One of my most favorite people in all the world was my wife's maternal grandmother, Nona (Naw-nah). Now there is a very good chance that you know her. Well, maybe not my Nona, but if you're Italian or have been to a real, family-owned Italian restaurant, you've probably seen her. She was about five foot high, if she stood upright, but she was always just a little hunched over from a lifetime of hard work. She could care less about what her weight was, and she dressed all in black because she was a widow, not because it looked slimming. She almost always wore an apron, and only took it off for visitors; and visitors were those she didn't consider family, except almost everyone was family to her. Her hair was short, but somehow she was always brushing a little piece away from her eyes. Yes, her faced was what we would call weathered, and she would have never, in her more than 105 years thought of Botox. She had a pair of glasses on a chain she used to read, and even then she had to use a magnifying glass, and still squinted at times. When Nona spoke to me, it started in an Italian accent, but over the years she included a little of her native language, another sign that I was part of the family. At the age of more than 85, she would read two newspapers a day; one in Italian and one the local NY paper. She walked to the small, village grocery store with her net bag and bought what was needed for the day, then came home and would make food that should be reserved for God Himself; and the pasta was always handmade. She knitted blankets, sweaters, baby dresses, socks, and something called doilies.
My Nona, Teresa, came from the North of Italy, among the beautiful Alps. Born in 1903, she was a daughter of a farmer, which meant that her mom, Teresa, and her eight other siblings were farmers. There was no schooling for a farm girl in the Northern Italian mountains in those days; there was, though, a lot of work. To have Nona tell it, the only reason she learned to read and write, was due to the benevolence of the local doctor. I do believe, if I listened between the lines, she had quite a crush on this "rich" man of town. For his part, he took enough interest in her to teach her the basics, and then continue her lessons via mail. Whether there was a budding romance for real or not, Nona married a great man, a local builder of houses, at the age of 22. It was at that time they came to America. And that leads us to quite an interesting story.
This all came out one morning over a cup of Nona's coffee, something she and I would share quite often. We somehow got on the subject of her and Rinaldo (Nonu) coming over to America after the wedding. Now I had known they had to come from France because Rinaldo's family had been a circus family, and Rinaldo had been born in Paris. Now at the time, Ellis Island had stated that there were enough Italians from other areas that had come in, but there was still room for Northern Italians, and of course French were still no problem either. So, the newlyweds were good to come into the land of the free. Now here is where it gets a little odd. It seems that my Nona's name was Rosa Teresa, just like her older sister, Rosa Teresa. That's right, they both had the same name. Now there have been stories that Ellis Island workers changed peoples names on purpose, but the current checking of those documents shows that didn't happen near as much as thought, and certainly not to be mean. However, when Rosa Teresa went to come in, there were two Rosa Teresa's listed in the family. According to the ship manifest, which I have, she did came over as Rosa. So, from the time of Ellis island, my Nona was known as Teresa Rosa! Her husband called her that, her name was signed that way, and we all knew her as Teresa Rosa. It wasn't until that cup of coffee, when she was probably about 90 years old, did we find out that her parents used the same name for both girls. Whether she was Rosa Teresa, or Teresa Rosa doesn't matter. She was our Nona, to hundreds of people, as everyone called her Nona; and she was loved by each and every one of them.
She went home to the Lord at the age of 105, although she left us a few years earlier in her mind. Even then, at the age of 103, she had a great few days with my girls, her great-granddaughters, with exceptional clarity. A remarkable woman to the end.