I mentioned that I did a (very small) bit of Relay for Life the other day, and it kind of got me thinking about my “inspiration” for Relay… my grandfather. So here’s a rather wordy, rather un-food-related ramble about my grandfather and what he meant and means to me.
On May 1st, 1929, my grandfather, Vincenzo Rimoli was born in Naples, Italy. After a life filled with trials, tribulations, a move to Brazil, and lots of laughter, he passed away on October 10, 2008 after battling cancer for multiple years.
It’s fitting, then, that on May 1st, 2011, I found myself walking in my school’s Relay for Life, musing about my grandfather and what life meant to him.
My grandfather’s Italianness was unmistakable. From the tale of his shameless wooing of my grandmother (he literally proposed to her, then pretended to cry when she said no and guilted her into marrying him because he’d “just lost his job”… luckily, she came to love him anyways) to his undeniable adoration for all things food-related, the “Italianness” was pervasive. He and the rest of my family are just like a slightly altered version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding; from what I hear, he was also infatuated with Windex.
I had always wanted to go to Italy to better understand that part of my heritage, and when I finally made my way there this past summer, I felt some kind of connection to his past, his culture, my past, my culture. But what was missing was context, stories, irrelevant details of his past life that I never bothered to get to know. As we sat upon the beach my mom and I puzzled over whether, perhaps, he too had gallivanted on its pebbly shores, splashed in its blue waters; I know he loved the ocean. And both of us regretted never having asked.
Brother & I in Sorrento last summer
Regardless, I saw pieces of him everywhere. His roguish smile was plastered on the faces of the crowds of look-alikes laughing gaily in the streets. His love for all things culinary wafted through the air with the scent of pizza at the local pizzeria. And his genuine zest for life was there in the vibrant, loud, rambunctious crowds on the train, the haphazard music groups making their way down the line collecting money.
He never stopped trying; multiple times along the course of his sickness we thought he was on his way out but he fought back with a force unlike anything I’ve ever seen. True Italian stubbornness, but it served him well.
And above all, he cared about all of us. I distinctly remember him using all of his limited energy to stand over the stove making our favorite pumpkin soup, I remember his frail hands smoothing over a towel as he exerted a seemingly impossible amount of effort to prepare to take my brother to the pool.
I remember, in better times, the squabbles he and my grandma had over his occasionally erratic driving. I remember his grin, his lack of shame in sharing his broken English with the world, the unmistakably Italian lilt of his voice as he pronounced “Bell-eh-vooey” instead of Bellevue.
So today, I walk for him and the millions of others affected by this disease. I walk and I reminisce. I remember those times, I remember the crazy times when my part-Italian family all came together for loud games of bingo. I reminisce and I bask in his memory hoping that I can siphon some of that love for life back into myself. I walk to remember, and I walk to move forward in my life the way I know he’d want me to; if he saw the sadness in my eyes he’d undoubtedly crack some terrible joke just to get a smile. So I’ll walk, and I’ll smile, and I’ll remember.
Who would you walk for?