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An Ode to my Grandmother

on International Women's Day

Photo by Paula Perri 

Happy International Women’s Day! 

It feels now, more than ever, like a day worth celebrating. This is the first time in my life where I am realizing that this period we are in right now is history in the making. I am trying to stay present and aware of the amazing things happening to keep women pushing forward. Movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up are powerful and disruptive in a way that I feel will resemble the fight for the vote in the 1920’s, or the feminist movement of the 60’s and 70’s when we take the long view years from now.  Powerful women continuing the fight for equality and safety – women who are making sacrifices to speak their truth; it’s magic right before our eyes. 

On this day, I think of my Grandmother; my real life example of a woman who fought for better against all odds. 

 Pulled out of school when her mother died at the age of 13 to maintain the household for her father and brothers. Never fully learning how to read or write, her education became a crash course in home economics – laundering, sewing, cooking, and cleaning; women’s work. Beaten for her mistakes, her childhood was taken from her in ways I will never fully understand. She was never given the opportunity to be anything outside of the predetermined role a woman was supposed to play.  To know my Grandmother is to be in the presence of a fiercely sharp, smart, strong woman. I can only imagine what her contributions to the world would have been if she had ever been given the chance.  

 In her 20’s, with $8 in her pocket, she traveled for 2 weeks on a boat from Italy to Canada, landing in a country she had never seen, knew nothing about, where she didn’t speak the language, all in the hope of creating a better life for her future family. Together with my Grandfather, they did just that. He worked every day in a scrap metal yard for over 40 years, while my Grandmother worked in a canning factory, eventually leaving to stay at home as they grew their family. They hosted tenants, lived with family members, re-used everything, grew their own food, made their own preserves and cured meats, made their own clothes – not a penny was wasted. Through their everyday sacrifices, they were able to provide for themselves and their 3 children, and because of that, my life – only one generation removed – is vastly different. I have never had to want for anything. I am university educated. I had every opportunity made available to me to be anything I wanted. It’s this that keeps me motivated as ever to continue to push forward for generations after me so that our momentum as women continues to grow in the right direction.  Every brick we chip away at makes it easier to tear down the wall. 

When I was 22, my mother died suddenly. It was a moment in my life that stopped time. It felt as if the Earth shifted beneath my feet, and in an instant, everything was changed. In this great shift of all things, I found my relationship with my Grandmother evolving. We now needed each other in a new way – me, a motherless daughter and she, a daughterless mother.  In this new bond, we were able to support each other to try and fill in the hole in both our hearts. It wasn’t a perfect fit, but it came pretty close. 

I would soon start to call her every day to see how she was doing. I visited every Sunday for lunch. I made sure we went out for social activities and that she was invited when there was a milestone worth celebrating with anyone in the family. It soon became a habit, and now I can’t go a day without hearing her voice. I have gotten to know her in a way that I know I wouldn’t have if this had not been our situation, and for that, I am forever grateful.  I see pieces of my mother in her, and I love it when I can I laugh and think to myself “ah, that makes sense”. It’s a gift to still be able to learn about my Mom through the actions of ‘Nonna’, even if she is not with me. 

As she gets older, it is now my time to take care of her. I feel it is one of the greatest privileges of my life to ensure she is cared for and safe. 

I think of all of the ways my Grandmother gave of herself to ensure I had what I needed, both physically and emotionally. I think of all the things she could not do so that I could. All of the abuses she had to suffer so that I did not. All of the pain she absorbed so that I would never know it. She is an angel and my best friend. We talk, laugh, tell stories, get in fights, and love each other fiercely. Her wisdom is profound, her generosity is unmatched, and her sassiness could give Joan Rivers a run for her money 

She is my hero. It is because of her that I can show up to the table when it’s time to say Time’s Up. It is because of her that I am strong enough to ask for what I deserve. It is because of her that I know what it means to work hard. It is because of her I am still standing. 

So to her, and all of the women supporting each other to keep each other strong, motivated and powerful – thank you. 

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