A Love Letter Distance
My Nonna initially met my grandfather when she was sixteen.
It was a Saturday night, and they both were at the only movie theatre in the area.
At that time, there was an intermission, so the employees at the theatre could switch the reels of film. They had to wait for the reels to be brought from the next town.
Nonna was wearing a bright pink sweater that stuck out from the crowd. She was sitting by herself, dark hair pinned back from her face, intently playing her crossword puzzle.
My grandfather saw her and was immediately transfixed. And then he bet his friends a bottle of wine that she would talk to him. His friends, knowing that Nonna was notorious for eschewing many doting men in town, took that bet. After all, who didn’t want a complimentary bottle of wine?
Much to their surprise, Nonna did talk to him — she too was transfixed.
She was impressed by his gentlemanly ways, the way he dressed, the way he spoke, and the way he laughed and engaged with his friends. He even knew the answer to one of the questions of the crossword puzzle that she was working on — it was asciugamano (the word for ‘towel’ in Italian), something that would’ve never come up in conversation with her former boyfriends. My grandfather smiled at her, and spoke to her, and saw her as a whole human.
They spoke for the rest of the intermission, and then, when it was time to finish the rest of the movie, they each went back to their respective seats.
But when the movie was over, my grandfather waited for my Nonna outside of the theatre. Standing there, in her bright pink sweater that matched the flush in her cheeks, she smiled. He asked her if it was okay if he walked her home.
She said yes.
My grandfather courted her for the next few months — waiting to walk her home after work, stopping to say hello after church, finding a way to share a smile or two as they passed one another in town.
It was a soft, gentle, and slow romance — until the time came for my grandfather to join the military. Then the walks stopped, as did the courting. There were no more stolen moments where they could exchange smiles. Time was no longer their own.
In 1943, my grandfather left the military and joined the partigiani — rebel forces fighting against fascist armies. As a kid, I always remember the story about how he dressed in camouflage and hid in trees, fighting against the people who wanted to do his community and the world harm.
He had to wear a disguise to see my Nonna — a new kind of stolen moment.
The war ended in 1945, and in 1946, he came to The United States to build something new. He told Nonna that he would write to her and asked her to wait for him. He told her that they would begin a new life together in The United States; he just needed time to make money and put down roots.
Everyone in town told Nonna to say goodbye to him for good. Nobody went to The United States and came back. When they left, they left for good. And he would most certainly find a new love over there — an American woman who would be able to be the wife and the mother that she had yet to become to him.
True to form, she didn’t listen.
She told him that she would wait.
And wait, she did.
The first letter came on January 6th, 1947, and for five years, he wrote to her, and she to him. He wrote of his dreams, of his hopes, of his fears. He wrote about his plans for them both, what this new country was like, and what he missed back home.
He wrote from the deepest parts of his soul-baring it all on thick white paper and swirling black ink, and she fell deeper in love with him. Nonna tuned out the voices of the ones who laughed at her, who mocked her, who told her that she was crazy for thinking that this could ever work. She didn’t care what they thought — she knew that they would find a way to prove everyone wrong.
In 1952, my grandfather and Nonna got married at Lake Como.
They were married for over fifty years until the day my grandfather died. Nonna loved him even longer — and still spoke of him until she too left this earth at the age of ninety-four.
Nobody gets to tell you who you love.
Nobody gets to tell you who makes your heart feel like it’s whole, or what person is somehow your most extraordinary adventure, and home rolled into one.
Nobody gets to tell you who you are going to spend the rest of your life with — that forever person whom you want to grow old with, and build with, and sit and stand beside for the rest of your life.
That decision is yours and yours alone.
That person is someone you get to choose — and it doesn’t matter if other people don’t understand it. It doesn’t matter if other people think you should be doing something else, or loving someone else, or building with someone else.
You’re the one who gets to choose.
So, I hope you choose someone who lifts you up — someone who excites you, and listens to you, and dreams right alongside you. I hope you choose someone who makes you want to think bigger about the life that you’re leading and somehow still grateful for all that you have. I hope you choose someone who is your biggest cheerleader and your confidante and still knows how you take your coffee. I hope you choose someone who listens to you — when you’re hurting and when you’re happy and when you need to speak because you’ve never been one to be quiet.
I hope you choose someone who loves you so much that they’d cross an ocean to be with you — twice. And they’d make that journey all over again because not being able to talk to you would crush their spirit.
Love is a precious gift — and when love finds you, it’s something to protect. It’s something to hold onto, and it’s something to choose — over and over again for forty years.