This week I said goodbye to my grandmother, or Nonna, as my cousins and I called her.
Born in Italy in 1925, she was raised to be a wife and mother. She cooked, cleaned, sewed and raised four children who loved her.
The strange thing about death is that while it is painfully sad for those left behind, it also brings out joy as you reminisce on your favorite memories with that person. We laughed about the time my father, aunts and uncle cried and refused to eat when the pet chicken was served up in a stew. We smiled as we listened to audio of her signing in Italian after a couple of shots of sambuca. We exchanged stories of Italian meals she prepared that were less than appetizing to the grandkids in our younger days, like octopus and pasta e fagioli.
But one of my favorite memories, besides dancing with her to “Ice, Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice at my wedding, is sewing a doll dress with her.
I was pretty young, so my memories aren’t as sharp as I wish they were, but I had received my first sewing machine for Christmas from my mother’s parents, and my aunt the quilter, got me patterns to make American Girl dresses. And it was my Nonna who taught me how to sew.
We worked on the project together in her basement on her sewing machine that fit neatly inside a cabinet. I remember being frustrated because I wanted to follow the instructions exactly. My Nonna, an accomplished seamstress who didn’t read English, just put the pieces together, not always in the suggested order, because she didn’t need the pictures or instructions in order to get it right.
When it was done she said something like, “Next time we sew for you.”
But like many kids, the excitement of my Christmas present wore off, and I didn’t sew again with any regularity until I graduated from college and taught myself to quilt. That first Christmas I made table runners for every woman in the family and no one was more excited to receive it than Nonna.
I gave her one more quilted gift, a lap quilt to use when she sat in her chair in the living room, something that happened more and more as her health started to decline. The fabrics are not ones I would choose for myself, but I knew my Nonna would love them.
That quilt was always on that chair whenever I came to visit and it was there when we went to her house after she passed. Now it is the first thing you see when you come in my house, hanging over the quilt rack in the foyer with my wedding quilt.