Most of the nonnas sew piecework in a factory five days a week to earn a living; they sew for their family at home in the evenings and on weekends to relax. Once they lay out the pattern and pin it to the fabric, they are convinced that the work is practically finished. It does not matter that they have not […]
It is a Friday afternoon and the nonnas are cleaning the church. The door opens, letting in a burst of winter air, a late arrival enters. Under her heavy coat, she wears an outfit much like that of the others — black dress, a colorful front apron. But she has accessorized her costume with a necklace. No […]
It is midafternoon on a blustery winter day; the sun is hiding behind a cloud. The nonnas sit around a kitchen table, each crocheting a lacy gift for a June bride. Their fingers move nimbly to cast onto their crochet hooks the finest cotton thread — thin enough to sew seams on a silk wedding dress. There is […]
The basement with its laundry room and functional kitchen becomes a ballroom on New Year’s Eve. Twisted colorful crepe-paper streamers criss-cross the space’s low ceiling. The radio is turned up loud and brings in the best music of the night from New York City’s Hotel Roosevelt.
Each year a different neighborhood nonna hosts the year-end festivities. Each […]
On Christmas Eve, the nonnas meet on the corner near the Church. Each talks nonstop, paying no attention to the others, about the feast she has served for the Vigilia. Seven fishes. Eight side dishes. Baccala. Struffole. Panettone. Zeppole. By the time they reach the Church, they are out of breath. They genuflect hastily, cross […]
A tribute to the nonnas (the grandmas) some of us knew — and to those we wish our children and their children could have known.
The nonnas a half-century ago in any metropolitan area: You see them in the fish market, in church, sitting on folding chairs at the curb on hot summer nights. They […]
One of the nonnas’ greatest joys on Thanksgiving morning is to dress the grandchildren in ragamuffin outfits for their run around the neighborhood begging for coins, candy, crayons, or “anything for Thanksgiving.” The nonnas take the old custom seriously, and try to outdo one another in providing the children with clothing that makes them look as […]
The nonnas wash, iron, and pack clothing that their grandchildren have outgrown. Every couple of months, they go to the post office and mail the shorts, shirts, and skirts to relatives, no matter how distant, who live in Naples, Sicily, Calabria, or, as they call it, “on the other side.”
And now the clothes […]
The nonnas’ front aprons are full, full, full, brimming with hot peppers — long ones, chubby cherry ones, and wrinkly ovals. Red, green, stripes of red and green, stems curling around the nonnas’ fingers as each picks one more to add to the bunch.
When they return to the stoop after cleaning their crop, […]
Today, the nonnas are honoring Our Lady. They bring up the rear of a processon following grade-school girls dressed […]