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Rose Masciello's Autobiography - Chapter Thirteen

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                           The Decision

 

It was now mid-November, about two weeks away from Thanksgiving Day. The weather was icy
cold and the spirit of the approaching Holiday Season was in the air. However, Mamma Lucia
was not in a festive mood. She had trudged her way to the factory early that morning and had
arrived there tired and disgruntled. She sat at her usual place among the other women and started
her tedious work; sewing buttons on the bundles of coats that had been assigned to her. Her job was
boring, but it left her mind free to sort out the indecisive thoughts she was having.

She had received another letter from her husband.  She detected a note of impatience as he asked
her if and when she was bringing herself and their children to Brooklyn. He was doing well at
his brother Alfredo’s fruit and vegetable store and could now afford to rent an apartment and furnish
it in preparation for their arrival. He would rent another apartment for his daughter Giovanna, her
husband and their baby, and send train tickets for all of them if Giovanni was ready to resign
from his job at the Department of Sanitation and move to Brooklyn.

As Mamma Lucia’s nimble fingers pulled her needle and heavy thread through the thick fabric of
men’s winter coats she thought of her husband’s closing words, “Pasquale is becoming even more
popular with our lady customers and Anichia is on the verge of becoming engaged to a fine distant
relative.”  With a twinge of guilt Mamma Lucia rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath “When
the cat’s away, the mice will play.” She felt a nudging warning to get herself to Brooklyn and soon!
 

She picked up another coat, another button and glanced at the big clock on the wall. “How strange
it is” she thought, “that the hours drag by so slowly and yet time goes by so quickly.” Eight months
had gone by since she and her daughters had been sidetracked to Rockford when their ship the
Princess Matoika had hit an iceberg. They were forced to take temporary residence with their
cousins Vito and Sadie. Mamma Lucia was a conscientious woman and was proud that she had been
able to contribute her share of expenses to these generous relatives.

Her scattered thoughts were interrupted when she heard the factory workers making plans for the
coming holidays. She thought of Thanksgiving Day, which she called “Turkey Day.” Mamma Lucia
usually counted her blessings but this holiday season did not inspire her spiritually. The thought
of Christmas, her favorite holy day, brought tears to her eyes as she remembered Christmas Eve in
Sicily. In her mind’s eye she saw her family gathered around the Nativity Scene. She could almost
hear the voices of her children as they sang their favorite beautiful Christmas hymns.

As she thought of New Year’s Day and the beginning of another year, 1922, she felt a strong yearning
for her husband and her other two children. Suddenly her decision was made. She would be in
Brooklyn by Christmas Day! She had stayed in Rockford waiting for Giovanna to give birth. Then
she had waited for my Christening. Now it was time for her to be at her husband’s side.

It was closing time at the factory. The sun had gone down and in that cold twilight hour Mamma Lucia
started her walk back home with a lighter step. A burden had been lifted from her heart. She felt no
uncertainty and no guilt. No matter what Giovanni decided to do she knew that he was a level
headed young man; perhaps stubborn at times, in order to prove his independence, but he would
do whatever was best for his family.

She arrived home happier than she had been in a long time. With her arms around her two
young daughters she joyfully announced that they would be in Brooklyn by Christmas Day; just six
weeks away. She would write to their father the very next morning so that he would prepare for their
arrival.  The girls had mixed emotions. They were glad that they would be joining their father, brother
and sister, but they would miss Sadie and Vito, their teachers and the friends they had made at school.
Their biggest concern was me, Baby Rosa. They hoped that my father, mother and I would be going
with them to be reunited with the rest of the Palmeri family.

The following day, a Sunday, Mamma Lucia and her two daughters walked the three short blocks
to church. Mass ended with the priest’s blessing “Peace be with you.” They returned home feeling
comforted by the blessing. Now they prepared to take their weekly trip to visit my parents and me.
They filled their canvas bags with food, a home cooked meal, fruit and pastries, and of course there
was always a small toy for me. I had already accumulated three pretty rattles and five soft furry
animals in assorted colors for which I had no appreciation since I was only three weeks old and
didn’t know which planet I was on!

My Grandmother Lucia and my two young aunts boarded a trolley car. It was a short ride to my
parent’s small humble home. Mamma Lucia’s anxiety had mounted; the moment finally arrived when
she tearfully told Giovanna and Giovanni that she, Nina and Margarita would be in Brooklyn by
Christmas Day. She hoped that Giovanni would leave Rockford and move to Brooklyn with Giovanna
and the baby.  Padre Stefano was eager to have his family reunited.  He would rent another apartment
and send the train tickets. He was also eager to meet me, his first grandchild.

Giovanni thanked Mamma Lucia and expressed his gratitude for Padre Stefano’s generosity. He
regretted that he was unable to leave Rockford at the present time. He wished to stay with the
Department of Sanitation until he had accumulated enough money to tide him over in the event that
he did move to Brooklyn and had to spend some time looking for another job.

My young aunts pleaded with him to come to Brooklyn to spend the holidays together. Christmas
would be such fun with Baby Rosa. Giovanni’s mind was made up, but he promised his nieces that
he, Giovanna and their baby would join them as soon as possible.

Giovanna could not recall one day in her twenty years that she had ever been separated from her
mother. Then she remembered her one week in Taormina with Giovanni on their honeymoon. Now
she was no longer a child. She was a wife and mother, so she held back her tears.

The shopping bags were opened, but not eagerly. The food placed on the table was eaten at a
slower pace than usual. Mamma Lucia tried to cheer up her family by reminding them that their
cousin Vito had invited them all to Thanksgiving Dinner at his home.  It would be a celebration for
God’s blessings and a “going away” party for Mamma Lucia, Anichia and Margarita.

Only Giovanni noticed the tears in Giovanna’s eyes.  No one saw the tears in Mamma Lucia’s eyes
because she had walked over to the bassinet. I was crying—I couldn’t possibly sense that I would be
spending my first Christmas Day without my Grandma—or could I?