Chapter II - Loss of Mother
I was ten years old when my secure childhood foundation began to crumble. On a cold Thursday morning my mother was getting ready to go marketing. The kitchen was clean and swept and she was ready to go when she suddenly said to me, "Maria, please light the fire. I'm getting the chills."
I proceeded to do what I was told and then she said, "Maria, make a strong fire. I am very cold."
Although the mornings were cold, usually the sun would come out later and warm things up. A fire was needed only mornings and night. Preparing breakfast would warm it up sufficiently enough to be comfortable and at night there would be a fire on the hearth for a few hours. My father would sit near the fire and tell us stories. How I loved those story times! After the stories we said our prayers, and then went to bed.
This particular Thursday morning my mother, much to my disappointment, did not go marketing. I always looked forward to the goodies in her reed basket. She would give these to us when she came home.
There was a bread making day every week. The grain was brought to the mill to stone ground the day before bread making, Mother sifted the grain with a coarse sifter to remove the bran and leave a dark flour for our bread. The same night she would prepare the dough with the yeast and leave it to rise over night.
Those mornings were very special. Mother would make pizza (fried dough) for breakfast, the mouth watering smell of freshly baked bread tantalizing the nostrils.
All that and our peaceful living were being destroyed that chilly Thursday morning. My mother's chills turned out to be pneumonia. Eight days later my mother died. It was January, 1907.
I was too young to realize the enormity of my loss, but soon enough I had to learn. After the funeral there was visiting from relatives and friends, bringing of food and baked sweets and demonstrations of sympathy. All that lasted one week as was the custom.
Then the deep mourning and confinement ended and the family had to adjust and pick up the business of living.
Since I was just ten years old, all the attention had seemed like an endless party. When it stopped, there came the realization that mother wasn't there anymore. I missed her when I went to bed at night. She wasn't in the kitchen in the morning preparing a warm breakfast, and ready to bid me a good day when I went to school. Worst of all she wasn't in the kitchen when I came home from school. The kitchen was empty and cold. I couldn't stand the silence of the empty house. Where there had been cheer, now there was gloom. I would walk through all of the rooms thinking she would be in one of them. Then shivering and afraid, I would grab a few nuts and a piece of bread and run outside, to a straw stack, near the house. I would eat my lunch.
After lunch I would go and search for my sister out on the farm trying, as best as she could, at eleven years of age, to do Mother's work. I would help her as much as I could.
Dinner was prepared by the two of us, if one could call it a dinner.
Our father took over the care of the animals but as much as my sister and I tried hard to make Father's burden easier, it was not enough. We could not bake bread nor wash clothes. That was a task for a seasoned strong person.
Washing clothes took a lot of time. The first step was to fill a basket of two - maybe even three - with soiled clothes. These were brought to a stream to be given a preliminary washing with soap. Then the clothes were brought home, placed loosely in a large wooden tub and a cloth was spread over them. The next step was to spread wood ashes over the cloth, pour boiling water over it, and leave them there over night. The next day the cloth with the ashes was lifted off and the clothes were rubbed again on a wash board. Then you took the wet clothes to the stream again to be rinsed. I used to love to go to the stream for the rinsing because, when I was old enough, I would swish the sheets and shake them over head like a sail scattering water all over me.
If one were lucky and the weather were good, with lots of sunshine, the whole operation took three days.
I remember Mama going over to the clothesline and straightening the clothes into shape. She would put her hands in the pillowcases, turn them around as if one had blown in them like a bag, flatten them, fold them neatly and put them in a pile. She would also shake the sheets straight and fold them.
It took us three days of good weather, every two weeks, to have this work done.
Father realized the necessity of hiring a housekeeper for five days a week. The housekeeper would come early in the morning bringing her own young daughter with her and go home at night after supper.
I would go to school but my sister, being very young herself, got involved in playing with the housekeeper's daughter. The management of the house was left completely to the woman.
My father began to notice things missing and foodstuff diminishing rapidly. The stored supplies had to last till the new harvest. He feared if we ran short that it would cause a serious problem for him.
On one of his marketing Thursdays, he met a friend of his and confided his fears to him. The salary of the woman and the shortage of food would seriously hurt him.
His friend suggested, "Why don't you get married again?" My father answered, "So soon after my wife's death!"
His friend said, "My sister has been a widow for six years. She would be good for you."
And so my father met his future wife. She had three daughters of her own and a son in America. The oldest daughter, Virginia, was older than my sister. The second daughter, Carmela, was a little older than I and Maggie, the third daughter, was younger than I.
My father and the widow came to an understanding. She would bring over her milk cow to increase the revenue of the family, rent her piece of land and the house left by her husband, and come to live at our place. She wanted a father for her three daughters and my father needed a mother for Emily and myself.
Within three months after my mother's death they were married.
My sister resented her in the house, but I welcomed her. Having a substitute mother in the house brought life and warmth once again into our home. My sister was taken by our stepsisters and was having a good time. I felt left out since I was the only one in school so I decided to quit school and join in the merriment. For awhile I enjoyed the crowd, but I soon began to miss school.
After the first months of adjustment my stepmother began to apportion duties to each child.
Emily was to become an apprentice for dressmaking. Carmela was to learn the trade of sewing linen and the older daughter, Virginia, was to be her helper. The younger girl Maggie was to attend school.
School would close at the end of August and reopen the first of November. I told my father I wanted to enroll.
Life began to run smoothly again. My stepmother was a good manager. She would give each of us an assignment and see to it that it was carried out. If we had a job in common like sewing, mending, or knitting, she would praise the job best done. We all became very active and laborious.
School was still my first love. When I returned to school I realized everyone feared the new teacher since she was considered to be a hard disciplinarian. I was afraid to report to her because I had quit school the previous year. I sat in the last seat in the room, in the rear, hoping she would not notice me. I would listen, do my work, and skip out of the room at the end of the day. That went on for about a week when she noticed me, a stranger, sitting inconspicuously in the back of the room. She motioned me to come to the front of her desk. I was trembling and my legs were shaking. I stood in front of her. She wanted to know who I was. I gave her my name. Then she asked what I was doing in the back seat. I told her that the year before I had been in the same grade in Miss Loffredo's room but I had quit school. Now I wanted to resume my education. She asked me why I had not reported to her. Tears were rolling in my eyes. I could not tell her that I was afraid of her. She noticed my discomfort and asked again for my name. I said, "Maria Saporito."
She said, "I will straighten this out for you." Miss Maricondi was her name. She assigned me a seat in the third row, closer to her desk, so she could keep an eye on me. I did not like my seat, the last one in the third row, because it was next to the wall and was dark. I did not complain; I was afraid to speak since I did not want to arouse her ire. That whole year I learned a lot from her. She was a strict, good teacher. Looking backwards now I can measure the difference between an easy teacher and a harder one. That was my last formal school year. I was only in the third grade.
Guestbook and Comments are closed until further notice.