Between the Lines

Living With Foreigners

My grandfather, Nicola Raimondo, came from a little town called Torre di Ruggiero, at the tip of the Italian boot.  It was a poor place then, and it looks to be even poorer today, from what I can tell, with half the place for sale and the other half in ruins.  He was 15 years old when his boat landed on American shores—something I didn’t know until a few minutes ago.  That makes what I have to say even more astonishing, and that is that I don’t believe he ever learned English, and certainly never thought in English for a single moment of his long life.  Oh, he knew enough to get by: After all, he worked as a stone mason and bricklayer, and later as a building contractor.  He had some hand in building the family home in White Plains, New York, laying the bricks of that three-story two-family structure on Battle Hill—scene of a famous Revolutionary War battle—with his own two hands, as he had for many homes in the area.

We lived in that house, with its dark, polished floors and winding Art Nouveau staircases, for the first five or six years of my life.  What I remember most vividly is the library, because since that time I’ve rarely seen a library in a private home—only a few scattered bookshelves with Reader’s Digest Condensed Books placed end to end.  My grandfather’s library was a window into another time, where I was left to play by...

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