Nadia Della Roca
My maternal grandmother’s name was Nicolina Riccio. She was born in Italy and got married there when she was seventeen or eighteen years old. In the picture she is standing next to her husband. Nicolina had twelve kids, but only four of them lived pass their childhood. My mom was the youngest. She was also the only one born in Canada, where my grandparents settled after they left Italy in the early 1950s. Later, my grandparents bought a vacation house in Florida. They travelled back and forth between the two houses a fair amount, and this is why I did not have too much contact with them.
Everything I know about Nicolina came from my mom. According to her, Nicolina was a strict, cold, and extremely practical person. She must have grown up like this due to the hardships of her own life. Nicolina worked a lot, mostly helping my grandfather in a variety of businesses he ran. They were both extremely hardworking and thrifty, and eventually became quite rich. When she was in her 80s, Nicolina started to lose her memory and my grandfather could not take care of her any longer. Eventually, they separated, and she went to live in a special nursing home. She lived a long life and died when she was ninety-five years.
I was much closer with my parental grandmother, Maria Fiorillo Della Rocca. My father’s parents lived in Montreal just across the street from us and I grew up with their constant presence in my life.
They emigrated from a small town called Montorio in Southern Italy. In Montreal they lived in an Italian community and all their lives they spoke exclusively Italian. Every time they had some official business to address, they turned to my parents for help.
My parental grandparents had seven children. For a short period, when money was scarce, grandma Maria worked in a clothing factory, but most of her life she was a housewife and homemaker. She enjoyed domestic life and was completely devoted to her family. Maria was a great cook and enjoyed feeding everyone. All the family gatherings were organized in my grandparents’ Montreal house. Christmas was a time when I met up with all my twenty-six cousins. For such occasions, they ordered food from local caterers, so my grandmother could sit down and enjoy everyone’s presence.
In her neighborhood, Maria had three or four best friends and they always met at each other’s house for coffee. They sat for hours, sipped their coffee and exchange gossip. She was also a devoted Catholic and faith played an important role in her life. Maria always attended a Sunday mass. Sometimes, even though she never learned the language, she even went to a French church. There was always a cross on her neck and she owned numerous rosaries.
My parental grandparents were very happy together. Even though my grandfather passed away a long time ago, grandma Maria never stopped talking about him. After his death, she seemed to have lose her feeling of security and started to worry about her financial situation. However, she never had any reasons to any agitation over money. In addition to their Canadian retirement money, my grandfather had a pension from Italy and Germany, where he worked before they emigrated. Most importantly however, with a large family like ours, there would be always someone to take care of her.