thought to herself, we kind of were. Stupid, stupid, stupid, she thought with each step that brought her home.
Nonna was waiting at the front door when Linda came inside. She stood straight, with her eyes on the floor, waiting for the punishment she was sure would come.
“Come. Stand here,” said Nonna briskly, leading Linda beside the piano. She sat down and played a few notes. “Now. Sing with me.”
“Sing? Oh, no, I don’t really sing. I mean, what you heard, my friends and I were just having fun,” stammered Linda.
“Yes,” said Nonna, misunderstanding. “Singing is fun. But a lot of work. We will have a lesson each day for half an hour when you come home from school.” She smiled at Linda now for the first time, “You have a nice voice. I was your age when a musician in my village heard me and started my musical education.”
Linda was not sure she wished to start her own musical education, especially every day after school, but she remembered what Molly had said earlier that week about finding something she and Nonna might have in common. She took a deep breath and said, “Thank you, Nonna, I will work very hard. Maybe sometime you can tell me more about when you were my age.”
Nonna smiled her biggest smile yet. “Yes. Maybe.”
The hallways were filled with chattering, excited students on the first day of school; the classrooms seemed to glow with the morning sunlight that poured in from the tall windows onto the freshly scrubbed hard-wood floors. “I love the first day of school!” chirped Susan.
“It smells like the first day of school…new pencils, clean chalkboards…” added Molly.
“I bet our new teacher is smart and beautiful. I bet she is stylish and nice just like Miss Campell. Oooh, maybe she used to be a nurse for the Army and she has all kinds of exciting stories…” Susan continued.
Linda rolled her eyes and snorted. “You two do this every year. You set unrealistic expectations that no teacher could possibly reach!” she said to general chuckles of agreement.
It turned out that Mrs. Littlefield was very nice and was pretty, but also was strict and had high expectations. Halfway through the day she announced the first project of the year. “This is a new school year, and a new class, so it is important that we get to know each other. The best way to get to know each other is to get to know ourselves better. Therefore, your first homework assignment will be to construct your family tree,” she said, pointing to a large poster she had pinned up at the front of the room. It did in fact look like an ornately drawn tree that showed various names and dates on the branches. “You will interview your parents and other family members to find out as much about your extended family as possible. Names and dates of birth are important. Where they came from is also valuable information. You will then organize the information onto a chart such as this. In addition to the poster, you will write a composition summarizing what you have learned. You will have time in class over the next week to work on compiling the information you gather.”
When the dismissal bell rang, the students buzzed about the interesting day and many were talking about the family tree assignment. “Gee, I wonder if Mom will let me call Gran and Grandpa to ask them about my extended family. I bet they know loads about all the people I am related to!” said Molly.
“I am going to need a giant piece of paper to draw my tree–my family is huge!” exclaimed Susan.
To Linda’s surprise, Emily seemed excited about the assignment, too. “Well, of course I wish I could talk to Mum and Dad about it,” she explained, “But I think Auntie Prim knows a lot about her side of the family! I think she even has some old photo albums that could be very helpful. And maybe once I finish my tree, I can send it to Mum and Dad! Think how pleased they will be!”
“Linda, you have the best resource of all of us,” Molly ventured. “Your grandmother lives right in your house. You can learn all about your family from Italy!”
Linda nodded seriously. On the one hand, Nonna was so difficult to talk to. They had barely had a real conversation in the week she had been there. On the other hand, maybe this was another chance for her to find what they had in common.
Linda had her second voice lesson when she arrived home from school that day. Nonna seemed grouchier than usual, offering almost no praise and displaying very little patience. Geesh, I’m only a beginner, thought Linda as Nonna irritably corrected her posture for the third time. When they were through Nonna concluded with a terse, “You may go do as you please until your mother gets home,” as she retired to the den to listen to the radio.
Linda wandered the house restlessly for a few minutes, not sure what to do. She had hoped to talk to Nonna about her family tree assignment, but now she wasn’t sure. Nonna hadn’t even asked how her first day of school had been! Linda flopped down at the kitchen table in frustration. She allowed herself to pout for a minute or so, thinking about how living with her own grandmother should not be so difficult! It was so easy for her friends to go on about how great it would be, how they could find things in common, how she would learn about her Italian family. They have no idea, Linda thought, as she found herself feeling more and more uncharacteristically sorry for herself. Normally Linda was a practical, sensible girl, who would rather solve a problem than worry about one. Not only was she unsure of how to solve this problem, she couldn’t even put her finger on exactly what the problem was. Was she doing something displeasing to Nonna? Or was Nonna just grumpy, like she had declared all along?
Disclaimer: this is purely a work of fan fiction, written for my own enjoyment. It is based on characters and events portrayed in Molly’s book series. These were written by Valerie Tripp and are copyrighted property of American Girl.