Rosalinda is my favorite part of living in Oakland, Pittsburgh. Her English is too thick for me to have figured out when she arrived from Italy or why, but she’s the grandmother that I never thought I needed.
Friendship came first in three large tomatoes, handed off the back porch on my way to class. Then, it was a fistful of basil, a freezer bag of spaghetti sauce. “Do you like jam?” I’d say. “Peaches?” And I’d scamper back to my apartment with a can of strawberry preserves I’d made myself or some apple butter, and the two of us would go happily on with our day.
When I’m sick of schoolwork, Rosalinda calls me “sweethear” and calls me up to her porch to sit while she tells me about milking cows in Italy, making Christmas cookies, her aching lower back, her son’s blind dog who “shit all over the place when he visit.” I mostly listen, half because Rosalinda talks better than she listens but half because her stories are fascinating. From spring to fall, Rosalinda tends tomatoes on her porch and waves at the neighbors as the sun deepens the creases around her bright eyes, and from spring to fall, I look for her out my bedroom window and wonder what it’s like to live clustered amid Oakland’s college students, so together and so alone.
She loves when my boyfriend Jon visits (“he wonderful guy”), but one day, she only nodded when I mentioned that I was driving to Harrisburg that weekend.
“Good for you,” she said. “Have fun wit him, okay?”
“I’m sure we will,” I answered.
“You know,” Rosalinda said slowly. “My husband and I, we always say, ‘We want to do this, we want to do that,’ and then we say, ‘No, no, we need to save money, for the college, for the bills.’ And you know wha? Now the money is in the bank, my husband is gone, and Rosa sittin on the porch.”