A Big Birthday

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Various kinds of pizza are needed to celebrate a birthday! – tangled pasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Yesterday we honored my paternal uncle in celebrating his 98th birthday. He is the last of my father’s siblings, a family of three sisters and three brothers. My Italian immigrant father passed away just shy of 96, long after he had later brought his two younger brothers to the U.S. For various reasons, his three sisters remained in southern Italy. From 1933 onwards, my father’s family became geographically divided. Yet they always remained in touch throughout those many years.

Last night at the pizza party my cousins held for their father, I thought about how brave my father and his brothers were to come to a foreign country without having learned any English prior to their arrival, and with little money in their pockets. Granted, my father had a cousin who encouraged him to come to his newly adopted town, but to take that ship from Naples and sail to New York’s Ellis Island required a great leap of faith. Yet the three brothers all built new lives here, married, raised families, practiced their faith, and prospered in their own ways.

Last night my uncle looked on cheerfully as we circulated among one another, talking, laughing, and having a fine time. I thought about how much my late aunt, his wife, would have loved having the family together. Her good nature would have embraced the festivities. We all miss her very much, especially my uncle. Sometimes when I visit him, he says, “I don’t know why I’m here! For what?” I answer that he is now the patriarch of our family, that we need him to lead us. He tells me that I’m crazy, that no one needs him anymore. But he is wrong: he is the living link to our past, not that we think of him as a museum specimen, rather to know that we can turn to him for our family history and anecdotes. He reminds us from whence we came, of the struggles, the milestones, the essence of what makes us, for all intents and purposes, us.

Ciao for now.

Veteran’s Day, With a Dash of Panache

When my father was drafted into the U.S Army in during World War II, he posted a sign in his shoe shop window announcing that the business would be closed until he returned from the war.  Papa had been in the United States for ten years, having arrived on Ellis Island in 1933 from Southern Italy.

Ellis Island
Ellis Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Why did you come here during the Depression?” I used to ask him.

“It was-a still-a okay to work in-a the United-a-States-a.  Italy no gotta nothin’ in-a 19-a-33.  It was-a hell-a,” he told me.

Papa was first sent to Texas for basic training.

“It was-a hell-a in-a that heat,” he observed.

Farm land in Texas panhandle near Amarillo, Te...
Farm land in Texas panhandle near Amarillo, Texas. Santa Fe R.R. trip (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

He was then transferred to Louisiana.

“Oh, my achin’-a back,” he lamented.  “It was a swamp-a and-a humidity to kill-a horse-a,” he remarked.

Louisiana Swamp
Louisiana Swamp (Photo credit: MSMcCarthy Photography)

“Why did you have to go in the Army?  You served in the Italian Army,” I argued.

“Listen-a to me-a, Honey.  It’s a honor to serve-a you country.  America is-a my-a country.  My-a country-a need-a me.  I go-a to-a the Army, ” Papa solemnly said.

Patriotism was a duty as he saw it.

During the Vietnam War, I attended a Big 10 college where anti-war demonstrations were common.  When I locked horns with Papa over the Vietnam draft dodgers, he was unmoved.

“I no-a say this-a war is-a right.  Soldiers-a die, and that’s-a bad.  But we-a in it and that’s-a that.”

I loved my father dearly, even when we differed in our attitudes about U.S. foreign policy.  He had an unshakable faith in the country that allowed him to realize his dreams of work, family, and college-educated children.  He proudly voted, he loyally served his city, his adopted country, his church, and his family.

U.S. Flag
U.S. Flag (Photo credit: vmf-214)

Papa was a true patriot.  He was a hero who never let me or anyone else down.  On this Veteran’s Day, Papa, I can still hear your voice ringing in my ears:

“God-a Bless America!

And all of Her Veterans.

Ciao for now.