On nights of falling stars our grandparents would let us camp out on the porch until we fell asleep. Then they would wake us when the star shower began. On those nights we would talk about our wishes and dreams.
In trying to capture all of those memories, I began writing a series of vignettes about growing up in an Italian household and Grandma’s lessons in love. However, after reading I Wish I Had Asked | Psychology Today by Abigail Brenner, M.D., I realized that I was focusing only on my own memories with my sister rather than sending these little stories to cousins to see how they remember growing up with Grandma Water, as she was called.
Although the house on the water had a large wrap-around porch and was filled with rooms, a double staircase and even a widow’s walk, Grandma lived in her kitchen. She was just under 5 feet tall and as wide. Her jolly body and print dresses were always covered by a large white baker’s apron that matched her hair — almost always dusted with flour as she brushed wisps from her face.
On nights of falling stars she would sometimes let us help in the kitchen, because those were nights of homemade ravioli, greens, and gobs of gelati.
I remember the first time they asked us what we wished for when we saw a falling star. I said I wished for a Prince Charming for each of us. Grandpa spoke up. He looked at us intently and said, “When you marry, he should be a kind man with a good job. And, if he is Italian — ah, bravo. Bravo.”
A lesson in love, Prince Charming
Dr. Brenner's many suggestions on how to collect family history reminded me that I should talk to our remaining two aunts about Grandma’s lessons in love. Here is one that I still love.
Turning a toad that roars into a prince
When she was rolling out dough to make pasta one day, I asked her if her falling star wishes all came true. She put her rolling pin aside, wiped the flour from her hands onto her apron, sat with us and smiled.
“Sometimes you need to pretend that everything is all right with your husband. When Papa comes home bellowing at the front door, I slip up the back stairs and go to my sewing room. Then I imagine that when I come downstairs, he will be my Prince Charming.
“By then he is on the porch with his cigar no matter what the weather. I wait awhile, then go downstairs, open the door and say, 'Anthony, come inside.' And instead of complaining about those smelly cigars, I kiss him and say, ‘I’m happy you’re home.’ He softens and becomes my prince,” she said.
“Sometimes, I don’t even go to the sewing room, I just kiss him and act as if I didn’t hear his roar.”
Then Gram added, “When you know your husband is having a bad day, you are going to expect an old grump -- an ugly toad -- to walk in. Instead see him as your prince. Give him a big hug and a kiss and see how love wins out.”
Despite her lack of education, she had a sense of wisdom. Did she learn it from her mother? I don’t know, but now will ask her two daughters, our aunts, both in their nineties to tell us what they remember about their own "a nonna."
Adapted from my family history “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom”
Copyright 2014 Rita Watson