Tags: ancestors, Carnival of Genealogy, famiglia, family, family history, genealogy, Italy, Itri, love of family, memories
My mother in law was one of the most incredible women I have ever known. She was raised as a simple farmer’s daughter in Italy and the family did not send her to school. She was in her seventies when she learned to read and write. She decided to learn so that she could study the bible! Incredible!
This photograph was taken only a few months before she passed away but even here, her beautiful spirit shows through! I met my mother in law 3 days after I married her son, the baby of the family – her Tesoro! But from the first day I arrived in Italy, she welcomed me with love and respect and joy. Although the family were unable to travel to the United States for the wedding, she and all of the relatives eagerly waited to greet us.She prepared a beautiful wedding reception for us in her home. The entire month she opened her home to guests from near and far who came to meet me and wish us well.
As a younger woman she assisted as one of the midwives for her area. If she sent an expectant father for the doctor, the doctor knew he was needed for an emergency. He wanted her to go to school to become an assistant but family obligations prevented that goal. Yet she learned to do many simple first aid techniques and helped where ever needed. During WWII she survived the bombing of her home and evacuation to nearby mountain caves where she cared for her family.
She never had training as a chef or nutritionist but she knew how to prepare nourishing and flavorful meals from meager supplies. She recognized which wild mushrooms were safe to eat. And she raised bountiful garden harvests of all sorts of vegetables. Her farming expertise didn’t stop with plants. During a visit to the us in Connecticut, she taught a woman in our town how to properly milk goats to yield the most milk. I knew she wanted to teach me to make cheese so before she arrived for her visit I went on a hunt for the plastic baskets to use for cheese making. Finally I bought fresh cheese that came in one such small basket and located the manufacturer on the bottom. I called the company in New York to attempt to buy a few. The gentleman listened to my story and laughed – seems the wholesaler only sold in lots of many gross at a time and I hardly needed a couple dozen. Yet he was so impressed that I would do this, he mailed me a few dozen as a gift! Concetta and I spent a happy time making fresh cheese together properly! We found local ‘ pick you own’ fruit farms and then she taught me to make jams and marmalades in addition to putting up vegetables.
During the bad times or when family were in trouble she would take them in and find ways to make do to care for everyone. She helped to raise many of the grandchildren and even great grandchildren as the need arose. Through it all she never complained. This was the meaning of famiglia! Towards the end she cared for first one elderly parent and then elderly in laws. She taught all of us what the meaning of selflessness and humility meant. She taught us love in the face of unpleasantness as well as in the face of love. She walked her faith and shared it with all of us by her deeds and actions as well as her words. Her love for family was so strong that even near the end of her life she had the presence to recognize us and share a hug, a smile, a kiss. As her son sat with her and she held his hand, once again she spoke to her Tesoro and her eyes lit with love! Famiglia! Grazie Concetta – we love you still!
Tags: Carnival of Genealogy, famiglia, family history, memories
Maria and Fernando decided to take the couple on a walking tour of Milano. They would do some shopping and visit the Duomo di Milano. Near their apartment was a small jewelry store where they looked at rings in the store window. There was a beautiful 18KT ring with a fancy vintage appeal. It was like a small flower. Valentino had bought Bonnie a beautiful 18KT cross and chain in Gaeta their first week in Italy as his wedding gift for her. He had made the promise of this gift before they were married so she was not expecting another gift. After all, the entire trip itself was a gift of a lifetime dream for her. All day they gazed in store windows and occasionally she would try a ring on for size and look. She would gently tell Valentino that none were as pretty or unique as the first small ring near the apartment. And then she would remind him she was not expecting a ring because she already had her wedding ring!
The next day they were scheduled to take the train to Germany to visit Carlo and his wife Elsa who were unable to make the trip to Italy. Bonnie spent a lazy morning washing her hair and packing for the train trip. Maria made her a special breakfast while the men took a walk together. Valentino was like a boy when he returned, too excited to hide his surprise for the following week when Bonnie would celebrate her birthday in Germany. He had a beautiful small box with the precious flower ring inside! He and Fernando had gone to the first store and bought that ring as a gift! After thirty years together and many wonderful presents, it was still her favorite because it held so much love!
Tags: Carnival of Genealogy, famiglia, family, Italy, joy, memories, photographs
One of those great fun days in Italy way back in 1977
We played with the pigeons near the Duoma di Milano for the better part of an hour feeding them corn we bought from the lady selling to all the tourists!
1977 Milano in the Piazzo
Tags: ancestors, famiglia, family, family history, love of family, memories
Today is a special day – at least it is for me! It is my 33rd wedding anniversary to Valentino!
Yes, I really am Valentinoswife – and blessed because of it! It seems that so many folks are rushing to get divorced – or we read the latest statistics that claim over 50% of Italian males and over 60% of Italian females cheat on their spouses! Those are frightening statistics to me. I cannot imagine that many unhappy people – yet it seems I know many of the unhappy ones here in the US. I haven’t seen the latest fidelity stats for the US, but I bet they aren’t much better than Italy’s. I do know that many years ago I made a decision to not watch soap operas on Television. It seemed that the poorest person lived better than most folks I knew – serving tea in from fine china in mid-afternoon while real folks were working. And it seemed most women were engaged in one affair after another. It felt a bit too much as if they were pushing the general idea that it was okay because everyone was doing it! But I wasn’t and I didn’t want to. This week a few of the younger women I worked with asked what my secret was to stay married so long. Another asked what it was like to wake up with the same partner every day for 33 years. I have no answer but I do know marriage is work. It is a state of mind. It is a decision one makes – to stay married and be committed to each other or not. Valentino said there was no point to being married or even getting married if one had not already made those decisions. As for the waking up to the same partner every day: I cannot imagine a time when I would not! I cannot imagine what it would have been like if I lost him during any of the medical crisis we faced over the years. When on our honeymoon we heard a love song played over and over on the radio everywhere we went. It had won the San Remo Music Festival that year right as we arrived in Italy. You can read about that experience here but I have to tell you, we listened today to that song already. It still brings tears to my eyes remembering how romantic and special that time was.
Through my husband, I was blessed to become part of a large extended family and welcomed with open arms. I learned from my mother in law how to share my sons with future daughter in laws as she shared her son with me. Her heart and arms opened wide to accept me and love me unconditionally because her son did. I learned that money did not guarantee happiness but love and respect do! I learned that family stick together no matter what even when upset with one another. I learned that even in spite of disagreements, family pull together to help, to protect, to love one another no matter how far apart they are in miles or years! As I research the family tree, I learn the stories told for years by one another – and I uncover some they did not know before.
This then is the legacy I hope we are passing on to our sons and their children. It is legacy of love, of family. Happy anniversary to me – and to Valentino – I love you know more than ever! For always!
Tags: Carnival of Genealogy, cooking, famiglia, family, family history, food, Italy, Itri, love of family, memories, recipes
When Concetta needed spoons for cooking she couldn’t just run to a store to buy one. Money was tight and stores weren’t always close by. So Francesco would sit after dinner with a smoke and he would whittle her one from a piece of scrap wood. With just a simple knife he managed to carve beautiful spoons. They were a perfect size for stirring the big pots of sauce for the family dinners.
Along the way Valentino ended up with two of these spoons. They were still in wonderful condition but I did not have the heart to use them. Looking at them I thought often of the wondrous meals Concetta cooked for us using anything at hand. How I loved standing at her elbow watching her and making notes on recipe cards so I would remember every step after she returned to Italy.
On one of our trips to Italy a nephew expressed deep sorrow and disappointment that he had nothing to remember his grandfather by. He had lived with Francesco for several years and loved him dearly. “Not even a stone or brick from the family farm” he exclaimed. Valentino said nothing at that time but when we planned our next trip, Valentino packed one of our two spoons. When we surprised our nephew, he was overcome with emotion. He held that spoon ever so lovingly and then made a special place in the kitchen for it to be displayed. Like us, he did not have the heart to risk using it but rather wanted it always on display as a reminder of this special couple.
But our story does not end here. Back home we went on a visit to cousins in Rhode Island. As we told the story about the spoons, one of the cousins was touched by how we shared with our nephew. So she in turn had a surprise for us. Wrapped in tissue for many years was a spoon carved by Francesco. But this one was a double affair: a large spoon on one end and a fork on the other with a foot rest in the middle of the handle! It’s perfect for spaghetti or noodles as well as the sauce. Francesco had whittled one of these for several in the family as gifts. Our cousin had tucked hers away in tissue unused for over 20 years so it was still the new white pine.
I know this spoon was meant to be used in the kitchen and maybe tossed as it became old. I am sure Francesco thought it would be replaced soon enough. Yet it holds such sweet memories and so much love, that we can’t bear to use it. It is a piece of Francesco with us still, a tangible reminder of how he loved his family. And it evokes many reminders of how much love an Italian family shares through simple every day tasks like whittling a spoon or cooking a pot of sauce!
Tags: Carnival of Genealogy, cooking, famiglia, family, food, jealousy, love of family, memories, recipes
If you’re from an Italian family, you know at least 70 times 7 recipes for SAUCE – or as some refer to it, GRAVY! You probably know it by several names! For instance if there is meat or fish it is sugo. Succa and salsa were other names too.
Somewhere right now someone’s mama is making a huge pot of sauce, standing at the stove, gently stirring with a wooden spoon. If it’s Sunday, the famiglia is getting ready to gather together for their mama’s cooking! Someone else is probably trying to sneak around mama trying to dip a piece of bread in the pot already! Nothing says home and love like opening the door and smelling the wonderful aroma of that pot bubbling away on the stove. After all the sauce needs to simmer and bubble for hours to bring out all the robust flavor.
I had always been a great cook. From the time I was a child, I loved to cook. My own mother was a collector of great cookbooks and she was a gourmet chef who could whip up fantastic meals for two to two hundred on practically no money and certainly no effort! So I learned at her elbow and won awards in both high school and college for my skills as well as the accolades of friends! There was never a recipe that I was intimidated by. I enjoyed the challenges.
Then I met Valentino. Oh! How I wanted to impress him – and I was sure that a home cooked meal was the way to do so. After all we all learned the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. So I decided to plan a nice little dinner affair of spaghetti, Italian bread, salad, a little wine! Maybe even a homemade cake for desert. Or maybe homemade minestrone? Then somewhere around there I lost my mind and my nerve. I decided to ask a girlfriend for an “authentic” sauce recipe – after all, she was Italian American so I assumed she would have a wonderful recipe perfect for the occasion. What I didn’t assume was what I spiteful hateful jealous so and so she was and no part of a friend. I was cooking for the man she had a secret hankering for! According to her “Italian grandmother’s old family recipe”, one was supposed to make big round meatballs and drop them into the tomato sauce already simmering without cooking the meatballs first. I asked her if she was sure about that. I certainly had never heard of meatballs done that way. Let me admonish anyone who is questioning this method – it is NOT good! It produced the most horrible tasting concoction I have ever tried. Valentino spit his out and then just sat looking at me for a moment with his huge dark eyes. He finally quietly (amazing for an Italian, huh? Sure sign of SERIOUS) “What were you trying to do? Poison me?” Fighting tears of embarrassment I explained who gave me what recipe. His eyes grew wider and then he exploded in laughter. Seems I was the only person in Rhode Island who did not know how this gal had stalked him at one time! I was played the fool for sure.
He finally stopped laughing and decided to give me an impromptu cooking lesson. A can of black olives, lots of minced fresh garlic, some olive oil and a fry pan – we had Spaghetti Aglio e Olio! That following week he introduced me to his cousin Liz. This dear cugina has spent hours since then teaching me to make many family favorites and the tricks known only to Italian cooks to make sumptuous meals from next to nothing. Later it would be Mama Concetta who visit us for two or three months at a time and take over the kitchen. Then I was able to stand at the elbow of a master chef and learn! We would put up hundreds of jars of tomatoes, pickled eggplants, green beans, jams and more. She taught me to milk goats and how to make our own fresh and hard cheese. And bread! Her daily bread baking would fill the house with a wonderful aroma each morning! Of course I also learned the finer points of pizzas as she spoiled our sons with their favorites. But my lessons did not stop there. Soon my dear sisters in law would share more lessons with me. I learned to travel with a notebook to write down all the recipes and hints and tips. Stuffed breads with spinach or broccoli, leek soup, roasted herbed potatoes, pane di spagna, lasagna, granite, brandied fruits, fried squash blossoms. Even now there is nothing more special than being “en la cucina” with one or more of them as we all laugh, gossip, and cook. Famiglia! Mangia! Buon Appetito tutti!
Tags: ancestors, Carnival of Genealogy, famiglia, family, family history, love of family, memories, preserving photographs
This week my sister and I sat together for hours literally working on a labor of love for family. My posting here has been sporadic of late as I have had to deal with one family situation after another. The Good Lord has kept His Eye on all of us and we have come through most of the storms, but I can’t and won’t dare to say we have been untouched because that is the one thing I can assure you is true. We have been touched deep to our core as we have dealt with family& medical emergencies, especially during the holiday season, including the loss of a much loved aunt. With her passing we now have lost the final of four siblings – my dad, two brothers, and his sister. My dad was the first to pass away back in 1983 and it is still as fresh and painful as yesterday. At times like now he is missed even more as this was a final chapter for us in some respects.
This all becomes part of my Treasure Chest of Memories and Emotions. Aunt Beverly passed December 17th, 2009. She is the wife of my Uncle Clifford written about in an earlier post “The Policeman and The Case of the Silver Spoon.” This beautiful woman had the sweetest shy smile, yet was so beautiful she could easily have been conceited. An accomplished businesswoman, a medical professional, she was also a wife and mother with many varied hobbies. This gal begged my mother to teach her to sew and then went on to even tailor men’s suits for her husband. Her sewing room was one of the best stocked and most organized I have ever seen. Later she would encourage me to sew more and even taught me to smock! When my sister and I were younger, she used all sorts of scraps of fabric to sew us a huge box of doll clothes one Christmas for our Ginny dolls. I can’t imagine how long she worked at this gift but there were probably close to a hundred little outfits for us! We had the best dressed Ginny dolls in our group of friends!
So my sister and I spent our day putting together a tribute for Aunt Bev’s Memorial to be held next week. But long after we finished I sat late into the wee hours going over old family photos and remembering so much of my childhood and the stories I heard about the childhood of these four siblings. How my dad loved his brothers and sister! He loved his parents too but it was his great grandfather and his siblings that stole his heart! Even when there were family disagreements ( and of course there were), to the end of his life he hurt and rejoiced for and with his siblings and loved them dearly! It was by his example we learned the meaning of family and to appreciate the rich history of our roots. We weren’t nobility or famous or even very rich – yet each member held a valued place in the family itself and thus an important place in our hearts.
So now my family has shrunk in the physical sense but my treasure chest of memories and emotions is ever rich and overflowing as I think of them. I know they are all happy to be once again sharing a laugh, a tear, a hug – and we may miss them but can’t help but be happy knowing they are together again!
Tags: ancestors, Carnival of Genealogy, famiglia, family, family history, family research, love of family, memories, photographs
This is 3 members of my side of the family. Yesterday I spent an emotional day going through old photos – this is a favorite.
Tags: Carnival of Genealogy, Christmas, famiglia, family, Holiday Spirit, love of family, ramblings
What does this have to do with a Treasure Chest? My most treasured moments have to do with my marriage and family. As I am sure many of you have noticed by now, new posts stopped in December. Please accept my apologies for that but Valentino was hospitalized as an emergency and our holidays took a back seat to his health! 2009 has not been the happiest of years for so many of us – we have argued religion, racism, politics, and so much more. I have preferred to not argue most of that here on this famiy oriented blog but rather to concentrate on the happier thoughts of family.
For those of you who have strong faith or spiritual viewpoints, I feel we as a family were blessed to not face some of the more serious issues that could have been possible during this latest hospitalization. I am grateful for the caring wonderful staff at Wuesthoff Hospital where I also work. Although I tried to keep up with the holidays at home for family’s sake, it was my work family who surrounded us in love and friendship. I am blessed to not only have a job in these difficult times but to have one with a great team of people at my side!
I will be back to a much more regular blogging schedule now that life is settling back to our usual routine! God bless all – I pray for a blessed and joyous New Year for all of you!
UPDATE: Thanks for the wonderful emails and comments – I appreciate all of you!
Tags: Carnival of Genealogy, Christmas, famiglia, family, Holiday Spirit, Italy, Itri, memories, Presepi
This posting is supposed to be about other traditions such as those brought from overseas by ancestors. In our family’s instance, the tradition was brought to us by Valentino. He came from Italy where his family did not have Christmas trees until he was a teenager. Rather they used like most Italians a presepe display. Presepi are nativity sets but so much more than those we are used to here in the United States. Their displays are huge panoramas of Bethlehem! Interestingly these are often figures dressed in the garb native to the area where the owners live. For example, in Northern Italy it is not uncommon to see a more Bavarian look to figures. Napoli, where many famous and skilled artisans live and work often make the nativity figures to include famous persons. This year there are many versions of our President Obama being sold! But that is not the style Valentino grew up with!
His displays were something he and his brother would save their coins for all year long. During the Christmas season they would buy new figures to add to their growing display. He even remembers figures of Roman soldiers with swords holding a baby aloft! The first few years we set up our display, it was modest to his standards but my family loved it! By 1981 we had moved to Florida and purchased our first home. It was exciting to begin to build on our Christmas display. Valentino would set up a big sheet of plywood outside on our front porch area and he made a Bethlehem scene for our presepe. He covered the wood in sand and made ‘roads’ out of flour. He even had mountains he shaped out of chicken wire bases covered with brown burlap and stiffened with resin. We chose Fontanini figures for our nativity because of their classical Italian look and the fact they were virtually unbreakable. That was an important feature for our children’s sake! We began to fashion our own buildings too. Every evening we would take our own children outside and talk abo9ut the display with them, allowing them to touch and move figures. Soon we found neighbors and their children would come to look at our display too. Valentino would then each evening tell another part of the nativity story and share its meaning with the children. He would every day move the 3 kings closer to the stable where there was Mary and Joseph and animals – but no Babe. He would not be there be there until December 24th! That, too, is an Italian tradition. Valentino never caught his mother but she would somehow mysteriously manage to have the Babe appear in the manger each Christmas Eve without anyone seeing her!
Our display began to attract quite a bit of interest from friends and others over the years so we also made smaller version displays for our church. This too was something Valentino had experience with. His brother and several friends made a permanent display in Itri, Italy at the Sanctuario Madonna della Civita! That display is still there!
Once we moved to our current home, our display had grown too large and too valuable to leave outside. We began to make much more elaborate displays as finances allowed and we added more figures. We were most fortunate to travel to Bagna di Lucca to the Fontanini factory and we met several of the Fontanini family members. That wetted our appetites to grow our display! It became such a labor of love that we delight in sharing with neighbors, friends, coworkers each holiday season! We encouraged the tradition with our sons and each was gifted with their favorite style of Fontanini nativity sets also for when they are ready to begin their own family traditions!