It was two years ago today that I lost one of the most important people in my life, my Grandma Angelina. She was only three weeks away from her 100th birthday but I don't think you would ever have known that by looking at her. She had gotten ill in February of '08, suffering a perforated bowel, a complication for diverticulitis. She was rushed to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning and had emergency surgery. Perforated bowel is pretty serious, in anyone, and she was 99 at the time. Many don't survive it. She did. But it's not a surprise really. This is the same woman, who at 90 years old, had a triple bypass and valve replacement, earning her a spot in medical journals for not only undergoing that intense of a surgery at her age, but surviving and thriving. It was a stroke she suffered a few months after the perforated bowel, in September that ultimately claimed her. And even when she couldn't talk and couldn't move one side of her body, I still thought maybe she would pull through. She always did before, why not this time too?
She came to the United States from Palermo in April of 1909 when she was just a baby. She arrived at Ellis Island on the ship called Columbia. This is a picture of the actual ship she was on.
I want to share her with you. I want you to know her, see her. This is a family portrait taken in 1925. Everyone in this photo (except for the 3 adults who are seated) are siblings of my Grandmother's. In the front from left to right are Theresa, Lucia, the baby is Charles, and on the end, Nick. Behind Theresa is Biago, then my great Grandparents, my Grandfather (Salvatore) and then Caroline. Standing in the back is Carmella and Angelina. My Grandfather is included because he was married to Angelina by this time. An arranged marriage where he was about 14 years older than she was.
Married at 15, a mother at 16 and so far ahead of her time. She always worked, whether it be in a factory, in a beverage store, in a Chicken Delight (a place my uncle owned, kind of a competition of KFC some 40 years ago), a pizza place or any other number of restaurants she cooked in. When she worked at my uncle's Chicken Delight, she got so sick of chicken she rarely ever ate it in her later years. But she wasn't the chicken fryer there. No, what she made was her amazingly delicious pizza. I don't remember much about the place, but I always remember her pizza. There is no better.
To me, she was always larger than life, even though she was only about 4 ft. 5 inches tall. She was fierce. That is probably the best word I could use to describe her. Fierce in every way. I hardly knew my Grandfather, he died when I was seven years old and I was always just a little afraid of him. I knew him sick, and I knew him with a very heavy Italian accent. But I never really spent a lot of time with him. It's kind of funny but when you think of Italian women, especially old country Italian women, you probably think of little short stocky women, wearing black dresses and a veil on their heads, carrying a rosary and a church book or bible. This was not my Angelina. My Grandfather was a church goer so my Grandma would drive him to the door of the church and then leave. Then she would come back an hour later to pick him up. I never knew why she didn't go in but now I wish I had thought to ask her. It wasn't something I ever really thought about though. She just didn't go. And relate to that. As soon as I was old enough to make my own decisions about whether or not to go to church, I stopped going. But she believed in God. Whenever I talked to her she told me she thanked the Lord a hundred times a day that she was still alive, still sharp, still able to do things for herself. She had some, but not a lot, of religious symbolism in her house. A cross here, a statue of Mary there. And she never, ever ate meat on any Friday all year long.
Writing about her is difficult. I can guess that reading it probably is too. I feel like I'm all over the map and not making sense. If that's what's happening, I hope you can bear with me and understand how hard it is. She is someone I miss every day of my life. I want to tell you about her humor. I want to tell you funny stories. I want to tell you about how much she taught me, not just in the kitchen but about the kind of woman I want to be. I want to tell you about her food. I want to tell you what holidays were like at her house. But I realize with so much to say about her, that this particular entry will have to be a to be continued kind of thing. So for now I'll leave you with the knowledge that she was someone I loved intensely, admired greatly, and miss painfully.