Two grandmothers, one shared cultural heritage
I was fortunate enough to be loved by two grandmothers. Two amazing women who were very different in disposition and appearance but who loved their grandchildren with a fierceness only grandparents possess.
My mother’s mother lived near an uncle and was quite far away from us for regular visits. When she visited, she would have an extended stay in our home both in the city and in the ‘burbs.
My father’s mother always lived in the city. Different apartments, but always in the city. We would go and visit her or see her at an aunt’s house or another relative. She would occasionally come and spend a few days with us.
My paternal grandmother looked like what you think a city Italian-American would look like from her era. A simple dress, those clunky black shoes with heels and laces and a light sweater.
I do not think I ever saw her in pants. She always looked the same in my mind’s eye. She died when I was in my early 20s.
My maternal grandmother was more modern. In fact, I don’t recall her wearing dresses. She was always on the move.
She drove like she was in a race. My father’s mother walked with deliberation and to my knowledge never had her driver’s license. She died when I was more than halfway through my 30s.
We did not call either Nonna or Mom-Mom. They were both grandmom or grandma. Their first names were similar sounding; think Mary and Marie.
Both women were of Italian descent. I think my maternal grandmother became more American-ized because she married a man of mostly Irish ancestry.
My paternal grandmom used to speak a little Italian when she didn’t want to use English.
We had a cat growing up who liked to escape the house. My grandmother would use a slightly profane word for tramp for the cat—puttanella. Or she would tell us to sit down and she would use the Italian word for butt—culo.
Both women had memorable kitchen talents. In fact, I make dishes both women used to make. Ironically, my two favorite dishes from my grandmothers utilizes potatoes.
I have no memories of my grandfathers. Both were deceased by the time I could speak in sentences. But while my parents were younger, their mothers would help their husbands out in their independent businesses. It is from both women, that I learned the importance of hard work.
Funny enough, both women were a little vain about their age. My dad’s mom would always insist she was 29, she passed away at near to 90. My mom’s mother was known to lie about her age. She too was about 90 when she died.
They also loved me and all their grandchildren with an intensity that is really only appreciated after their passing.
My maternal grandmother showed her love in actions and gifts. She would ask about our lives and even though she lived nowhere near Hammonton, she subscribed to this paper so that she could understand about where her family was living.
My dad’s mother would sign her cards to us with lines and lines of x’s and o’s. As she grew older, the number of hugs and kisses were less in the cards but she always made sure to tell us how much she loved us.
It has been years since they have both been alive. They are missed every day.
Do you have a story about growing up Italian, either in Hammonton or anywhere else? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.