Anna Grisonich passed away on Sunday, November 3, 2019, at the age of 84 years, beloved wife of Antonio Grisonich of Medicine Hat. She also leaves to cherish her memory three sons, Robert (Shelley), Patrick (Kristin) and Boris; four grandchildren Ashley, Michael, Laurel and Connor; one sister Mila and sister-in-law Paula as well as several nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her parents, Giovanna and Giuseppe Mayak; three sisters, Emelia, Lidia and Pina; four brothers, Albino, Stanco, Valerio and Romano. We would all like to thank Dr. Thomas Mohanraj, who mom considered a fourth son, as well as all of the amazing nurses and staff at the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital and especially the nurses and staff at St. Joseph’s Carmel Hospice. They made mom feel so loved.
Those who wish to pay their respects may do so at the PATTISON FUNERAL HOME on Thursday from 6:00 - 8:00 p.m. Family and friends will gather for prayers in the PATTISON CHAPEL on Thursday evening at 7:00 p.m. The funeral mass will be celebrated in St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church (238 2nd Ave N.E.) on Friday, November 8, 2019 at 11:00 a.m. with Fr. Tomy Manjaly celebrant. A private family interment will follow in the Hillside Cemetery. As an expression of sympathy donations may be made to the St. Joseph’s Home, 156 3rd Street N.E., Medicine Hat, Alberta T1A 5M1. To e-mail an expression of sympathy, please direct it to: [email protected] subject heading: Anna Grisonich.
Eulogy prepared by her sons and grandsons:
Anna was born in Korte in 1935, just a few kilometres from another village in Northern Italy—Gazon—where her future husband Antonio was born the year earlier. After World War II, the borders of Europe shifted, making them citizens of Communist Yugoslavia rather than Italy. They met for the first time at a dance in Smarje—another village in the area—and fell in love at first sight. From that moment on, every weekend Tony would walk to Anna’s town to pick her up, walk with her to the town where the dance was being held, dance all night with her, and then walk her all the way home. At sixteen, he told his father he would walk around the world to be with her.
When they came of age, Anna was granted a visa to travel to Italy. Tony wasn’t, as it was more difficult for men to do so in those days, and so instead he crawled across the armed border by night. There, in Trieste, they stayed with Tony’s sister Paula for a year, found whatever work they could to pay their way, and made two types of applications: one for work visas in Italy, and another to immigrate to Canada. Whichever papers came back first, Anna decided, was the path that they’d take. Just weeks before their Italian visas arrived, they were told they could come to Canada. Anna was determined to keep her promise to take the first path offered to them, and so they sailed—on the ship Volcania—to a country they knew almost nothing about. Tony kept his promise too, following Anna around the world.
They had no money when they left Italy, but they had determination and love: determination to build a better home for their future family, and love so strong that it would carry them happily through an over sixty year marriage.
They first landed in Halifax before settling in Co-all-doll-ay. They had a choice to move to Churchill, Manitoba, but Anna felt that Co-all-doll-ay sounded more Italian—more romantic.Who knows where we’d be today if she knew it was pronounced Coaldale. There, they worked the sugar beets and lived in a shack—now a chicken coup—with a dirt floor. Some twenty years later when they brought their boys to visit it, Tony told them that “it was the cleanest dirt floor there had ever been.” And they believed it. Her ability to turn anywhere she was into a comfortable, comforting home is one of the qualities we’ll most miss and remember about Anna.
One day after work, Tony told the farmer they were working for that he and Anna were going to go for a walk. The farmer asked where. Tony told him that Anna had a cousin somewhere in Canada, and that they were going to go find him. The farmer asked if they had any idea how big Canada was. They didn’t, nor did they have any idea what region of Canada this cousin had immigrated to. And so they went for their walk.
And after about five minutes, they found him: standing in a random field near Coaldale, as if all of Canada was the size of a small farm in Southern Alberta. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime coincidences, but it’s also completely characteristic of who Anna was. Wherever anyone in our family was—in college, on vacation, or at a basketball tournament—we felt her nearby. Often, this was because she’d phone to remind us to drive the speed limit, wear our seat-belts, and never—under any circumstances—pick up hitch-hikers. We never did. And not for fear of punishment. Anna was kind, forgiving, and, at best…
Five-foot-two. And yet somehow—through perseverance, wit, and her capacity to love unconditionally—she had complete, unquestioned authority over the six men in her life.
Shortly after settling in Coaldale, Anna was pregnant with their first son, Robert. Every morning, she’d work the fields for as long as she could manage, then walk home to prepare Tony’s lunch. This consisted of an entire loaf of bread, sliced and filled with cold cuts, and a full canteen of coffee. Anyone who’s ever visited her home knows that Anna, now Mom, was never short on coffee or more than a minute away from cooking something for someone. “How can I send you home?” she’d ask, “without feeding you first?” It was a question without an answer.
Pasta, gnocchi, polenta, minestra, kaputsi: these are a few of the dishes Mom made, completely by hand and entirely from memory. She didn’t believe in recipes, laughed and shook her head when we asked for them, and told us that any time we were hungry, we could just come on over and eat. In the morning, at lunch, or in the evening: Mom never complained, never seemed to tire, and never greeted anyone—whether family or friends—with anything less than a smile, a kiss on the cheek, and a home-cooked meal.
A few years after first immigrating, Dad took a job here in Medicine Hat as a carpenter—a trade he’d learned in Italy. Here they built a home: one with proper flooring and the dirt left in the garden. Like so many immigrants, their journey was marked by constant, hard-earned, and generously-shared improvement.
A few years later, Patrick was born, and a few years after that, Boris. Dad was working long, cold days as a carpenter while Mom looked after the family. It was here where she first had the idea to go back to school, which she did when Boris was old enough to attend the first grade. She hardly spoke English, read even less of it, had three boys and a husband to look after, and, somehow, still decided to enroll in Medicine Hat College’s culinary program. By this time, she’d at least learned that despite the picture of the tomato on the bottle, ketchup does not make for very good pasta sauce. Having learned this lesson the hard way, her recipe was then perfected.
Every evening after dinner was cooked, the dishes were done, and coffee was served, Mom sat down at the kitchen table to do her homework while the boys did theirs’. Having learned the language primarily from television and casual conversation, she had a hard time reading and writing in English. Her boys helped her through, correcting her grammar and spelling mistakes before she’d submit her assignments. Maybe this is where the three of them first fell in love with education. She was the first among many of their future students. She was, and is, our first and most important teacher.
Mom finished the program first in her class and shortly after, began working full-time as a cook at the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital. Sometimes, after sending her kids to school, cooking all day, and then cooking again for the family, she would stay up to read. Sometimes all night. A world war, a Canadian winter, three boys, and a recent immigrant’s understanding of our language couldn’t slow her down—and neither could a sleepless night.
She read well in English at this point, and argued in it even better. Dad still thinks we should’ve sent her to law school. The rest of us are happy that she only argued with us, and mostly only for fun. She had the wit that only an Italian mother could. Every evening over coffee, she’d hold court at the kitchen table—teaching, telling stories, and embodying her belief that nothing could be more important than time spent with family.
A few years after starting at the hospital, she was promoted to head cook. Back then, every meal served at the hospital was cooked from scratch and served fresh. Everyone there, including the staff, looked forward to her cooking. As much as we’ll brag about the meals we got to eat, the patients and staff at the hospital enjoyed the same privileges.
It would be impossible, in the time we have here today, to list off all of Mom’s virtues or the many things about her which we’ll miss. So instead, we’d like to conclude by describing the way she spent her retirement, where after the birth of her two grandkids—Ashley and Michael—she became, affectionately, Nona.
Every morning at around 7 AM, Nona woke up, made her bed, and brewed a large pot of coffee. One by one and almost without exception, we six boys would file in, eat breakfast, drink our first cups of coffee, and trade stories from our lives. This cost each of us a kiss on the way in, and one on the way out. Seeing her every morning, hugging her, and hearing what she had to say—these were privileges which were almost impossible to take for granted.
The rest of each day was spent in much the same way. When she wasn’t cooking, buying groceries, watching one of us coach or play sports, or helping her husband build his business, Nona was thinking of other ways that she could help—other ways that she could serve.
She and Nono were at the casino, where they somehow managed to spend remarkably little money—as only children of the depression could. They didn’t go to gamble so much as to spend time out with each other. Nona certainly loved to win, and to let us know when she did, but what mattered far more than winning was that the man at the machine next to her was the one she loved most in this world: her husband. From beginning to end, her life was meaningful, joyous, and lived entirely for the sake of others.
And though they spent the odd evening at the casino, the truth is: the bet of their lives had already been placed. Tony and Anna left their homes, two small towns on the border of Italy, to build another.
And they won. They built a home filled with laughter, family, and more love than any child or grandchild could possibly hope to inherit.
A family friend said that Anna was the port where all of our boats docked. She was. And we’ve lost that port.
But what we haven’t lost, and what we never could lose, are the loving lessons we learned and the wonderful memories we made with an amazing, beautiful person: Antonio’s wife, our Mom, and everyone’s Nona.
We miss you, we love you, and may your soul, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.