What do you call it when you have nostalgia for a time and place that you have never been? Blood Memory. This is when the traditions and culture of your family and relatives is imprinted in your DNA…it’s in your blood. Or so they say.
I’ve been thinking about this more frequently over the past year as I’ve delved deeper into my Italian-American heritage. Perhaps I’m feeling nostalgic for a time and place that really never was, because I am getting older. I’m becoming sentimental as I climb closer to old age.
I first heard of blood memory while listening to Dolores Fieri’s and Anthony Fasano’s The Italian American Podcast. I never had a name to attach to my feelings, but this episode summed it up pretty well.
It really all started when we grew our first real garden last year and just having tomatoes growing in my backyard made me think about my grandfather. You could always find him tilling his beloved garden. I remember the tomatoes and the smell of the garden out by his metallic shed. I remember my grandfather wearing his khaki shorts, with a white tank top tucked in, and always a bandanna on his head. Like many Italian Americans, he took great pride in his garden as he cultivated and grew food that hgis family would eat. Like making bread, growing a garden is a spiritual thing.
Even as I write this, I think about my mother’s family too. They may not have been Italian, but I remember stories my mother told us about her grandmother, Nana (Elizabeth Slater) Driscoll. Nana Driscoll was Irish-American, but could speak Italian. Her neighbors and friends in Everett, MA were Italian and she picked up the language over the years. Italian culture has a way of doing that…it takes over.
I even find myself wanting to try many traditional Italian recipes, like making homemade sausage. I have no idea if my great grandparents made homemade sausage, but I would like to think they did. And if they did, I would like to think that they invited friends and family over, drank wine, got loud, and ate most of the sausages the same day! Yet, I have no idea if they did or did not. It’s just another instance in which I am overcome with blood memory.
The benefit of this blood memory is that it makes me want to record these traditions. This way, my children and grandchildren won’t just have blood memory, but actual memories of sharing time together, telling stories, and enjoying our shared culture.