I got a call this morning that my grandmother had passed away yesterday at 97 years old.
I was overcome with emotions. I always love taking pictures of family, and one of my favorite ones it a picture of me, my grandmother, my mom and my daughter on the railing at the house in Schito. I always cherished the fact that there were four generations of us together.
In 1980, I was doing a Eurail trip through Europe. We stopped in Sarnano. My friends, Bob and Mark, decided to move on and continue on the Florence and Venice. We would then meet up in Innsbruck. I decided that I wanted to spend more time with my grandparents. We had a great week together, traveling through the mountains, eating great food and enjoying the beautiful view.
At the end of the week, my grandfather dropped me off at the train station in Tolentino. I had about an hour before my train left, so I started writing in my journal. I remember writing how sad I was that my grandmother was 66 and I wasn’t sure if I would ever see her again.
Well, I got to spend another 31 years with her. When I was starting a business in Italy ( thank in many ways to my cousin Sim) , I would schedule my meetings so that I could spend a few days, either at the beginning of the trip or at the end, with my grandmother.
My grandmother was never one for deep conversations. She had a very hard life. She was an orphan very early and raised her younger sister with the help of the rest of her village. She saw first hand the ravages of war in her country.
But she left very little doubt as to who was in charge. Even into her nineties, she was the boss.
On time, I decided that I would cook for everyone by doing a BBQ. I went to the store, got a whole bunch of fresh pork and started the grill. Now they dont sell charcoal, in my town in Italy, you have to make your own. I went over to the community woodpile and selected some firewood to use. I started the fire and was pleased with the progress. My grandmother was upstairs and from the balcony said to me ” You are using the wrong wood!” I turned, smiled and said to myself, well thanks for chiming in.
All of a sudden, here is my 91 year old grandmother, steaming back from the woodpile, with a huge load of logs in both arms. She pushed me aside and said ” This is the wood you need to use.” I knew that resisting would be futile, so I stepped aside and let her take over.
About ten minutes later, I returned to the fire and it was making some very nice grilling charcoal. There was a steel rods that we used to use to move the fire around, I grabbed it to get the coals ready to grill and searing heat burned my fingers. My grandmother had left the rod in the fire and had just taken it out, unbeknown to me. I was screaming in pain and ran upstairs to put cold water on it and ice.
Well, i you have ever traveled to Italy, you are keenly aware of one fact. Ice in Italy is treated like a precious commodity. You ask for a cold drink at a bar and you get one ice cube, served with a pair of sterling silver tongs. So of course, there was no ice in my grandmothers freezer. I grabbed the only thing in there , a frozen goose.
My grandmother’s response ” If you defrost that goose, I am really going to be mad!”
Italians of her generation believed that if they stop, they pass on. They are always in motion. My grandmother was no exception. One day, I decided to call her at home one evening. Here is the conversation, as I remembered it.
Me: Nonna, how are you?
Nonna: Ah my grandson, I’m very tired
M: Well, tell me what did you do today? What time did you get u?
M: Then what did you do?
N: I cleaned the house?
N: I made breakfast for everyone.
M: and then?
N: I cleaned up after breakfast.
N: I went shopping for lunch
M: and then
N: I cooked lunch and cleaned up.
N: I went outside and weeded the garden and fed the animals
M: and then?
N: I went shopping and cooked dinner.
M: and then?
N: I cleaned up and swept the house.I said : Nonna, I’m 44 years old and I’m tired just listening to you! ( BTW she was 89 at the time)
She was an inspiration to me about how your life should be lived. She was an orphan, watching her mother die in a fire. Two of her three daughters lived 4,000 miles away. She never complained, she never wished her life was different. She made the best with what she had, always welcoming, always ready to help. She stayed active and involved into her mid nineties.
Every time, we would get ready to leave, it was always very emotional for her. She would talk about how old she was, and how she might no see us the next time we returned, I made 15 or so trips to Italy, and every time I would say the same thing to her. Come on Nonna, you say that every time, and every time when we come back, you’re still here. We’ll see you next year.
When Luciana and I went there in 2009, the day we left, and she simply said goodbye. I found it rather odd that we didn’t get the same response.
We will be traveling to Italy this August. And for the first time in my life, she won’t be there.
We will all miss her dearly. It just wont be the same with out seeing her smile or hear her laugh.
There was four generations. Now there are three.
Thanks to the Piergentilis for their contributions. In the comments, please share your favorite story about Nonna.