Vale Vincenzo…

Vale to my great-uncle, Vincenzo, Nanna Francesca’s brother, who she called, Vinchy. Some may recall I wrote about him in my first two books, especially Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar. To me, he was a quiet, gentle man for whom life was often difficult but he worked hard and was generous in giving lovely gifts with the little he had.

His two great loves in life were photography and ballroom dancing. Vince was such a good dancer he was asked to be an instructor but declined, likely due to his shyness. (He told me he kept a tiny piece of the dance floor from Cloudland after it was tragically demolished.)

I can still see him working hard helping make the bottles of sauce on tomato day, making crostoli with Nanna Francesca in her kitchen, the two of them talking in Italian and sometimes squabbling. (She took over care of him after he’d lost both their parents by the young age of sixteen.) And Vince always helped out on top of his own factory work – whether in the milk bar or building the flats.

In recent years, he’s been living in aged care and it was a pleasure for Roger and me to hear his stories and look at old photos together when we’d visit. (He’s the one I dedicated, The Proxy Bride to.) I’d bring him Italian foods that he missed like his favourite black olives, crostoli and even pasta I made like his Mum used to. (There was never traditional pasta on the nursing home menu!!)

One thing I won’t forget about Vince is his fabulous hair – he was a bit like an ‘Italian Elvis’ in his younger days – and kept his hair into his eighties and it wasn’t even all grey! – perhaps due to Californian Poppy or Old Spice hair cream he used. 🙂 There’s a lovely recollection I have of him being at the beach with us that I put into a paragraph in Mezza Italiana

“I have treasured memories of swimming in the surf with my father, my grandfather and Nanna Francesca’s younger brother, my great uncle Vincenzo. I’d look across the waves to see the two balding, bobbing heads of my Dad and Nonno Anni and then Vince, whose thick black hair always looked slicked back whether it was from seawater or Californian Poppy. Nanna Francesca stood at the shore, refusing to go more than knee deep, shrieking at me to be careful. Embarrassed, I dived under waves, probably adding to her worry, while Nonno Anni yelled back to her, ‘Lasciala stare!’ This made me even more self-conscious as several freckled Australian faces would look over in surprise to hear a foreign language shouted across the waves.”

It’s funny but back in the early 1980s I’d feel self-conscious about three generations of my Italian family setting up at the beach for the day, yet now I’m really grateful for those times of us all together. So I’ll end here with that memory – with thanks to prozio Vincenzo for his love and kindnesses. 💙 xx


Filed under inspiration + history

4 responses to “Vale Vincenzo…

  1. Teresa Tantaro

    My sincere condolences to you and your family on the passing of Vincenzo. I love reading your books and the memories your words stir in my mind and heart have lead to many smiles and tears.
    Whenever this time of year approaches I recall the making of the salsa (passata) with my parents and 6 siblings.
    My mum was a proxy bride, although she was engaged to my dad before he left for Australia two years before their proxy marriage, then mum came out to Australia two years later.
    Your books opened my eyes to the the many difficulties people faced coming to Australia not knowing the language, the customs or anyone!

    • Thank you, Teresa, that is very kind of you to say. And it means so much as well to hear how the books have resonated with you, much appreciated. (I had both smiles and tears too at times while writing them I must admit!) Also, I have to say, I never expected to miss those (exhausting!) but lovely ‘tomato days’ of making the sauce. These are all our stories really. I have so much respect for those like your parents and my relatives who migrated and faced some tough times back then, for they handled it all with such strength and grace. And women especially had it hard at times. You must be so proud of your Mum being a proxy bride. Many thanks again for your kind words. Zoe xx

  2. Teddy (Antonucci) Goodrich

    Thank you so much for sharing your family with me. It makes me feel closer to my own family, though I never knew most of them.

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