Friday, June 17, 2011


I’ve been reflecting lately on my grandmother and her amazing life. In August she will celebrate her 97th birthday. She has wonderful health with the exception of dementia. Over the years it has gotten progressively worse, so now she longer knows anyone except my aunt who visits her daily. I haven’t seen my grandmother in 2 years because it’s painful to see her when she doesn’t know who I am; I don’t want to remember her that way. Perhaps it’s selfish, but I prefer to remember her as the feisty, tough Italian woman she was.

My grandfather passed away when I was 4, and my grandmother has yet to remove her wedding band. She has been ready to die since my grandfather passed because she misses him so much, and it’s sort of funny that she has lived so many more years. Whenever the conversation of her dating came up, she immediately dismissed it and never considered it. My grandfather, her husband, is her true love and she is ready to be with him in heaven.

My grandmother was born Anna Bongiovi and grew up in Pennsylvania, working alongside her 7 brothers and 1 sister running their family grocery store. Her parents were immigrants, and while I don’t know for certain, I think my grandmother was sort of embarrassed by the fact that they didn’t speak good English. When I was a child I asked her a few times why she never taught her children to speak Italian, and she always gave me the same answer: “This is America. We speak English here.” My grandmother grew up speaking fluent Italian as a child, yet the only time I ever heard her speak it was when she would tell a certain story about a fire or curse. She didn’t want us grandkids to know what she was saying, and we didn’t, but we knew better than to repeat it. =)

My grandparents met as children and my grandfather’s family moved to Akron, Ohio at some point during their childhood. For many, many years they kept in contact through letters. I know my grandmother still has those letters, and I would love to be able to read them. I used to love to hear my grandma tell the story of how they met, kept in touch with each other, and then eventually married. I have a picture of my grandparents in the 1940s, when they were my age now. They are just beautiful, both of them. My grandmother was a striking woman, thin build with jet black hair and a creamy complexion. My grandfather, whom I tend to favor, was also dark-haired but had an olive complexion. He worked for Firestone in the rubber factory for many years and eventually retired from there.

My grandmother used to tell stories about working in the grocery store. Keep in mind, back in those days, family’s lived above their shops. My favorite story was about when the store caught fire one night and she woke up first to the smoke. She basically ran through the house, warning her family so they could escape. When she would tell us the story, she’d always tell about the warning part in Italian, and I loved to listen to her speak it.

I have many fond memories of my grandmother, and am so thankful for the time I was able to spend with her as a child. In my mind she will always be the best Italian cook, especially of meatballs, gravy (sauce), pasta with broccoli, and chicken soup. I know when she passes away, she won’t leave behind a legacy that most people outside of her family will remember. Although there are famous Bongiovi’s in our family, she’s not one of them. But, she has passed on the legacy of determination, hard work, and perseverance in order to get what you want out of life. She could have cried herself to death after my grandfather’s passing, but instead she moved forward and moved on in her life, celebrating the highs and mourning the lows that naturally occur over time in a family. I know that although she’s not perfect, in my mind she is the Proverbs 31 woman, and I do call her blessed.

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Anonymous said...

Though I haven't seen her in many years either, I remember her as a very beautiful and hospitable woman. She would do anything for her grandaughter! I also remember a poster hanging in her house of a certain famous family member I adore ;-) I always thought it was funny since it was out of character for someone her age. I've told that story to many people over the years.

Anonymous said...

I love this. My grandma was an amazing woman too! In fact, my little Eleanor is named after her :)