Today I want to tell you a story, just like any other day. It’s about an amazing girl, that was a real force of nature.
She was born many years ago, in a small village of south Italy, when people still worked their own land, baked their own bread and washed their clothes at the village’s fountain. Her birth was surrounded by a great mystery. On a summer day, when she was just a newborn, a well-dressed man brought her to a farm, asking the farmer and his wife to raise her like she was their own daughter. Nobody knows who the man was or why he made such request, but the family accepted. They named the girl after a flower, Viola.
Growing up, Viola wasn’t easy to raise by any means. The girl was just too modern for her generation. At 6 she wanted to learn how to read and write, while her family could afford to send to school only one child, and that priviledge had gone to her older sister. At 18 she wanted to find a job and be independent, and not to marry or go to some convent.
Even when she lost those battles, the girl wasn’t one to give up so easily. In her twenties, with three kids to look after, she signed up for an evening class, at least to learn how to read and write her own name. She was married, but despite respecting her husband as she had been taught, she made clear from the very beginning that she was going to be his companion in life, not his slave.
The girl, suddenly forced to become a woman, worked as a seamstress and raised her three children on her own, for the nine long years that her husband had to spend in Germany as an immigrant to work in a factory. She was the strength that kept together her family. If she was standing, then everybody would stand with her. And they stood, even when her youngest child, her only boy, died of illness.
She stood when her daughter was in the hospital with an ulcer. She stood when she was diagnosed with hepatitis. She stood when her husband had cancer. She stayed strong, and she lived through it all. She stayed strong and she was happy. She loved going to the beach in the summer, she loved decorating her Christmas tree, she loved making her own tomato souce and sousages.
She would spoil her grandson and scold her granddaugher because “girls shouldn’t talk back like that”, and then she’d just make a mischeivious smile when said granddaughter would reply, “well, nonna, you talk back all the time!”
She was a real piece of work! Bossy, confident, a perfect nightmare for her sons in law and a perfect challenge for her grandchildren.
Viola died last friday. She was special, and she was my nonna.
Today is just another day. Another day that she is not here. Another day that she won’t call to ask when I come home this summer. Another day she won’t tell the nurse how she misses her grandchildren, that she’d want us there with her, but there’s no helping it, because it’s not easy to find a job, and we had to move so far from home to work.
Or maybe, today is just another day that she’s still here with me, with all the things she taught me and her funny laughter, that will be mine forever.