As Another Christmas comes rolling in, I picked up A Silent Hero and read a few of my own words and found myself smiling at the fact that my grandparents are very much alive in there. So, I opened my laptop and decided to summon them back to life again for this Christmas and invited my aunt (La Zia!) to join my imaginary party as well! Here is what I think it would be like to go over at my Nonni's place if my aunt and nonni were still alive!
Nota Bene: If you read my book, you'll appreciate this even more ;)
It's Christmas day around 11AM and Phil is driving as my parents and I talk incessantly in the car. The wheels make the scrunchy squeaky sound in the snow as he turns right on Rousselot street. He pulls into the narrow driveway and we all get out of the car, my parents busying themselves unloading loads of food and gifts. I am too excited so I run up the snowy steps leading to the front door of my grandparents triplex in Villeray. I ring the doorbell and knock with enthusiasm as I have not seen them in a long time. as I wait, I shake my boots against the balcony railing to get the snow off of them and just then, the door swings open and La Zia, my favorite aunt (the only one!) appears.
Her thick and short brown hair with caramel highlights fall around her face in a perfect ball, as always. I have always loved her hair that way but there is something you must know about my zia, she is in an eternal love-hate relationship with her mane. No matter how perfect it is, there is always something not good enough about it, which became a running gag in our family. She is wearing her classic gold earrings and a white slim fitting blouse and dark trousers. She looks stunning. I jump at her neck to hug her “La ziaaaaa! It’s so good to see you!”
-“I missed you pupetta bella!”
“J’adores tes cheveux! Ils sont tellement beaux!”
-“Ah! Ne m’en parles, je retourne chez la coiffeuse le 4 janvier pour les arranger! »
« of course you are! » she takes my coat and I slip out of my big boots and into my loafers and get out of the way to let my parents and Phil in.
All the lights are on and as I walk down the corridor, I peer into the living room and see the traditional very small and very cute Christmas tree my grandma always put up through the year and I smile as I see it. She has had this thing for years. Close by, old pictures of my sister and I when we were little. The smell of chicken broth and prosciutto fill my nostrils, announcing my grandmother before I see her and as I enter the kitchen, there she is in her usual favorite spot: the right burner of the old stove. The television is on and “Home Alone” translated in French is playing on low volume as she stirs a wooden ladle in a giant cauldron.
She turns around and I see her smile lovingly, her eyes framed by her immense glasses and her old apron are trademark looks that only sweeten with age. I embrace her from the back and peck her cheek, not wanting to disturb her stirring but she surprises me by turning around for a full hug. That’s when I notice the multiple bowls chock full of chopped cheese, tiny meatballs and cheese balls for the “soupe à la santé” dish she makes every Christmas, another family tradition. I am so elated to see the soupe à la santé, I could cry.
-“Mi sei mancata cara Ivana” she says and my heart tightens…
“Anche tu nonna, ti penso sempre, lo sai”
-“come no, ho letto il tuo libro. Grazie, stupenda sta storia…”
“ma davvero?! Ti è piaciuto?» her eyebrow lifts as she places her glasses lower on her nose to dart her eyes at me in a I have a bone to pick with you way, and right then I know what’s coming.
« Si, pero…quella Hannah, non mi piace troppo. Scostumata…» as she is referring to the character in my book who has a crush on my grandfather.
“Yes I thought you might say that. Sorry about that. I will let you discuss that with papanonno for the second edition, si?” and this gives me an exit “Where is papanonno Rinaldo?”
“Oh he’s downstairs getting the wine.”
I turn on my heels and hop down the stairs. I see the super long tables have been set up for the entire family coming and the basement kitchen has even more delicious food dishes, some of which I see are new and creative with out-of-the-ordinary ingredients, and I immediately grasp my sister had something to do with those! Wow, so much work! I never realized how much time my grandparents put into the preparation of this day…I appreciate it so much more now. I head towards the garage and down the corridor to the right is the furnace room, rumbling and keeping the house warm. Furnace rooms, I now realize, always remind me of my grandfather because he has all his tools there and while most people say the kitchen is the heart of the home, I personally think the room with the engine is the actual heart of the home. Past that area is the cold room, AKA the cantina with all the backup homemade tomato sauces, prosciutto and capicollo hanging on strings and of course…the home made wine.
I see him, he is bent down looking at something and rises as he hears me. He slips his pocket knife in his front pocket as he always does.
-“Ahaaa! Eccoti! C’è l’avete fatta!” I hug him and take in the soapy aftershave he wears, a classic. “Sono felice di ritrovarti. Allora, le strade non erano troppo scivolante?”
“Non c’è male…Filippo è stato bravissimo a guidare!”
He picks a white and red wine bottle, and we make our way out slowly and I hear him click off all the lights behind us. I am dying to know if he finished my novel…As though he reads my thoughts he suddenly pierces his the silence between us.
And my job drops, but I do not dare make a sound to interrupt his pace.
“Ho letto tutto e…è troppo...”
My pulse quickens.
Uh oh, what does he mean? Too bad? Too much? Too crappy? Too fake? Oh god he hates it. I have written a book, about his life and he hates it and now it’s a disaster. Great…Good job Ivana. The ONE person you really tried honoring is disappointed.
We exit the garage space and re-enter the warmth of basement. We can both hear the upstairs commotion as more guests start to arrive, but my mind is focused on one thing and one thing only, my grandfather’s grey eyes. I cannot seem to read them.
“Cosa c’è che non va con la storia? Forse non l’ho scritta giusta? What is wrong with the novel?” I take a breath and discouraged, I sit down on one of the many chairs at the long table. Without a word, Rinaldo does the same with an inquisitive look on his face as he sets the bottles on the table.
“Volevo scrivere la tua storia per eternarla. Tutto quello che avete vissuto, nonna, mamma Emilietta, Antonino, Assunta…sono cose incredibili.” I spot a fork and start nervously playing with it.
“Most importantly, I wanted you to know that I understand, or perhaps tried to understand" I correct "what you must have gone through…I tried, I really did. I researched, I recorded nonna’s voice, I read her journal, I interviewed mom and dad multiple times, I even contacted the Italian military archives to know more about your route in the army and the concentration camp. I read so many books. But you’re right, it was too much of an endeavour for me to even capture any of the…”
And then I notice it. Rinaldo’s silence. I look up and see his eyes have turned into crescents, the way they do when he smiles. He may be the only person I know who is capable of silencing others with silence.
“…volevo dire che, è troppo bello.” he finally finishes his thought. His eyes are slightly welling with tears “Non avrei mai potuto scriverla come l’hai fatto tu. Siamo rimasti sopresi, anche la copertura con la foto di Rizia, è bellissima.”
I feel my face break into a huge smile as I realize he was actually complimenting me and I interrupted him in trying not to. He lifts my chin with his index finger “Siamo fierissimi di te Ivana e di Oriana, siete brave nipote.”
Now I feel my eyes glass over with tears. “Grazie papanonno! Sono felice di sentirti. La tua storia sarà sempre viva in questo libro!”
-«Si! Pero, non è la mia storia.»
I look at him and his crescent eyes are filled with joy before he says “È la nostra storia! »
Behind him, I see the famous organetto sitting on a corner table, gleaming, awaiting. Just then, la zia comes rushing down the stairs announcing “papà, dai suonaci qualcosa, quel mazzolin di fiori!” and officially ignites Christmas.
I smile to myself seeing everyone else coming down the stairs. Everyone is oozing with the festive vibe and hunger for celebration and food and I think what a great Christmas this will be.
Buon Natale a tutti!
Bee dreaming x
My name is Ivana. I love photography and meeting people. I hold a Master's in counselling psychology and work as a career consultant. Music is my fuel and an important source of energy in my life. I drive my vespa around the city and I love what I do! :) About this blog: me on my artistic soap box!
My first novel!
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