Monday, April 20, 2009

My Nonna

Probably because I’ve started making some of our own bread, I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmother, who we called Nonna, lately. She always made her own bread in her wood-fired stove and it remains the best bread I’ve ever tasted.

Nonna was the only grandparent that I grew up knowing. I had a uncomplicated view of her as a child, as you do. To me, she was a gentle quietly spoken lady, who spoke pretty good English given it was a language she only started learning in her forties, who wore her long hair in a plaited coil, who lived in a cosy little house in the country and was a great cook. She was always busy cooking, sewing, knitting or tending her garden and chooks, Every birthday I would receive a $2 note in a birthday card, as would all her other grandchildren (there would end up being 17 in all. )

As I grew up, I found out about her life and appreciated her quiet heroism a lot more. Her mother died when she was two. She had only short time at school, so her life from an early age was mainly about work to support herself and her family. She married, but my grandfather was often away working in different corners of Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. After the war, like so many other from their region of Italy, my grandfather migrated to Australia, and it would be four years before my grandmother joined him with the children at the age of 42. (It occurs to me now that I am the same age as was my grandmother when she migrated). She arrived to find her husband was sick, and had to find work immediately. No easing in to her new life. She was a gutsy no nonsense woman.

Nonna died nine years ago, after a long illness, a week before my daughter was born.
I often think about her, as I go about my business on this place. What she could have taught me about frugality and self sufficiency! She was an expert by necessity.

The other day, as my mother was looking for wool for my knitting project, she came across these pillowcases which belonged to Nonna, and handed them to me to keep. Apparently they were for her marriage bed. Given she married in 1937, they are at least 72 years old. The fabric is beautiful, soft but with body to it (why can’t we find fabric like that any more?) The lace on them is beautiful - it’s hard to tell whether it’s handmade or not. The handworked buttonholes on them are a thing of beauty.

I have other things that belong to Nonna. This is her everyday sugar bowl. I believe it was originally silver plated, but the plate has worn off. I think I prefer the worn metal. As a kid I thought the hanging sugar spoon was a remarkable thing. I use it every day too, and whenever I put sugar in my coffee or on my porridge, I think of her.

These marguerite daisies originate from her garden, via cutting from my mother’s garden. They flower twice a year in spring and now in autumn.

Nonna was never here, but I feel her presence here, in the simple things I have around that belonged to her, and in the rhythms of her life I am trying to recreate in some minor way. She was dignified woman who didn’t try to be anything she wasn’t. She was the real deal. I can't think of a better person to emulate.


Sincerely, Emily said...

What a great posting full of your Nonna's memories. I think about my gram a lot when I pull out linen that was hers, or a crocheted item, or when someone asks me for a recipe - I don't the recipe because she never followed one, just a little of this and a little of that. It is sure nice to have some of those "gifts" from her whether it was material things or knowledge. But also nice to have the technology to post on a blog and share with others too. Have a great day. Emily

Paola said...

Thanks, Emily. I think the best gift Nonna gave was the example of her own life. Hope you are having a great day too!

BusyWoman said...

What a lovely post!
I love the idea of carrying on someone's way of life, making part of them part of us as we continue to use their life as an example.

Maybe one day family members will think of us in that way! who knows ?

Paola said...

With a bit of luck, BusyWoman, we are sowing a seed. Thanks for dropping by the blog!

Linda said...

I don't think I have come across an Italian in the community that I grew up in that baked her own bread.

I like being able to talk about similar things about my Nana.

Paola said...

Hi Linda, Yes Nonna was unusual as an Italian making bread. In fact, the dishes I remember her most for were good old Aussie favourites: Roast Lamb with trimmings and Apple Pie. You see, when she arrived in Australia, she went to work in the kitchen at the local hotel.That's where she got her education in post war Australian cuisine, which I must say, she perfected!