My grandparents, Luigi and Elena, were married on February 14th, 1947, in Italy, where there is no such thing as Valentine’s Day.
The marriage was arranged by fathers and male cousins, after my grandfather returned from six years as a prisoner of war in England. When they married, my grandmother did not know her husband, having grown up in a time and place dictated by WWII, a time and place that had altogether different definitions of love and marriage. I conducted this interview by phone on my grandmother’s 66th wedding anniversary.
Sara Finnerty: Talk about what it’s like to be married for sixty-six years.
Elena Iocco: Listen. To be marriedsixty-six years took a lot of guts and forgiveness. There were a lot of arguments, bullshit, and courage. Grandpa did a lot of things he wasn’t supposed to do. You know some of them. A lot, you don’t know. You don’t know what I went through with him. But I did it.
Sara: What is love?
Elena: It’s good and bad. You have to forgive. All I ever did was forgive. Love for your children is different. It’s strong. You love your husband because he is the father of your children. I love my family. I love my grandchildren. You don’t know what it’s like to love your grandchildren. You can’t even imagine what it is like to have a grandchild.
Sara: Who else do you love?
Elena: My sisters. That’s a different love, but even that was a battle. Life is full of battles. Una continua battaglia. You know what that means? One continuous battle. That’s life. You have to be prepared for battle.
And you know what gets you through the day? The love for your family. When you have a child, you run home. I used to leave work and run to catch the train. I thought about what they would like to eat the whole way home. I thought about what food to buy. What I could make. That’s love.
In Italy, there was a big deep well in the village. A mother saw her baby fall into the well. The mother screamed and jumped into the well to save the baby. She could’ve killed the baby, landed on the baby, but she wasn’t thinking. She jumped in and she grabbed the baby and held it above the water. She used her legs, pressed her feet against the walls. Do you see how strong? That’s love.
If my husband didn’t come home, I felt something deep in my soul. When you have a family that feeling in your soul gets bigger. It’s a hole for love. It’s too big. Almost so big, I can’t carry it.