My nonni had a way of making people feel important. In many ways, a special gift she possessed. As a young boy, I remember thinking she was the sole person who actually listened to me. When your young that means a bunch, especially if your looking for a lending ear. When you grow and begin maturing, it means substantially more. She taught me that listening is vastly more important than talking. While our famous Sunday evening memories are engulfed with very talkative conversation, the most fluid and influential are unsurprisingly calm and quiet vignettes that stand the test of time.
7PM was the appointed meeting time at Nonni’s home. Every Sunday, all year. Two other very special people came, and we formed in many ways a bond that will never be broken. A past memory we were fortunate enough to be around for. If we were ignorant in the beginning to just how special this time would be, it became more apparent as Sundays went. The event gave me something to look forward to you. It gave me hope that in a rough week, Nonni’s was around the corner. Once in a while I would “accidentally” arrive early. Not too early, but a mere 20 or so minutes prior. Those 20 minutes were simply me talking and Nonni listening. She taught and told me without uttering a single syllable; listening is what matters.
It never failed, once the clock hit 7 and the three of us were assembled around the table, she would inevitably give the command. In a seemingly random order, one of us would be summoned to pick the pasta. Surely, a mundane action to anyone especially us, considering it happened every single Sunday. But to her, an important reminder for us that we were important. The command signified a pause in life. As soon as the order was given, it was ok to settle in. In many ways, it was her saying sit down and relax. It was a subtle phrase that suddenly meant the world to me. Much like Nonni’s, the emotion changed from mundane to admiration.
Conversations were picked and plucked from many different worlds at Nonni’s table. Her participation varied and nearing the end of her life, she was reserved to just listening for the most part. I wouldn’t be so ignorant to think this wasn’t purposeful though. She was as much of the conversation quiet as she was vocal. She loved to just sit there and let us talk, mostly about subjects she had admittedly, absolute zero interest in. But even in the moment I assumed something deeper was happening.
It occurred to me after the fact that Nonni in many ways was an enabler. An enabler of this event for starts. It was in fact her who first invited us over, only to let us talk and converse about things she didn’t care about, yet endured the conversations. You see she didn’t care about the subjects of topic, or type of pasta we picked or anything for that matter. All she truly cared about was that we were there. And she did everything in her humble ways to make us feel welcome and significant. From varying bowl sizes according to appropriately sized eaters, to simply just listening about things she didn’t necessarily care about but knew we did. She was all about us, all of the time.
I think Nonni’s impact was so influential on me simply because she never flaunted her motives. She never needed credit for doing anything and she certainly wasn’t looking for it. She was more invested in spending time with us, then projecting life lessons.
But the beautiful revelation of Sundays at Nonni’s, came to me after the fact. Like a great painting, being too close to something blurs the intended meaning. Nonni’s was always about life lessons and they were so effective because they were genuinely distributed.
You see Nonni always wanted to make one of us feel special, she always gave us all the time we needed. To talk amongst each other or simply listen to us individually, unconditionally. Not impending judgement, just lending an ear with input if we so desired. She taught me, there’s a place for that in life. There’s a place called meekness that lives only when you realize a direct way to someones life is through their heart, not their head. Something Nonni did so well; just listen and invest in those you love. A great life lesson she distributed to me. Something I am forever grateful for and an area I continually try to improve in.
Towards the end of nonni’s life I came to find out something very interesting. It turned out, Nonni always knew who’s turn it was to pick the pasta. As weeks went by, she kept a record of it. It wasn’t a guess on her part. It was important to her; remembering the little details about loved ones in her life. But I cant help but wonder that she knew, one day we would understand and comprehend. Understand her quietness around the table. Comprehend that listening is the best gift you can give someone. I cant help but think she knew as we grew older, that the purpose for coming to Nonni’s wasn’t at all to keep her company as we all thought. But for us to learn.
Learn how to one day let someone else pick the pasta.