I think of her often these days. I recently saw a picture of myself that immediately brought her to mind. I am sitting in a wheelchair with my knees resting against each other. I am smiling and enjoying the company around me on a very social evening. What made me think of my grandmother? Even when she was in her 90s and used a wheelchair to get around, she was always ready to enjoy herself. With her pretty, high cheekbones and mischievous eyes, she was patient and clever. She taught me a lot. How to cook a good spaghetti sauce. How to be grateful for the small things in life. How to appreciate poetry.
I knew her for a long time, from the time I was born until she passed away when I was in my 30s. At different stages in my life, I got to know different sides of her. A charming, mischievous and open-minded artist, she worked very hard. She was unassuming, but expected nothing less than excellence. She loved and forgave. As I watched her age and grow more frail, while I grew stronger, I learned that the physical reality of her presence did not reflect the essence of who she was.
I remember when we were living in Ontario in the 1970s, she and my grandfather were taking English as a second language classes. She showed me an essay she had written for the class. She explained she had to choose a topic from a few the teacher had given. She chose to answer the following: “Is it better to have loved and lost, than never have loved at all?” I was young and remember reading the paragraph, but not quite understanding it. She explained to me that it was better to have loved and lost. I remember looking at her wide-eyed, thinking to myself: “Si Nonna, if you write it, then it must be true.” I think back now of all the stories she told me and realize I had absorbed this: there will be pain, frustration and discomfort in life; joy is mine to find.