Angelo and Domenica. They arrived in the United States from Sicily in the early 1920’s, passing through Ellis Island. He had a fourth grade education, at best, and drove a cart for a living. She had been the daughter of a vineyard manager, bootlegging an education with the vineyard owners daughter, until she was fourteen. It was unheard of for a peasant girl to have so much schooling.
Settling into the milltown of Methuen, Massachusetts based on obtuse familial connections, they both worked in the sweatshops. Their only child, Alfio, was born in 1923. It was that extra bit of schooling that drove Domenica hard. She would not settle for less for her son. “Formazione!” (Education). He was going to school. He would not face a lifetime in the mills.
She lived to see him graduate with a degree in Engineering from Northeastern University. But just barely. Packing his possessions into a trunk, he headed off to Detroit at 22 years old. Certainly, she must have been proud as he entered the elite corps of ‘junior management trainees’ for Ford Motor Company.
It was cancer that got her. Breast cancer, which wasn’t particularly treatable in the late 1940’s. Alfio, an only child, left his promising start in Corporate America, and returned home to care for her. As she was dying? His father was overwhelmed at the prospect of losing his wife. He took his own, breathing his last breath in Alfio’s arms.
My father, Alfio, buried both of his parents before he was 25 years old. Alone. He regrouped, re-entered the workforce, and found purpose for his life. He understood the meaning of the word “onward”.