After telling my mom my wife and I were quitting our secure government jobs to move 7000 kilometres away to open a tourism business in Italy, it was time to tell my mother in law.
But before I tell you how that went, you need to know a little bit about Nita Grassi to understand the context.
Nita is a survivor. She’s the 13th of 14 kids who grew up in North Bay where her Italian immigrant parents settled just in time to live through the depression. She worked long hours in the legal world as a secretary, then a court reporter, and eventually she was appointed a justice of the peace is Sudbury. Along the way, she raised four great kids, including Lisa Grassi-Blais, my wife. She instilled a sense of respect and engagement in all of them that lasts to this day.
Nita is strong-willed and can be blunt. But at the same time, she can be as vulnerable and caring as person can be, almost delicate. Nita is empathetic, nurturing, enthusiastic, and she likes to have fun. To this day, the 82-year-old likes to party. Good food, good wine, and good music equals a happy Nita.
Nita is also ITALIAN. From clothes to music to food and drink, she’s almost like a caricature. Once I saw her hoofing it down a street in downtown Ottawa, Canada wearing her leopard print coat and scarf and lots of gold bling, including on her high heal shoes, carrying two shopping bags full cured meats and cheeses and wine. She was singing a Dean Martin song. In the two blocks I secretly followed, she told two people that she was having her daughter and son-in-law over to dinner that night.
In the fall of 2012, we were committing ourselves to a new future by selling our house in Ottawa and buying a villa in the town of Torre de’Passeri in the Abruzzo Region of Italy, 150 kilometres east of Rome, close to where Nita’s father was born.
Lisa took Nita out to lunch one day and gave her the rough plan. It took her by surprise, and she had lots of questions. So that night, we were sitting in Nita’s living room sipping wine and answering questions. It was Nita’s personality in a nutshell.
Her survivor instinct went into overdrive first and there was a flood of questions. What was the business idea? Where was the villa? Were we getting ripped off in Italy? Who would cook? Are we going to hire help? When does this start? What about our jobs in Canada? Were we going to hire people? Residency? Visas? Money? Would we be overworked? Would we be able to make hard business decisions? She needed these answers because she needed to be confident that we would be OK.
Then she had a little cry when she realized Lisa would be moving away. They are very close and at the time we were living across the street from each other. She was being vulnerable.
And then, the ITALIAN nostalgia for the old country kicked in as it dawned on her that Lisa would be going back to the land of their ancestors. Italians, whether they live there or not, have a religious-like devotion to the areas their people come from. For example, each year when we arrive in their home village of San Sebastiano for the August festa, Nita gets out of the car and kisses the ground – literally.
“My father must be rolling in his grave,” Nita said when the magnitude of our plan sunk in. “You are going home to Abruzzo. This is incredible.”
And it certainly is a nice story. Lisa, the granddaughter he never knew, falls in love with the area he was born in and returns to live there 110 years after he left.
Next, Nita’s supportive and enthusiastic nature took over. She knows Abruzzo. She knows how beautiful it is. She knows our hard working nature.
“This is going to work,” she said. “This is a good idea.”
Since then, she’s never wavered. Nita has been our biggest booster. She encouraged us and kept our spirits up even when things looked bleak. She’s followed all our progress closely. She’s given some sage advice on the service industry from her experience as a tavern co-owner. (I told you she’s a survivor.)
She’s also visited the villa, which she loves.
In fact, this coming Friday, I will be picking her and Lisa up at the airport in Rome. This time she’s going to stay with us for a couple months. It’s going to be great to have her here as winter turns to spring and we get ready for our May opening.
Next blog: Do we tell people now or later?