My mother’s mother was a short, feisty woman, born in 1908. She was the first generation American born to Italian parents. She had 2 sisters (one of whom is still living and just turned 102!) and grew up in Italian neighborhoods in southern Connecticut. Being Italian was as much a definition of who she was as being named Angelina or being the daughter of Ferdinando.
As a child, my Nonny (as we called her), loved my sister and I fiercely. She was already widowed by the time we came along, and she lived with my aunt, sewed wonderfully and made the best chicken soup you’d ever eat. Food was a big deal for my grandmother; there wasn’t any ailment that couldn’t be cured by a hearty meal or a hot cup of tea. She was Nonny—a grandmother in every sense of the word—complete with white hair and wrinkles, sagging stockings and sensible shoes.
As my sister and I became teens, Nonny would tell us tales of her younger days, sneaking out of her home in the middle of the night to meet her boyfriend. I’m sure she must’ve followed up these stories with admonishments to my sister and I not to repeat these deeds, but the stories were so astonishing. My 80-year-old granny would sneak out? My sweet, old grandmother was once a brazen lovesick girl? That can’t possibly be right. But she told us tales of how she’d stuff clothes into the bed and mound up the blankets and pillows to appear as though she was still sleeping. Her sisters either never knew or never told. She’d meet her boyfriend on the drawbridge in town. This all would have taken place in the early 1930s, a time when the economy was bad, women were barely earning the right to vote, and your family is who you lived with until you married.
Nonny also told us tales of learning to sew to make a living, and playing baseball on an all-girls team. She once chased a boy who had stolen her purse with a vinegar bottle on her walk from the grocery store (my grandfather taught her to drive after that).
However, the point of Nonny’s sneaking out story was never to shock my sister or me, but to conclude the story by telling us how her father had caught her, followed her to the drawbridge one night, and insisted the boy come home to meet the family properly. He wasn’t Italian, which is why she was meeting him secretly. But that French-Canadian man eventually became my grandfather – a man I never met but felt like I knew. Even Ferdinando came to approve of him, although he never got over the fact that he wasn’t Italian.
To think of these clandestine meetings during the wee hours, with my immature teen brain, was to think of my grandmother as having two lives; one defined by crocheting and family meals, and one that didn’t seem real at all, a past life.
I was reminded of Nonny’s secret life recently when we were asked to cater a little luncheon for a senior adult who was about to marry. She had been widowed for a number of years, but here she was at 70-something years old, about to marry again. So often, I see young brides with their whole lives before them, taking a chance on love and faith and making a commitment. To think of this older woman taking that same hopeful leap was startling, but also so very delightful. As I’m rooted here at the beginning of middle-date, and not an inexperienced teen, I’m learning the lesson that age is immaterial when it comes to love and passion.
You see, love can find you at any age. My grandmother, in telling me her story, was reminding me how much she loved, really loved, my grandfather – enough to risk her family’s approval, her reputation, and possibly her own neck on that drawbridge. She was also telling me that even though she was older and widowed that she had loved fervently. And here was a new woman in my life, showing me again that love does not know age. She was also risking her family’s approval and her reputation to follow the dream of marriage.
In the midst of the plans for this luncheon, the hostess (also a senior adult) confessed to me that in helping her friend plan the wedding, it made her think of her own husband in a new light. The wedding reminded her of when she married her own fellow, so many years ago. She was reminded why she fell in love with him and why she loved him still.
In my business, getting married is very much about gowns and centerpieces and good food and a great band. While I value those things, and I firmly believe that the first day of married life should be a wonderful celebration, I pray each of my brides remember the reasons they take those vows and that the celebration should last long after the guests have left and the honeymoon has ended. I pray they each fall in love with their husbands a bit more every day. And in their senior years, God willing, I hope they want to marry the same man all over again. Or at least that love will still find them with a hopeful heart.
Nonny was widowed for almost as long as she was married. She never dated anyone else, but she was loved by my sister and me. In her final months, she would look toward the sky and say “Slim, I don’t know why I’m still here, but I swear I’m coming to meet you.” She was probably just trying to find enough blankets to stuff in the bed.
Holly Lynch is the owner of The Season Events, a full service catering, event planning, and design company.