Nonna Assunta, now dead, was my husband's grandmother on his father's side.
A sharecropper from nearby Vicchio di Mugello, she gave birth to six children--five girls and the youngest a son (my father-in-law Gaetano). Ill health and family fortunes drove her and her soft-spoken husband Giulio to come and live with Gaetano and Elena in Florence in the '60's. By all family accounts, Assunta was a formidable woman in a rather diminuitive frame whose first love was her brood of chickens. According to my mother-in-law, she was nearly impossible to live with--being as stubborn as a weed and as subtle as a mallet. Like Gaetano, Assunta was an ortoholic, addicted to working the land. She toiled resolutely and happily in the great vegetable patch, and religiously tended her chickens (each of which had names), achieving a kind of earthly salvation she believed to find there and nowhere else. While she showered tenderness on her fowl, she had only contempt for the quiet, contemplative (or catatonic, depending on your point of view) Giulio--often telling him the only thing he was good for was making manure. Later, after her incapacitating stroke, she was confined to a wheelchair. She would cry all day long, mourning her inability to care for her dear chickens. She railed at the Heavens like a child deprived--she became an inconsolable nightmare to live with. A chickenless shadow of her former self. She died in sorrow and bewilderment at her fate.
But while alive and mobile, Assunta was a woman of earthy tastes--relishing the bite and sting of raw onions, stale bread soaked in olive oil, and boiled, freshly unearthed potatoes. She would chew a raw clove of garlic every morning while taking her coffee, and when the grandkids wrinkled their noses in disgust when forced to kiss her before leaving for school, she'd say "meglio puzzare d'aglio che coglioni."
"Better to stink of garlic than balls."
Funny, no one in the family ever mentioned whether or not she ate chicken.