A few years ago I fell into one of those Google search rabbit holes that led me to a website of my parent's home town Fardella which is in the province of Potenza, Italy. It's a very small village with a population of under 1000 people (most of them Favales) that time has forgotten. The place still looks exactly like it did when my parents were born there (Dad in 1919 and Mom in 1927).
While going through the website I came upon an archive of old photos. I was stunned when I saw this most amazing candid photo of my mom (Maria) in a small crowd from 1954. It was labeled as the Festival Rosario. With the exception of my mom, it looked like it could have been taken in the early 1900s. Looking at this picture it's like she was a time traveler from the future. She was only 27 years old and had two young sons (Johnny and Joey). And even more amazing, she had a husband (Frank) who was already in America paving the way for her and my two brothers to eventually join him. My mom is so beautiful and so cool looking in this photo. She looks like she has this exit strategy all planned out. A plan for a different way of life. A new life...a better one for her, her husband and most importantly for her kids. She has a far away look in her face and an "I'm out of here" vibe in the picture that still makes me smile.
In 1958 she got on that same boat my dad had departed on and set sail for the open seas. She and her two young boys were about to join her husband who she hadn't seen in four years! She left behind her mom and sisters and lots of family who were all so sad to see her leave. But that was the classic immigrant story. She had the love of her life waiting for her on the other side. In quick succession she had three more boys (Me in 1959, Anthony in 1963 and Frankie Jr in 1967). She and my dad settled in the Bath Beach section Brooklyn. They eventually bought a house and filled it with lots of laughter and love. There was hardship for sure. The 70s were not kind to my family. My mom lost her two sons (her youngest in 1974 and her oldest in 1977). But somehow my parents found a way to keep the lights on in our lives. I don't know how they did it but they did and my brothers and I were better for it. My mom not only gave us our lives but saved them during that dark time.
We caught a huge break when death took a nice long holiday during the 80s and 90s. The grand kids started showing up during that incredible stretch of time (Joey Jr, Frankie, Jonathan, Stephen, John and Alec)...that's right six grandsons after having five sons. My poor mom could not get a break! We made it halfway through the 2000s when she lost her best friend (my dad) in 2006. That created a hole in her life that would be impossible to fill. But again she did not give up. Things got more difficult for her physically but she always persevered. She could still crack us up with a timely joke and observation. In the time since my dad passed she was blessed with her first great grand child and yes you guessed another boy (Frankie Jr,)! But I'm happy to say that the 13th time was the charm when she finally got the girl she always wanted, (Anna Noelle)!!! She had the pleasure spending the day with both of her great grand kids (in the same house we all grew up in) a few months ago.
On Wednesday of this week my mom took another amazing journey. This one perfectly mirrors the one she took in 1958. And It also involves my dad and two of her sons. And even though she has left the rest of us behind in an ocean of tears, how can we possibly be sad for someone who has just set sail on a journey that will take her once again to her husband with two of her boys waiting for her on the other side. I'd like to think she had that same "I'm Outta Here" spirit when she left us this week.