Sitting around the dining room table, conversation flows as easily as the wine and espresso does. I tell Gram that Niel is taking me to Palermo, Sicily---her hometown---in October for our wedding anniversary. Her face lights up. Her eyes shine; her smile spreads slowly across her face. I wish I could see the slideshow of memories that seems to pass through her mind in that instant. “That trip will be so wonderful! I’m so glad you’re going.”
Naturally, Gram starts reminiscing about life in Palermo. She spent the first thirteen years of her life there (1913-1926) before emigrating to America. Life back then was simple but hard; they didn’t have much, but they were content. As a child, Gram walked a few blocks to the bakery at the end of each day with a pot full of beans or lentils. After the bakery closed, customers could bring in food to cook in the already-hot bread ovens. Gram describes the smell of the bakery, the long walk with the heavy pot (“Thankfully the baker would add the water to the pot, so it wasn't that heavy."), and how their food always tasted better cooked in the bakery.
I've never heard any of this before.
Gram switches gears and talks about Grandpa. He died when I was only three; the memories I have of him are really just memories of the pictures I’ve seen. They met on the bus; Gram dropped her handkerchief and he picked it up for her. She was forty years old when they met and married. The year of their thirtieth wedding anniversary, Grandpa died suddenly. Gram talks a lot about that day. “I can’t believe we went to Canada and he lost his life there.” Grandpa worked for the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which made him exempt from fighting in the war. He enlisted in the Marines anyway. He fought in the infamous Battle of Peleliu, where 1500 Marines (in his division) walked onto the island and only 300 walked off. Grandpa, of course, was one of them. He survived that, but not a weekend in Canada…
“He’s been waiting for me a long time,” Gram says. She looks lost in thought; she stares over our heads. “I wonder what he’ll say to me when he sees me. And I wonder what I’ll say to him.” She sits in silence as she ponders the unfolding scene. Her eyes well up with tears.
Mine do, too---I can’t help it.