Happy Birthday Nonie!

This has nothing to do with a film review or video production, so there's your warning.

Today would have been my grandmother's 94th birthday. So here's a few stories all about my grandmother, Carmella aka Nonie.

Nonie was born on December 24th, 1922, at home: Her five older brothers and sisters had innocently thought that Santa brought them a new little sister. She spent her childhood helping out her family during the Great Depression. This is something she rarely spoke of when I was little. Even though I had many questions, she was very quiet about that time in her life. Thinking back, I assume she saw and did things that stuck with her and revisiting that to her inquisitive granddaughter wasn't something she could handle. I don't blame her for this, I just wish I had the ability to have known what I know now about video production and created a documentary on her life.

If I thought she was tight lipped about the Great Depression, I would be even more surprised to learn, after her death, that she had a first husband: a man named Raymond Bacon. We had never talked about Mr. Bacon, save for a single time when I was 4 years old and found a Purple Heart medal in her jewelry box. At the time, I had assumed that it was my grandfathers: It was Mr. Bacons.

Mrs. Raymond Bacon, taken in March 1943, age 20

Mrs. Raymond Bacon, taken in March 1943, age 20

I know very little about Mr. Bacon. I don't know what he looked like as I've never found any pictures of him, but have done extensive research and come up with the following:

  • He was an only child

  • He married my grandmother when she was 19

  • They weren't together for very long

  • He died in World War 2

  • He left his GI pension to my her

With Mr. Bacons posthumous support, Nonie was able to go to college. This was almost unheard of in the 1940's. She became a business professional and worked for a knitting mill, Prudential Insurance, and then finally Mintzer Petroleum (and subsequently the Mintzer family, as their bookkeeper).

Graduation Portrait, 1945

Graduation Portrait, 1945

When I entered the workforce at 16 (I went to work as an Usher at Saratoga Race Course in the summer of 2000), Nonie sat me down and told me, simplified, "Don't take any shit from anyone." When she was younger, sexual harassment wasn't really a thing. She told me about one of her former supervisors who "tried to get fresh" and she slapped him across the face. I was very proud of her when she told me that and said something like, "Way to go Nan!"

I wouldn't label her as a feminist per se, but she was definitely a proud professional woman. She gave me a book when I was four-years-old: Minou by Mindy Bingham. It's about a cat who can't take care of herself, who is then abandoned on the street of Paris. The cat learns to be self-sufficient. I had no idea that this was technically a feminist book until many years later when my mother explained it to me. I just thought it was about a French cat!

Wedding Portrait, 1948

Wedding Portrait, 1948

She married my grandfather after World War 2 ended and started her family. My dad was born and then my uncle a few years later (I was told not to list their ages because my father still likes to say his brother is the older one).

My father and my uncle, ages 10 and 6, respectively

My father and my uncle, ages 10 and 6, respectively

Nonie was a member and president of the Business and Professional Women's Group, selflessly volunteering her time, and her pizza making skills, to support other women like her. Growing up, they would have Pizza nights and I would go to help either cook the pizza or help hand it out while they had a meeting. It was a lot of fun, and probably an aspect of why I ended up as a chef for most of my adult life (until recently). 

BPW Presidential Swearing In Ceremony

BPW Presidential Swearing In Ceremony

Nonie loved to camp. My dad likes to tell me stories of their camping trips when he was a little boy, and I certainly remember spending summers at her campsite in Schroon River, NY. My mom only recently found out about this, but my grandmother liked to drive fast. She was a very safe driver, but when we would drive the hour from our home, up north to camp, she could make it there in 40 minutes. There was a phone booth at the entrance of the campsite that I was required to call my mother to let her know we got there safely. Nonie would drive past it most times and tell me to walk back up to the phone booth after my chores were done, giving her 20 or so minutes leeway so my mother wouldn't find out how fast we made it there.

My camp chores were something I looked forward to (yes, I realize that I'm not a normal person, and I'm okay with that). I had to bring our bags into the site, sweep off the canvas mat that was in front of the fire place, collect firewood for the bonfires we would have while we were there, unlock the shed, and make sure that the water was hooked up. Then I was allowed to take my brothers old BMX bike up to the payphone to call my mom.

My grandmother was always a very prim and proper woman. My father tells me that his dad, my grandfather (her second husband), had two nicknames for her: "Mother Superior" and "Joe College." "Joe College" was a lighthearted dig, as my grandfather hadn't graduated high school (however, he spoke 3 languages, spent time in Germany and Italy during World War 2 for the army, and eventually became a welder).

Christmas Eve, 2002. Nonie was Queen for a Day on her birthday that year

Christmas Eve, 2002. Nonie was Queen for a Day on her birthday that year

My grandmother had two sons and had always wanted a little girl to dress up in pretty dresses. Don't get me wrong here, my brother was her absolute favorite grandchild, as he was the first born. She was overjoyed when my Aunt had her daughter, my cousin, Aleta. Then my mother had me in 1983. Finally, my Aunt had my baby cousin, Ashley. Nonie had finally gotten her wish… or so she thought. My two cousins and I have always been tomboys. We played softball and got dirty and definitely weren't what Nonie had pictured when she dreamt of having a little girl to have tea parties and be girly with. Something I wish more than anything was that Nonie could have met my niece (my brothers daughter), Little C: That girl is the epitome of girly!

Most kids get milk and cookies when they get home from school. I always got fresh marinara sauce and bread. Growing up Italian was awesome, let me tell you! 

Nonie had a way with words. And I don't mean that in the literal sense: She made them up. She called knick knacks "jeek and jaulk" and told me once that my dress didn't cover my "apper-dappus." I STILL have no idea what she was talking about. She also mixed up peoples names a lot. For example, she would call my mother and my aunt, Frieda and Muriel who were two of her coworkers. She'd stutter sometimes when she was trying to yell at me and say "Ant-Samantha!" Her second son was Anthony, and I was the second child of my dad's. When my sister-in-law came to the house one time before my brother and her were married, she called her Ashley by mistake. "YOU'RE IN THE FAMILY NOW!" we all yelled.

Nonie, my sister-in-law, my brother, and Nonie's BFF, Shirley

Nonie, my sister-in-law, my brother, and Nonie's BFF, Shirley

When we were growing up, I would always go to church with Nonie and my brother on Christmas Eve. As I developed my own personal issues with the Catholic Church, I still held my promise to go to church with her on her birthday/Christmas Eve. We would then go to dinner at my aunt and uncles. Us kids would be SO excited for presents that after dinner and birthday cake, we'd all exclaim, "IS NONIE'S BIRTHDAY OVER YET? WE WANT TO OPEN PRESENTS!" And she'd sip her coffee and tell us to go downstairs before we burst. 

Nonie would bite her lip if she had something to say. She wouldn't volunteer her opinion unless you asked for it. Towards the end of her life, she became much more outspoken. I remember going to a small deli in Warrensburg, NY and they messed up her order. Normally, she would have just sat quietly and eaten the wrong food. But this time, she stood up and went to the counter to say that the order was wrong. Listen, my jaw was on the floor. I had NEVER witnessed that from her before then.

Nonie was my best friend and when she died, a part of me went with her. Only recently have I rediscovered that part of me that I thought was gone forever, and that's my wife's doing. I wish beyond everything that my wife was able to meet Nonie, I feel like they'd get along perfectly. They're both very proper women who love to cook. When my wife and I went to Italy for our honeymoon in October, I spent the whole time using what little Italian language skills I had retained from my childhood. Nonie would speak Italian to her brothers and sisters and around Christmas when she was trying to discuss presents and what we all were getting.

I miss my grandmother so much. It's been 10 years since she died and every time I think of her, I hear her say my name and scold me for something. It's a great memory to have, even if I was always in trouble!

If I've only given you a glimmer into the kind of person my grandmother was, be lucky to have read that. She was a wonderful woman, an amazing cook, and she was a true lady.

She is missed. She will always be remembered.

I love you, Nonie. I hope you're having a party up there with Papa and Sinatra!

Enjoy the photo gallery below with more images of the life and times of Carmella Ponzillo.