Her image will remain tattooed in my mind and more importantly in my heart forever: the silver white hair, often in a fine “hairnet”, the weary face, sad brown eyes surrounded by black rings and the occasional course whisker on her chin and cheek. Then of course there were the heavy black garments worn from neck to knee with the orthopedic shoes accompanied by her cane (il bastone).
Lastly was her smile….. When it did crack it was rather beautiful, warm and telling. She had near perfect teeth for an octogenarian; a tribute to her only son, an orthodontist and oral surgeon.
I got to know my grandmother rather well because when she became a widow in her mid 70’s, it was I who slept over her house on a weekly bases to give her company. On those many “overnights,” I was the benefactor of many of her fascinating “stories” told to me in Italian. Among them:
My grandmother was illiterate when she went to school in Italy. She cried so consistently for her mother that the nuns insisted her mom take her back home, which of course she did. There were no mandatory education laws in Italy, she never learned to read or write. However, she did help run the farm and manage the servants on their property. Then the war came and everything changed.
Eventually she came to America. What is most remarkable is how did an illiterate immigrant manage to land gainful employment in New York City during the depression and even become the “Leader” for her Union Workers?
My grandmother had NEVER been in a hospital or to a doctor. She had lost four pregnancies both as miscarriages and as stillbirths … all managed by midwives. Therefore, the birth of her son, Dominic Eugene Nardone, was a absolute miracle. He almost died as a child of 6 from “pneumonia” and even underwent the “iron lung” treatment. Imagine the fear of losing yet another and only child? Fortunately, he did survive that ordeal and managed to have 11 children of his own with a most kind, beautiful and loving woman, Carol Buonocore, my mother.
Then there was true tragedy. Her only son died instantly from a massive heart attack at the premature age of 57. Nanna Linda, a widow herself and in her late eighties, had to endure the loss of her only child. The pain and emptiness this caused her was unspeakable. But somehow she remained the patriarch for her 11 grandchildren for another four years.
While I was in college I visited my grandmother often. When I arrived to her house that particular day she did NOT answer the door, and yet I knew she was home as I could hear faint cries from within. I found an open window, broke the screen and crawled through the living room to find my dear Nanna lying on the floor, disoriented and frightened.
That was the first time she was admitted to a hospital where she was found to be in atrial fibrillation, a cardiac arrhythmia. That was the beginning of her short down fall, and she eventually passed away on July 4,1979 at the age of 93.
I often think of my Nanna and how she not only survived but even thrived in the face of tremendous obstacles and grief. While she had many wonderful qualities there are 3 traits that I believe sustained her:
Regimentation, Tenacity and FAITH.
If I have a fraction of these qualities. I am forever grateful for her example and strength.