It would be many years before I realised that not every kitchen smelled like Nona’s kitchen. Nona seemed to live in her kitchen, in fact I can’t recall ever seeing her anywhere else in the house. As I went to bed she would be there, and when I awoke she would be there getting the fire in the stove started. All day the smell of freshly ground coffee beans or percolating coffee took off from the stove top and wafted through the house, if I stood outside the kitchen window I could smell it there too. Also on the stove was a huge pot containing what was left of a chicken, filled with water and vegetables of all colours. After it had cooked down a bit Nona would put a lid on it and the lid would dance up and down gently as the steam escaped. Her repertoire was simple, minestrone soup, spaghetti sauce, risotto and my favourite, chicken which was first fried and then roasted served with endless polenta. As soon as I finished the massive serving she would be standing beside me saying "more Marco" and I always enjoyed the way she rolled the R in Marco with her tongue.

Nona spoke very little English and I spoke very little Italian, but I sometimes just sat with her thinking that it was somehow important to be with my dad's mother. She always wore an apron and a tortured frown. On the the rare occasions that she smiled, her eyes became soft and kindly, most of the time however she wore her frown and just looked plain sad.

No one was ever allowed to help her in her kitchen, the only exception was my dad, he was allowed to sharpen her knives and break up the huge thigh bones that he brought for her beef stock. Her kitchen faced north, light would stream in at various angles depending on the time of day. There was breakfast light when the sun pushed through the frosted glass above the wood stove and there was dinner time light when the fading sun shone through the grapevines.

Nona never seemed to leave the kitchen because as soon as one meal was finished she would be starting on the next. Her movements were slow and deliberate as you would expect from an old lady that had lived through two world wars and moved half way around the world. She had raised four children in a house without running water or electricity.

The only time I remember her moving quickly was when a blowfly entered her kitchen. Nona would scream “Bruto Canaya”, grab a tea towel and start flicking it in the direction of the blowfly. More shouts of “Bruto Canaya” would follow until the blowfly was hit. It would lie on a windowsill or bench top until it stopped buzzing and Nona would pick it up with a tea towel and throw it into the wood stove with one final “Bruto Canaya” at which time the kitchen returned to its normal calm. The sound of wood crackling in the stove, the pot softly simmering, Nona’s slippers shuffling across the lino floor and the grapevine brushing against the window.