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 like to have their own money to set aside in covered sugar bowls. They use the money for treats for grandchildren, for special gifts for their husbands’ birthdays, and of course, for the yards of yarn and fabric they need to crochet, knit, and sew. Pinafores for granddaughters are all the rage, and their machines whirr […]
It’s a morning at the end of August. Nonnas lucky enough to have a grape arbor lush with filled-to–bursting concord grapes pluck the bunches by the stem and deposit them in bushel baskets. Other nonnas wait at the fruit stand for workers to unload crates of oozing grapes from a wooden-sided truck. Unlucky grandsons carry the crates home.
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 […]
A new baby on the block! A new baby on the block! The nonnas are all excited. Mother and child won’t leave the hospital for several days, but the nonnas have ready their arsenal of new-baby regalia–hand-knit booties and caps, embroidered pillow cases, fresh fruit for the mom, and of course, tiny red bows to ward off […]
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 […]
For the nonnas, Saturday morning shopping is more challenging than their daily stop at the vegetable stand, butcher shop, or fish market. On Saturday, they go to the poultry market, a.k.a. the chicken market. Grandchildren in tow, they’re giving their daughters a morning to “clean the house.” Each selects a lively, sleek white bird, all […]
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 […]
On weekends, the nonnas often take the grandchildren to the movies. One Saturday, the women and children enter a local theater. The children laugh as they race down the aisle. Even though it’s ten minutes until the feature begins, the matron stops them. Her flashlight beam would be at home reflected on a prison wall.
“Leave the kids alone,” a nonna says, warding […]