Everyone should have an Italian grandmother. A Nonna, whose backyard jungle of edibles was just two laneways away. One who gives hugs that drown you in mushy bosom and wags a stern finger when you don’t live up to your potential. We all benefit from an elder’s tribal wisdom when life beats us down.
I recently had the privilege to hear Angela Bruzzese speak at a MoMondays event, in Guelph. She explained how her departed Nonna’s words carried her when life became overwhelming. With her permission, I will reiterate her story so you too can hear the sound of Nonna’s voice.
Angela grew up at a time when neighbourhood children ran free. They took risks resulting in scrapes and bruises, which led to scars and better choices in the future. They learned to identify good people and those who could not be trusted. They returned home when the streetlights came on and fell into their beds exhausted by adventure.
Angela’s posse included a brother and two male cousins. In order to keep pace she learned to be tough, not just physically, but emotionally: no tears, no pouting or whining. At a young age she learned to project unwavering strength and confidence. It was a persona that served her well in the rough and tumble world of preadolescent males, but became a barrier as she faced the nuances of adult relationships and the world of work. She had learned to fear the perception of weakness. This led to becoming a workaholic, unable to admit when the demands of her job combined with family duties to create an overwhelming wave of stress. Angela realized she had to make a change, so she withdrew to a retreat centre that specialized in women’s enlightenment. It was there, as she sat on the Bruce Peninsula’s bedrock in the rain, that Nonna’s voice came back to her.
There was a long forgotten afternoon, when her companions gave Angela so much grief that she retreated to Nonna’s kitchen for respite. Angela was frustrated by the boys and disappointed in herself. She perched on Nonna’s step stool, tears threatening to fall, and was enveloped in the fragrant steam of her grandmother’s cooking. Nonna was making lasagna, a favourite dish, and her grandmother distracted Angela with stirring and timing the ingredients.
Together they filled the kitchen with delicious aromas as noodles were cooked, meat sauce simmered and eggs were boiled. Yes, hard-boiled eggs were a feature of Nonna’s recipe, a special treat that made her lasagna unique. Once the ingredients were drained and the pans of pasta were assembled, Nonna, placed the espresso carafe on the stove and together grandmother and granddaughter rewarded themselves with a warm beverage. Nonna drank hot black espresso, while young Angela had milk lightly coloured with a dash of the brew.
Nonna asked the child, “What you think these have in common? The pasta, eggs and coffee.” Angela pondered the question and replied that they are all food. “Si, but something more,” replied Nonna. After some consideration Angela realized the common factor was boiling water. This triggered Nonna’s delight and the following metaphor was explained to the child.
“Hot water, she’s like troubles. All people, they have troubles sometimes. All people get into the hot water sometimes. It is life. The hot water she’s not important. What is important is how the people become… how they change when they are in this hot situation.”
“The pasta… it’s hard, brittle… when it goes into hot water it changes to soft and limp. Don’t be a noodle, Angela. Don’t go soft when you have troubles. Don’t fall apart.” Even at her young age Angela understood the imagery.
“The egg… she’s the opposite. At first is so fragile, but when troubles come, when the egg is in hot water, it goes hard… but is still fragile. Still breaks so easily, even though she seems to be hard.” As an adult recalling this conversation, Angela realized that she had become that egg. She had put up a pretense of strength, when in fact she felt vulnerable.
As Nonna sipped her espresso she had smiled. “But the coffee Angela… the coffee takes from the hot water. It does not give-in like the noodle or fight like the egg. The coffee takes flavour and richness. It becomes delicious because of the hot water.” With that they sat in silence enjoying the fragrance of the cooking and the warmth of each other’s company.
Anglea’s message at the MoMonday event that evening, was that troubles make our lives richer as long as we don’t resist them. She encouraged us to find the value in challenges, the lesson to be learned, the flavour to be savoured. She sent us all home wishing we had an Italian grandmother to visit.
Angela Bruzzese resides in Guelph, Ontario Canada. She is a certified life coach and has multiple degrees in Psychology and Human Resources. Angela is a firm believer in positive thinking and that anything is possible when you envision yourself as a successful and happy person. Her passion is helping others connect with their magnificent selves and live an authentic life through Core Magnificence. (email@example.com)
Lasagna recipe from “Wishes and Dishes” by food blogger Ashley