Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Last Great Italian

Yesterday, my Aunt Jennie died. She was 98 years old, would have been 99 in June. She wasn't sick. Just expired of old age.

Aunt Jennie was always a fixture in my life as a child. The sister of my paternal grandmother, she and Uncle Lawrence (her husband) lived with Grandma and Grandpa, downstairs from us, in the family duplex. She was there when my father was born, she was there when my brother and I were born, and she was around when my brother and cousins had children. Technically, since she's my father's Aunt, I guess she's really my "great" Aunt. We all just called her Auntie.

My most vivid memories of her always include food; Auntie frying meatballs in the kitchen, Auntie helping Grandma bring out the many courses of food during dinners at their house, Auntie and Uncle making gnocchi from scratch at our kitchen table, as they're doing in the photo above.

After my parents divorced, time with my father's side of the family was greatly reduced. Not for any particular reason other than it was often geographically impossible to be together; we were in Arizona, they were in New York. The years between visits were many, but any future visits seemed as if no time had passed at all.

Aunt Jennie was the last of the great Italians. The end of an era. She outlived everyone in her age group, and also my father and my father's brother, Uncle Al. I wish I spent more time getting to know her, about her life as a young girl, how she lived so peacefully with her husband, sister, and brother-in-law in the same house. They even vacationed together (photo below). I wonder if there was a secret to getting along so well. If so, I wish I knew what it was...I could certainly use it every now and then.

(Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Jennie, Uncle Lawrence)

All that is left now, are memories, told through stories, pictures and recipes. These special people, this wonderful family of mine, will never really die. They've made such an impact on everyone around them, it's not possible for them to ever be gone. And I'm so lucky to be of this wonderful Italian stock.

A part of the last great Italians.


Ms. Crawford said...

She sounds like an amazing woman! And almost 99, wow! What a life! I am sorry for your lost, but I bet you learned a lot from her to hold on to forever.

Gil said...

It is sad that there are almost none of her generation left. I have my mother's youngest sister Aunt Paula, turned 93 in April and my Aunt Tess, turned 93 last November, who was married to one of my father's younger brothers. Aunt Tess still lives in da'Bronx off Pelham Pkwy. Sorry for your loss.