Happy Birthday, Nonna!

Abuela, Vovo, Nani, Dhadi, Lola, Oma, Nenek, Nanny, Yaya, Bubbe, NaiNai, Grandma or, in my case, Nonna. Whatever you call your grandmother, it surely means love.

Today is my grandmother’s birthday. She would have been 92. She was a mother of five, Nonna to six and great grandmother to two, at the time of her death. Sadly, she never met my kids or my brother’s.

Nonna and Nonno, sneaking a kiss!
Nonna and Nonno, sneaking a kiss (1992)

She died on August 22nd, 2007 and it was a sad, sad day. And it was hot. My father had just been diagnosed with some heart issues, and was on high alert. We carefully climbed the stairs of the church and sat down; the air was thick and unmoving inside. Once her casket was set at the front and mass begun, I remember listening to the priest, but keeping one eye on my dad.

Then, through the beams of sunlight that beamed through the windows above the church, a white butterfly appeared. It fluttered around for a moment and then literally touched down on the casket, resting for a brief moment. It then flew up again, fluttering above our heads, until it disappeared in the light.

We all looked at each other, in shock. And we all knew that was my Nonna’s way of telling us she was there with us.

That was my Nonna. She was the head of our family, the boss of the kitchen and the queen family gatherings. She ruled a tight ship, and even though her English wasn’t all that good, she loved soap operas, game shows and playing cards. As a little girl, I spent many summers there, entertaining myself with only a few toys, but I ate well! She made the best ravioli in the whole world. She would usually be found in the kitchen, dress and apron on, cooking or begging you to eat something, or more of something. Usually it was more. She often liked to sneak us chocolates and money and would give a little wink and put her finger up to her lips, letting us know that this was our secret and we knew not to tell our parents. (They figured out this pattern eventually, when they found $20 in our pockets, but we always got to keep it).

Nonna at our wedding in 2005
Nonna at our wedding in 2005

My husband and I were trying to have a baby, and knew we were pregnant at the time she passed away. No actual sticks were purchased yet, but we knew in our hearts. My husband always said that her love had something to do with it. Shortly after the funeral, our suspicions were confirmed and while I didn’t want to find out the sex of the baby, again, my husband maintained that it was a girl, because my Nonna would have loved a girl. (There were a lot of boys on that side of my family) He was right, and our Little Bird was born. In honour of my Nonna, the Little Bird got her name as a middle name, just as it is mine. And the white butterfly became a symbol of love that, in my heart, connects my Nonna and my daughter.

I remember shortly after I had the Little Bird, a white butterfly followed us as we went for a walk with her. I knew it was my Nonna saying hi. She was there again after I had my Little Mouse. And every once in a while, one flutters around longer than usual, and I know it’s her, winking and putting her finger up to her lips, like it’s our little secret.

I love you, Nonna! Happy Birthday.

Nonna and Nonno at my uncle's wedding (1994)
Nonna and Nonno at my uncle’s wedding (1994)

On a separate note, I also wanted to wish my father-in-law a very happy 71st birthday! Cheers to many more!

One thought on “Happy Birthday, Nonna!

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