This is a story of a lost necklace. But understand, this is not the story of the loss, but the story of the necklace …
When I was a little girl, the question of who pays the bill in our family was one of the fastest ways to get into an argument with my Nonna. She was very serious about wanting to pay for everyone. Whenever we ate in a restaurant she cornered the cameriera (waiter) and, even before ordering, told him to deal with her and only her. If my father or one of my uncles attempted to pay, Nonna would vehemently object and the poor waiter would stand there smiling and listening to the ensuing argument. In the end, the waiter always ignored my father and my uncles because, after all, he had an Italian Nonna and understood how things were meant to be.
Over time Nonna became affectionately known as la Nonna dei denari (Nonna of the Coins), and nothing pleased her more than to be able to provide for her family. She loved to give; it was as simple as that.
Nonna’s generosity also extended to gift giving. There were the big gifts -- for birthdays, first communions, confirmations, graduations and weddings – but the small ones were just as special. As a little girl accompanying her around the streets of Verona, there was always a treat waiting around the corner: cento lire for the gumball machine, a hair clip to go along with my new haircut, a cute t-shirt purchased at the market, a new box of colored pencils, a Topolino magazine. These things would be accompanied with a huge hug and two or three loud kisses given in quick succession – even her kisses were generous as she couldn’t give just one.
And out of her generosity grew a tradition, for at the baptism of each child born into the family, Nonna presented him/her with a beautiful box emblazoned with the logo of a Veronese jeweler. Inside the box was an 18-karat gold necklace with either a cross, or a medallion of Mary, Jesus, or a Guardian Angel. It was an adult necklace given to an infant, a tradition to be part of and a legacy to grow into. In 1967 I received my gold necklace; I was Nonna’s first grandchild, and twenty-eight years later when our son was born – Nonna’s first great grandchild – he received one, too.
The tradition of the necklace was Nonna’s way of celebrating our family and our faith – which is why my father, when he was baptized a Catholic one month before marrying my mother, received one, too. He was 23 years old. His necklace had a medallion of Christ, and engraved on the back was the date of his baptism, March 19 (the feast of St. Joseph). My father put it on that day, and never took it off again.
Then, last week during our family beach vacation, my father came into the room and announced (in a somewhat stunned voice) that he had lost his necklace. And just like that, everyone stopped what they were doing. Nonno lost his necklace. The words were almost whispered as we thought about what this meant, because not only was the necklace a part of his identity, but most importantly, it was a reminder on how Nonna affectionately and with pride welcomed her new son-in-law (un americano!) into her Italian family. She adored my father, and my father loved her immensely.
Nonno lost his necklace.
How? When? Where? We retraced his steps. We called restaurants and shops. We looked under couch cushions and beds. We picked through the garbage and crawled through the car. We even went down to our spot on the beach and sifted through the sand.
Nonno lost his necklace.
For the rest of that week the words were repeated until slowly, and without even realizing it, they settled into a truth: while it was sad to lose it, Nonna’s gift was never about a gold necklace; rather, it was about tradition, family, and love; it was about Nonna’s generous spirit which keeps on giving ... even at the beach as we were searching for the lost necklace. Even today after we returned home and opened that box with the logo of a Veronese jeweler to see our individual necklaces.
In the end, this isn’t a story of a necklace that was lost, but of all the things which can never be lost.
And those are the greatest gifts of all.
|My Nonna and me.|
(I had received my gold necklace a few months earlier.)