This past Wednesday, we Americans celebrated the 4th of July, as we have every year since 1776. But that date has a special meaning for me, separate and apart from it being our nation’s birthday. You see, my grandmother, Eugenia Perrone Natale, was also born on that day, approximately 131 years ago.
Grandma, as most of her thirteen grandchildren called her, was an amazing woman. She and my grandfather emigrated from Italy, early in the 20th Century. My memories of her have faded quite a bit over my 73 years, but here are a couple that remain etched in stone.
She was a wonderful cook. I can still see her making fresh macaroni, creating shells by rolling her thumb in the sticky dough. And, every Christmas, she made special little fried dough balls, dipped in honey and candy sprinkles, called struffoli, which we all looked forward to. But the food I most associate with my grandmother is chocolate. She always kept a yellow bag of Nestle’s semi-sweet, dark chocolate morsels in her kitchen, and would sneak us a little handful whenever we visited. They looked just like miniature versions of Hershey’s kisses. I am convinced that my grandmother was solely responsible for making me the chocaholic I am today.
Another rememberance I have concerns the moon landing in July of 1969. When I asked her about it, Grandma, in her broken English, expressed her doubt that men had actually walked on the moon. In her opinion, they weren’t really on the moon, but were probably in a television studio somewhere. Truth be told, I imagine that opinion was, more likely than not, shared by many people her age.
One time, when she was quite ill, I remember Grandma whispering to me, “Joe Junior, you are my favorite.” Over the years, it has become quite clear, in talking to my brother and some of my cousins, that she undoubtedly expressed that sentiment to all of her grandchildren at one time or another. That’s what grandmothers do.
In the ‘60s, when I had grown my hair quite long, and was wearing it curly in the style of Art Garfunkel, she reached out and grabbed a handful. She got a funny little smile on her face and said, “Joe Junior, what are you wearing—a wig?” It was her way of saying that maybe I ought to get a haircut. It was only a short time later that I followed her “advice,” and got it cut, and right after that met my first wife, who confessed that had I still been wearing my hair in that fashion, she probably wouldn’t have given me a tumble. Grandma always knew best.
But my fondest memory of Grandma Perrone was the day she became an American citizen. It was somewhere around 1955 or so, which would have made her about 68. The family held a big party, and Grandma was so very proud to be able to call herself an American. She loved this country and all it stood for, and I will never forget her. Happy birthday, America, and happy birthday, Grandma Perrone