Nonna noun (among Italian speakers) a person’s grandmother
Nonna died just under a week ago. You know what I’m gonna miss most of all? Her laugh. No wait! The sound of her voice when she yelled at me. No, really. Her voice was a fucking work of art – high pitched, searing, and unbelievably comical all at the same time. As I grew older, I couldn’t help laughing hysterically every time I heard her yelling (and that just made her yell even more – with a certain naughty glint in her eye ’cause she knew I secretly enjoyed it).
I’m going to miss all the Chapman’s Neopolitan ice cream she used to feed me (the one that came in the big rectangular cardboard box) and all the glasses of full fat homo milk she used to force down my throat. Who even drinks homo milk anymore?! Come to think of it, maybe all that homo milk is what triggered the dairy allergy that came to plague me in my late 20s. Way to go, Ma.
All those years we spent Christmas Eve at her and my Nonno’s house when I was growing up will forever be some of the best days of my life. My Dad’s side of the family would all congregate at my grandparents’ house for Christmas Eve dinner and present-opening every single year without fail until my Nonno died ten years ago and it got to be too much for just my Nonna to host on her own. I will never forget how excited I used to get during the car rides over there – I literally used to bounce up and down in the backseat from the moment we pulled out of our garage to the moment we rolled up my grandparents’ uphill driveway.
My Nonna taught me it was okay to want to be on my own. There’s no shame in wanting some quiet time for yourself and for wanting everyone else to go away for a little while. In one of the last conversations I had with her, she told me that it’s not worth it to settle. Don’t settle down with the wrong person and start a family just to say “I did it.” She’s actually one of the main reasons why I finally decided to start travelling solo. She’s the one who spoke no nonsense and always gave it to me straight, no matter if the truth was harsh or disappointing. That’s what life is after all – it’s not always rainbows and butterflies (no matter how much Mariah Carey tells us it is). It’s pain, it’s struggle, it’s hope, it’s effort, it’s joy, it’s perfection, but fuck it’s HARD.
What would she say to me now, now that she’s resting and is (finally) at peace? Would she say she forgave me for ruining her flowerbed all those years ago when I didn’t know any better? Would she tell me how much she admired my pluck and nerve when I sang along (super-loudly) to George Michael’s I Want Your Sex in Venezuela when I was all of six years old? Trust me, my family still talks about it.
I think she’d be proud of me – well, she was always proud of me – but I think she’d be particularly proud of how I handled her death. I didn’t cry, I didn’t break down, I kept it together at her wake and at the funeral, I stoically stood beside my sister while she spoke the eulogy and I wrapped my arms around my cousin as she quietly wept at the cemetery. I offered hugs and encouragement to anyone who needed them and I stood by my father as he watched his mother’s coffin slide inside the vault, right beside my Nonno’s coffin that had been placed there a decade ago.
This is not me tooting my own horn. Rather, this is me attributing all of my compassion, my backbone, and my ability to care for others to my Nonna. From my youngest days to my oldest, she was there. No matter how many sofa cushions my cousins and I used to build a fort in her living room, Nonna never got mad. She would hand us some more pillows and drape a blanket over us, making sure we were happy, warm, and staying out of trouble. She raised us right. Her way.
Thanks Ma xo