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Rose Masciello's Autobiography - Chapter Six

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                      The Voyage to America 


When the exhausted but happy couple returned home, the Palmeris were eager to hear about
their trip to this wonderland: Taormina. Stefano and Mamma Lucia pulled up their chairs.
The children gathered around their newly married sister and brother-in-law and would
not let them escape until they had heard every detail of the week they had spent in the
town built on a mountain. As they listened in awe, they imagined themselves becoming
wealthy in America and returning someday to visit their homeland and explore Taormina.

Now it was time to wait patiently for word from the Embassy informing them of the exact
date of embarkation. In fact, Padre Stefano after giving much thought to the coming
voyage, and in consideration for the sponsors who would be receiving them, decided that five
members of his family would go on ahead on the first assigned ship. He selected Mamma Lucia,
who would quickly find work as a seamstress, and the two youngest girls, Nina and Margarita,
who would attend school and learn the English language. In anticipation of a grandchild,
Stefano felt that Giovanna and Giovanni should be on the first voyage also. Lo and behold! In
the midst of all the planning and decision-making, the young couple announced that Giovanna
was pregnant. They rejoiced and prayed that this baby would be born in America. It would
be Stefano and Lucia’s first grandchild and the first American in the family.

Those staying behind would be Padre Stefano, who would take care of leaving their few belongings
to relatives; Pasquale, now sixteen and still a little too wild to be let loose in a new land, and
Anichia to cook and keep house for her father and brother.

Weeks and months went by as anticipation in the Palmeri household rose like the sound of a
tightly pulled string on a violin. Yet, they went about doing their chores as usual and wondering
what their lives would be like in the new world. The two little girls, sadly told their friends at school
that soon they would have to say “Arrivederci” to them. Pasquale reminded his teenage girlfriends
that he too would soon be leaving Sicily; he would miss their friendship and never forget them.
They cried because they were losing their “Romeo”.

Giovanna and her sister, Anichia spent much of their time in the kitchen, cooking for the family
while Mamma Lucia sat in her rocking chair doing embroidery. She earned a few extra denaro
sewing colorful silk designs for the owner of a nearby linen shop. When  Giovanni was not helping
his father-in-law with the men’s chores, he watched Mamma Lucia working her lovely designs on
towels and pillow cases. He had always been fascinated by the vibrant colors that some of the
great artists had used in their famous paintings. Lucia was amused when she urged her son-in-law
to sew a few stitches and he used the needle almost as deftly as she did. Giovanni would be grateful
for having skillful hands when he was faced with the challenge of earning a livelihood in America.

At last their visas arrived. On the day the family had to part, they tearfully said their good-byes
with mixed emotions. They would be oceans apart, yet very soon they would be together again
living a better life in a new land. Mamma Lucia, Nina, Margarita, Giovanna, and Giovanni boarded
Princess Matoika in the middle of February 1921. The passenger list of the German ocean liner
built in 1900 read: “three hundred passengers scattered in 1st, 2nd, 3rd class, and the crew.”
Mamma Lucia with her “crew” were in steerage which held 1,700 passengers. It would be far from
an enjoyable trip, especially for Giovanna, who was in the first stage of her pregnancy.

An incident occurred during the voyage that was reported in the New York Times front page
of February 27, 1921. One evening Lucia’s intuition told her that something was seriously amiss. She,
with her three daughters and Giovanni behind them, quickly made their way topside. She asked if
there was a problem and was told that the ship had stopped to greet another ship passing in the
night. She continued on her way up with her family closely behind

her. When they arrived on deck, life boats were being lowered and passengers from first class were
awaiting instructions. Lucia became frightened when she saw an iceberg looming close to the ship.
She put herself and her family in the group waiting for the lifeboats.

Luckily the ship was disengaged from the iceberg. The New York Times account stated “Princess
Matoika, ocean liner carrying 2000passengers hits iceberg off Cape Race, Newfoundland, and
rendered helpless by damage to the steering gear. After drifting for seven hours it was brought
under control. The Princess Matoika had been destined to arrive at Ellis Island. Unable to dock
there, the ship was ordered to port at Bostonf or the anti typhus examination.”
From there the
Palmeris were put on a train to Rockford, Illinois, where they had relatives who would welcome
them into their homes.

Mamma Lucia would say her rosary every night for the rest of her life in gratitude to God,
her Angels and her Saints for bringing her and her family safely to America. She thought of
her husband, Stefano back in Sicily. What if he had lost these five members of his family at sea?
Giovanni and Giovanna, always inseparable, felt deeply grateful for having come safely through
what might have been a Titanic-like disaster. Their baby was safe and it would be born in Rockford,
Illinois eight months later on    October 26, 1921.