The first week of school passed quickly, and Linda found herself wishing that each school day would go slower. The evenings Linda passed with Nonna were becoming less and less bearable as Nonna became grouchier and more impossible to please. After thirty painful minutes of voice lesson, Nonna would retreat to the den to read the newspaper or listen to the radio. Linda was used to usually going to Susan or Molly’s house each day after school, but Nonna insisted that there was not time for this when there was voice practice and chores to be done.
Molly, Susan, and Emily were all making enthusiastic progress on their family trees. Each girl was already almost done with their poster and were beginning to outline the summary they would write. Linda, however, had only completed a rough draft on notebook paper using the information she had gotten from Mom after helping her do the dishes one night earlier that week. Linda suspected Mom’s memory was not exactly correct on all of the details of birthdays and specific places, but she still couldn’t bring herself to ask Nonna and risk the waspish response she might receive.
“I went through all of our family’s old photographs to help me with my research,” chattered Susan while the class waited for the bell to ring. “I even organized them into an album while I was at it. I wish I could present that as my summary rather than my composition,” she added, glancing glumly at her blank composition book.
“That would be so neat!” agreed Molly. “I think all of my family photos are pretty much already organized, but it would be so much more fun to turn in a project rather than a composition. I loved learning about all of the different places my family came from. Oh, I know! I could make a map, marked with all of the places my ancestors lived!”
Linda didn’t like the sound of this conversation. She was already having enough trouble with the assignment as it was. She hoped they wouldn’t be enthusiastic enough to suggest the idea to Mrs. Littlefield. She opened her mouth to try to contribute a dissuading comment, but Emily had already excitedly jumped in.
“My Auntie Prim says there is a long line of bakers and chefs in my family. She has many of their recipes–I could organize them into a recipe book!”
Several girls and even a few boys were now listening to the conversation. Howie spoke up loudly, “My dad and my granddad are both mechanics–and my great-grandad used to work on buggies! I could teach the class all about the history of the equipment they worked on!”
The students chattered about their ideas for several more minutes until Mrs. Littlefield called the class to order. After she took role, Linda watched as shy, quiet Emily raised her hand, slightly pink. She stood by her chair and said, “Mrs. Littlefield, before class began today we we were talking about our Family Tree assignment. Susan and Molly had a really grand idea and I was hoping you would let me share it with you.” Mrs. Littlefield smiled and nodded. “Go ahead, Emily.”
“We are all getting ready to write our summary compositions, and we started talking and thinking that perhaps there is a way to still summarize what we learned without writing. We were all thinking of creative ways we could summarize our Family Tree projects that would be more, um…interactive…and…hands-on!” Emily was blushing furiously now, but Mrs. Littlefield’s smile was encouraging.
“What an innovative idea!” she said approvingly. “I do believe an individual creative project would be much more meaningful than a written summary. I know that nobody has yet started their composition, so yes, I think that this is a terrific alternative. I will extend the due date by two extra days to allow extra time to complete your creative project.”
The class tittered and several girls turned to grin excitedly at Emily. Linda was not among them, though. More work to do on a project that is already impossible, she thought. Her bad mood continued through the rest of the day and when the dismissal bell rang, she stalked off alone, without waiting for her friends. She knew it was unfair to take her frustration out on them, but she just couldn’t help it. They know I’ve been struggling with my assignment, thought Linda. Why did they have to come up with an idea to make it more difficult?
She heard someone calling her name from behind her, but she kept walking. She heard it again, this time accompanied by approaching footsteps.
“Linda!” It was Emily. She was slightly out of breath from chasing after her and wore an expression so severe that Linda couldn’t help but stop in her tracks. Sweet, quiet Emily was clearly angry. “You are acting rather childish,” she began, jumping straight to the point. “I can’t believe how rude you have been to your friends, and even worse, how rude you have been to your grandmother.”
“But, look, you don’t–” began Linda.
“No! I’m not done!” replied Emily, furiously. “You’ve been so busy feeling sorry for yourself, you haven’t even thought about how your grandmother feels. Don’t you remember what it was like when I first came here? I didn’t live up to the expectations of Molly, Susan, and you at all because you treated me like some sort of novelty, without feelings or thoughts. Your Nonna is a person, who is probably very sad and lonely. If there is a problem with her, solve it! Don’t feel sorry for yourself! You’ve been moping around all week, acting as though something terrible has happened. That is not the kind of person you are at all.”
Linda stared in shock. She had never heard Emily talk so much at one time. Her shoulders drooped, resigned. “I don’t know how to solve the problem,” she said, her voice cracking.
“Yes you do,” said Emily simply. “Figure it out, and then we will all help you.”
Linda walked slowly up her front steps, the weight of her friend’s words upon her. She’s right, I’ve been so selfish, Linda thought miserably. She entered the front door, and proceeded to the living room where Nonna usually waited for her. Today, though, the piano bench was empty. Linda slumped onto the sofa, wondering what to do next. As she glanced around the room, something on the coffee table caught her eye. It was a small stack of newspaper clippings that Linda was sure had not come from her own house. She picked them up and saw that they were all dated about a year previously in September and October of 1943. They all had similar headlines: “Allied Forces Take Italian Mainland” and “Offensive Against Rome Begins”. Beneath the clippings were several letters written in what Linda thought was probably Italian. Linda felt something clunk into place in her brain. She had been so stupid. Everything Emily said was right: Nonna was sad and lonely in ways that she, selfish Linda, could not even comprehend.
She crept upstairs to where Nonna’s room was open a crack. She peeked inside to see Nonna sitting on the bed, her head in her hands. She now knew what she should have realized all along. Nonna needed to be treated with kindness, not fear. Well, if she weren’t so scary, that might have been easier, Linda thought sardonically, but quickly scolded herself and took a deep breath. She walked inside and sat next to Nonna, slipping her arm around her shoulders. Nonna looked up at her in surprise and Linda saw that there were tears trickling down her cheeks. “I’m sorry you had to leave your home in New York. And I’m sorry I haven’t helped make things much easier for you here. And I’m mostly sorry that so many bad things have happened to you and to your home in Italy. You don’t have to talk about it,” Linda said quickly as Nonna opened her mouth. Linda herself disliked talking about her sadness and fears, so she didn’t want to make Nonna talk to her if she didn’t want to.
Nonna squeezed Linda and began speaking, slowly. “This time last year the fighting began in Italy, where all my friends and relatives still live. My brother and his family were all killed a year ago today. I didn’t receive the letter until several months later, right before your grandfather died. They were just civilians,” she added in a whisper.
Horrorstruck, Linda tried to comprehend what she had just heard. What jumped out at her most, was the realization that she had never known that Nonna had a brother. She didn’t know anything about her Italian family. Disgusted, she admitted to herself that she hadn’t even been aware of the fighting in Italy last year.
Linda finally found her voice and began. “I miss Dad so much. I am so worried about him. I try really hard to not even think about him because it’s so scary. You must feel even worse, though, Nonna. It is so unfair that everyone you love is fighting or gone because of the fighting.”
“Well, not everyone,” said Nonna with a smile, in a voice that Linda thought just might contain some affection. “Do you know what an ostrich is?”
Linda wondered if she was misunderstanding Nonna’s English. “An ostrich? Sure, it’s a big bird, but…”
“Yes, well, when an ostrich is scared he puts his head in the sand. He pretends it is not happening. People do that too sometimes. I do it. I think you do it. Our problems don’t go away when we ignore them. We have to solve them by talking about them. Working together. Counting on each other.”
Linda squeezed Nonna tighter and tried to put all of her unsaid feelings into her hug. Nonna must have understood because she smiled a small smile and said, “You are a good girl to be so nice to a grouchy old Italian woman.”
Linda giggled. “Nonna, will you please help me with something?” She quickly explained her school project and felt a rush of relief leave her once she did. She realized that she had finally pulled her head out of the sand.
Nonna jumped up with surprising agility and said, “Of course I will help you. Right after your voice lesson.”
Chapter 4 and 5 to come tomorrow 🙂
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.