Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dear Nonnie,

You told me times the day of your birth. Who told this to you? You must have seen this act of remembering all the details of a person’s birth as noble, since you could tell each of your children and grandchildren (whose births you had attended) about the mood, weather, and special details only you would think to remember that make it poignant.

Dear Nonnie, You were born during a snowstorm in Columbia County New York, out in the countryside, far from a hospital or a doctor. A doctor had been called and was on his way, making the treacherous journey to your family’s humble house. Your mother was very ill, and there were so many children already. 12 or 13 you told me. Concetta Grandinetti was 52 years old. Women from Calabria must come from the strongest and most fertile stock. Your father Giovanni stood worried, not knowing what to do. Was he in the room holding your mother’s hand or outside the room calming the children? Your father had a great mustache you once told me. Now I see him in my mind with this slightly curled thick dark mustache, so that I cannot tell if he is smiling or frowning.

What was your sister Francesca thinking? She must have been 11 or so, and a strong girl, being the oldest in the family and already taking over most of the chores and helping to rear her sisters and brothers. She must have been there or as close as they would let her be, waiting for you, wishing for you, praying for her, the way she worried and looked after you in your whole life ever after. The photos I saw of her were of a stout woman of muscle and soft skin. Arms that could cuddle or crush, eyes that could bless or curse you, thick wavy almost blonde hair, cut short to be practical and save time. Including her in this moment is not what you had explained, but describing any aspect of your early life without Aunt Fran wouldn’t be right, as she was your guardian angel, one of your greatest admirers who loved and adored you in ways only a mother can.

The midwife was already there you said. Perhaps she did not live so far away. Or they must have called her earlier. Maybe your family did not want to call the doctor, unless there was an emergency. Your mother Concetta could not wait any longer, and you yourself could not wait to come into the world. It was dark outside, night or early morning when the midwife delivered you. When the doctor finally showed up afterwards, he was the one who was paid and of course fed. Everyone was always fed well in your family. Was it Aunt Fran who prepared the food while you labored to enter into the world?

You would forever be the baby of the family. Your brothers and sisters fawned over you, holding you, playing baby games with you, arguing over who could feed you, as your mother could not, being ill with Tuberculosis. And of course, your sister Francesca took over the role of being your mother, which infuriated Concetta Grandinetti. It was a terrible blow to her, her one source of pride and strength, to be a mother she was not allowed or even able to do. Separated by medical necessity, but having all the desire and need to hold and love you, crushed her. Sometimes when you spoke about your mother, you cried. How you longed to know her. How you wished she had survived past your third birthday.

Going to school with the nuns and being Italian

Venerating the catholic mass rituals with utter reverence

Going to Italy and crying at seeing Michelangelo’s statue of David

Singing Salve Regina at your high school and Poppie proposing to you

Wanting to be a nun then a nurse

In bed for a year with trichinosis, Poppie visiting and winning over Aunt Fran and Uncle Phil’s hearts. “They must have seen that he was a good boy, because they let him in to see me. I told him, ‘Why do you come here? Go away! I don’t need your pity.’ But he stayed and kept coming everyday on the bus, out to our house in the Columbia County countryside.” Growing up with pigs, chickens, cutting their throats ringing their necks

Goats and how goat’s milk saved her life when she had trich

Licia, licia, duve sei stata duve nana, che hai portaste pane casa? Portast’a mi, no? Dat da da da da (old Calabrese dialect rhyme said to children.)

The way she made salads, meatballs, sauce. Chianti

Always a girl, playful, loving

Making friends with strangers in the grocery store line


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