I know life can be hard, but I also know my boys are very lucky. They are surrounded by family and friends who care deeply about them. When the tough times come, they will have many people to turn to for support. And they have Nonna. Nonna is their 90-year-old great-grandmother, my grandmother. Every inch of Nonna’s 4′ 9” Italian body is infused with pure, unconditional love. I can’t think of a time I heard Nonna utter a bad word about anyone. Each and every time Nonna sees my sons she showers them with compliments telling them how handsome they are (“Che bello!”), how smart they are (“Che intelligente!”), and how good they are (“Come sei bravo!”)…you get the picture. Sometimes her compliments come in half-Italian/half-English form like when she notes how nice my boys are (“Chi sta qua is so nice!”). It’s precious. Nonna is preoccupied with feeding my children (and the rest of us) and her greetings usually involve handing them a few dollars. Nonna loves my sons dearly and my sons know it. Nonna is the most caring, compassionate, and selfless woman I have ever known. Her family means EVERYTHING to her and loving her family has been the sole mission of her life.
Nonna was born in 1928 and was raised in Mussolini’s Italy. She lived the ugliness of relentless war while growing up in her small village. She once told me that the young village girls used to put charcoal on their faces to make themselves unattractive so occupying soldiers wouldn’t rape them. Nonna’s village was bombed during World War II and she had to flee on foot with whatever belongings she could carry, leaving the rest to the mercy of the bombs. Nonna’s own father died of pneumonia when she was just a few months old and her mother raised and supported four children on her own in the midst of a world-wide economic depression. Nonna’s older brothers took turns stepping up to be her pseudo-father. Nonna married my grandfather when she was just nineteen-years-old and they had three children. Despite not knowing English or much about the country, my grandparents chose to move to the United States in 1956 to provide their children with opportunities that didn’t exist in post-World War II Italy. As a refugee of war, my grandmother was granted a special status that allowed her to do this. Nonna and my grandfather worked hard and assimilated to their new country while managing to hold onto the culture of their homeland. Their hard work yielded financial stability and success. Nonna’s story is the story of the quintessential American Dream. Throughout her life, Nonna faced many hardships. In the face of adversity, Nonna persevered and built a beautiful life for herself and her family. What is remarkable to me is that she did it all with an open, compassionate heart full of love. Perhaps Nonna is so compassionate because she has endured so much. My boys and I are very lucky to have Nonna in our lives.
Longevity tends to run in our family. Nonna’s older brother Luigi is still going strong at 98-years-old. Despite being 90, Nonna is incredibly healthy. Unfortunately, Nonna’s memory has started to fail her. At first she would forget small things, but now she is forgetting big, important things. It is hard to watch. All the memories I have of significant events and milestones in life include Nonna. My family doesn’t want to watch her fade away. I suppose now it is our turn to take care of Nonna and show her the unconditional, compassionate love she has given us so freely all of these years. That is the very least we can do. At the same time, I can’t help but think that the world would be a more peaceful, beautiful place if everyone had a Nonna to teach them about selfless love and compassion. Despite the ugliness she saw, Nonna decided to cultivate beauty. The world could use more Nonnas.