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Let me tell you about my Grandmother!

Maria Antonia DiCarlo Mattera

When I queried my aunts about my grandmotherís immigration to America, the only story remembered was that she was anticipating joining three of her older siblings in Philadelphia, arrived in New York and had some scary moments, as the person responsible for greeting her was not prompt. 

When questioned about her life in Italy, Mariantonia Di Carlo, my peasant grandmother, said she came from the mountains where she enjoyed playing barefoot amongst the olive trees in the mountainous Abruzzi and as she spoke, her face always lit up.  In her time, Agnone, her birthplace, was in the Region of Abruzzi; in 1963, three years after her death, Molise became a separate region. However, in 1995 when I visited Agnone, I was surprised to see a city but the clerk at the Ufficio said the DiCarlos came from the town of Schiavi di Abruzzo, where there is a great concentration of DiCarlos, but further research ruled this out. During our September 2002 visit, I finally solve my puzzle when I learn from public records  that the family is larger than first believed and lived in Fontesambuca an agricultural hamlet of Agnone, where the mountainsides are full of olive trees, apple trees, grapes, corn and much more.  

Precious moments for me were when, on rainy days, Grandmom opened her cedar chest and looked through her treasures, such as, many embroidered bed spreads, pillow cases, linen towels, and the especially pretty crocheted yolks, one of which she presented to me on my wedding day and was proudly stored as a treasure in my cedar chest.

Because she was always easy to converse with and a great story teller, on one convenient occasion, I casually expressed my negative feelings about being uncomfortable when attending a funeral wake, observing the socializing going on in the rear while mourners are crying in the front of the room. And she replied,  

"God sent an angel to see how His people were doing; when the angel returned he reported that the people are crying. Unsatisfied with the answer, God again sent the angel and this time he stated that all the people are laughing. Once more God sent the angel to earth and on his return the angel declared that half the people are crying and the other half are laughing. Of this latest information, God approved."

Thereafter, when I attended wakes I observed the wisdom of her words especially when we joined the grieving persons at their home for coffee and cake and they showed some needed relief because of the lightness of the visitors.

No one was more capable of entertaining children, on Sunday mornings we sat around a large white with blue border, porcelain topped table, watching my grandmother while she pounded the dough of flour, water and eggs making macaroni for Sunday dinner. One never knew if the dough was going to be a snake, mammal or whatever form it took as she pretended it was going to "get us." Without realizing it, I was learning to make pasta even to the detail of cleaning the egg from the shell with my index finger.  However, I used a machine to roll and cut and Grandmom wielded her knife with precision as she cut the rolled by hand dough.

As a healer, she concocted potions for boils, massaged sprains with warm olive oil and when a headache appeared, she performed the malocchio. Although my mother did not approve of this strega, I feigned headaches in order to have my grandmother very soothingly rub the small cross ever so lightly on my forehead with her gentle thumb.

When I read books about the various hamlets in Italy during the 1950ís I begin to realize the strength of the Italian fiber in my Grandmotherís thinking.  She very much disapproved of females smoking and generally made comments about girls in Italy never smoking and it distressed her to see food left on my plate. I was a picky eater and never heard her message that the children in Italy were hungry for this food, in my young flippant mind, I thought that we should send my plate to them and as for the smoking, I wondered how she knew what the girls in Italy were doing.  With maturity, I realize that she vicariously knew exactly what her sisters in Italy were doing because in her heart and soul she was still one of them.

However, she herself was a bit of a rebel when she chose to marry my charming grandfather instead of the more financially stable man her older sister Vincenza selected.  Moreover, while living unhappily with her mother-in-law, as a young Italian girl needed to do, she told my grandfather she was leaving that house and he did comply, even though he had previously suggested she obey his mother...

Although I attentively listened to Grandmomís stories as a child, there are regrets that I immaturely made no time in my young adult life to ask precise questions.  Therefore tracking additional information about Di Carlo relatives in Philadelphia and California as well as Italy proves to be far more tedious than need be; however, with much traveling and searching, the Di Carlo story does unravel.

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