Sweetly & Softly


dol-ce adv. & adj. In a gentle and sweet manner. Used chiefly as a direction. (Classical Music) music (to be performed) gently and sweetly. [Italian: sweet]

Dolce was my grandmother’s maiden name: Angelina Dolce Runfolo. Growing up, I played violin and flute, and always smiled whenever I would see dolce as a notation/direction in whatever piece I was playing. The direction being to play sweetly & softly.

Today marks 28 years since my grandmother passed. I was only 9, and had lost my grandfather nearly two years prior. I remember my older cousins taking great care of us during those times, especially remembering a rousing game of Monopoly with Nina & Vincent in my parents’ kitchen, while my mom and Aunt Lil were out shopping for a funeral dress for my Nanny.

I can still remember how it felt to hug her. I still remember how she always kept a tissue in the pocket of her house dress. She was always in a house dress, her honey blonde hair perfectly coiffed. She never had a driver’s license. My grandfather always drove in his big-ass green Ford (which my dad once dubbed The Titanic, because that car was unsinkable.) When he couldn’t anymore, my mom helped out. I remember the small, pink turtle-shaped pincushion she kept on her dresser. The head bobbed around, and it scared the everloving shit out of me. The turtle came to our home and was kept in a curio cabinet my mom had in our den, with other mementos of my grandparents’: my grandfather’s license plate that read EMR 1; a pack of his unfiltered camel cigarettes; a straight razor; and that damn turtle.

I VIVIDLY remember going with my mom to take her to the beauty parlor, Act II in Clark, NJ on Saturday mornings. After her appointment, we’d go to the bakery next door where she’d buy us Italian cookies. There were three distinct kinds: red and green shaped leaves that were sandwiched with chocolate in the middle, and a pretzel-shape cookie also with chocolate in the middle. I often find these at the Kings by my house and almost always bring a few home. And every single night, my mom would call my grandparents, and Angelique and I would grab the phone from my mom to say “g’night, g’night, g’night, g’bye, g’bye, g’bye.” Every. Single. Night.

PopPop's girls

My mom told me my grandfather took this photo, saying he wanted a “picture of his girls.”

On Sundays we would go over for dinner (dinner was always in the middle of the afternoon). I can just see that black and blue pot simmering on the stove, filled with sausage and meatballs. A box of torrone candy on the credenza in the dining room, and the Tarantella (pronounced, da-don-dell) playing on the record player in the living room. Their carpet was a lush forest green color, and their furniture was beautiful. That furniture is in my parents’ home now, reupholstered and utterly gorgeous.

After dinner, my sister and I thought it was really FUN to get under the table and poke everyone’s feet. We were complete pains in the ass, and I can just hear my mother “Angelique! Elena! Get out of there!” My mom always tells me how “ahead of her time” my grandmother was. I think about how much of my life I’ve done things that I know she’d be so proud of. I know that she would have LOVED to have met my dad’s mother, who came over from Greece to visit us three years after she passed away.


My parents’ house (NICE MURAL) in 1979 after my baptism. Back row: Aunt Eleni (my godmother/dad’s sister), my grandmother, grandfather, Aunt Aliki (my other godmother/bff of my family in Greece). Front Row: Me, mom, Aunt Lil (mom’s sister).

I know she loved my father fiercely. In fact, I don’t think in my nine years I ever heard my dad call her anything other than Miss Ellie, after the matriarch of the Ewing family from the TV show Dallas. [Mom, what did he ever call her before then!?!?] I also never heard her call my grandfather anything other than “Hon.” Ever.

I know she’s with me every day. I know she’s with my mom and my Aunt Lil. She’s been reunited in heaven with her oldest, her son Peter, for nearly 11 years. She has 12 great-grandchildren. Her youngest, Regan, has her smile and her strawberry blond hair.

If she were still here, I think this is what she’d have to say to all six of her grandkids:

To Maria, she’d remind her that she’s a strong woman whose sons are also strong young men. She’d be proud of Maria for her long teaching career. She would do puzzles and play cards with Ian. She’d watch Nick impress us with his sports skills and remark about how tall he was, like his grandfather.

To Angela, she would spend hours on the phone with her as she drove from trunk show to trunk show, and she’d be excited to hear about her career in fashion. She would play dress-up with her other red head great granddaughter Christina, and give Peter a run for his money playing Monopoly or teaching him Pokeno.

To Vincent, she would tell him she’s proud of the dad he has become to his three kids. She would encourage him, and give him great advice, her only grandson in this crew of crazy ladies. She and PopPop would watch endless Wheel of Fortune with Dom, and have the twins Gino & Gemma helping out in the kitchen, rolling meatballs.

To Nina, I think she would be constantly laughing at Nina’s humor and quick wit. She would remark how much like her mother Nina is, and she would be so proud of that. She would take Bianca, Angelina, and Tommy for a sleepover weekend where the three of them would learn how to make Sicilian pizza in her big red lasagna pan (which my mother still has). She would cut that pizza with a pair of scissors, too.

To Angelique, she would continue to marvel in the fact she is a mom of two little girls. She would continue to treat Angelique as the ‘baby’ of the family, with constant nurturing. Every family only has one baby, and Angelique is her baby’s baby. The three of them would have a special bond. She would watch cartoons with Olivia, and watch her run around the living room dancing to the Tarantella just as Ange and I did when we were Olivia’s age. Regan would be dancing too, but that would look a lot more like her jumping up and down and smiling her gigantic, cheeky smile. She would play babies with Regan & Olivia, and teach them how to make her Italian butter cookies. She would agree that little Regan looks just like her, and she’d softly sing her songs as she’d fall asleep in her arms.

To me, she’d admire how I just do things on my terms, by my own rules (just like her baby, my mom). She’d tell me that she worries about me the most and the least: the most because she knows how sensitive I am; the least because she knows that I am a tough broad, and I am perfectly fine on my own (just like her baby, my mom). She’d remind me that “it’s all OK,” and she would tell me to not worry all of the time. All of the damn time. She wouldn’t bug me about having kids. She’d be fascinated by my career, she would have sent me care packages and little notes in college with her beautiful handwriting. We would share knitting needles, and she’d show me how to knit hats and sweaters (for me and for my nieces’ dolls, too.) She would call me saying “Where are you this week, Elena? California? Ireland? Colorado?” and I would have sent a postcard to 23 Chester Lang Place from every damn city I ever visited. She would have those postcards on her fridge. She’d admonish me when I reached for a piece of Juicy Fruit in her kitchen drawer, because she knows I shouldn’t chew gum with all of my dental work, but she’d let me anyway. She’d be impressed that all these years later I’m a damn good cook. She’d ask how my Irish husband is such a damn good cook, and she’d laugh. She’d love Brian.

I miss you, Nanny. I love you. Thank you for being my #1 fan.


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