A story of love and acceptance.
SNAP. My nonna slaps the dough against the wooden table again, then stretches it long and thin. The kitchen is warm from the oven and the air shimmers with oil bubbling up from the pots of various sizes scattered across the stovetop.
She hands me a bowl of flour and gestures wordlessly at the table. I sprinkle it down in between her movements, layers of flour picked up in the dough by the rhythms of her hands. The beige dough is dark against her pale and veiny hands; the flour strikingly white against my own brown skin. She speaks in Italian and I only speak English but that’s okay - we don't need words, we've done this many times before.
When Auntie Angela gets here with the boys, I run to the door. She pulls me in close then holds me at arms length to take me in from bottom to top, then smiles and straightens the scarf in my hair, it’s the one she gave me when I started school.
On my first day at Saint Mary's I was the only girl like me. The only girl whose hair sprung wider than the shoulders of my navy blue blazer, the only one who had to endure the squinting eyes of certain teachers as they assessed whether or not my hair was wild enough to warrant a uniform infraction. No one dared reprimand the white girl with the hot pink streaks, because her dad was one of the school's biggest donors. But a mixed Black girl with an afro? It didn't matter how well-kept it was, my hair would never be neat enough for them.
In a way it was no different the first time I came home, when mom and dad introduced me to the rest of the family and they saw me, the newest foster in a long line of kids to pass through. It's never surprising to join a new family and see eight white faces, sixteen blue and green eyes smiling at me, but this time there was one difference: Auntie Angela's skin closer in colour to my own. Auntie was always soft with me, sure to give me gifts at Christmas and birthdays, but the warmth stopped at the end of her reach. It wasn't until mom announced the adoption that the rest made any effort to close the distance between us, a family formed by law.
Back in the kitchen, Nonna has pulled the dough into long, thin cords, and is coiling them tightly around a pencil. “Fusilli lunghi,” she announces to her growing audience. As we gather around we take on our roles wordlessly; my uncle begins to wash the spoons that lay dirty by the sink, my mom takes the cloth to dry them, and Auntie sets the table, making sure to leave enough space for the big clay serving plates that will soon rest filled with steaming food. The kitchen is full, and I shuffle around socked feet to find and open tiny glass bottles of apricot juice for my cousins. Christopher – the youngest – takes advantage of my stooping down to yank one of my curls.
“No!” shouts Nonna, and we all stop in our tracks. She’s pointing her finger to the sky, the way she always does when she’s laying down the rules. Only the pots on the stove dare to make a sound. She smiles at me and beckons me closer, then smooths the curl back into place, the first time she’s touched me with such tenderness, like one of her own. “My girl,” she says slowly.
She gestures to me the hold my hands out in front of her, and when I do she begins to drape the long curls of pasta over my outstretched fingers.
We’re working together now, one machine made of very different parts.