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True Winter Tales: Today's pick

My Nonna by Carrie Hayes

Picture it...Montreal...1970. I was seven years old and already a seasoned Montreal 'winter' pro. Walking to school atop eight foot snow banks? Check. Spending days being literally snowed-in our house? Check. I thought I had, in my young years, seen all that a Montreal winter could muster up. 

I forget the date...but a day in January of 1970 began more ominously than most wintry days. The snow was falling heavier and, well, faster than even we were accustomed to. School cancelled, I excitedly ran into the kitchen to do my favourite thing on non-school days...watching my Nonna cook for the day. Maria Giambattisto was an extraordinary woman and I adored her. Incredibly, she spoke no English, and I no Italian, yet we always managed to communicate beautifully. 

All that day I watched her baking breads, cutting fresh pasta, stirring sauces, and stuffing sausages. I was thrilled when she would ask me to fetch ingredients for her...dried herbs, wedges of parmigiano reggiano, preserved tomatoes or braids of garlic. I always felt so honoured when she would ask me to "provare questo ... è bene?"

I was so entranced with the magic in the kitchen I hadn't even looked at the raging storm outside, so I was shocked when my parents rushed into the kitchen to inform us that three city buses had become stuck on our street...with a total of ninety people on board! Tired and hungry, all commuters had been informed that they had to stay on board. 

Nonna went into action. First she started brewing espresso...for ninety people! She had my dad bring it with almond biscotti to the buses. Then...antipasti, fettucine with pomodoro sauce, spicy fennel sausages & Chianti from her private barrels in the basement. With a determined smirk on her face she gave us all jobs to do. My dad, who had desperately enlisted help from next-door neighbours, carted out more food that night to grateful people on buses than many restaurants send out on a busy night! 

I will never forget that night. The sight of my Nonna flying around the kitchen to ensure that ninety strangers didn't go hungry on a cold , snowy night was an inspiration to me. That night, as I was falling asleep, I knew that hand-crafted food, and the joy it can give, would be an integral part of my life. 

PS. Within 4 days, my Nonna had received 140 (!) cards & gifts of thanks.

Carrie Hayes is from Kingston, ON

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