On a hot July afternoon, the nonnas are sitting on folding chairs at the curb, crocheting lace trim on linen handkerchiefs, and watching their grandchildren play in water spewing from a fire hydrant. “Too hot to cook tonight,” one says, “maybe I make sandwiches.”
The others almost in a chorus pooh-pooh her. “You know you’re going […]
Holy Thursday, twilight is descending as the nonnas leave the seventh and last church they visit. They are eager to return to their neighborhood to shop for an essential ingredient– dried grain, or wheat kernels– for the pastiera, or sweet Easter pie.
“I’m getting the dried grain,” a nonna says. “I’ll soak it and bake the pie […]
South Brooklyn, 1947, Palm Sunday afternoon. Palm fronds cover a kitchen table where the nonnas sit weaving strands into sculptures. Each twists and braids and ties the green- edged leaves into crucifixes, wreaths, and miniature crosses. They glance at one another’s creations admiring the braiding technique, but never saying so.
“Now we finish these,” one […]
On a rainy afternoon, the nonnas are having coffee in the kitchen. In the next room, separated only by a doorway, their grandchildren are turning the pages of old photo albums and rifling through loose black-and-whites. A grandson rushes in and waves a photo at a nonna.
“Who’s this?” the child asks.
“He’s great grandma’s brother,” she […]
The nonnas clutch their black cloth coats tightly to keep out the fall wind as they assemble on a Wednesday night on a corner near the church. While they wait for a perpetually tardy nonna, they talk about what they made for dinner. “So cold today, I made ribollita,” one says. “I’ll serve the leftovers […]
When the temperature hits the mid-nineties and the linoleum on their floors starts to buckle, the nonnas realize that even they can’t stand the heat in the kitchen. Each carries a folding chair as she leaves her apartment. They set the chairs near the curb, where there’s a chance of a breeze. To cool themselves even further, […]
Nonnas don’t drive. (For that matter, neither do nonnos.) Instead, they rely on sons, sons-in-law — sons of cumare, and sons of neighbors– to get them where they have to go. And they do go — primarily to visit the grave of the most recently buried buon’anima, or a daughter who moved to Nassau (the […]
The nonnas arrive in a backyard. Each drags a piece of rolled-up linoleum — a leftover from that on her kitchen floor. They are here to take part in an annual event, the covering of a fig tree to protect it from fall and winter weather. Up and down the block, retirees, nonnas, children, and ladies gather to save the […]
The nonnas from both sides are visiting their newly married granddaughter’s house for the first time. The bride has to entertain the elders by preparing a first-rate dinner for them.
The bride is an acomplished hostess: friends love her cooking, enjoy her hospitality, and always eagerly look forward to visiting. But the nonnas are not her friends; they are her evaluators.