Ciao a tutti! My name is Melissa (or Melizza, as my Nanna calls me, hence my Twitter moniker). I’m the eldest granddaughter of Agata Patitucci, nee Venneri, the namesake of this blog.
Allow me to briefly take you back 60 years. In May of 1955, my grandparents Patitucci embarked on a journey from Italy to Canada aboard the Queen Frederica ship.
After a harrowing 3-week journey (did I mention that Nanna was 3 months pregnant with my Mom? On a boat (in the bottom)? On open water?), they landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia at Pier 21. And so began their life in Canada, a place where, back home, it was told that the streets were paved with gold and opportunity.
My family grew up in the house next door to my grandparents Patitucci in a town called South Porcupine. Our house was gifted to my parents (Rosa and Denis) for their wedding (yup), and was built by my Nonno Carlo Patitucci and other family members. These men built three in total, and the other was gifted to my Zio Vince and Zia Judy for THEIR wedding. Needless to say, we were all very close growing up, and remain close to this day – we called our living quarters the “Italian Complex”, since we were three houses on two lots and everyone knew each other’s business. Let’s just say if I attempted to sneak back into my house at an ungodly hour, I heard about it the next day. And sometimes the night of, as my Nanna would be at her spare bedroom’s window peering out at me. Suddenly, I would hear the window slide open and urgent, heavily-accented whispers peppered the (now not so) still night air, piercing the darkness and giving me a mild heart attack. That’s Nanna. Always watching. Always listening. You really can’t pull the wool over her eyes, so don’t even bother.
My first language was Italian. This was mainly because my Dad was a police officer and worked shifts, so I was around my Mom, Nanna and Nonno the majority of the time. They spoke to me in their Calabrese Italian dialect, which I brought with me to my first day of Kindergarten. When all of the other children sang out “Good morning!” during morning circle, I would chime in with “Buon giorno!” Yeah, I was the weird Italian kid with all of the weird homemade Italian food in my lunches. No Chef Boyardee for me. And sugar cereals? Forget it. I lived for sleepovers with friends who had cupboards full of Lucky Charms and Count Chocula. Muhahaha! So sneaky!
Food is kind of a big deal in my family. It is pretty much my sole motivator in life. I will peel myself out from under a mountain of fuzzy blankets in the dead of winter, brush the piles of snow from my vehicle and patiently scrape the layer of ice that has formed on the windshield if I’m hungry for something I don’t have in my house. Eight times out of ten that something is chocolate, but I’ve been known to dabble in severe burger and sushi cravings. Food grips me. And food knows it.
On January 2nd of this year, Nanna and I had a visit. It began as a typical visit – we started with a meal: homemade gnocchi, soppressata and “burning cheese”, aka Pecorino Crotonese, and, of course, homemade red wine that is not your typical LCBO fare. She flipped through the channels of her kitchen TV and commented on how the cable company is taking away her channels, finally settling on the Weather Network (always the Weather Network. Or the Telelatino Network; she basically taught herself Spanish watching soap operas in Espagnol). This is the part of the evening where she would tell me where I shouldn’t travel to and why (literally everywhere). Next came the coffee choices (“Regular or Italian?” FYI, the answer is always Italian).
Nanna’s Italian coffee is seriously the BEST cup of coffee. That is, if you like your coffee strong. I’ve never understood how that heavenly beverage comes out of this thing. But it does. And she swears she’s had this contraption for over 40 years. They don’t make ’em like they used to!
Then, of course, something sweet to accompany the coffee. Fourteen types of dessert in the form of cookies and cakes paraded themselves onto the table. A bowl of fruit always at the ready, should we want a healthier choice (nah). And yes, Nanna will peel your apple for you. It’s hard work, okay? And she can do it in one long peel. You try and do that!
So now we move the party to the living room, where she will subtly place more food items out on the coffee table for a post-dessert “snack”, typically in the form of nuts and chocolates. The bowl of fruit will migrate over as well. She really tries with that bowl of fruit.
And it’s here where we talk. We talk about her life in Italy, how she and my Nonno met, and how they survived in a strange new country, not knowing the language and relying on a strong work ethic and the kindness of strangers. While my Nonno started work as a milkman for Timmins Dairy Company Ltd., Nanna stayed home to cook, clean and raise her family – which, at the time, also consisted of a few of my Nonno’s brothers.
My Nanna’s face always lights up when she talks about these times, even though they went through a lot to get themselves to a comfortable place. All of these stories that we have heard many times throughout the years deserve a place to be honored and preserved. So now I’m thinking to myself…what if I started a blog? This blog could be a gathering place where my Nanna would be able to produce the content, which would primarily be sharing recipes and stories – something she visibly loves to do. I suggested we break out the old photo albums so that I could scan some pictures to use. Well, no sooner had the words left my mouth, Nanna was in the closet of her spare bedroom, reaching up in the recesses of the shelf, pulling down album after album, and piles and piles of photo collections in boxes while simultaneously waving my offers of help away with her free hand.
(This is something that she does. That same night I shoveled her walkway before I left, and the entire time she stood in the doorway, waving her hands around and telling me that it’s “not nice to shovel the driveway” because she’ll do it tomorrow).
You’re welcome, Nanna.
When I asked her what she would like the blog to be called, she thought for a minute, and then said “Agata’s Granddaughter”. I thought about it, then asked if we could call it Agata’s Grandchildren. She agreed.
Now, I don’t know if she knows what a blog is, but she knows food.
Welcome to Nipoti di Agata.