The 2023 Women’s History Month theme is “Celebrate Women Who Tell Stories.”  We are asked to think of authors, songwriters, performers, and grandmothers.   

I think of my grandmother, Elizabeth Terreri Monaco. Her life story is my inspiration.   She arrived from Pescopennataro, Italy, at sixteen as a young bride to my grandfather. She died, never seeing her mother or Italy again. In this thank you letter, I get to share all the memories I now cherish, for when she died, I was too young, at sixteen years of age, to understand or say thank you!

Dear Grandma,

Janice zarro as a young girl wearing a long dress and holding a bouquet of flowers

You had four grandchildren, but I know I was your favorite. The baby of the family, you protected me from the teasing and taunts from my sister and cousins. Your hugs, kisses, and pure delight for everything I did, I still see and feel today. My love and appreciation for my Italian American values started with you.

It was the 1950’s Grandma, no supermarkets in your neighborhood. I can still feel you holding my little hand tightly as we walked to the small stores on Seventh Avenue in Newark, NJ buying cheese and seeing those cheeses hanging in the store window. I smell the aroma of freshly baked bread from the Italian bread store below the flat where you lived and feel the heat coming through the bread bag. I just loved spending time with you. Unconditional love, warmth, and how you valued and enjoyed the ordinary in life is your inspirational story to me.

You were a skilled seamstress. I remember the beautiful long dress you designed and made for me when I was a flower girl at seven years old. A fresh flower tiara with my bologna curls, and matching gloves, was the closest I would ever feel to being a princess. I treasure today the photo of me in that dress and feel the pride and love in your work and for me. Thank you for beginning my work ethic or what I have elevated more to being an unapologetic workaholic, which is so much a part of me.

Your holiday dinners and their special foods inspired me to value traditions, family, and a connection to the country you left at sixteen. No cook in the family has mastered your touch with roasted potatoes, polenta, or homemade pasta. However, we gather together every holiday with our handed down version of your delicacies, and I say thank you for having your story as part of my story.

— Janice