A grandmother is a mother who has a second chance

Monday, March 14, 2022

From Italy to Chicago

I don’t know as much about my dad’s family because they all stayed in Chicago while we moved around and eventually out West.  My paternal grandmother, Angela Marie, married my grandfather, Pasquale, in Pizzone, Italy in 1918 and then immigrated to the United States.  Angela was born and grew up in Pizzone.  Pasquale’s family left Pizzone during the late 1800s and settled in southern France.  He served in the Italian Military during WWI then moved back to Pizzone when the war was over.  That’s when he met Angela and they married.

After coming to the U.S., they settled in Chicago and had three children – my dad, Tony, Uncle Ralph, and Aunt Marylou. 

My dad and Uncle Ralph were typical urban Italian boys who were doted on by their mother.  Uncle Ralph would stand out on the street shouting up to their third-floor apartment, “Hey, Ma, throw me down a meatball sandwich.”  And she would.  My dad would invite my mom on a date by saying “I’m going to a movie on Friday night.  You wanna come or not?”    Aunt Marylou was 12 years younger than my dad, the light in her Grandpa’s eye, and raised to be a girl who takes care of her menfolk.   Grandma would cook dinner and make something different for everyone (except Marylou) if they wanted it.  I remember my Mom telling me that Grandma came out to visit when I was just a baby.  Mom was cooking fish for dinner.  Grandma said, “What are you making for Tony?”  Mom said, “The fish is for everyone.”  Grandma said, “Oh, my Tony doesn’t eat fish.”  Mom said, “Watch him!” 

I don’t have a lot of memories about Grandpa because he died when I was four.  I remember thinking he was a very tall and strong man (he was 5’6”) and he used to come into the kitchen with chocolate bars on top of his head and make me jump up and down to find them.  Then when he was sick, I remember sitting on his lap one day.  He was wearing blue and white striped pajamas and crying because he didn’t want to leave me.  I didn’t understand what was going on, but it stayed a very strong memory.  When he was in the hospital for the last time, I was left to sit in the lobby with someone.  There was a staircase going up with a rope across it and a sign saying no kids under 14 were allowed up the stairs.  I knew he was up there, and I was crying because I wanted to see him.  That’s my last memory of him.

I don’t think any of my family members were actually in the Mafia, but they were definitely on the periphery.  My mother always remembers that they seemed to have a bit more food and money than a lot of her friends.  Great Grandma would brag that she once took a bullet out of the arm of a mobster.  And she handed down a knife and fork set that, supposedly, one of her Mafia buddies hand carved while in prison.  Also, there is the fun story about how Grandpa Mancini was attending some men’s group in Chicago – primarily because they were all Italian and they served food at the meetings.  Being fairly new to this country, he didn’t always know what was going on.  Then he found out it was a Communist group, so he made the wise decision to not go back!

After we moved to Tucson, Grandma came to visit us a couple of times.  Arizona reminded her somewhat of where she was from in Italy, so she enjoyed the visits.  For some reason, anytime family from Chicago visited us, dad had to put on his cowboy hat and his fake gun and holster and pretend he was shooting them.  I guess that’s what the wild west meant to them.  One time we took Grandma for a drive up Mt. Lemmon and she said the rosary the whole way praying that we wouldn’t go over the edge.  We didn’t.  Although there was a car at the bottom of one of the cliffs that obviously hadn’t made the turn successfully.  It was there for many years as a warning.

The last time we saw Grandma Mancini was shortly after Tony was born.  We took a trip to Chicago to visit her because she had adult-onset leukemia and was not doing well.  She was happy to meet Tony as he would be the one to carry on the Mancini name.  She passed away shortly after our visit.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Two Long Years

Two years ago today we were getting off a cruise ship after a trip through the Panama Canal.  While we were on the cruise, we were hearing of this thing called a coronavirus which was impacting cruises in Asia and some in Europe.  People were stuck on these ships and not allowed to disembark.  Before we boarded, the took our temperatures at the terminal and checked our passports to be sure we hadn't been in China over the past couple of weeks.  I was very concerned about the end of our trip.  I did NOT want to be stuck on a ship with sick people.  I wanted to go home!

As we arrived at the port in Los Angeles, we were given a 9:00 am disembark time.  We gathered our belongings and headed for the lobby.  When we got there, we were told there were some delays!  Now I was really freaked out!  We stood in that lobby for over an hour waiting to get off the ship and I had visions of someone telling us we could not do so.  But they finally did let us off.

I practically kissed the ground when we were back on solid land.  We made it to the airport and flew home.  NEVER have I been so glad to get home.  The next couple of weeks were a bit of a blur.  Our grandkids were all sent home from school  on the 10th with the understanding that they would stay home until after Easter.  Then on March 11 or 12, seniors were told to shelter in place and not leave their homes.  I had a hair appointment on March 16th and I was determined to sneak out and get that done.  

Then we heard that effective midnight March 16th, everything would be shut down.  Everything.  Just for a couple of weeks.  And, thus, begin two years of confusion, shutdowns, masks, shots, crying, loneliness, anxiety.  Plus jigsaw puzzles, Zoom meetings, baking bread, and wondering if things would ever be the same.

Kids weren't having birthday parties, but were having caravans drive through neighborhoods so people could step out on their porches and wave.  One person in our neighborhood put up their Christmas lights again just to help brighten our moods.  We had a couple of porch visits with our kids and grandkids - talking to them through a window or at a distance of over 10 feet.  

We bought toilet paper, hand sanitizer, masks, and more sweat pants.  Looking back, March of 2020 was such an incredible time.  Something we never dreamed would happen.  And never did anyone think it would stretch out to two years (so far).  

Thursday, January 27, 2022

My Mom's side


One of my great-grandmother's first three children was my grandmother Nana Gene, was a feisty lady who never looked, and rarely acted, her age.  She was born in 1905.  She often told us that she married my grandfather, Papa Jim, in 1921 when she was 16 and he was 26.  We were never clear if it was an arranged marriage or not.  And they had sex twice – my mom and my Aunt Mary.

Nana Gene always worked while Papa Jim seemed to have a lot of illnesses and apparently several operations – although none of these were authenticated.  Papa Jim liked to grouse about how he didn’t feel good, or something hurt.  Once at the dinner table he said, “it hurts my arm to do this”.  Nana Gene said, “then stop doing that, dammit.”  Maybe it was an arranged marriage.  

When I was 20, I moved with my girlfriend into a little cottage that was right next to Nana Gene and Papa Jim’s house.  I would see him in the morning walking slowly with a limp, holding his stomach, just generally feeling bad.  Then Nana Gene would head off to work.  Suddenly he was walking around, talking with his friends, sitting on the porch drinking wine.  As soon as she came home, the limping returned.


My Aunt Mary was born when Nana Gene was 17 and my mom when she was 18.  They grew up very close to each other.  My mom’s name in Italian was Rosaned (Rosemarie) and my aunt was Maried (Marie).  When they were little neither of them could say those names, so my mom became Nonna and my aunt Madda to each other.  And eventually to my dad and uncle.  Those names just stuck.

I don’t know a lot about their childhood.  I know Mom always wanted to be a stage performer.  I also know that she was a total tomboy and broke her nose when she was 14 by jumping over a fence to impress a boy.  When she landed on her face, he wasn’t impressed.

And there was the story about how they lost Aunt Mary when she was around three.  Couldn’t find her anywhere.  Eventually located her sitting in a bowl of sugar under the sink (no idea why there was a bowl of sugar under the sink).  Also, when she was fairly young, she fell into an ice hole and got very sick.  Eventually this led to rheumatic fever and some heart issues which she had all her life.  She spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals and rehab during her teen years and rumor had it that Uncle Joey proposed to her in a rehab facility when they were 16.

My mom, dad, aunt and uncle all lived in the Italian neighborhood in Chicago and were friends during their teen years.  Both couples got married right before World War II and had me and my cousin, Ken, in 1946 right after the war.  Two original Baby Boomers!

Friday, January 21, 2022

It all stated with Little Grandma

I was thinking today that I am almost 75 and my time left in this life may be short.  It could be another 20 years, or another day.  I’m at that age where every little twinge feels like terminal cancer.  Nobody knows.  And when I’m gone so many memories will also be gone.  This may be a good place to write them down.  The ones I remember and enjoy remembering.  Something for my kids and grandkids to get to know me and my family a bit better. 

All my grandparents came from Italy.  Except, maybe, my maternal grandmother (Nana Gene), who may have been born in Ishpeming, Michigan.  She was one of 16 kids and Great Grandma had trouble remembering where all of them were born.  Also, they were never sure if Nana Gene was born on June 12 or July 12.  We would celebrate in June but, if for some reason we couldn’t, we would move it to July.  As I said, Great Grandma had 16 kids, three sets of twins in a row, so you can understand her confusion.  Nana Gene was from Great Grandma’s first husband whose name was Costa, along with two other babies.  Then Grandma married a man maned LaCaria and all the kids took his name.  Her final husband, as far as we know, was named Pucci (or as she would say, P-u-chi-chi-i ).  I asked her once if the first two had died or if she got divorced.  Or if she was a bigamist! She just shrugged and walked away.  No one knows for sure. 

One thing we do know is her birthing techniques.  She would tell the story about going into labor with one of her sets of twins.  When the time came, she squatted down on some papers and had the baby.  After that she went back into the fields to do whatever, then had to go back in and squat again later in the day for the second one!  Not sure if this story is true but it is a fun story to tell.   So happy I didn't have to do that with my own twins!

Great Grandma was the quintessential little old Italian woman.  About 4’10”, chubby, one gold tooth, hair always gray and always in a bun, glasses, permanent apron, and stockings rolled down to just above her knees.  We all called her “Little Grandma”.  And she baked the best bread ever.

Little Grandma loved her soap operas.  One time my mom called her to say hi, and Grandma was crying on the phone.  Mom said, “What’s the matter?”  Grandma said, “Peggy died!”.  Mom didn’t have any idea who Peggy was, so she asked.  Turns out it was a character on one of her “stories”.  She was devastated.

But she baked bread almost every day in an outside oven someone built for her.  Raised chickens, had the whole family in her tiny house every Christmas Eve, and raised a few of her grandchildren.  I’m just sorry my kids never got to know her.  She had a stroke at the age of 87 a couple of weeks before my twins were born and died a month later. 

My kids never got to know any of my relatives from the old country and they would have loved knowing them.   

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Time Flies

 It's been eight years since I've written an entry into this blog.  I do miss it, but no one seems to read or write blogs any more so I sort of gave up.  However there are so many more family stories that I'd like to pass down to my kids and this might be a good place for them.  Even if no one reads it, the entries will be saved for them and I can download them for future reading.  If they're not interested (little ingrates), at least I'll never know!

So, what's happened in the last eight years?  Well, most importantly we moved to Livermore in March of 2014.  Two of our sons already lived here and my daughter moved 1/2 mile from us three months later.  For the first time since I moved to California in 1987 I felt like I had a home.  We absolutely love being here and it just never gets old.  Close to the kids, close to the grandkids.  So many soccer, baseball, lacrosse, football games we got to attend.  Three grandkids have graduated from Livermore High School in the past three years and one more this year. Our youngest grandkids will all turn 13 this year.

We've done a lot of traveling over the last 8 years (except for 2020) and hopefully there will be more to come.  Definitely getting older.  Reading some of the old posts on here made me feel very nostalgic and made it more obvious how much time has gone by.  I'm not crazy about being in the "twilight" years.  There's so much more I'd like to see and do but the years just go by too fast.  Maybe writing here will help.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Leader of the Pack

We're moving to a new house in Livermore in a month or so.  Being the OCD types that Ed and I are, we started packing a couple of weeks ago so now our current home is filled with boxes.  Very carefully labeled boxes, to be sure.  But boxes none the less.  And there is a distinct echo in the living room with so much empty space.

Ed moved to this house in 1999 and I joined him in 2000.  We merged two households which lead to the immediate construction of a 6x14 shed in one of the side yards.  It's full.  As is the garage and three other sheds we've managed to acquire.  My kids constantly deride us for having so many sheds, but we will be getting rid of a few of them.  Promise.

So part of this packing process has also been a weeding process.  We don't need two of everything.  Many of the items we have we don't even need one of!  Yesterday in packing some of the upper shelves in the kitchen (the ones that I can't reach so I have no idea what is up there) we discovered all kinds of really nice stuff that I had no idea we had.  Most of which we've never used.  So it was added to the "garage sale" box that we started in December.  Basically this is all the stuff we have that is still in good condition, but we don't want to pack and move it.  For instance we have this lovely soup tureen.  Don't know why.  I vaguely remember thinking that I had to have one and someone gave it to me as a gift.  Never used!  So now it lives in my daughter's home and her husband (who loves to cook) will use it quite a bit, I'm sure.  They also took the set of bowls in the second photo - Ed added his hand to give them "perspective" on the size of the bowls.  Don't ask.

We have started a traveling "garage sale" show with our kids.  Send photos of specific items, take boxes of stuff to their homes for them to go through or to a central location for them to come by and peek.  Managed to get rid of a lot of items this way and the rest goes to charity.

The sound of tape and the smell of boxes is starting to make me anxious.  I know from moves past that you always feel like you have a handle on it during the first phase of packing.  Then the proverbial shit hits the fan and you enter panic and "no more packing!!" mode.

That should happen about mid-February...........

Monday, January 6, 2014

No thank you!

My brother lives in Chicago.  The high temperature today is projected to be -11!  I talked with him briefly yesterday - he was taking his son to a hockey game and had just gotten a flat tire.  So there he was waiting for AAA in 15 degree weather.  On Saturday he sent me a photo of a portion of their roof with 2ft icicles hanging from it.  Beautiful - but only at a distance.  He and his wife had to go to work today.

Being a Californian who was raised in Arizona I can't even begin to imagine how cold -11 is (wind chill of -30ish).   When I lived in Tucson, we would watch the weather "back east" (which is what we called Chicago and the mid-west) or on the east coast.  Whenever they had a particularly brutal winter, we knew to prepare for the influx of new residents who were done with the cold.

So my guess is this Spring and Summer Tucson will see a rise in population.  I mean, enough is enough!  At least it might help the property prices rise which would be good.  But for all those people living through that horrific weather, here's hoping you warm up soon!