Recently, I went through a box stuffed with cards I have received over the years. Some from birthdays, graduations, moving, and souvenirs from places others have visited. Things can get buried in there, and every once in a while it’s nice to go through and relive memories. To get lost in past celebrations and travels. 

While sifting through the stacks, I came across a small piece of paper. A rectangular Post-It, with a Christmas theme and little cats all around the borders. In the center there are only a few lines, written in a trembling and slightly sloppy cursive. It’s a note from my grandma. “These little cats are so cute and will protect you.”

My grandma is from a rural and mountainous area of the Marche region in the center of Italy. She moved to Milan, the capital of the much more urban Lombardia region, when she was a teenager. 

I’m not sure if my grandma finished elementary school. When she would pick me up, I would sign the school form for her, because she didn’t know how to write too well –  especially not in cursive, which is much more common in Italy. But her formal education didn’t matter much to me. I loved spending time with my grandma, and did it as much as I could. My summers, after school, on Sundays. My sister and I would listen to her stories, her songs, and her memories of living in the rural valleys of her region. Tales of cows, chickens, mushrooms, and lumber, she would captivate us with her life in the campagne (countryside). 

Photo credit: Luca Micheli | @lucamicheli

Stories like these are often written down in kids’ books, but not the tales that my grandma told. They were all from her memory, her past life that was so far from my reality. 

I wish I could remember more, remember for and with my grandma, whose memory has now been taken over by dementia. She is now more quiet, doesn’t look you in the eyes, or maybe doesn’t call your name. But I like to wonder if she is thinking about her mountains, her animals, and her beautiful songs. The note I saved from her may be the only piece of writing I have of hers, but she has given and taught me so much that does not need to be written down. Her infinite love and devotion went beyond what cards and books can communicate. 

And in her own way she will continue to do so even now that we don’t and can’t talk as much. I know that when I think of her, I see us walking through her childhood village, leaving flowers at the bottom of statues of Mary. And I see her blue eyes. 

To all that tell stories, tales, poems, and anything precious that is spoken, like my grandma did, Grazie!