Italian Grandmas and Magic Pasta Pots
I grew up with an Italian father and an English/Scottish mother. Most of my family traditions revolved around my Italian side. Catholic church, Sunday dinners, Holiday dinners, baptisms, first communions, and so on. My Italian grandmother was an intricate part of my life. She took care of me everyday after school when I was little. She had some new toy for me every time I saw her. (I think this is normal for all Italian grandmothers, considering my husband’s mother does the same for my girls.) She would let me get away with anything. (Again, normal for any Italian grandmother.) We spent every Sunday after church at her house enjoying a big Italian feast. Macaroni, sausage, meatballs, Italian bread, and of course, coffee and dessert. As you can imagine, it was hard for me when she passed away. I was away at college and felt like I had not spent as much time with her at the end as I would have liked. Although, I know she is looking down upon me now, with my girls, and loving every minute of it. Which gets me to the point of this post. The girls and I had made a trip to the library to pick out new books for the week. We had gone on a friend’s recommendation of picking up a book called Strega Nona which means “Grandma Witch” in Italian. We also picked up some other books including a book called “Nana upstairs, Nana downstairs.”
That night we decided to read Strega Nona. It is about an Italian grandmother who is also considered the town witch. Not in a bad way, just a lady who makes potions and love spells. In this particular book, Strega Nona has a magic pasta pot which makes as much pasta as you could ever desire. What a wonderful book! Not only is it about an Italian grandma, but it also involves pasta. Two of my favorite things. We picked up “Nana upstairs, Nana Downstairs” next. This book, to my surprise was also about Italians Grandmas, well Nanas. In it, a four year old boy would visit his nanas every Sunday. They both lived in the same house, one upstairs, one downstairs. He would sit with them and talk and eat candy and just be. At one point, Nana upstairs, a ninety-four-year-old who was confined to bed, dies. The little boy must cope with her loss. He wonders why nana upstairs isn’t in her bed when he comes to visit her on Sunday. Later in his life, his nana downstairs dies also. He believes now that both nanas are in heaven looking down at him. Both have become “Nana upstairs.”
This book meant a little more to me than just Italian grandmas and magic pasta pots (which of course I would love to own). My own mother was very ill when my first child was born. She was also confined to a bed, hardly able to walk. I would take my baby girl to visit her “nana” everyday. They would sit and talk and just be. They would nap together and read together. Now when we visit my parent’s house and she sees the empty bed that Nana used to hold her in, and read to her in and nap with her in, she says “Nana’s not in bed anymore.” How sweet. This book was a sweet reminder of my mom, “Nana.”
After I had put my little girl down for the night, I went back to look at the books. That’s when I realized that both of these wonderful books were written by the same author, Tomie dePaola. A lot of what was in these books came from his own childhood memories. I’ve since researched Tomie dePaola and we have picked up many more books by him at the library. You should too.