Guys, in honor of March 8th, Love Romance Read asked its authors to share a woman who inspired them, or that was important for them. Here’s my article, I hope you’ll enjoy it!
She was Maddalena, my grandmother from my mother’s side.
And boy, wasn’t she hard to like. At least, for other people. We understood each other, Nonna Lena and me.
She was born in 1913 in Torino as the illegitimate daughter of a Piedmont Count. And here’s where everything started to be different from any other story about aristocracy’s bastard offspring. Because at the end of the day, that’s what she was. It was not unusual (I’d say it was pretty common back then). What was not usual is how this was dealt with.
Nonna Lena’s mom had a husband, but they never had any (other) child together. The Count and the Countess had two sons and when Maddalena came along, she was simply added to the blue-blood brood and raised with them. She never knew where she came from (although I’m sure she did know, but she loved her papá and her mamma just as she loved the Count and Countess, and simply carried on with the situation). We were told the truth only after her death, when her mamma’s sister came clean after keeping the secret all those years.
Nonna Lena was given the best education anyone could have had. And not only a ‘woman’ education (a Lady’s manners, sawing, running a household with servants and whatever noble people had to learn back then, although the Countess saw herself to it). She was taught with the Count’s sons, so she learned about business and ‘manlier’ matters as well.
Her upbringing, a peasants’ daughter raised within gentility and gender equality, was the gasoline that fed her inherent independence.
Thanks to the Count she had a great job at the City Hall, one not many women could aspire to. She worked her butt off, ended up high on the ladder and held on tight through the Second World War and until she retired.
The not-usual went on when she had my mom. My grandfather Angelo was a Great Invalid of War (that’s what we call Veterans who were greatly injured in the war). He was hit while in combat and had a lung removed because to it. He survived, but could never work again. He and Nonna Lena met in a mountain village while he was recovering, fell in love, ignored the age difference (she was almost 10 years older than him) and got married. As I said, Nonno Angelo could not work. Nonna Lena could, though, and kept on doing just that even if my grandfather was awarded a very generous pension for what he did while serving, and could very well provide for the family. So, my grandfather was the stay-at-home dad while my grandma went to the office, day in and day out. We’re talking about the ’60, it sure was not the average Italian family dynamic.
Of course, for me, she was simply Nonna. She loved crosswords and reading. Her collection of Agatha Christie was complete and displayed as a trophy.
She helped me study, especially history.
And she told me stories of war, of how she lost her first love to the War when she was in her twenties. She told me when the news arrived, she cried all of her tears and she was left with none to shed. Losing him had crushed something in her heart she never patched up until many, many years later when she met Angelo. But still, I never saw a tear, happy of otherwise, coming from her.
She never tried to teach me anything, no big life lessons, but she showed me through every-day life what being rock-solid meant. What being your own woman meant.
Fearless, is what she was.
Of course she wasn’t easy to deal with, especially in her later years.
When nonno Angelo passed away, she spent the 2 years before her own passing pissed mad because, “Angelo left me here, the ass”. (She never openly said ass, she was too proper for allowing bad words, but it was very clear she thought it).
I know how she was seen by others, and how she might not have been liked. She had too many too muches to be likable. Too much independence for a woman of that time, too much balls, too much steel in those nerves, too much temper. Too many un-sanded edges.
My mom always tells me I remind her of my grandma and while I’m not sure it is intended as one, to me it’s the highest compliment.
She lived free and true to herself during hard times and taught me how to be just as hard.
I can’t say I wouldn’t be who I am today without her. Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t. But she showed me it was okay to be whatever you feel like being, and to hell with those who don’t like it.
So here’s for you, you badass Nonna. Always in my heart.