Tags: courage, famiglia, family history, family research, starving, WWII
Courage of Our Women
Watching news reports of the missiles and bombs in Gaza has been leading me to reflect on the women of our family and how remarkable they were. Regardless of whether one is pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, one would have to be made of stone to not have compassion for the women and children of both sides caught up in the current hostilities and wars.
My own mother faced my father going off to the South Pacific in WWII with the American Navy. She was left home to work and care for their infant daughter. Cell phones and Internet email were not options then. Regular mail – handwritten (or the occasional typed) letters were slow to arrive and usually blacked out in many lines by the censors.
My mother-in-law saw the same war as a victim of location. She lived in Itri, Italy – a small town at that time located midway between Roma and Napoli. That meant all armed forces no matter whose marched through and bombed their way through Itri just as they had since before the Romans! The family home was in the old part of Itri up the slopes near the castle and the old church, Santa Maria. Fortunately during one of those bombing raids, Concetta heard the planes approach, and ran outside to the archway of the church when the bomb struck, destroying the house and leaving her with concussion deafness. Family along with several other families moved to the cave near her farm. It was safer for the families than the center of town but even with the farms, families were starving. Finally Francesco (my father-in-law) was able to sneak to a German encampment after one of the bombing raids. There he found horses killed by the blasts and butchered them, taking the hind quarters back to the caves to feed the families.
All the years growing up, Valentino rarely heard his mother speak of those times. I certainly did not hear the stories from her years later either. She never complained that life was unfair. It was a fact of life that she had to deal with at the time and she did what was necessary for her family to survive. No televisions crew came to televise their stories, no reporters wrote glowing words to invoke reader sympathies. There was no UN food team or Red Cross clothing drive. She kept the family together and fed them and took them to church and gave them the values of God, family, and Italy to carry through their lives.
I walked the bombed out ruins that linger abandoned today in Italy. The rough edges are softened by wild vines and grass and moss clinging to the rubble everywhere one walks. I visited old family homesteads and an ancient concentration camp further north in Italy. I read poignant tombstones in local cemeteries. And I was dumbstruck at the sight of rows of white crosses at Avellino. So much loss and heartache on all sides. Would I have been able to be as strong and courageous as Concetta? Could I have faced what she did and still have enough love and hope to care for, nurture, and encourage my children? I wonder? But I am so grateful she did.