Saturday, December 11, 2010

Don't Sing at the Table: Life Lessons from My Grandmothers by Adriana Trigiani

If you're very, very lucky, Adriana Trigiani's memoir, Don't Sing at the Table:  Life Lessons from My Grandmothers, will remind you of one of your grandmothers.  They don't even need to be Italian, as Trigiani's were.  They just need to be strong, independent women, who made lives for themselves, and inspired their grandchildren.  Trigiani made me appreciate my grandmothers all over again.

Trigiani is the New York Times bestselling author of books such as Big Stone Gap and Very Valentine.  As you read the stories of her grandmothers, Yolanda Perin Trigiani (Viola), and Lucia Spada Bonicelli, you not only read about their lives and their lessons, you see the roots of Trigiani's stories.  Viola was co-owner, with her husband, of a blouse factory, The Yolanda Manufacturing Company, in Martins Creek, Pennsylvania.  Lucia Spada Bonicelli, was a seamstress, who lost her husband, a shoemaker, early in life.  She continued to live in Chisholm, Minnesota, where she sewed and sold factory-made shoes.  But, she walked to the public library every day, and her twin daughters, one of whom was Adriana's mother, grew up to be librarians.  If you're a faithful reader of Trigiani's novels, I'm sure you've seen her characters and storylines in these short notes about her grandmothers.

But, Trigiani's grandmothers provided so much more than the meat for her stories.  She says she learned important lessons, how to create a fulfilling, peaceful, gracious, and secure life.  Admittedly, she goes into a great deal of detail in this book, but the advice she received over the years is worth sharing.   Trigiani doesn't hesitate to point out how disappointed her grandmothers would be in the direction taken by this country.  Her grandmother, Viola, wouldn't approve of a country that sends its manufacturing overseas, taking jobs away from Americans.   Lucy, a widow who sent three children to college, "Could not fathom Chisholm without a library, and wherever we live, we should not either."

As a granddaughter, and a widow, it's inspiring to read about two women who flourished after forty, working and sharing life with family and friends.   Don't Sing at the Table offers lessons for life.  But, if you're lucky, as I was, you will also remember lessons from the strong, independent women in your own lives.

Adriana Trigiani's website is

Don't Sing at the Table:  Life Lessons from My Grandmothers by Adriana Trigiani.  HarperCollins, ©2010. ISBN 9780061958946 (hardcover), 204p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book


kathy d. said...

I saw Adriana Trigiani on early morning weekend news a few weeks ago, talking about her new book and her grandmothers--and their advice.

What fun it was to hear her speak of them, and to hear their adages about how to live with respect for oneself and for others.

One of my grandmothers fled pogroms in the early 1900s. She came here and was a shirtwaist maker. She worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, but was ill and missed work on the day of the 1911 fire that killed 146 women and girls.

She lived to be 98, smart, opinionated, feisty, independent, and productive as long as she could be. She was a "tough cookie," but a very good grandmother.

My other grandmother, on the Irish side of the family, passed away in the early 1930s from breast cancer. I never knew her.

Grandmothers are very important. I remember the strength and determination of my Eastern European grandmother.

Lesa said...

kathy, I can see why Adriana Trigiani's story would mean so much to you. How fortunate for her, and you, that she missed the 1911 fire. As soon as I read she worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, I worried. I'm glad you had the chance to know her.

I had a beloved grandmother who lived into her 90s. She only had an eighth grade education, but she was as smart as they come, married a man who became beloved in his community as a farm editor of the local newspaper, a man with a college education who counted on her to proofread for him. She raised seven children - some went on to college, some were valedictorians of their high school class, including my mother. She took care of my bedridden grandfather for years. Grandma was a fan of jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, solitaire. She'd play endless games of cards with us when we stayed overnight. She loved to read, and, when she died, was found peacefully, with her closed book beside her. To this day, I treasure the small book in which she kept the list of books she read.

Jim adored my Grandma Smith, who readily accepted him into the family. I'll always admire her strength, her humor, and her strong love for her family. Grandma Smith is one of my two role models, the other being my mother. Yes, grandmothers are very important.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I remember my grandmother giving me a sweet little book, many years ago, that was called "Grandmother's Sayings." She said that all of her advice was in the book and that if I needed to see what she thought about something, I should just refer to the book! This book sounds just as delightful...thanks for sharing it!

Lesa said...

Oh, Elizabeth! I think I'm going to get some wonderful grandmother stories here today. Thank you for telling us about your grandmother and her book of advice.

Pamela Keener said...

This book also reminds me of my grandmothers who played a very big part in my life. As I was growing up my stepfather's family would get together every Sunday for dinner. It was rare that you missed that dinner.
My Mom's Mother, My Memmy, practically raised me with my Mother's help of course. I remember running away from home once and walking around all day not knowing where to go until I ended up at Memmy's house.
This book I am sure would bring back more memories to this 55 year old forgetful lass.
Love & Hugs,

Nan said...

Thank you so much for this review. I hadn't heard about it, and I certainly want to read the book. It sounds wonderful.

Lesa said...


Isn't it wonderful to have those memories of a grandmother? I'm sure it helped, if you had a childhood when you ran away from home!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Nan! I don't think this book has received quite as much attention as Trigiani's novels. I hope you like it.

Beth Hoffman said...

I have this book on my list, Lesa, and your review just cemented in my mind that I must make time (somehow, somewhere) to read it!

For all my life I've devoured stories centered around strong women, be they non-fiction or fiction. Loved your review and I'm looking forward to reading this book!

Happy weekend to you and the fur babies!

Lesa said...

I'm working today, Beth, so the fur babies aren't happy that they're home alone on Saturday. In fact, Jinx wanted attention, so he kept knocking over a poinsettia (fake, with the cats!).

These were two very strong women, and I think you'll appreciate their lives.

Happy weekend, and big hugs, Beth!

Beth Hoffman said...

Jinx is so funny, and a cute little devil!

Big hugs to you too!

Lesa said...

Oh, I adore Jinx. I was hoping he'd be in Monday's video, but he chose to go under the tablecloth, on the floor, rather than participate in the video itself.