A selfless beautiful soul, an angel here on Earth, those are the only ways I can describe my cousin, Carmella. When I was a child, I remember seeing her and thinking she was a beautiful woman. I am left with childish impressions of our early meetings, she was kind and gentle and always smiling.
Through my growing years, she was a presence on the fringes of my life. Her father, Frank, and my grandfather, Angelo, were first cousins who traveled across the ocean together in 1912 to start new lives in The United States. Frank’s sister, Angelina, was also here, but after her untimely death in 1918 during the Influenza Epidemic, her children were scattered and lost touch with Frank and Angelo. The two men were all they had left of family and so they raised their own children close together. Angelo had my mother, Filomena (Faye), along with his other children, Pauline, Gloria, and Angelo (Chick). Frank’s children were Angelo, Michael, and Carmella.
Angelo passed away in 1959 and Frank followed in 1963. As a child, I saw Angelo, Michael and Carmella occasionally at weddings and funerals. I remember visiting Mike’s house when his mother was dying, it was 1970. I met Mike’s children then and I remember Angelo coming over to visit that day. Through the years we received Christmas cards and watched their families grow . . . especially Angelo’s with his twelve children.
When I had my daughter in 1991, Carmella honored me by making a little bonnet out of a handkerchief for her. She told me to bring her home from the hospital in it and that when she married, she could carry it with her on her wedding day. When I had my son in 1996, she did the same thing. A small gesture which I will never forget.
When I started to research my family in the early 1990s, I found that my mother and aunt knew nothing of the family their father had left behind in Italy. When I contacted Carmella, she was a goldmine of information. She had kept in touch through the years with her father’s brother, Giuseppe, Giuseppe’s son, Giorgio, and Giorgio’s daughter, Geradina. Carmella gave me the address for Geradina and her husband, Ugo. I asked them if they knew anything about my grandfather, Angelo, and his siblings. Ugo sent me addresses for my grandfather’s brother, Luigi, his sister, Teresa, and his nephew, Francesco (son of Antonio). That was the beginning of reuniting with my family from Albanella. This culminated with my trip to Italy in 2010 when I met Luigi’s children, Pasqualina, Francesco, and Ida, in addition to meeting Antonio’s son, Francesco. I was shown the house my great grandfather lived and died in. I met so many cousins who all welcomed me with open arms. Then in 2013, I received a visit from my cousin Francesco (son of Luigi). Carmella, Mike, my mother, and Aunt Gloria celebrated together, the re-connection of our long divided family.
In the last year or so, I was thrilled to find Angelina’s grandchildren and shared this news with Carmella.
Through it all, Carmella was there for me. Always ready to share photographs and tell me stories. She never forgot about me. She always tried to include me in her life. I loved receiving her phone calls. I’d see her name come up and know she was checking on me once again. I will miss those phone calls. I will miss her quiet strength and belief in me. She called me once after going to her local library and finding my books there. She said when she saw my books she was so proud of me and exclaimed to the clerk that those books were written by her cousin. I’m honored that she was proud of me. I’m thankful that she was part of my life. And I will miss her terribly.