When I was 19, a few weeks after my Nonna Concetta died, I had a dream about her. Me and my cousins were in a car, cruising around Ischia, one of the islands in the bay of Naples where my grandmother was from. We came across a house on top of a hill. My grandmother was standing in the doorway in her housedress and apron while her sister Zia Carmelina, who had passed away within weeks of my grandmother, was walking up the hill. I leaned out the window, shouting and waving and smiling. “A-Nonnn! A-Nonnnnn!” (which is Neapolitan dialect for La Nonna.)
The car slowed down and she looked at me with a serious face and said to me cryptically in dialect, “Don’t eat the stale bread dry. Make sure it has some juice on it.”
I keep going back to this thing that she said. Especially lately since we’re making the slow plans to move back to Italy.
Growing up, in our house it was a sin to throw away bread. Partly for religious reasons since bread was considered Jesus’ body, but also because you don’t throw food away. (When we had a surplus of stale bread that was too much to consume, Mom would get around it by throwing the bread out in the backyard to ‘feed the animals.’)
I think in the dream she was trying to tell me something that she had found out once she made it to the other side of life. “Make sure it has some juice on it.” Don’t just swallow what you think you have to swallow, make sure it tastes good. Don’t turn your back on something that is old and stale, look it in the eye, take some control and make it taste good again. Make it your own.
Do you think she was talking about Italy? Perhaps to her and my mom and her brother and sisters, Italy was old and stale, full of sad memories of the war and poverty. But for me, if I put some juice on it, I can make it my own, make it taste good and make it home again.