I Googled my Grandmother’s name the other day, hoping to find a picture of her amongst the infinite photo tags, but there were none. It’s strange that the way we validate existence these days is with a tool that did not even exist when this incredible woman was raising generations of children that remember her quite significantly. What I remember most about her is that she taught me about unconditional love. She had this amazing way of making you feel that you would be safe, happy, and well-fed whatever happens.
My Grandmother was born in 1910 and had a tough start in life. As she got older, she told me more about how her father and mother mistreated her. Yet everything my Grandmother did was to make the people in her life happy. She had little means but many talents.
She could sew anything but refused to wear pants, so she made her own dresses. They were simple, sleeveless, and practical for working and moving with a pocket for a tissue or two. From my mother’s hand-crafted wedding dress to my Tiffany Taylor doll’s wardrobe, complete with fur collars and lace evening gowns, the detail was as remarkable as she was.
In addition to being a gifted seamstress, she was also a fantastic cook. We still talk about the dishes she would make and how they are impossible to recreate. You see, she never measured her ingredients in conventional ways. As she started getting older, I would sit with her and ask her to tell me how she makes her meatballs, arancini, spiedinis, and steak pizzaiola. Even as I wrote down each step, I knew it would be trial and error until you were able to figure out precisely what it meant to add “a lot” of parmesan cheese.
Every holiday she brought cousins, aunts, uncles, and neighbors together through her love of family and food. You would open the door to her apartment building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and follow the delectable aromas to her kitchen. It was always warm and welcoming, and she loved the company.
If you didn’t take a seat in one of her carefully preserved plastic-covered chairs, you were more than happy to stand and sample from whatever mouthwatering morsels she made. From the grain pies on Easter to the Christmas struffoli, with fingers arched and aching from arthritis, she baked and baked until everyone had a tinfoil-covered pile of delicious memories to bring home.
The three things I have of hers are her rolling pin and her sewing machine and her sense of humor. Whereas I have not ventured to use her Singer, I use the rolling pin when we bake or make homemade pizza with the kids and remind them it was my Grandmother’s before.
Sadly she passed away in 2002, so I don’t have to explain to her what a hashtag is or why it is so important these days. But I suppose if anything is worth trending this Woman’s History month, it’s the name that showed future generations how to overcome undeserved cruelty and love unconditionally with everything you have, #CarmellaNunziata.