Mary, The Pizzelle Maker and the Apartments of Doom
Ruth Z. DemingMary and her sister Angie moved into Village Green Apartments after their husbands died. One day I smelled something delicious coming from my next door neighbor’s apartment. I knocked and Donna let me in. A little old lady was standing in the kitchen and peered at me with eyeglasses that made her eyes look huge, like a dragonfly’s.
“C’mon over and see,” said Mary, a tiny woman wearing huge black orthopedic shoes.
“Pizzelles,” she said. “Ever taste one?”
“No,” I said.
Not only had I never tasted a pizzelle, but I had no idea what they were.
Lying on a cooling rack were thin, round-shaped cookies about the size of a maple leaf. They were dusted with powdered sugar.
“Go ahead, don’t be afraid,” she said. “Taste one.”
She lifted one up and handed it to me as if I were a queen.
“Oh, my God,” I said. “I’ve never tasted anything so delicious.”
“See,” she said.
From then on, Mary and I became friends. She had no idea what would happen at her apartment complex – I had moved out by then – a tragedy that made the national news.
She lived over in “A” Building, where many elderly folks resided, like her sister Angie. The two bickered constantly like the married couple on The Honeymooners. It was extremely uncomfortable being there. But love triumphs all, so Mary would grab her thick walking stick, we’d tromp down two flights of stairs and go out into the fields of Village Green.
There, Mary felt like a girl in the old country of Sicily. She must have been beautiful back then. Big eyes, buxom, filled with confidence.
With her cane, she’d point to mushrooms she wanted me to pick for her. She was no longer young, but a feisty ninety-two.
“Mary,” I said. “Are you sure these won’t kill you?”
“I ain’t never been wrong,” she insisted.
There were also dandelion greens she wanted and other favorites no one would recognize but her.
"Some of these we´d use as medicine," she said.
She slowed down her walking.
“Don’t walk so fast,” she’d insist. “I can’t keep up with you.”
What if she had a heart attack and it was my fault?
The fields were beautiful with short trees that had implanted themselves there. One was a smooth-barked cherry tree. I picked a cherry, tasted it, and spit it out.
"Those are no good," said Mary. "Tart. The birds eat them."
Wildflowers popped up from the ground with great majesty. Star-shaped white anemone or yellow creeping barberry. The great God of Nature put them there.
One time we saw a man with a rifle. I kept quiet but Mary saw him, too. She missed nothing with those keen eyes of hers.
He lifted up his rifle and began shooting squirrels. It was actually a BB gun rifle.
“Stop that!” I shouted, “or I’ll call the police!”
He ran away.
By now, Mary was a friend of our family. I’d drive her over to Mom’s big house in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania. There were always people bustling about the kitchen, my mom’s domain. Mary would set up her pizzelle maker on the counter.
“You should buy your own,” she said to Mom. “You’ve certainly got enough money.”
From the kitchen we heard my brother David playing piano in the downstairs den. Mom gave him lessons. He had autism but loved music and could distinguish between melancholy Brahms and sensitive Beethoven. His Fur Elise was masterful.
When the pizzelles were finished, we’d sit at the kitchen table, munch on them and chat.
Mom loved them. She had an eating disorder, of sorts. She had a stash of chocolate chips. She’d simply dip into the yellow bag and nosh. She still finds it hard to stop eating, at ninety-five, but since her mobility is limited, she can’t run down to the kitchen to help herself to the full refrigerator.
Mary was very religious. When you entered her apartment, a crucifix was the first thing you saw. Her apartment is no longer there, as you’ll read about shortly.
One day, in addition to the pizzelle iron, she brought some religious literature for Mom.
“Oh, we’re Jews,” said my mom, “and we’re not going to convert.”
Mary, like any good zealot, left the literature on our yellow kitchen cabinet. I stuck it in my pocketbook and brought it home. “At His Master’s Feet” was a small blue booklet that I put in a drawer in the downstairs bathroom and believed it infused faith into the entire house.
I got a phone call one day from Mary’s sister, Angie. She told me Mary had passed away. I was shocked. Who would make me pizzelles?
Who would I pick mushrooms for?
The funeral was an hour away in Germantown, where their husbands had been buried.
Mary’s husband had been a cobbler. When he moved to America he developed a drinking problem, finally got it under control, and then dropped dead.
Who am I to comment on the power of God? Does he have his reasons? Or is this planet built on chance and coincidences.
"God´s will," Mary would have said.
Turns out Mary Pasorini died at the exact right time.
Mom helped me buy a big beautiful three-story yellow house on a quiet, winding street in Willow Grove.
The last thing we expected was a hurricane that would blight our beautiful neighborhood.
Hurricane Allison swept up from Texas, killing or maiming as many people, houses, trailers, apartment buildings, foliage, maple trees, oak trees, fence posts, as she could. Malevolent, yes. Sentient, no.
In “A” Building of Village Green, floodwaters rose from the nearby creek. Angie, wheelchair-bound, and her son, Rudy, who played in the Philadelphia Orchestra, moved, step by step, to the third floor, where they awaited a boat to sweep them to safety.
Imagine! All these old people, frail, soaking wet and awaiting a savior.
They waited and waited.
Little did they know what was going on in the basement. A faulty wire that had never been fixed, was ready to explode.
BOOM! The explosion was heard for miles around.
Angie, her son, Rudy and eight other inhabitants of Village Green went up in smoke, like an atomic bomb. Perhaps they felt nothing at all. It hit them too quickly.
When the dust settled, I drove over in my bashed-in brown LTD my folks gave me when they bought a new car. I walked along the swollen river, looked up at the perfect, blue sky, and mourned the wrath of God. What I wanted to do was hire a small plane with a banner reading, “God bless our loved ones at Village Green Apartments.”
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