I Nonni {Tuesdays with Tina, part 1}

Tuesdays with TinaThis is the first post of a new series: Tuesdays with Tina. Tina, for those of you who do not know, is my mother. Her name, Tina, is actually short for Immacolata, a popular Italian name, after the virgin Mary’s immaculate birth. She has such an interesting story that I want to record it here for posterity’s sake and so that my children, my nieces and my nephew will know their grandmother’s fascinating story. Plus I think it will be an captivating story for anyone who loves history, certainly one worth reading.

I began by interviewing her and recording her answers on the voice recorder on my iPhone. Since English is not her first language, I conducted the interview in Italian but I am translating it t0 English for my reader’s sake.

For those of you who do not know, my mother is Italian. Not a New York or New Jersey Italian whose grandparents came over “on the boat”, but rather she was born during the second world war and met my father when he was stationed in Italy. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I want to begin at the very beginning. Because, as you know, “that’s a very nice place to start.”

Herein begins the story…


Me: Mamma, tell me about nonno and nonna (my maternal grandparents), where they were born and how they met each other.

Tina: How they met, I don’t know. I can ask Rosalba (her older-by-ten-years sister). They were born in Napoli. Mamma (her mother, my grandmother) was the youngest of five children: she had three sisters and one brother. Papa’ (her father, my grandfather), when he was born, had only one older sister. She was older than him by ten years. He had a lot of uncles on his father’s side. A strange case: both of my parents lost their mothers when they were each one year old. They were orphaned of mothers. My maternal grandfather got remarried and so my mother had a step-mother who raised her. My grandfather, Nicola, had to go to war in 1915-1918, and since they were the youngest, my mother and her sister, aunt Titina, had to live in a boarding school. It’s not really an orphanage, because they had parents, but it was a place where they took care of children. My mother was born in 1908 so she was 7 years old when she went to live there. They lived in this “colleggio” for 5 years.

Me: So this step-mother didn’t keep her?

Tina: He probably married her after the war. If my mother was one year old when her mother died and then my father had to go to war, he didn’t remarry right away. He probably married his new wife after the war so the littlest children had to go live in this boarding school. 

Me: You never met this step-mother/grandmother, only your grandfather?

Tina: I only met my grandfather. He died when I was three years old. I remember that he was a tall man. My mother and her sisters were tall so they probably took after him. 

Me: Did nonna call her step-mother ‘mamma’?

Tina: My mother had a desire to call someone ‘mamma’ but I don’t think she called this woman ‘mamma.’ She probably called her ‘Signora’ (ma’am or Missus).  My mother would tell us, “You cannot imagine what it’s like to not be able to call someone ‘mamma’. It’s very sad.” But while she was in the boarding school she learned many things: to sew, to embroider, to crochet, to knit. After five years, her father returned from the war and when he was able to get them, he brought his daughters home. 

Me: What work did he do?

Tina: I don’t know. I don’t remember. I don’t know. I remember he was a very elegant man. He was tall and slim and dressed very well but I don’t remember what work he did. I’ll have to ask Rosalba; see if she remembers.

Me: And nonno? (my grandfather, her father). What about him?

Tina: He lost his mother when he was one year old and his sister was eleven.

Me: When he lost his mother, did he lose his father also?

Tina: No, no. He had his father. His father did not remarry. His sister, Maria, raised him. My paternal grandfather was named Jonathan. That’s why my brother was named John. And my sister’s second name is Maria for my father’s sister. She was called Rosalba because she was born at dawn (‘alba’ means ‘dawn’ in Italian) so her name was really Rosa Maria. He was fine while his father was alive, but then his father went missing and so my father followed his sister who by this time was married. His brother-in-law was a prison guard and they lived on the island of Procida. His sister was expecting her first child at 26 years old (my father at this point was 16). One day, he was returning home from work and he saw all these people near their house. He found out that his sister had died. She had died in her pregnancy, not while giving birth. She had ‘nefriti’ (nephritis? I think it must be preeclampsia). My father would tell us, “I would put a finger in her leg and it would leave a hole (an impression).” My father was born in 1907 so if he was 16 years old it was around 1920. There weren’t all these medicines like we have today. After she died, he wanted to die. He didn’t have a father or a mother. His sister was everything to him. But she was a very severe woman. In fact my mother used to say, “Your sister was severe with you because she wasn’t your mother. You cannot be a mother and make him eat the same thing three days in a row.” [That’s another story for another day.]

To be continued…





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About Sheila @ Making the Most of Every Day

I'm a wife, mom, and a homeschool teacher. I'm always behind on housework and paper pile sorting. I'm fond of this crazy life but not of melted cheese. I want to follow hard after God, making each day really count. I like to run, read, cook (and eat!). Thanks for joining along on my journey!

14 thoughts on “I Nonni {Tuesdays with Tina, part 1}

  1. Oh, wow, Sheila! I’m so glad you’re sharing this. How fascinating!

    Earlier this summer I was transcribing some recordings I had made of my grandparents in the 1990s. Makes me want to get back to it!

    1. Ciao Sheila ….tua mamma parla sempre dì te e tuo fratello. E’molto commovente ….malinconico …ma bellissimo quello che hai messo non vedo l’ora dì leggerlo…con il seguito. Sarai ansiosa per il ritorno dì tua mamma..anche se non ti conosco tanto piacere Cecilia una delle tantissime amiche dì tua mamma ciao

  2. This is such a great idea and I can’t wait to read more. I wish I had done this with my Grandma Nelda, because she had a very interesting life story. She’s 96 now and doesn’t remember much anymore.

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