Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Storyteller

Concetta Lombardo, born Montalto, in Sicily, Italy in 1901. My grandmother.

She could barely read or write. Her father took all his daughters out of school when he discovered one of Concetta's sisters had been passing notes with a boy. Concetta moved to New York city after she got married at age twenty. She never learned English very well. Her family understood her, but with her very thick accent, strangers often could not.

She could make something amazingly delicious using the simplest ingredients. Lasagna to die for. Homemade pasta. And the pizza, my god, the pizza. We loved her food and her natural warmth. We loved her for the rental cabin at the beach, into which she squished an unfathomable number of grandchildren. Cooked for us daily, carrying real china to the beach for a wonderful and unique picnic. Spaghetti on the beach!

And we loved her stories.

She said she got them from the radio. The one about the man who wanted to send figs to his brother through a telegraph office. The mouse who fell into the spaghetti sauce to meet his tragic end, leaving behind his bereft cat-wife. The king who learned the importance of salt. She would sit you in her lap and start talking and the world would melt away. Just the sound of that beautiful Italian-English.

Once when I was older Concetta asked me to tell her a story. I couldn't think of anything to say. And then I started telling her about all the people I'd seen in the East Village (in the 80s): girls with blue hair sticking out in spikes around their head, wearing jeans that were deliberately ripped. Boys with multiple safety pins in their ears. She laughed and laughed at my stories.

I knew my descriptions were not as wonderful as her stories. But I also knew she was happy to hear me talking, telling her about the strange world around us. We talked and shared stories to talk and share our love for each other.

If she was here today, I would love to tell her the stories I'm writing now. Of colorful snails, braggy turtles and lonely seagulls. I think she might like them. And I'd like to be able to thank her for showing me the wonders of storytelling.

Yes, I do. So thanks, Grandma Lombardo.


  1. Con! What a most interesting story. And what a MOST cool Grandma. I can tell you miss her stories very much.

    I can't believe that her father took them all out of school. But back then and in Italy, I'm sure that was what one did when ones daughter had been passing notes to a boy. GASP! =)

    Mmmm, I would love to have eaten her yummy food. Did you inherit her cooking ability? If so, that's one thing I never knew about you.

    Thanks for sharing Concetta with us. And what a lovely name. =)

  2. Unfortunately, nobody in my family can cook like her. I tried to help her make pizza once. She watched me trying to knead the dough for awhile and said, "Okay, you go away now." I do think I make a pretty good spaghetti sauce, though!