My mother’s mother was Adelaide “Lily” Autorino. Her parents, Salvatore Autorino and Paolina DeLuggo came from a town in Italy called Poggiomarino, near Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano that rained lava on Pompeii. Paolina gave birth to ten children, seven born in Poggiomarino (one of whom died as an infant) and three born in Brooklyn. Of the three born in Brooklyn, only my grandmother survived early childhood. So seven of their children reached adulthood and each produced a family. The oldest was Frank, born in 1884, then Ralph born in 1886, then Andora born 1889, Carmela born 1892, Josephine born 1894, Salvatore Jr. born 1896, and my grandmother, Lilly, born 1900.
My great grandfather, Salvatore Autorino, died in 1926. My mother remembered that he had a wagon she would ride on. Sometimes in the snow, it was a sled wagon. He had a heart attack in the bathroom of the house she lived in and she remembered his body being laid out in their living room.
My great grandmother, Paolina De Luggo (changed to De Luca in America), died ten years after her husband, in 1936. Paolina was afraid of lightning and thunder. Whenever a storm came, she would bring my mother into a closet in the house to hide from the sound.
Of the children, the first to die was Salvatore Jr. in 1946. He owned a hotel on Fire Island called The Lionel, named after his son who had died as a child. He had a heart attack at the dock on Kismet, he was transported to South Side Hospital in Bay Shore where he passed away.
Two of the girls, Carmela Longo, and Josephine Gitto Sudano, died in 1955, before I was born.
This left Frank, Ralph, Andora Castellano, and my grandmother, Lily.
Lily Autorino married Angelo Palumbo in January of 1922. My mother, Filomena (called Faye) the eldest daughter of Lily and Angelo Palumbo, was born in October 1922. She and her sister, Pauline (b. 1924 d. 1974) grew up with her cousins. She was particularly close to Frank’s daughter, Frannie Autorino Peluso (b. 1918 d. 2015), and Carmela’s daughter, Catherine Longo Nittoly (b. 1919 d. 2018). I would sometimes have the honor of taking my mother and her sister, Gloria (b. 1928), to visit Frannie in a nursing home in Port Jefferson. At around 90 years of age, Frannie and Faye, along with the younger Gloria, would stand up, sing, and start a kick-line to show me how they used to do it when they were girls. My mother also had a brother, Angelo (Chick), who was born in 1935. Lily’s brother, Ralph, had a daughter, Anna, born in 1926, whom I’ve just realized was also close to my mother and her siblings.
In 1943, Faye married Anthony Zimmardi whose parents had come from Palermo, Sicily. They had five children, Tom (b. 1944), Bob (b. 1947), Rosemary (b. 1954), Theresa (b. 1958) and Anthony (b. 1962).
The eldest three children were born in Brooklyn, my younger brother and I were born on Long Island after they moved out of Brooklyn. I do not remember seeing my mother’s sister, Pauline and her daughters more than a handful of times in my life. Likewise, I did not see my Uncle Chick and his five children more than a few times. I did see my Aunt Gloria and her daughter, probably because after my grandfather Angelo Palumbo died in 1959, my grandmother Lily lived with my Aunt Gloria. So the few times that I saw Pauline and Chick and their families were when they came to visit my grandmother, Lily, at the same time that we were there.
My grandfather Angelo came to America in 1912 from a town in Italy called Albanella near the Amalfi Coast. As he got off the boat, boys on the dock threw rocks at him and said, “Go home Dago!” In America, the only family he had was his cousins Frank and Angelina (brother and sister). Angelo’s father, Francesco, was also here for a while. He had intended to bring the rest of his family to America. But after an accident while working on the railroad, he was sent back to Italy, never to return again. Angelina died in 1918 during the Influenza Epidemic. Her children were separated and lost to the family at that time. Frank married Maria (Mary) Stella, and they and their children remained close to Angelo and Lily. Each cousin raising their children as practically siblings to each other. For a while, Angelo and Lily also took in Lily’s sister, Josephine Autorino Gitto Sudano and her children, as can be seen in the 1930 census. So Josephine’s children also grew up like siblings to my mother Faye and her siblings.
My father’s mother, Vincenza Noto Zimmardi, died in 1969, and his father, Gaetano Zimmardi, died in 1971. My childhood was spent driving to Brooklyn every Sunday after church and on every holiday to visit my father’s family. There were parties in the basement and backyard, picnics at parks, and often, cousins sleeping on chairs and sofas at my grandparents’ house. The Sunday road-trips to Brooklyn to visit my father’s family stopped in January of 1966 when I was 7 years old, my grandparents moved to West Babylon on Long Island. For a while, the visits continued to their new house. But it wasn’t long before my grandmother, who had Diabetes, found that she had gangrene in her foot. One foot was taken off, then more of that leg, then the other leg and she was put in a nursing home. My grandfather, Gaetano, was “senile”, and he was put in another. We now went every week to visit them in separate nursing homes. At the end of each of their lives, they spent time living with my Aunt Rosie in Staten Island. But once they were both gone, my father’s family dissolved into arguments and separations as the nine brothers and sisters took sides. As a result, I lost contact with some of my cousins. There were other cousins on that side of my family whom I had never met because of various reasons and disagreements that had happened long before I was born. A few Zimmardi cousins remained in my life, but as time went by, we saw them less and less.
Around this time, my father got a new car, a 1970 lime-green Dodge Dart. One Sunday, he wanted to take a drive. He agreed to go see my mother’s cousins out east on Long Island, they were all pretty much strangers to me. I believe it was about 1970 and think it all happened in one trip, but it could have happened in two.
My grandfather Angelo Palumbo’s cousin Frank had three children, Angelo, Michael, and Carmela. Carmela never married and lived with her brother, Michael and his family. Occasionally, I had seen Michael and Carmela, but had never seen their older brother, Angelo. I remember driving to Michael’s house in Babylon with my parents, my sister, and my younger brother. At the house, we met Michael’s children and also went upstairs to see Michael’s mother, Mary, who was very ill and near death. Michael or Carmela must have called Angelo, who drove over from Sayville to Babylon to see this unexpected visit by their cousin, Faye. I only knew Angelo and his eventual, twelve children, by the Christmas cards we would get each year. Angelo came alone, so I missed the opportunity to meet his children at that time. But I have found them now and am glad to call them and Michael’s children my cousins. Through Ancestry, I have even found the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Angelina who had died in 1918.
After visiting with Michael, Carmela, and Angelo Palumbo, my father took us to visit the children of my grandmother Lily’s sister, Josephine Gitto Sudano. First we went to see Larry and his second wife, Betty, and their children, Bobby and Debbie, in Massapequa. Then we went to the house of Larry’s half-brother, Benjamin Sudano, (also in Massapequa) and I remember meeting Benjamin’s daughter, Cindy. Then we went to the house of Anna Autorino Biscardi, the daughter of my grandmother, Lily’s brother, Ralph, who also lived in Massapequa. While there, I met Anna’s children, Chris and Lucille. Having just recently found Chris and Lucille, I now know that Anna passed away a year later in 1971 and her children were separated from all of her family. Through Ancestry I have found that Larry had a first wife and, with her, had four children. I was very surprised by this when I found close Gitto DNA matches on Ancestry whom I couldn’t account for. Very recently, I have also found descendants of Benjamin Sudano, another son of Josephine’s.
My father, Anthony Zimmardi, passed away in 1979. When I got married in 1985, my grandmother, Lily was there (she passed away in 1987), Larry and Betty Gitto were both there, so was Michael Palumbo and his sister, Carmela. Some of my father’s siblings were there too. My mother’s sister, Pauline, had passed away in 1974 and her family had moved away. My Uncle Chick was there (he passed away in 1990), but he had left his wife and family by then, and so, they weren’t there. My Aunt Gloria, her husband, Joe, and their daughter were there. My father’s youngest brother, Robbie, walked me down the aisle and gave me away.
Strings of each family remained intact, but so many chains had been broken over time.
In 1993 I started my search, trying to find my cousins. I found two siblings of my grandfather, Angelo Palumbo, still alive in Italy, Luigi and Teresa. I wrote to them and they wrote back. Together we tried to get to know the man who connected us, the man who had died when I was just an infant, the man who had left Italy when Luigi was just two years old and long before Teresa had been born. In 2010, I went to Italy and visited my grandfather Angelo’s family including Zia Teresa, the only sibling still alive at that time. Reunited after a separation of 100 years! In 2013, Luigi’s son, Francesco, came to New York and met my mother, Faye, my Aunt Gloria, my Uncle Chick, and their cousins, Michael and Carmela. A reunion of the children of two first cousins, Angelo and Frank, who had come to America for a better life in 1912.
My mother passed away in 2016. Till the end, she had remained in contact with her cousin Catherine Longo Nittoly, daughter of Lily’s sister, Carmela Autorino Longo. Catherine now lived in Canada, but would call to see how she was doing. After my mother could no longer remember much, she still remembered her cousin Catherine. My parents are both gone now, and so are their siblings and cousins, except for my father’s brother, Robbie, and my mother’s sister, Gloria.
I have found so many cousins now, it is beyond my wildest dreams. I suppose I collect cousins now. First cousins to sixth cousins have come into my life. It doesn’t matter how distant or close, we are all just getting to know each other now. While life may have tried to divide us, our blood continues to unite us. We can’t make up for the time lost, but we can start from here. Recently, I found the phone number of Joseph Oddi, the grandson of Lily’s eldest brother, Frank, and son of Rose Autorino Oddi (Frannie’s sister). He was able to give me Chris and Lucille’s last name and that led me to finding them.
This week, Lucille came out to visit me. So did my Uncle Chick’s youngest child, Julieanne. Julieanne is my first cousin, we were only reunited in 2016. Lucille is my second cousin; we were only reunited this year. Lucille brought photos with her and as I looked at the images of my grandmother’s siblings, happily gathering together in backyards and parks, I felt so sad. I had missed it all. I had been robbed of it all. When I found my mother’s sister, Pauline, and her family in some of the photos, I felt a moment of connection. As little as I knew my Aunt Pauline, she was proof that these people that I did not recognize were my family. I am so thankful for meeting Lucille. She and I felt an immediate comfortable connection. Of course, that hasn’t happened in every reconnection with family, but it is so nice when it does happen.
And so, as I try to mend the broken chain, I find some chains that are beyond repair. Others are held together tentatively. While others still, have become solid and strong.