The last photo I took of my Nonno were of his strong yet gentle Italian hands, taken on Thanksgiving Day, the day before he left us. They were peacefully clasped on top the sheet over his sleeping body. I held his hands, they were warm and fidgety. But something told me it would not be long before I could no longer hold them.
Some of my warmest memories as a child involved these hands. They spoiled my sister, brother, cousins & me with homemade donuts, sugary candies, many a game of king’s corners & blackjack … & wrapped around us every time we would come to visit and before we would leave each other – Nonno loved giving big bear hugs.
Whenever I think of his hands, I am reminded of his occupation – the thing he diligently did with these hands for much of his life.
Nonno was quite simply the best kind of farmer: he truly respected and cared for the land. He cared for his land such that the soil is still rich and producing. Nonno may not have called himself a steward – he was not one to brag. But that’s exactly what he was.
Nonno loved tending his small garden. As kids, we got such a kick out of watching him pull up from the soil long carrots and cut from their stems enormous zucchini.
The depth of care he had for all living creatures has been unmatched by anyone I have ever known – and that means a lot, coming from this family of animal lovers! His hands cared deeply for and nurtured so many animals throughout his life. He fed baby animals with a bottle. My mom has warm memories of Nonno caring for her pet raccoon. He faithfully mixed and filled sugar water into feeders for hummingbirds. He worried himself sick when Sylvester, his adopted stray cat, would wander off for days at a time. He loved more dogs to their final days than we can count. Shortly before his passing, Nonno asked my mom who would feed the animals left at the ranch. We’re not sure which animals he was referring to, but it didn’t matter. His tenderness toward animals was heart-wrenchingly beautiful.
Nonno’s olive-hued hands told the story of his Italian roots, of which he was so proud. In true Italian fashion, he really did speak and sing with his hands. As a kid, I loved watching him raise his hand from the front seat while he sang along to some classic Italian crescendo playing in the car. Nonno loved showing us photos and telling stories about his Italian heritage. One day, I hope to visit the town in Italy where his family originated—Tassignano.
Man, those hands could cook! They kneaded dough and sliced salami. They stirred sauces and cooked meat. We never left Nonno’s house hungry. According to my mom, Nonno taught my Nonni how to cook when they were first married. By the time I came along, together they were an excellent aproned team in the kitchen.
Whenever I visit any of his favorite local restaurants – eating pasta on the checkered tablecloths at Luigi’s, at a long table (with a glass of red wine) in the back of Wool Grower’s, or on a barstool at the counter of Dewar’s, I will think of my Nonno.
His hands could really bake too! He baked dozens upon dozens of seriously delicious Italian cookies with family at Christmastime. Yesterday, we recreated this memory, but of course it was not the same without him. I loved watching Nonno pour more & more Amaretto into the pie dough, correcting my mom and uncle on their technique. The smell of biscotti and chess pies will forever remind us of his ability to bring people together with laughter in the kitchen. We promise to carry on this holiday tradition even though he his gone.
While my husband and I were visiting Nonno on Thanksgiving Day, Nonno called out for Nonni many times, raising his hands up, reaching & calling out for “Edna” and asking for her help. I personally find so much comfort knowing that my Nonno and Nonni are now back together again – holding hands, how they belong. That is how I will remember them.