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Freaks of Nurture's Guest Accounts » Cheryl's Works » Noni: On Stage and In Person

Noni: On Stage and In Person

My maternal grandmother lived with us and we called her ‘Nona’ or ‘Noni’, the Italian word for Grandma. I loved her because she was there, like Mt. Everest, but not because I could relate to her in any way. Whereas I was always the observer, the quiet one trying to disappear in the background, Noni loved attention and had to orchestrate every get-together, family or other.

At parties, she was always resentful of the attention given anyone else. At every wedding I’d ever attended with her, she somehow managed to end up with the band’s microphone in hand, requesting her favorite songs and singing Noni On Stageuntil the mic was forcibly wrestled away, usually by an apologetic family member. I think that Noni probably did have a decent voice. People would tell me, “Oh, your grandma can really sing” or “your grandma has a very good voice.” I couldn’t judge as most times I was trying to arrange my napkin over my face or searching for some missing cutlery under the table.  Any lack of quality in her vocal cords was more than made up for in sheer wind force.

Let’s say that she was more of an Ethel Merman type than a Julie Andrews.

I’m sure she could have projected to the farthest reaches of any amphitheater sans microphone, but having that microphone only added to her power. Wielding that magical mic like a Harry Potter on crack, the woman would not stop. They say that everyone suffers nerves before a performance but I don’t believe it. Had my Grandmother ever actually achieved fame, I’m positive that she would never have experienced butterflies.

We tried to physically hold her back from taking the stage whether at a small family get-together or at a wedding with hundreds of guests jammed into a banquet room. Most times we failed and she managed to take to the floor with the band acceding to her requests for this song or that as she strutted, head held high, performing one tune after another.

Her most beloved song of all was not an Italian folksong, but rather her own rendition of the old standard “Goodnight, Irene.” This was because her name was Irene and also because with her broken English, she couldn’t manage the actual lyrics of the song, and so, invented her own more salacious ones.  Her version recounted what Irene wore to bed on various nights and how on the evenings when all her night clothes were sent to the laundry, she wore nothing at all. Now, this was belted out at the top of her lungs as her audience hooted and howled in appreciation.

I’m sure at the culmination of this verse, Noni fancied herself an enticing vision to the men in the crowd; a Mediterranean version of Candy Barr, a well-known stripper of the time, renowned for her naked cowgirl act. In actuality, however, Noni was an iron-corseted septuagenarian whose only similarity to Candy Barr was her complete lack of inhibition.

Besides being abashed at my Grandma’s intimations, the thought of her with nothing on brought to my mind the occasional morning when I was asked to help wrangle her into her corset. “Pull, pull,” she would bellow in her heavy Italian accent while I would try to avert my gaze from the sight of so much flesh being pleated and squashed in this painful looking device – an unyielding mass of elastic and cords. So, naturally, the image of Irene with “notting on”, as she would sing, to me was quite disturbing on various levels.  Let’s just say that Irene knew no shame and had a great self image.

Looking back, I’d have to say that although I was often mortified by her antics during my youth, there was never a dull moment with her around. People found her entertaining and she had more fun than anyone – she really didn’t care if they thought she was good or bad – she was having a ball.

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