Saturday, 11 April 2009

Formidable Abruzzese Women

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of my beloved grandmother's death. She passed away on Good Friday, April 10th 1989. The story of the stoical 98-year-old women who escaped from the Aquila rubble a few days ago brought back vivid memories of my amazing gran. I would like to take this opportunity on my blog to recount her life history.

Natalina di Francesco was born on Christmas Eve 1896 in the village of Valle Sentatto, Provincia Teramo in Abruzzo. Her parents were farmers and they worked for a big landowner called Savini. Natalina's life was hard and she did not have the chance to go to school at all. Despite not having an education, my grandmother was a highly intelligent woman with a great depth of knowledge about life. She would cook for up to 30 family members on a daily basis as well as tending to animals,"parare le pecore" and looking after her children.

Awesome Strength
Natalina married Luigi Bianchini after her sister died in childbirth. She inherited 5 small children and then had 3 sons, one of whom is my father, Emidio. In 1936 my grandfather died tragically young in a horse and cart accident at the age of 43. My grandmother was left a widow with 8 young children to look after. With true grit and determination she managed to deal with and overcome adversity in her stride. She dressed in the traditional dark colours as a sign of mourning for her beloved husband for the rest of her life. You can see Luigi's face in the locket she wore until her death.

A Change of Country
At the age of 61 Natalina left her beloved Abruzzo to begin a new life in Oxford, England. She lived with us for over 30 years. She had a good life and she was well looked after by her family. I was brought up by my grandmother in true Italian family tradition while my parents went out to work. She always used to prepare the "sugo" ready for my mother to use for dinner at night. Her special "sugo" was made up of the following ingredients:

  • garlic
  • tomatoes
  • tomato puree
  • olive oil
  • herbs
Strong Willed
My gran was the most stubborn person I have ever met in my life and I am proud to say that I have followed in her footsteps. This inherited trait has stood me in good stead over the years! She never gave up during difficult times and this helped her to overcome the many hardships she faced when she was younger.

San Gabriele dell'Addolorata
Natalina was also a God-fearing woman who prayed fervently every day with her rosary in hand. She prayed to "La Madonna" and her favourite saint was Saint Gabriel. I still have a 20-year-old photo of San Gabriele which I carry around with me. My mother has a big picture of the saint in her new room as well.

A Fulfilling Life
Natalina Bianchini passed away peacefully in her sleep at the grand old age of 93. She was surrounded by family members who had flown in from around the world. She had lived life to the full and her ethos of life was exemplary. She was kindhearted, honest, altruistic, passionate and faithful. Everybody loved her and looked up to her. She will always live on in my memory.

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