Graziella Arcovito, 78 years old
Some boyfriends come with better accessories than others. My relationship with Giovanni lasted about five years – and, while it’s not unusual that our friendship endured to this day, what is a tad strange is that my friendship with his mother is still going. Graziella, Giovanni’s mom, drew me in from the beginning with her effervescent and genuine personality, her wit and her sarcasm. I enjoyed week-ends in the country with Gio’s parents, the excursions around the mountains and Graziella’s constant chatter. The daughter of a time, World War II, when women grew up not to have many expectations, and too old to be touched by the advent of feminism, Graziella is the poster child for an entire generation of European women who married young, didn’t work outside the house, lived in the city where they were born and dedicated their lives to their family.
After finishing high school with a degree in accounting, Graziella, who was born and raised in Milan, met her husband to be, Tino, at a party. At 19, she was married to the handsome and dark Sicilian, the ying to her yang. Never was a couple better balanced: she was blonde, pretty, with fabulous legs (to this day), always bubbly and chatty, a counterpoint to her more pensive and taciturn husband. They raised two children, she at home looking after them and the house and he off to work every day.
I recently asked her to contribute her thoughts to this column because I think there is some wisdom to be found in lives lived with fewer hang-ups and expectations. I wouldn’t trade my freedom of choice in most areas of my life but I sometimes feel we over think matters, instead of just getting on, especially when it comes to relationships.
In my transatlantic conversation with Graziella, I detected a sadness that wasn’t always there. But, after reminiscing and talking about the husband she lost, she also mentioned she had just gotten home from the opening of an exhibition on 20th century furniture and a lovely cocktail party she had attended with her girlfriends. The purebred Milanese is still shining through after all.
I always let fate carry me. I am not in the habit of questioning what happens, of how things might have been different. It is what it is and it’s how you deal with it that makes a difference. Are there things I might have done differently, on hindsight? Absolutely. But I don’t see the point of looking back and have regrets. My lot has been pretty good and I don’t feel I have the right to complain. Even after 3 heart by-passes, my biggest health scare, I am still in good shape and very grateful.
Hold on to your sense of humour. We forget that life is long – many, many things happen, not all of them good. To be able to laugh at the bad, or at least to see the funny side of it, helps. When it’s not possible, when the pain is too big, that is the sadness that will never be erased.
On love. I married the only man I ever loved and our marriage lasted 47 years. He was taken from me in an instant: one moment he was there and the next he was gone, dead, right in front of me (her husband died of a heart attack at home). It’s been 10 years and I haven’t gotten over it. They say you can get over any loss but the truth is, you can’t. I will never get over losing Tino (her voice still cracks at the memory).
Build a bank of good memories. They will be there when you get older, to remind you of all the great times you had. Solitude hangs heavy over me – I know I am lucky to have my health, my friends, my beautiful sunny apartment but I often feel lonely. I get through this melancholy by thinking about the bounty life had in store for me and that helps me find my way towards gratitude again. Remember to be happy often.
Graziella is the rare Italian grandma who doesn’t know how to cook. Extremely baffled by my vegetarianism when I met her, I think I only ever ate three dishes at her house: gnocchi with gorgonzola, pizza (the dough purchased from the baker) and pan-fried trout. “Do you remember the trip we took to the dam and the trouts we ate just out of the water?” she asks me before we hang up.
“Of course I do, I still have the photos”
“It was such a lovely day” I agree, it was. It’s part of our bank of shared memories.
I make her promise that next time we see each other, she will make me the first dish she ever made for me, gnocchi with gorgonzola.
“Of course. You know, I can’t wait”