Renzo and Anna are part of a slowly diminishing species – real Italian nonni. When I stopped by their apartment this afternoon, Renzo had just come in from taking his 89 year old mother-in-law to the hairdresser. While laying his magic hands (a gift of pranotherapy) on my son’s inflamed shoulder, he greeted his 3 ½ year old granddaughter as she wandered in from her post-nursery nap. Then he rushed back out with us to pick up his 10 year old grandson from school. Meanwhile nonna had taken care of lunch and was busy preparing snacks. This is their retirement. Shouldn’t they be off on cruise ships touring the seven seas, or having fun, relaxing and doing whatever they want to do? Instead, this is what they want to do.
The Italian family taking care of itself – the generation above and two below, quite a handful. My grandparents lived three states away and came around on Thanksgiving or Christmas, never both. Then we would visit them for a few days here and there while passing through on our way south.
At the beginning of her book, Mother Tongue: An American Life in Italy, author Wallis Wilde-Menozzi tells of moving to Parma with her Italian husband whom she had met, lived with, and married in California. Somehow things were different back in his hometown of Parma, “If we had moved to another Italian city, if we had defined ourselves outside of Paolo’s family and customs” she wistfully wonders….. What she hadn’t counted on was that once back home, he couldn’t define himself outside of his family. He is Italian and although we also define ourselves within the context of our families, our American smallest unit of survival is clearly, deeply and singularly, the individual, ourselves. An Italian’s smallest unit of survival is enlarged to include his or her family. It is a very basic and astoundingly profound difference that reverberates in wider and wider circles to encompass many aspects of daily life. Not a matter of personal choice, but rather a cultural given.