Wednesday, June 28, 2006


When I was a little girl my nonna lived with us. She had blue/green eyes and powdery white hair. My dad had green eyes too. Sometimes in the light my eyes go green as well - but only two people in my whole life have ever noticed it. They are both people who have bothered to really look. I think a lot about that, looking and really looking. Sometimes I am surprised by the things that people don't notice about eachother.

My nonna had these amazing fingers. They were long and spindly and she was able to twist and manipulate them to make amazing things. She could crochet anything. Mostly she used cotton to crochet little round doilies and long thin table runners. I used to sit by her side watching the needle stab its way in and out quickly and effortlessly while she told me stories of her homeland in hushed whispers. She could also knitt and used to make me little tops I could wear. Once I went to the yarn store and was told I could pick any ball of wool I wanted and she would make a top for me out of it for my birthday. I picked a bright pink one with threads of silver sparkle running through it. The top was sleeveless and scratchy (because of the sparkle) but I wore it anyway. After I got too big for it I unravelled the work and kept the wool. I still have it somewhere. I plaited a whole bunch of it together and used it as shoelaces for my docs once upon a time.

At night, before dinner she would go into her little room and get out the rosary and pray on her knees. I used to get on my knees too, but I didn't know the words so I'd look up at the portrait of my grandfather instead and wonder who he was. Then I'd slide over her bed and play with the items on her bedside table. Little trinkets from her past. Pieces of jewellery, a lamp with a silky hanging fringe that I'd run my fingers over, back and forth until my mind went numb and all I knew was the tickles of silken thread across my fingertips.

My favourite piece was this little china jewellery box in the shape of a piano. Since I was piano girl, I loved that thing so much. My nonna said I could have it, but after she died my older cousins came and took everything, Everything. My little jewellery box was gone and all I had left were my memories of it. I can hardly write this without getting sad about it, even now. It was highly unfair, children have no power.

One of my earliest childhood memories is going on long walks with her. Long sunny day walks through the back streets commenting on the houses and naughtily picking flowers from the front gardens. Picked flowers from front gardens and wildflowers are my favourites, imperfect but sweeter smelling. Flowers are for more than just looking - people are too. I loved coming up with a posey of my very own and holding it up to my nose cherishing the sweetness as I skipped along beside nonna.

She used to spend hours making fresh pasta and I would be there beside her helping make the shapes of the orecchiette. My fingers were slow and clumsy next to her fast and adept ones. There was always flour everywhere. She wore a flowery large apron that went right over the top of everything, like an art smock. I wore a little white lacey one that didn't cover anything but looked fun. My impracticality meant that I always ended up with flicks of flour all over me, not unlike now - except with paint.

She didn't get on well with my mother. They didn't fight, not really - but there was a mutal dislike under the top layer of niceness, simmering. I don't really know why they didn't like eachother - except that they were both strong women with strong ideas about how things should be done. I guess that's what I can say for a lot of things in my life - underneath the surface the bubbles are dancing. They both liked pottering in the garden though and that probably was the only thing they shared, apart from my dad and us. I was often torn between loyalty towards my mother and loyalty towards my nonna. Sometimes she would use my brother and I to manipulate situations to her favour. I knew what was happening and I hated that. I can't even imagine how my dad felt about it all - or whether he even noticed. As we've already established, not everyone notices everything they should...or could.

Later on in her life and when I was nearing the end of my primary school years - my nonna had a stroke. She wasn't allowed to go on her long walks very often because I was too young to look out for her properly and my parents were always too busy to take the time to take her. I remember her frustration at being so old and treated like a child. She used to walk along my Billie Jean hallway instead - working out her discontended resentfulness up the length of the hallway and back again. It was sad.

After she died I used to hear her slippers shuffling up and down the cold tile hallway for a long time. When I'd check, there was never anybody there. There were other things too, perfumed smells where there was no perfume around, sounds in empty corridors. After a month it stopped and everything went back to normal.

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