Nonna means Grandma in Italian. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. Maybe because Easter is approaching and that’s when she’d make enough Easter bread to feed a village. I loved baking with her.
Growing up, I had the pleasure of her company all to myself for a few years when she lived with us. I remember those years with fondness. I was her helper when it came to baking, cleaning, and cooking.
She offered free hugs and cuddles all the time. And a good lecture too when I misbehaved. The only time I remember her relaxing was for an hour in the evening when she would watch her Italian soap opera, which the whole house could hear as she’d put the volume on full blast. She was partly deaf in her later years. And instead of turning her hearing aid up a notch, it was the TV volume instead. I used to giggle when she’d turn to me and ask in Italian “Is the TV too loud?” I’d tell her it was just fine.
I was amazed at her fearlessness. One sunny summer afternoon there was a garden snake in our yard. My mother shrieked, I ran. My Nonna? She casually picked up the snake and whipped it in the air like a cowboy about to lasso a bull. When it wouldn’t just die after its little head was slammed into the cement a few times. She hollered at me to grab a pot of hot water.
When I returned, she threw the half-dead snake in a bucket, and the hot water along with it, drowning the snake. I guess the hot water did the trick.
“There, it’s dead. Now let’s get back to picking those tomatoes.” And that was that. My mother and I were left a little shaken by the critter in our yard, but Nonna just got on with her day – there were things to be done after all.
Every night she’d read this small compact bible she had. I could hear her whispering away as she read the passages. Once she was done reading, she would hold the rosary in her hand while praying. Then she’d lean over turn off the lamp and go to sleep.
I’ll never forget one day she was going into our cantina to get some flour as we were baking homemade pasta. There is a big step to climb over to get into my parent’s cantina, and she lost her footing a bit and fell. I was so scared. Nonna wasn’t a fragile woman, she was big boned and tough. She got up, dusted herself off, turned around and said to me:
“Don’t tell your mother about this. She’s only going to worry and lecture me on how I should rest. I’ll rest when I’m dead.”
“So you want me to lie to mommy?” I asked her in my broken Italian, knowing that it really wouldn’t be a lie. I just wanted to hear what she had to say in response. She said the greatest things.
“If mommy comes home from work and asks you if I fell today, then tell her the truth. But if she doesn’t ask you, then there is no need to tell her, is there?” She said to me with a wink.
One night, my parent’s went to a wedding. Nonna asked me what I wanted for dinner. There was a pack of Macaroni and Cheese in the pantry that my mother bought about a year ago and never made for me. I really wanted that. And it would still be good since those things don’t expire for a few decades. When I showed Nonna the box she wrinkled her nose at it and mumbled how disgusting it was. I begged her to make it for me. So she did.
She placed the dish of fluorescent orange macaroni and cheese in front of me at the table. She watched as my eyes lit up. Then she shook her head and took the plate off the table, throwing the food in the garbage.
“That isn’t food. It’s too bright! Not natural for food to be so bright. You want cheesy pasta? I’ll make you some.” About twenty minutes later I was eating fettuccini Alfredo.
Sometimes I wish I could still talk to her, ask her for advice when it comes to Jacob. She used to cure us kids of anything when we were younger. Whether it was a bad cough, sore tummy, headache or stuffy nose, she’d whip up a concoction that was offering us relief in minutes.
I can feel her sometimes too. There was this one time I was watching Jacob sleep in my arms after rocking him. I felt a nudge at my elbow. It was so forceful that my arm jerked a little. I looked up quickly expecting someone to be there, but it was just Jacob and I. And then I felt her. It was as though she were alive and in the room with me. I stayed there for an extra fifteen minutes that night. Just rocking Jacob, feeling Nonna and enjoying the moment.
When I’m having a bad day, when I’m feeling blue, defeated and tired, I think of her. I think of the tough, hardworking, never-complaining woman she was. I think of how long she lived, how she watched the world change before her eyes and always adapted without a single complaint. I also think about her when I find myself complaining about little things and feel guilty. She was a simple woman. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren are what brought her joy. She didn’t need anything else but to be there for her family. I want to be more like her.
What do you love about your Grandmother? What are your favorite memories about her?