Reggio Emilia Familiga

My heart is so full right now, and so is my stomach!

I’ve just spent the day in Reggio Emilia, Italy, with some relatives from my mom’s Italian side: the patriarch of this family, Romano, is my Grandpa Pat’s cousin. If you work your way up our family trees, eventually we all get to Leandro and Bianca, my great-great-great grandparents.

My great-great grandfather, Primo.
(*I think. There were a lot of new names!)

It’s been so fun to learn who everyone is, and how we all fit together. Even more fun because for the most part no one speaks the same languages! Elisa — who I think is maybe my mom’s second cousin? — speaks excellent English and has been an amazing translator for us! But she is only one person, and there were nine of us at dinner. My in-laws and I know Spanish, and there’s enough overlap that we can almost get the gist of our conversations across. But there have also been several deer-in-the-headlights, “I have no idea what you just said” moments. And so many hand gestures!

What doesn’t need translation is the food, nor the responses to “another serving?” As cliché as it may sound, we were served such delicious food course after course by Nella, Elisa’s mother. And even when we asserted that we were full — which happened soonest for my mother-in-law — she served “just one to try.” (It’s like how I’ve heard a vegetarian friend tell tales about travels in Spain: “Oh you don’t eat meat? Okay, you can have fish.”)

We were innocently duped by the first course (lasagna): servings were set out on our plates already as we sat down, and they looked… smallish. Each of us independently thought, ‘maybe everything we’d ever heard was wrong?’ Maybe this is the only serving we’re getting tonight? Oh, there’s more? Then sure! I’ll have another! 

But then we had soup (broth with handmade cappelletti –“little hat”– pasta), and then we had pork with lentils (because lentils bring good luck and prosperity for the new year!), and then salad with homemade balsamic vinegar made by another cousin, then some breaded pork scaloppine), AND THEN we started on dessert, which was organic gelato (handmade by another cousin), plus pastries and macarons. We were so full!! 

At the end, Romano served us grappa, a strong liquor. Being both stuffed to the brim and somewhat terrified after the description from Elisa about how strong it is (about 75 proof!), Britton, Dave and I agreed to try a small (“poco, poco, poco!”) amount. This is when Romano very much reminded me of my late Grandpa Pat, always the mischievous one. When we said basta —meaning “enough!”— Romano, with a suspiciously sly grin, continued to pour just a liiiiittle bit more, as if he hadn’t understood our Americanized pronunciations the first time. 

Romano bears a strong resemblance to my grandpa (Romano has what he calls “The Allegri Nose” which is absolutely true) and also has the exact same smile Grandpa Pat would get when would tease and play dumb for the benefit of the grandkids’ entertainment. It was the first time I found myself really missing Grandpa Pat. I made my peace with the circle of life and that he’s no longer in pain or scared or confused. Today, I wanted to call him and tell him how amazing his people are. How much they still welcome and accept him as one of their own by welcoming and accepting me without question and with huge smiles (and with even bigger spatulas). And how much his nose ties him back to Italy. He would’ve gotten the biggest kick out of that I think. 

I’ve heard and read that grief manifests itself in waves, and at strange times, and without warning. This has got to be the happiest grief I think anyone could experience. I’m so, so glad I’m here, con la mia famiglia.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Oh my. Such a descriptive and emotional writer you are! I felt as if I were right there with you! And now I'm missing you & gpa Pat so much!! (And I have now posted this comment 3 different places, because you touched me so deeply.)

  2. Ellen!

    <3 Thanks, Mark! It was very special and I can't wait to return!

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