A Strange World

While driving my Nonno home from my young cousin’s birthday party tonight, he burst into laughter.

“It’s funny. When I was growing up. 1940. After the war, there was not enough to eat.”

His Italian accent is thick and his English is sometimes broken, but he makes do.

“We were 7 kids. My father was a blacksmith. We eat vegetables, much cheaper.”

He’s laughing, but it’s clear that life in 1940s Italy involved a lot of pain.

“We were very lucky. Not enough food, lots of people died. Our neighbours, some people couldn’t get enough food.”

He goes on to describe the standard meals his family would share every week; fish soup on Fridays; tomato soup on Saturday; a slice each of off-cut meat on Sundays.

I’ve always found the way he eats peculiar. Each day of the week involves a different type of dish with mild variation, and every week the cycle repeats itself.

“But I never liked pasta and beans. Always we had pasta and beans and I never liked. My father, one day he said, when I didn’t eat the pasta and beans for lunch he said, ‘That’s okay, if you don’t want to eat, don’t eat.’ Then he locked away the bread and said I not eat anything else until I eat the pasta.”

He repeats this part a few times, explaining that each child had their likes and dislikes, but that there was never enough food to begin worrying about what people liked and didn’t like. If you didn’t like a meal, you just didn’t eat.

On the day he refused to eat his pasta and beans, he caved before the day was done. Wincing in disgust, he describes eating the bean pasta, cold and stuck together.

“No refrigerator, no microwave, just sat on a shelf. But I was so hungry.”

It dawns on me why he so naturally avoids waste.

We sit in silence for a few seconds before he clears his throat.

“As a father, a grandfather, I agree with my father now. One person working and 7 kids, not enough to be picky. But at the time… I hated him.”

He bursts out into another fit of laughter. I join him.

“And now, we have so much food.”

He’s laughing almost uncontrollably.

“We have too much food to eat. If you eat all the food you get sick.”

He catches his breath and looks out the window as we drive past a well lit Nandos.

“What a strange world.”

What a strange world indeed.

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