My grandma with me and my older brother
My grandmother found out she gets sea-sick one hour into a three week boat ride from Italy to America. For three long weeks she endured what I can only imagine were some of the most miserable moments of her life so that she could come to the US to make a better life for herself and her future family. Her bravery and resilience are what make my grandma an inspiration to me and why, even a year after her passing, I continue to learn from her every day.
What my grandparents had was a true love story. My grandparents met in their small village outside of Parma, Italy. My grandfather came to the US first, following his older brothers, and taking odd jobs where he could, finally landing as a busboy and working his way up to a waiter. He saved his money for a year so that he could send it back to Italy and my grandmother could buy a boat ticket to join him.
My grandmother truly had the opportunity to live the American Dream. While she and my grandfather really struggled – she held a full time job as a seamstress while picking up extra hours on nights and weekends as a housekeeper, and my grandfather worked 3 jobs as a waiter – they were able to purchase a house, see their children go to college, and above all, ensure that their family had all the opportunities that wouldn’t have been available to them had they stayed in their village in Italy.
I know that this is probably the story of a lot of individuals’ grandparents or even parents, but it’s always important for me to take a step back and remember where I came from. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in life and forget about what it took and the sacrifices that were made to get you to that moment.
In the later years, my grandma’s memory began to fade. What started with questions of “where did I leave my glasses?” turned into “what day is it?” and later to “who are you?”
In the beginning, though she couldn’t remember what she had just eaten for lunch an hour prior, she could distinctly invoke memories of the past, recounting stories of her childhood in Italy and her large family. We all hung on every word as she told us of the days spent out in the field on her farm back in Italy, and the time the American soldiers came to her farmhouse during WWII. In the more recent years, however, even those memories faded. I slowly watched my grandma become a shell of who she once was, and it was extremely difficult to watch.
Our family learned an incredible lesson of patience in the last few years of my grandma’s life, my mom especially. While it was easy to become frustrated when you had to answer the same question for the hundredth time (despite her fading memory, my grandma had an arsenal of about 5 questions she kept in constant rotation – somehow that part of her memory still worked), you had to always remember to take a step back and realize that this was not an act, and that she wanted this even less than we all did. My grandmother passed away last summer, and while it was difficult to come to the realization that we would never again enjoy her incredible stories over delicious homemade Italian meals, we knew that she was finally where she belonged – with my grandfather, who we knew had been waiting 17 years for her.
As children you take your family for granted, assuming they will be around forever. It’s not until you get older when you really begin to appreciate your family for who they are and where they came from. I’m so incredibly fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to learn from my grandma and I try to live my life inspired by her lessons of hard work, perseverance and above all, love for one’s family despite the difficult times that may come. Because at the end of the day, we can be the most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders, but often what you’ll be most remembered for is for being “mom” or “grandma.”
–Kristen Bierfeldt ’15