(Nathaniel Grann/The Washington Post)

By Phyllis Shea, 76, Arlington, retired music teacher

My maternal grandparents were Italian immigrants who settled in New Jersey. They opened shops in Bayonne in the early to mid-1900s. Most successful was their last venture: a wine and liquor shop.

When they started, they worked six days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and sent their seven children to live with relatives in town, getting together with them only on Sundays.

Grandpa died at 75, leaving the shop to his illiterate wife. The prevailing thought was that the business would be run by her only son or be sold.

But Grandma surprised us. She’d kept track of the cases
of liquor and their cost … in her head. Her clientele included immigrants from Poland, Lithuania and Germany, and she learned enough of their languages to make her customers happy and loyal.

She was tough. Once
she accosted a man because he tried to steal a bottle of expensive Chivas Regal Scotch whisky. She would have let him go, she said, “if he’d taken a bottle of cheap chianti.”

She dressed impeccably, wearing a print smock to protect her dress. On the lapel of the smock she wore a pin made of Venetian glass.

When Grandma died at 95, her jewels were distributed among her grandchildren. There were many lovely pieces. I inherited the one I treasured most, her pin.

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