Saturday, May 7, 2016

Something for Mothers and.....Too Weird and Too Sad


Grandma, Maria Concetta [Carlino] DeFrancesco
Grandma, Rosa [Nesta] Daversa
Mom, Theresa [Daversa] DeFrancesco
My paternal grandmother, my gramma, Maria Concetta Carlino DeFrancesco was born in Polistena, near Reggio Calabria in southern Italy. The territory was part of Magna Graecia, in centuries BC, and the name derives from the Greek, Polyxene or Polysthene. But I can’t trace my family much further back than my great-grandparents.

My gramma used to tell stories. Stories of the old country. Apocryphal stories about the saints. Stories with lessons about life and family. But she rarely if ever talked about her childhood or her upbringing or her own family.

I can only piece together a sketch of her life in Calabria from things she hinted at when telling her lessons. She often mentioned the fountain, La Fontana, where the villagers got their drinking water, and maybe only once mentioned the olive groves where they shook ripe olives from the trees onto blankets or burlap tarps and gathered them up for the harvest.

She told about how she used to skin rabbits. After making a slit in the rabbit’s skin and inserting a tube of rigatoni she would blow into the pasta tube to make the air separate the rabbit’s skin from the flesh. And she would peel the skin and fur off the rabbit “like-a you’ pajamas” she would say.

The image of grandma as a young girl peeling the furry pajamas off a rabbit still makes me smile just a bit.

Grandma never talked about her parents. I was never sure why that was.

I remember when she came to our house one Sunday and we were listening to a record album of Italian and Neapolitan songs. One of the songs “Mamma,” seemed to cause her to become a bit emotional - a side of her I’d rarely seen.

It was years before I understood that not only did she leave behind her family in Italy, but that her own mother had died when she was young. Her father had remarried and he and his new wife had more children - two that I know of, Maria Antonietta grandma’s half sister, and Salvatore, a half brother.

Maria Antonietta who we called aunt Zi’Mar’Antone also came to the US. I remember grandma having a kind of rivalry with Zi’Mar’Antone and it was clear she didn’t like or respect her half-sister very much.

I think grandma held some resentment toward the woman who took her mother’s place and bore her half-siblings. But I never really knew that for certain. I did come to realize that the pain of losing her mother was something she bore for her entire lifetime.

For my mother and my grammas:

While working on this post for mother's day and deciding to post a rare photo of my mother with both of my grandmothers, I found myself easily diverted to google maps to find the town of Polistena, Calabria, Italy, the town where my paternal grandmother was born.

There I spotted a street named Via Agrati and immediately thought of Don Agrati (Don Grady) of the TV shows,  Mouseketeers and My Three Sons. He of course was one of the first celebrities I had a teenage crush on while growing up.

As one thing leads to another, I Googled: "What ever happened to Don Grady?" only to learn that he died in 2012.

Why I felt such a profound sense of sadness, I'm not entirely certain. He was only four years older than me, and he died at the age of 68, the age I am now. Yet he is, and always will be, a teenager in my mind and in my libido.

I was reminded about the time, a few years ago, that I looked up a buddy, I hadn't seen in many years, Dennis Silva, for whom I had quite the hots back in my sophomore year of college and about whom I wrote in my memoir - where I called him Silvio DaVilla.

I knew that he was on the faculty of a small college in upstate New York, so, using that information, I  Googled him - only to find, at the top of the page, his obituary. He died in 2012 also.

There again I experienced such a profound sadness that seemed out of all proportion. After all, we never kept in touch, so it wasn't like losing a close friend.

Perhaps it was a different kind of loss. Dennis Silva, Don Agrati, both were men I had had crushes on, been infatuated with or maybe even loved in some way. I don't want these men to be dead; I don't want my fantasy to die along with them.

Perhaps it was realizing that death is unfair, that it comes too soon, that it robs the living when it takes a friend, a love, a fantasy. When it rips a secret out of one's heart.

And though I started with a tribute to two generations of mothers, my mother and my grandmothers, I was brought to a totally different place where I reflect on the ephemeral nature of life and my own mortality.


  1. In the midst of life we are in death. At least you have good memories, Frank.

    Love the pic of your mom and grandmothers.

  2. Your paternal grandmother's full name is so beautiful. Like you, I am at that age where the grands and parents are now gone and even my generation is thinning out. Where have all the years gone? They just flew by. Quoting Jack Nicholson, "like smoke through a keyhole".

    When I was younger I couldn't relate to the stories my elders shared about their youth. So I never paid much attention to them. Now I have so many questions and no one is left to ask. As much as death bothers me I am even more saddened by the fact that my own legacy will end with the passing of my two grandchildren. It will be like I never existed except in some faded photographs. Possibly, 100 years from now, a descendant will wonder about my life just as I am wondering about the lives of my ancestors. At least you have a book and a blog. My only contribution to immortality will be in my DNA that I have passed on. Well, this comment to your post sure was a bummer. It's just something I have been thinking about for awhile now.

  3. "I have so many questions and no one is left to ask." How true and how irreplaceable are the memories the dead have taken with them.



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