The tale of someone's life begins before they are born

A few years ago the last of my grandparent passed and I was lucky enough to deliver my Nannas eulogy. With our focus on humility this week I thought it was an appropriate time to share to honour her memory.

"My Nanna mourned my Nonno every day until she was robbed of her memory and vitality by a disease, which has no cure and cares not who it targets. I am sure I am not the only person who wants to believe that my Nonno was reunited with her after she took her last breath.

I was lucky enough to be with Nanna when she took her last breath. I don’t say that flippantly or with lightness. I say that because all of my luck, my opportunity, the decisions I could make I owe to the decisions made over 60 years ago. As someone once said, “The tale of someone's life begins before they are born.”

My mother’s parents, Nanna Angela and Nonno Antonio, and my Nonno Giovanni and Nanna Bridget.

Some of you may think that the men made all the decisions and the women just went along for the ride but for those of you who knew my Nanna, you will know that my Nonno did not do much without her agreement and she had an opinion about everything. That was not because he was under her thumb but because his love was deep and he respected her, he knew how to treat a woman.

Family legend tells me that my grandparents had to leave Italy to survive because there was no food and no work. I have studied post war Europe and I know the dire situations that people found themselves in. It was terrible, times were indeed hard, however people made do and survived. I have been to Macchiagodena and our relatives that chose not to leave the village lived simple but happy lives, their children and great grandchildren live in the same village, simple and happy lives, holidaying on the coast.

What my grandparents had was courage, hope and resilience and a whole heap of determination.

After two years in Italy on her own, she arrived in Australia to reunite with my Nonno in 1952. She left her parents, her sister – her family support, her language with her family. She left a hard life in Italy yes, but you can endure anything with your family.

My Nanna in particular spent 3 weeks travelling with three children to Australia, after being sea sick for the entire time. Then she arrived in a country so different to hers, it was hot and flat – scrubby and there was certainly no village square . Her first months in Australia was spent months in a canvas tent in the Boya quarry. When my baby was born I remember the first priority was an air conditioner for my darling baby to “survive” so I cant imagine having three children under the age of 9 in a hessian tent next to a quarry. She told me once that those days spent in that tent were the happiest in her life.

As I look out at those people in her family who are here today I am filled with a sense of gratitude to my Nanna and the opportunities that she and Nonno created. As a result of their decisions we have so much more than we would have had if we were in Italy.

We have degrees, successful jobs and our children have access to world class education, live in comfortable houses and holiday internationally. We are citizens of the world. We make decisions knowing that we live in a country that has stable government and assists those who need a helping hand. We have the choice that affluence brings. I am not saying we are any better or happier than our relatives in Italy but we have been give access to more opportunity as a result of living in this country we call home.

My cousin and I were musing at what that family would have been if they did not come to Australia. My parents came from the same village so maybe they would have been together, but sorry cousin, your Dad was from another part of Italy and an island at that so not much hope for you. Which is another thing we have to be thankful for we have been able to meet and fall in love with people who are from so many other backgrounds than us.

My Nanna and Nonno believed in love and family. My Nanna and Nonno were truly one of the great love stories. My Nonno fell in love instantly. In his words he described the second time he met Brigida.

“I loved and I cared for her. I was confident about asking her father for her hand because I wanted her with all my heart. I knew she loved me; I knew from her dark eyes, which were like a magnet containing iron. When two people care about each other nothing can stop them or separate them, only death. It is said that love is stronger than death. No one can know the future, only the past is certain.”

When my Nonno asked her father for her hand in marriage, her father asked her and she gave a half-laugh and replied, “If I wasn’t happy with him I would not have asked him to come here. I do love him”.

They did not wait to be married but eloped as minors and the rest is history. After my Nonno’s death she took up her matriarch role with caring and love and created wonderful memories for me and my cousins.

She was a larger than life matriarch, she was social, my Nonno said “she ate laughter like bread”. She was brash and some may say she was bossy – some things that good women back then were not meant to be. But today we would call her determined and focused. Inspirational, caring, gracious, brave, loving, strong were just some of the words that have been used to remember her.

She knew what was good for her family and she made sure that everyone knew it. Her determination and love drove her to get Nonno’s story that he had written were translated into English so his grandchildren and their children would be reminded of their history because she knew that those who came after him, would benefit from knowing where they came from.

I remember her style – she could put an outfit together and always had poise and glamour. She had beautiful skin and hands – right up to her last breath her skin defied her 89 years and her horrible disease.

I remember her advice – which she gave whether you asked or not, for example when she met my husband she lovingly told him, to be careful – “she is a lazy one”.

To me, she told me constantly to open my eyes! So, with my eyes open, I would like to take the opportunity to say thank you to her for her strength, courage, determination and resilience to want more for herself and her family. "


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Photographs: by the Talentened Miss Katharyn Quinn https://www.katharynquinn.com/