Nonna would have turned 92 today. Or at least today is the day that we would have celebrated her birthday. Always a point of uncertainty, she (and everyone else in the family) said her birthday was September 15th, give or take a few days. Apparently, by the time her mother and father made it to the City Clerk in Messina for a birth certificate, no one was sure of the exact day she arrived in 1920. This year, there will be no party, no pastries, no run cake, and no phone calls from my cousins in Vegas, Ohio, and North Carolina. In late July, on a sunny Friday afternoon, Nonna passed away with my father’s hand in hers. Her funeral service was beautiful, everything she would have wanted because all of us were there to say goodbye and surrounded by beautiful flowers with her rosaries clutched in our hands. It is still hard to write this, to tell myself that her house is empty, that the garden will not grow again, that I will never hug her again and smell the smoke of the tomato fire on her shoulders on a Sunday afternoon in the Fall.
In our family, the economy of love was exchanged with food—Sunday meatballs and manicotti, your own personal loaf of bread made on Saturday morning, stuffed carciofi to eat with Monday night pizza, and perhaps the most precious—figs from the trees in backyard. So I offer her figs; the gems of the garden, picked by my sister and my father from the same trees that we buried every single fall with old rugs and bags of leaves so they wouldn’t die during Albany’s harsh winters, and brought to me in my apartment on 2nd Ave—a street in Manhattan with the same name of the street my Nonna lived on in Albany for my whole life. They are tiny this year—pidugutza, she would say—perhaps because there was less rain that usual—but they were still sturdy and sweet, and tasted just as they always have, like my home.