Chapter V - Loss of Orazio
At the beginning of 1920 Nicola became sick with pneumonia. The attending doctor came every day. I asked him to vaccinate my three older children. Carmela was ready to enter school. In my ignorance I wanted both my daughters to start school together. Lucia started kindergarten and Carmela first grade. The vaccine did not work on the girls.
Orazio came down with a fever. I expected the fever to subside after a day or two but it persisted. Instead of the usual inflammation on the arm he developed a few blisters with dark blood in them, two of them on the upper lip. Nicola recovered and went back to work, but my son's fever persisted. With a small baby, two young girls and my sick son, life was very hard for me. I asked the doctor if possibly there was some medicine that would put a stop to my son's fever. I felt that he was slipping away. He said there was one last medication he would try.
My son recovered. The DeVenezia family was happy again. My children were beautiful and healthy again.
Summer passed and fall came. My son Orazio came down with the fever once more. At first I didn't suspect anything since children are always developing colds and fevers, but Orazio's fever was not the usual one. The doctor kept giving him medication with no favorable results. It was a very sad time for my husband and me. Our son was failing. At the beginning of October he became worse and went into convulsions. In five days he was between life and death. Keeping the room dark was an instruction from the doctor. I followed his orders.
One night when Orazio was especially sick a cousin visited us and kept us company all night. Early in the morning she urged me to go and hang the clothes on the line, the clothes I had washed during the night.
When I came into the room the light was pouring in with the shutters opened. My cousin had done this. I looked at the bed and there laying next to my son was the crucifix. I knelt down and prayed, "God, if you want my son, please, God, don't let him die in a convulsion."
That night he had a good night's sleep. Next morning I was in the kitchen preparing breakfast when I heard a call from Orazio. "Mama, Mama."
I ran into the bedroom. Orazio said, "I am hungry." I was surprised and very happy because he had not eaten for five days. I brought him a bowl of warm milk and some crackers. He ate and asked for more. His appetite was a very encouraging sign for me so I was startled one morning when he called to me. He was seated on his bed as he said this, "Ma, I am going to die." He was only three years old. What did he know about death? I put my arms around him, kissed him and told him that he was getting well.
I believed that with my whole heart.
In a few days he was up and around playing with his baby brother and everything seemed to be going well. However at the end of November my oldest daughter contacted whooping cough and had to stay home from school. This was a new anxiety for me. Then Antonio the baby caught it, which made me very worried. On top of it Orazio started to cough. The doctor came and prescribed some medication but it did not work. Orazio lost his appetite, coughed, vomited and developed a noise in his chest. When the doctor diagnosed it as bronchitis I felt a black cloud hovering over me. My son was growing worse every passing day.
I couldn't help but think of an incident that had happened in the late part of the summer. I was crossing the street to buy some groceries when a stranger stopped me and said, "You have a sick child."
I said, "No, he is well now."
He responded, "if you don't do something soon, he is going to die."
I dismissed the whole incident as a prank and had forgotten all about it. Now in late December with three sick children and Orazio getting sicker I remembered what that man had told me and I became worried. The more I thought about it the more I felt worried. Then I decided to confide my worry to one of my cousins. She suggested I go to a fortuneteller. I thought the idea was absurd but seeing my son getting emaciated and suffering more and more every day I was willing to try anything. She took me to a woman who looked at my son and said, "It's too late, I cannot help him."
I went home very depressed about this experience. I called a new doctor to see if anything could be done to save my son. The doctor examined Orazio and told me there was a twenty per cent chance of his recovering because he had lasted ten months since the vaccination but he could not hope for the best.
New Year's Eve as the sirens were ushering in the New Year I was kneeling beside the bed asking God to help my son. Two days later two dark blisters appeared on Orazio's lips and on the fourth of January, my son died in my arms.
When Orazio died Nicola was out of work. Every morning he would go and look for work, any kind of work. This was 1921 and a recession had set in. When he would return home after a fruitless search he would always bring something for our son - a bar of candy, an ice cream cone or a piece of ripe fruit - something to entice Orazio to eat. That day when he came home with a nice juicy pear for his sick son he entered the room to find his son dead.
After the funeral I had to attend to the baby who was ten months old. During the wake he had developed a congestion in the chest and I was told by the doctor that he was on the verge of pneumonia. If this should happen it was extremely dangerous because children less than two years old could not survive with both whooping cough and pneumonia. My anguish had no end, and a great burden was lifted from me when my baby recovered. Now I was able to cry for my dead son.
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