Cannelloni was my grandmother’s language of love. Then the pandemic hit
This first-person column is written by Jessica Magonet who lives in Vancouver. For more information on CBC’s first-person stories, please visit the faq.
On Valentine’s Day, one of the people I love the most in the world told me that she loved me for the first time. This person is my 96 year old grandmother.
She lives on the other side of the country, which often felt like she was on the other side of the world during the pandemic. We haven’t seen each other for over a year because of COVID. It was the longest we have ever been separated.
I could have missed the “I love you” if I hadn’t been paying attention. My grandmother slipped it casually at the end of a call. I was so surprised that I almost didn’t answer. His words left me silent and stunned. But I pulled myself together and told her I missed her and loved her too. And then I hung up and texted my cousins.
Me: Grandma just told me “I love you” for the first time. I’m shocked. I always tell her I love her, but she just says, “the same for you.”
Alex: OMG, hilarious but true.
Lauren: When I tell Grandma I love her, all I get is a thank you!
Alex: He must really miss you.
She did it.
It wasn’t the first sign.
At first, it was the deluge of voicemail messages. After the pandemic my grandmother started calling me all the time. She would call while I was working when I couldn’t answer, so she would fill my mailbox with voicemail messages about recipes. “Jessica, this is very important,” the messages began. “You have to make pizza tonight. Call me and I’ll give you my recipe.
I would call her back and of course she couldn’t read me the pizza recipe she scribbled decades ago on a now crumbling card because my grandmother has very limited vision. But she could ask my mom to email it to me.
I never doubted my grandma loved me before her monumental Valentine’s Day announcement, even though it meant the world to me to hear her say those words out loud. I hoped they would open the door to more honesty and privacy in our relationship.
But I always knew she was one of the people who loved me the most. The feeling is mutual. I cherish my childhood memories of spending time with her, taking the Montreal metro, visiting La Ronde, cooking in her kitchen. When I was eight, my parents separated, and my mother and I moved in with my grandparents for a while. I remember the school lunches my grandmother carefully prepared for me. Fagioli pasta, meatball sandwiches, minestrone. I remember Sundays in her dining room, sharing gnocchi in tomato sauce. His love anchored me during an extremely difficult time.
My grandmother always showed her love through deeds rather than words. By actions I mean cooking. Her parents immigrated to Montreal from Casacalenda, Italy, and she has kept the tradition of Italian cuisine alive in our family.
My grandmother, the cannelloni hotline
Last Christmas was the first Christmas I ever spent without my grandmother.
She usually cooks an Italian feast for our family on Christmas Day. While we weren’t able to get together last year due to pandemic restrictions, she still made sure everyone enjoyed her famous homemade cannelloni for Christmas dinner.
She bought me a pasta machine and spent the days leading up to Christmas Day on FaceTime with her children and grandchildren, advising us on the texture of the pasta dough and the thickness of the bechamel sauce. Often the line was busy when I called for help because they were discussing the recipe with someone else. “Grandma,” I told her, “you’re a cannelloni hotline! ”
It was also the first time that I made cannelloni on my own. I had always done this with my grandmother, my mother, my uncles, my cousins - one person stirring the tomato sauce, another spreading the dough. I knew how to make parts of the recipe, but I had never learned how it all comes together. With the help of my grandmother, I cracked the code.
I thought the “I love you” my grandmother gave me on Valentine’s Day, brought on by our long pandemic separation, would be a one-time event. I was wrong. I call my grandma all the time to talk about recipes.
She tells me that she loves me almost every time we speak.
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