It’s #RIAuthor Month – Meet Pat Mitchell


Pat Mitchell photo

The Girl, with her fiance, in 1946

A Girl from the Hill is a tribute to my mother, who grew up on Federal Hill during the Great Depression. The collection of essays depicts her life of as one of laughter and love, as well as its share of suffering and sorrow.

Providence’s Federal Hill neighborhood was, and still is, Rhode Island’s “Little Italy.” Thousands of Italian immigrants, including my grandparents, came to Rhode Island at the turn of the 20th century to begin new, better lives. They struggled to assimilate into American culture, and my mother’s parents, Giovanni and Maria, tried their best to become John and Mary. My mom, their youngest of eight children, was full of joy, and enjoyed much of her childhood despite her mother’s struggle with diabetes.

I began the book merely as a simple exercise, to see if I could actually write a book. Once we got going, once I started listening to my mother’s story, I gained an appreciation for her journey, her losses, and how the absence of her mother left a gaping hole in her young heart that never truly mended.

A Girl from the Hill is a story for mothers and daughters alike, as it speaks of the bonds between us as women, both loving and strained by the inevitable growing pains that daughters naturally experience. I remember how sure I was that I knew so much more than my mother. Now, as a mother myself, I see how my own daughter can run circles around me and my self-righteous confidence, which makes me appreciate my own mother more each day. She was right about so much, and my impatience to grow up and away has now become a yearning to return to my mother and her roots in order to understand critical life lessons.

In addition to my mother’s memories and my realizations, A Girl from the Hill also contains some stories that her mother “made up” and my mother further embellished in order to entertain their children at bedtime, as well as Italian lullabies that have been passed down for generations. And did I mention recipes? Some of our favorite family cookie recipes are also included. My mother’s delicious Christmas cookie trays were legendary, and she whipped up dozens of trays each year both for family and for my dad’s business associates.

Today my mother, 93, still loves to laugh, and says it helps her stay sane as she and my 96-year-old father care for each other. She continues to inspire me with her strength as she stubbornly insists on doing all of her own housework and cooking. To me she is still the little girl with the olive skin and big brown eyes that loved to make her family laugh.

Pat Mitchell author Pat Mitchell received a grade-school punishment and had to write a ten-page essay about appropriate classroom behavior. She enjoyed writing so much that she misbehaved more, hoping to get more writing assignments. A Girl from the Hill is her first book.

GIVEAWAY! The author is offering a copy of her book to one lucky winner. Just comment on this blog post to be eligible. One person will be chosen at random and the author will contact you directly. Contest ends one week from publication of this blog post. US residents only, please.

Meet over 100 local authors on Saturday, December 2! The Fifth Annual RI Authors ExpoThe Fifth Annual RI Authors Expo

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The Madness of March


How do you feel about the month of March? Is it all about Saint Patrick’s Day and green beer? Here in Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s Day (the 19th) is nearly as popular, mostly for the zeppoles.

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My father-in-law, and now my husband, hate the month of March. Both believe that nothing good comes during the month. My husband’s father’s father died on March 18, 1968. His wife, my husband’s mother, died on the same day in 1993. My father-in-law’s birthday is March 6, but he doesn’t want to celebrate anymore, and presently we are awaiting the results of some medical tests that could hold good (whew) or difficult news. Since the results will be revealed in March, both men in my life are convinced the news will be bad.

I’ve never looked at March that way. March means spring in the northern hemisphere, and even though we may have a last burst of winter in March, snow that falls and sticks to the grass won’t last. The days are longer – Daylight Saving Time in the United States begins at 2:00 AM on Sunday, March 10 this year! Here are some of the other, positive aspects of the month of March:

  • It’s International Francophone Month and International Francophone Day on March 22 (égalité, complémentarité, solidarité)
  • March 2 is National Reading Day (I have a suggestion!)
  • March 14 is Save a Spider Day (I know, my initial reaction is to stomp, too, but if I find one that day, I’ll be kind)
  • The only day in the calendar that’s also a command (think about it)*
  • It’s March Madness, baby! The Big Dance for college basketball (men and women), the annual pool (money, no-money), single elimination, and Cinderella stories.
  • Passover begins on March 26th, a festival of liberation and unleavened bread.
  • Easter this year is March 31st – joy and hope and promise. And Dove dark chocolate eggs.

I hope March is a happy and healthy transition month for all of you. Spring is on the way!

*March Fourth 🙂

King of the Pastavazool


We’re not Italian.  But on Saturday nights, if my parents didn’t go out to Twin Oaks for dinner, my dad cooked.  Meatballs and spaghetti.  Braciole.  I’d stand and watch him make the meatballs.  First time he asked if I wanted to help, he made me wash my hands for five minutes before I stuck them in the bowl, squishing around the hamburger and raw eggs and breadcrumbs.  It was so gross and I loved every minute of it.

The braciole was something he did by himself, while I watched.  First, we went to Ruggieri’s Market on Saturday morning to get the meat – thin slices of beef.  Dad made a mixture, again with the raw egg, and spread it on the slices of meat, then rolled them up, stuck a toothpick in each one, and put them in the frying pan.  They sizzled and popped and turned brown.  After that, into the tomato sauce to cook until supper.

“Watch the pastavazool – don’t let it spatter on the stove or your mother will be mad,” he’d say.  Ah, so pastavazool was spaghetti sauce.  But wait.

On Sundays we usually had a roast beef or a pot roast, or sometimes a turkey.  My mom would work hard because we usually had company: my grandparents or the old neighbors.  We ate in the dining room, and everything was to be just right for the guests.  After church I had to dust the furniture.  Someone had to set the big table.  The smells from the kitchen made my stomach rumble.

And then, in the middle of the turkey and the mashed potatoes and the stuffing and the green beans, my dad would say, “Martha, pass the pastavazool.”  He pointed at the gravy, in the fancy gravy boat, and everyone laughed.  “Oh, Jack!” said Mrs. O’Connell.  “Here’s to ya,” said Mr. McLaughlin, raising his glass of Narragansett beer.

On regular weeknights there was no pastavazool, just pork chops or American chop suey or chicken à la king.  The pastavazool was for the weekends.  And it was very special.