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I can still feel the cool marble steps where I sat listening to my grandma and her brother talk one floor below me. The rapid-fire Italian made it sound like they were angry, but they could have been talking about the weather for all I knew. I don't speak Italian.
This trip was a graduation present. My grandma brought me to Pietremelara, Italy, a tiny town north of Naples, where we stayed with her brother and sister-in-law for a week before taking a tour through Rome, Florence and Venice.
Our time together was one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given.
My brothers and I spent a lot of time with my grandma while we were growing up, usually at her house near Youngstown. My favorite time of day during those visits was evening. With the dishwasher humming downstairs, we retreated to the upstairs den to watch TV. My grandma was a huge big band and country music fan so we would always watch "The Mandrell Sisters" and "The Lawrence Welk Show." Her other favorites were "The Wheel of Fortune," "Jeopardy," "The Dukes of Hazzard," plus any game involving the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Chicago Bulls.
And then there was the food -- lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, pizzelles, Kolache nut roll and so much more.
My grandma's parents emigrated from Italy and settled in Hillsville, Pa., where my grandma grew up with three older brothers and two older sisters. I loved hearing stories like how she and her siblings flew down the hill near their house on a toboggan, across the road and over some railroad tracks before they were pitched off into the snow. She grew up sharing a bed with her sisters, and they still squabbled with each other until they were well into their 80s.
My grandma was 70 years old on our trip in Italy, and a couple years later she lost both of her legs to a circulation disorder. While many people would have given up, my stubborn grandma learned how to walk again with two prosthetic legs. Those new legs took her to her youngest grandchild's college graduation and carried her over to meet three of her great-grandchildren.
She was an amazing, strong, opinionated and talented person, and I miss her every day.