Thanks, you guys, for all of your nice comments and e-mails about Nonni’s passing. I’m sure she’s having fun reading them and finally understanding what exactly a “blog” is. It could not have been easy to be a 92-year-old Internet sensation without Internet access.
Nonni died the day after her birthday. Her death was not a surprise, but it’s still hard to imagine not having her around in a visible, vocal way. We were lucky that she was as healthy, active, and independent as she was for so long. Psycholo-gically, though, she was ready to go. She said so on many occasions, and on Thanksgiving when she was getting close, she told me that she wasn’t afraid to die. I knew she had a lot of loved ones waiting for her on the other side: her parents, all of her brothers and sisters, her first husband who died 66 long years ago, her daughter who died just last year, and countless other family members and friends. I don’t blame her for being done here. At some point, the world you’re living in is no longer your own.
The memorial was last weekend, and family flew in from all over the country to pay their respects. It was a really beautiful day filled with laughter and tears. In fact, the funeral director commented on how unusual it was to hear so much laughing. There were just so many endearing stories to recount. Then, when I got up to speak, I let out a very audible, “Crap!” as the tears threatened to disobey my direct orders not 10 seconds into it. I can’t talk when I’m crying, you see. It’s either talk or cry, not both, and crying likes to win. However, my aside did not escape the notice of the 5YO way in the back who thought it was the funniest thing ever said and howled, “CRAP, AHAHAHAHAHA, CRAP!!!” The light moment helped me to finish what I had to say. I’d like to think Nonni got a kick out of the irreverence.
The day before the memorial, I spent some time at Nonni’s place helping to separate her belongings into piles of stuff-somebody-might-possibly-want and stuff-nobody-could-possibly-want. It was surprisingly hard to tell the difference between the two piles. Not because Nonni was a hoarder—she really wasn’t. She threw stuff away all the time. Sometimes really valuable stuff, unbeknownst to her. But people just accumulate things during their lives and you never know what’s going to hold meaning for you, never mind somebody else.
I had intended to take only a chair that Nonni knew I wanted, but going through the kitchen cabinets and closets, I came across things I had forgotten about that sparked all kinds of memories. Like the tiny little juice glasses I remember using as a kid. They’re entirely impractical, about the size of a shot glass, so you have to refill them several times even just to quench a small child’s thirst. But seeing them immediately brought me back to her tiny kitchen when I was growing up with its orange-flowered wallpaper and doorframe etched with the heights, names, and dates of all of her grown children and growing grandchildren.
I wrapped those juice glasses in newspaper and put them in a box along with her rolling pin, darkened and honey-colored from decades of use. Other things I found: the yellow Pyrex mixing bowl she used for everything. A small loaf pan for crescia, the parmesan-pepper bread that my family goes wild for even if no one else can quite appreciate the appeal. A few other pots and pans. A meat grinder (the modern tool of choice for making passatellis, the cheesy breadcrumb-based noodles Nonni served in homemade chicken soup). They were never my favorite—I much preferred cappellettis, pork-filled dumplings she also served in chicken soup—but I had them again this Thanksgiving after years of abstinence and I really enjoyed them. I left the pasta machine for somebody else. I have the same model and I knew I wasn’t the only one for whom it would have special value.
I also took Nonni's spatula, ice cream scoop, and some bowls to replace my existing cereal bowls that I’ve come to loathe. I guess I just want her to stay with me in my daily life the way she always did when she was alive, even when she wasn’t in the same room, the same house, or even in the same state. Why should a little thing like death change that?