The majority of my memories (and my favorites) of my Nonno are him in his big backyard back in Visalia; picking oranges from the 50-year-old tree, fixing something in the shed, tending to the herb and vegetable garden, or him sitting at the picnic table overlooking the yard reading his newspaper while hearing him quietly muttering something in Italian… usually only curse words ;)

My grandfather was a stubborn man. He passed that trait to my father and then to me. My mother is too because my grandma is. It’s a family trait but it is a good one because we are hustlers. We get things done. And when we are done with a task. We let it be.

After I moved to Tennessee in September 2015, I was just hoping my grandfather would stay strong until I got married. Whenever that would be in the next few years but as I boarded the plane going back to California mainly to photograph a wedding, it started to feel more than that… my gut instinct was telling me there was another purpose.
Later that afternoon when I landed, my dad and I drove to my Nonno’s board and care house just one block from my parents and spent the next couple hours talking, laughing, and capturing his reaction when my dad brought him a smoothie. “What the hell is this garbage?” as he choked it down and my dad I just laughed, covering our faces with his sudden bluntness.

Years ago my grandfather wrote his own obituary handwritten in cursive;

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“I was drafted into the Army April 1, 1943, trained at Camp Erwin, CA. to be attached to the 120th 90MM A.A artillery. After training we left the east coast. We boarded the Queen Mary converted to a troop ship. Arrived in England December 1943. We had our guns on the White Cliffs of Dover, England shooting at buzz bombs that were crashing the English Channel and bombing London. Buzz Bombs were powered by a diesel engine and timed to run out of gas over target an then come straight down and blown up.
We left England June 16, 1944 we landed with the 1st Army at Normandy, France. Later we were transferred to the 3- Army till the end of the war. Came home – married Frances Giannini Lombardi, raised 4 children; Leonard, Richard, Robert, Marie, Marlene.
Worked for Pacific Bell 35 years. Retired in 1983.”

There was a paleness to his face, no color in his cheeks, a very noticeable perkiness to attitude. When I gave him a hug and kiss on the cheek, and held his hand as I said goodbye and said, “I’ll see you later, Nonno, I love you..” that is when deep down I just knew there wasn’t going to be a next time. I’m not sure if there is a science to the feeling of knowing something is wrong when you touch someone… if you can sense it before you even get on a plane to see the other person. But I am so grateful to have gotten the chance to see him one last time before getting the phone call 6 days before on December 15.

It was only yesterday my dad told me the details of how he might have died;

My grandfather woke up at 11pm on the 14th of December thinking that he had to get ready for work. but had a heart attack and fell and wasn’t found until the next morning. The paramedics came to the house and shocked his heart several times all the way to the hospital but each time they did and his heart would beat again, it would flatline immediately after. My grandfather is a stubborn man. He had told my dad that when his time came he did not want to be resuscitated. When my dad arrived to the hospital to confirm that it was him, he described to me the most beautiful face he had ever seen. My grandfather was smiling, there was color in his cheeks, and his bright blue eyes open and crinkled on the sides from his smile. He must have seen someone coming for him that can only explain his happy face, the very last expression. I’d like to think it was my Nonna, his eldest son Leonard, my brother. Or maybe it was Jesus that embraced him, or an Angel. Whomever or whatever it was, he was SO happy to leave and be at peace.

I love you and will always miss you, Nonno.