Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Nonna's Apron Had Her Big Family Covered in Love

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Nonna's Apron Had Her Big Family Covered in Love

Article excerpt

With her round, chubby face, shy smile and soft fleshy hands that were never idle, my Nonna Sestili preceded in appearance the Pillsbury Doughboy.

She dressed simply, with hair pinned at the nape of her neck. Her black, mannish-looking shoes made her look flat-footed, and an apron was ever present over her cotton print dresses.

She was born Teresa Pacifico in the LaMarche region of central Italy, which enjoys mild, sunny weather, abundant olive trees, sheep, cow-milk cheeses and rich, wide noodle pastas. The Marchigiani, as the locals are called, are hard-working, kind and orderly people.

Her surname, Pacifico (peace), fit her perfectly. A quiet, gentle woman, she was beloved by her four sons - Alex, Frank, Max (my dad) and Tony - in addition to her daughters-in-law and 16 grandchildren.

Leaving Italy in 1916 for America must have been difficult for this young farm woman, but she adapted - somewhat. Nonna was illiterate. She never learned to speak English, except for a few curse words that she used in frustration, mostly directed at my grandfather, Luigi.

Whenever we went "down the house," as we called visits to her Bouquet Street home in Oakland, we gathered in the spacious kitchen. I could never understand the layout of the house: walk up a steep flight of steps directly from Bouquet Street, enter a small alcove and then with no warning, no introduction, there you were - boom - right inside this bustling kitchen, the hub, where joy happened.

It was furnished with a large, oil cloth-covered oval table, a Salvation Army-type couch with a heavy mirror over it, and a too- large-for-the-kitchen credenza on which rested a small, out-of place china clock.

When we arrived, we were expected to "Say hello to Nonna." That meant a hug and kiss in greeting. As she affectionately drew us close to her soft belly, she would stroke our faces, look at us lovingly and call us figl (a dialect variant of figlia/figlio for daughter/son), which recognized us as her beloved.

Then we were free to find our cousins to play. If our cousin Ray was there, we had an exceptionally good time. …

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