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  • How to Maximize Your Relationship with the Nonni

    Discover how to make the most of the moments you have with Italy's greatest treasure, its grandparents
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    Grandparents the world over are special. But Italian grandparents – better known as nonni – have that little something extra. It's hard to pinpoint. But they have a sparkle in their eye, a way with a wooden spoon, and conserva in the cupboard at all times. They often have small statures and huge personalities. And they inspired all the Sunday lunches, Christmas Eve feasts, and vino or grappa toasts you've ever experienced. They give you some crazy advice (never drink ice-cold water on a hot day or risk dying – wait – what?) and some great advice (get educated because we left our country to make sure you had more opportunities than we did).

    They are the heartbeat of la famiglia. When they're gone, you lose a part of yourself and the family continues on but that heartbeat gets fainter and fainter. I was lucky enough to know all 4 of my grandparents and even one biological great grandparent and one step great grandparent. Their mere existence made us all the more Italian, and their love set my life in motion.

    Here's what you need to do to maximize whatever time you have with the nonni:

    1. Let them feed you.
    Sure, you love nonna's meatballs, so this hardly seems like a difficult one. But I myself have griped that my grandparents (or my father, who is a nonno himself now) cook when I've already made a meal, especially for one of our parties. But one of my cousins, who lost her father, reminded me that when they're gone, I'll miss their dishes pushing mine out of the way on the buffet table. I'll feel badly that there is no one around to make me 50 pounds of roasted peppers because I mentioned once that I liked them on a sandwich. And the empty Mason jars that are certain to be my inheritance will mock me.

    Indeed, my maternal nonno, Rocco Di Costanzo, passed away in March and when my cousin cleaned out her freezer and showed me a picture of the chicken cutlets that my grandfather made and wrapped for her before he died, I couldn't stop crying. My grandmother, his wife, says Sundays are the day she misses him most because she no longer listens to Mass on TV with the scent of his bubbling pasta sauce in the background. So, savor every aroma, every bite, and every recipe that you can get out of them. Yes, get them to write down exactly how they make all that deliciousness. Someday you will want to at least try to replicate the dishes.

    2. Ask about their childhood.
    Listening to the stories about my grandparents and parents – what brought them to the United States, what their life was like in Italy, what their life was like when they first became Americans, what they dreamed, what actually happened – is probably what motivated me to become a journalist. It was the only job I could imagine allowing me to share their stories and those of others like them. Still, I've never been able to tell a story quite like they would. Italians have a way with words, you know.

    Set a day aside – or many – to hear their life story. Video tape every minute of it. You will find yourself pouring over the videotape at some point down the road, and everyone else in the family will be jealous of your genius when nostalgia strikes hardest. Plus, you will get the audio and the view of their hand gestures as they talk. Sorry, that stereotype about Italians is totally true.

    3. Seek guidance.
    Yes, they come from a completely different time and place. This is true even if you were born in Italy, too. After all, we are shaped by our era and circumstances. But some things are universal, such as trying to find meaning in life, love, and faith. You will quickly realize that they have already lived through just about anything you are facing. Find out what they think. Ask them outright for suggestions. Listen carefully to what they have to say. You don't have to take their advice. But 9 times out of 10 you'll regret it if you don't. Of course, they'll never let you forget it.

    Di Meglio uses the written word to help families create memories and stick together. You can follow her on Facebook at Francesca's Newlyweds Nest and on Twitter @ItalianMamma10.

    Article Published 4/20/15

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