Stories are gripping. Whether it’s telling them or consuming them, human civilization is fascinated by them. I want to tell you the story of my Nana, Doris Galetto, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 86. Her story is full of love, kindness, and wisdom. I’ll take you on a 24-hour ride with my grandmother, and being that she was in charge of an Italian family, most of it revolves around food.
How we wake up is worth thinking about. Our morning routines and rituals reflect our personalities. Some hit the snooze to slowly get up. Some get sucked into social media once they turn off their smartphone alarm clock. Thanks to Google, you can now have your favorite playlist bellow out tunes to slowly get you out of bed. Whenever we would stay over my Nanas, which was quite often as children, she had the routine of waking my siblings and me up with her sweet voice. Her melodic “youuuuu whoooo” was never too loud as to startle us, but also not too soft as to not hear it. She would say it with such joy and tenderness as she came into our bedrooms. This is only one example of her gentle and kind nature.
Nana was what social psychologist Adam Grant would call a ‘giver.’ In his soon to be famous book, Give and Take, he categorized people as either givers, takers, or matchers based on their reciprocity styles. Nana was a giver because she gave without expecting anything in return. It was in her nature to share what she had with others and do whatever she could, big or small, to help out. That’s why so many friends and family came to visit her once she was immobile. That’s what made her a great teacher for 16 years. That’s what made her a great mother, and especially grandmother.
Food is very important to the Italian culture. Meals are a place where families and friends can sit together, swap stories, and connect without the presence of technology. Up until my last lunch with my grandparents on August 4th, I cherished this time with them. Nana had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s around her mid-seventies. For the past ten years, she battled this mentally debilitating disease with grace. She could no longer set the table, make food, or be as quick and witty as she once was in conversation. Early on you could tell this crushed her; yet, she handled this entire experience with grace. She never got angry or upset at anyone. She was never snippy or grouchy either. (Actually I remember a few snips from her, but if she was a baseball player, she would be batting .850, which is much better than her favorite player Ryan Howard.) It was a part of her personality to stay positive, and Parkinson’s would not rob her of that. Even when she had every reason to complain or sulk about the hand she was dealt, she smiled and remained grateful. That’s a lesson worth remembering.
Speaking of lunch, this was the time where she would spend time with the love of her life, Louie. My grandparents were married for 63 years. This commitment to each other, and genuine affection they had for one another is rare and to be treasured. I loved to watch them playfully flirt at lunch. PopPop, with his stealth wink, would tease Doris or play coy. She would do the same just to rile him up. This playfulness and love lasted all the way until her death. As I sat with my grandfather looking at Nana as she laid peacefully in her casket, he remarked how beautiful she looked and how lucky he was to have her. For more on love and lunch, here’s a poem I wrote this summer “Young Love Turns Old”
Back to food. I couldn’t escape this being that cooking was such a major identity for my grandmother. She spent her life as a master chef, teaching home economics for 16 years and then passing on her love to her daughters and my mother. She was the queen of the kitchen.
This part of the story is about sharing what you love with those that mean the most to you. It’s also about nurturing and setting the tone for how to keep a family close and sturdy- making sure that even when wits are tested the structure will not crumble because the foundation is strong. Being in a large Italian family, cooking was always a constant endeavor. Whether it was making homemade raviolis for Christmas dinner, or just feeding her family, she experimented and perfected her craft. Food was, and still is, the glue for our family. A meal is when you sit down with each other and talk, sharing stories and listening to each other’s pain and joy. In our fast-paced world, the dinner table was sacred for the Galettos, and I credit my Nana for that.
It’s never easy losing the glue to your family. From the top of our family tree, Lou and Doris set the tone for what family should be. They are the base. We are the branches, tied together from the countless roots that run deep. Although Nana has passed on, she highlighted how kindness, passion, and family values are the core to living a fruitful life. May you rest peacefully, Nana.