In Memory of My Nonna
I’m getting a little more personal than usual with this reflection, but nonetheless reflecting on a person who has hugely impacted my life. Exactly 2 weeks ago today on Thursday, May 14th, 2020, Joann Norma Eacho Turner, my grandmother and my person, passed away in her sleep. I lovingly called her Nonna (the Italian word for grandmother), or more commonly Nonnie (the nickname I made up for her when I was little that always stuck); and she was a strong, loving, and special woman. I have admired and adored my Nonna since I was a little girl, and our strong bond only continued to grow over the years. Reflecting on her life and our times together reminds me of the amazing impact she’s had on me and how thankful I am to have learned from and been loved by her for 28 years.
Nonna moved to be closer to family in Raleigh over 5 years ago, which is time I’m so thankful to have had close by to her. It was during this time in our lives that she and I grew to be more like best friends. These past 5 years were an amazing phase that we had as such a strong part in one another’s lives- my first 5 years of post grad life after college and what we did not know would be her last 5 years of aging and living.
Growing up, I remember Nonna being such a unique grandmother figure. Compared to many other grandparents I had been around, she was hip, relatable, silly, endearing, and more in touch with pop culture than I ever have been. Not to mention, as a young girl, the pride that I took in Nonna’s good looks. She used to always remind me of the day when I told her proudly that I was the only child in my class with a grandparent who didn’t have gray hair. That’s the day Nonna broke me the news that she dyed her hair brown. She always thought my devastation about her true hair color was hilarious, and she re-told me that story many times.
I will say, Nonna really enjoyed skin care and beauty routines, something else that made her such a fun grandmother growing up. When I was little, she would let me go through all her powders, blushes, eye shadows, & lipsticks, and put on her make up. We would even spend time mixing together concoctions of her old makeup to make new homeade makeup colors. I learned a lot about skin care and beauty from her, and she always loved to shower me with new products to try. I was shocked the first time she gave me an anti-aging cream a few years ago, but she felt strongly I should start preventing wrinkles early. She never did care much for aging. During the many months of her hospitalization and transitions that consumed the past half a year of her life, the nurses always got a kick out of how she insisted on having her Number 7 moisturizer and Obsession perfume (just to name a couple) on her bedside table.
When I think back on my 28 years I spent with Nonna in my life, so many other wonderful memories and stories come to mind too. The Italian heritage she passed down to me was something special we shared, and I am so lucky for around 15 years of opportunities that I have gotten to cook and spend time in the kitchen with her. Cooking together was always an all day event. She would buy ingredients in bulk, and we would make giant pots-full of something delicious covered in red sauce. I do remember how picky and blatantly honest she was if she thought a batch of meatballs and sauce just didn’t turn out “right” that time. But I also remember how proud she would be to share our cooking with other family members if the batch met her standards. She loved to give away containers upon containers of frozen homeade goods to family near and far. And this didn’t start when Nonna moved to Raleigh- she had been cooking her go-to Italian meals in bulk and sharing with family for as long as I can remember. We would always leave her Charlotte home stocked up on all the best Italian cooking.
My Nonna was truly a giving person. She always took genuine joy in giving me little gifts and surprises. When we were younger, my parents couldn’t escape the piles of nick nacks and Dollar Store goodies she would excitedly share and send us home with. And throughout her time in Raleigh, she used to get so excited to head back to her closet to bring out little random surprises she had picked up for me that week. She absolutely loved to buy things for my classroom and students too. Nonna cared deeply about my job as a teacher and about my students, and she would check on them and ask about them by name.
Nonna’s big heart didn’t end there, but extended to the dogs in her life too. It may seem silly to devote 2 paragraphs to her love for dogs; but she absolutely adored her dog Nee Cee, as well as her great granddogs and every friend and family dog in her life. She was just a total dog lover of a person. Being around dogs honestly brought out a joy in her unlike any other. She would actually tell me that she liked and understood dogs more than people, which I think may have been true and always made me laugh. Prior to all the life transitions Nonna experienced over the past 6 months, Josh and I would bring the dogs over for weekly visits with Nonna and her dog Nee Cee. During our visits, she loved to spoil our own dogs with way too many treats and toys. For Nonna, our visits were all about playing with the 3 dogs and giving them love and attention. This time was the highlight of her weeks and ours too.
Years ago, it was very hard for Nonna to cope with the loss of her collie Mechelle in Charlotte, so when she moved to Raleigh it was important to my family that we help her find another dog to fill that void. Having Nee Cee in her life brought her more purpose and happiness than we ever could’ve hoped. I’m so glad that Nee Cee got to spend the first few years of her life with Nonna, and that they each had each other during Nonna’s time living in Raleigh.
Our time with Nonna in Raleigh has also had its challenges at times. But I often reflect more so on the things that she has overcome in her life, things on a level that many of us haven’t had to handle or work through in our own lives. And Nonna had significant obstacles to overcome not just during her childhood; but also as a young, single mom; as a working woman in a male-dominated work force; and as a senior. Those obstacles undoubtedly impacted her as a person, but they also gave her a strength and determination and wisdom that I will always look up to.
There are certain things that I will always think of when I think back on Nonnie: her bright-colored, extra tall plastic cups she’d love to fill with a fresh coke; her favorite comfy clothes of nothing less than 100% cotton; her 2 freezers always stocked full of red sauce meals to eat and share; her silly rhymes and songs she’d make up and sing to us as children and later to all the pups; her sweet tooth and love of anything dark chocolate; our many long conversations, paired with her open-mindedness, deep perspective, and genuine, judgment-free advice I could always count on; her forever love of the 70s and the classic music of that and surrounding decades; her self-made success and the resulting strength and independence she held onto throughout her final years and months; the list goes on. I will continue to miss weekend visits more than words can say, and I wish we could have at least one more hug or one more good talk or laugh together. Nonna showed me such immense love during our time together, which for me has been my whole life until now. Figuring out life without her will be difficult, and I know my life won’t ever be the same without her in it. But Nonna always expressed how proud she is of me, and as I reflect on her life, I also want to express how proud I am of her.
Nonnie, I love you, I miss you so much, and I’m holding onto you forever in my heart. No words can express how thankful I am to be your granddaughter.