Wednesday, February 24, 2010


At dinner this evening (farfalle pasta with white beans, spinach and chopped tomatoes for my vegetarian daughter and with meatballs in a tomato sauce simmered with sausage and bracciola for my carnivore husband) our conversation drifted to strong, independent women.

My grandmother Theresia was one of them. An immigrant from southern Italy, she raised ten children, the last of whom was a boy with Down's Syndrome. To protect him from the taunts of their city neighborhood, she and my grandfather moved with him to the country. On a plot of land with towering weeping willow trees, a rippling brook and room for both a vegetable and a flower garden, my mason grandfather built a house of stone that became "home" to three generations of my family. After both my uncle and my grandfather died, Theresia remained in the country, living there alone for over thirty years until she passed away at the age of ninety-six.

She never wanted to move in with any of her adult children. She would visit with each of them a few days around the Christmas holidays, but steadfastly and robustly continued managing her household. She was funny, insightful and riveting in her ability to ferret out the truth.

We loved her intensely, and she loved us back, giving each one of her many grandchildren the gifts of her laughter and her belief that we were wonderful. "You're a good girl," "You're a good boy," are phrases that we all heard from her and that to this day, we recall with fondness when we gather together as a clan.

Theresia was the inspiration for Rose's mother in my upcoming novel, Across the Table.

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