Parma the Godmother by Carole Longo Harris
The Godmother, a cigarette dangling from her lips, reigned at the round oak dining room table upstairs at #45 East Main Street. An aura of smoke rings, warmth, and mischief surrounded her.
This star of the daily soap opera, As East Main Street Turns, wore a brightly flowered cotton- sleeveless housedress because she was always hot. “Gerald, lower the thermostat!” she ordered her adoring husband.
Everybody loved the Godmother and even her best friends never noticed she walked with a slight limp caused by childhood polio. Her southern Italian hospitality welcomed everyone with open arms. At only five feet tall with smooth olive complexion, sparkly eyes, bobbed, shiny chestnut-colored hair she was a beautiful challenge.
The Godmother controlled her turf from the east side of the railroad tracks to the city limits. OMERTA, the Mafia rule of silence, governed her life. She never ratted on anyone or revealed secrets. She always had time for you but could make you cringe if you lied or made her angry. Cross her once and you were banned from her premises and graces forever. She was nobody’s fool and her enemies were no secret.
Once a year on Christmas Eve, she went to mass to fulfill her Catholic duty but on the other 364 days this self-proclaimed Mother Theresa swore like a sailor. One Easter Sunday while, Gerald, a faithful catholic left the church, the Irish priest asked his daughter, “Where is your mother?”
“Home playing poker since Good Friday.” She answered.
Daily the Godmother poured freshly brewed coffee, offered a shoulder to cry on and freely dispensed advice on all problems facing the human race including unemployment and eviction.
“They are hiring in Pittsburgh. Go see Johnny, tell him I sent you. Oh, don’t worry, honey, you can come live with us.”
When a visitor opened the front door at the bottom of #45 she yelled out directions.
“Come up the steps. Cross the hallway. Walk through the kitchen. I am in the dining room.
“Welcome! Come on sit down! She made direct eye contact and pointed to a chair.
"Here, have a biscotti. How are you? Tell me all about it!”
Hand gestures animated her speech while probing into a guest’s personal pain and sorry.
Fearlessly the Godmother embraced and listened to the homeless, orphans, widows, divorcees, German war brides and unwed mothers. DNA wasn’t needed. She knew the mystery fathers. She also believed in and practiced the philosophy of Double Standard- Do as I say not as I do!
The Godmother always consulted an Ouiji Board, perused a dog-eared almanac and studied a faded Dream Interpretation book for predictions.
“Am I having a boy or girl? Rosemary asked.
“For sure, it will be a baby girl,” she predicted.
Loyal associates and even strangers respected her opinions.
“Always buy savings bonds. You won’t lose money. Marry for love-love of money! Bad things happen in threes. Every time someone dies, a baby is born.”
Sometimes The Godmother interrogated the neighborhood children.
“Did you pray about it? Did you go to confession?”
Her laugh was boisterous, as she loved to tell and listen to dirty jokes. “Not in front of the kids,” she whispered. When her children swore, the punishment was a quick smear of Lifebuoy soak across the lips.
“But beware, Doctors will kill you!” she warned while dispensing home remedies. For a cold or a white tongue she forced a jigger of castor oil down the victim’s throat. “Don’t spit it out! I’ll give you two more!” She held a cold orange wedge in her hand for a chaser. The vile-tasting potion never touched her lips.
This Good Doctor also applied a hot mustard plaster on a congested chest then covered the nasty potion with a scratchy woolen scarf.
“Oh, you have ringworm.” she diagnosed then smeared a concoction of sulphur and lard on the patient.
To cure boils she’d dispatch the Boss deep into a wooded Seneca Indian reservation outside Salamanca, New York, to purchase porcelain jars of smelly, black drawing salve. Amazing stories were told about the salve’s miraculous cures. Later on a man named Freeman tried to duplicate the recipe but the formula changed due to the difficulty of finding the herbs, bark and roots used in the original mixture. Finally Freeman’s salve received FDA approval.
Every Christmas the Godmother surprised her thirteen godchildren with a wristwatch, radio or other expensive gift purchased with her poker winnings. Easter baskets filled with artificial green grass, overflowed with sweet treats from the Kane Nut Shop. Hazelnuts, walnuts, cherries and citrons filled the Fruit and Nut eggs.
Nestled in the center of each basket was a delicious chocolate dipped, butter cream egg decorated with the child’s name, a flower and a little yellow cross. When eleven year-old Rosanna, a blessed godchild, stopped in after church for the coveted basket the Godmother crooned, “In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it, you’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter Parade.”
“Sing it to me again, Aunt Parmie.” begged Rosanna.
“In your Easter bonnet . . .” Rosanna felt like the most beautiful girl in the world.
Bio: Carole Longo Harris lives in New Hope, PA. She is a graduate of Penn State, educational consultant, public speaker and writer. She seeks a publisher for Vincenzo's Promise, a short story collection based on real stories about illiterate Italian immigrant families that worked on the railroads and in the coal mines circa 1900's. They couldn't write their own stories. Carole's been published online and in various magazines, anthologies and journals. She is Nona Bella (beautiful grandmother) to six grandchildren.
If you like this story, please leave a comment in the guest book below.