Saturday, September 13, 2008

Blind Dating, Italian Style

For Photo Friday: Relationships, an appropriate rerun:

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One of the reasons I am so puzzled by my mother, who can be seemingly soulless, is because her parents were incredibly soulful. They were sweet and funny and extremely loving, and since they lived upstairs when I was a chld, I credit them with teaching me everything I know about being a good person.

My grandfather had a particulary interesting sense of humor. In February of 1907, he wrote a letter to a woman he knew in Italy. He had come to the US ten years earlier on the SS Barbarosa (I like to think of it as the SS Vinnie Barbarino), and was ready to get himself a wife. So, he wrote this letter asking the woman to send him one of her daughters. I don't think he was very much more specific than that. He sent a picture of himself, a handsome 21 year-old man with a full head of red hair. My grandmother (all of 17 years old), selflessly offered herself up as she knew that her mother was struggling to feed all of her children, and that making this sacrifice would help ease the burden. She did this knowing, too, that she might never see her family again.

She boarded the SS Patria on February 5th, traveling "steerage" which meant packed like sardines in the lower quarters of the ship, and arrived at Ellis Island after sixteen grueling days at sea.

After the immigration process, she was taken to the Bushwick section of Brooklyn to live briefly with a cousin. There, she met the man she was going to marry. The only problem? The picture he had sent was a little, er, outdated. He was, in fact, 31 years old, fat and bald. According to my grandmother (in her adorable little accent that she never lost) "I cry for a year!"

Probably due to the extremely reduced expectations that people of that generation had for happiness, they remained married for over 60 years. In all of that time, much of which was spent on the 2nd floor of our house, I remember them having only one fight... and that was a dispute over what the weatherman had predicted for that day.

She was a feminist before her time (even cutting her hair when she arrived in America and not piercing her daughters' ears. She refused to be bound by old-world traditions). He was the "mayor" of our block, playing with all the kids and tossing lit firecrackers at their feet while yelling "Dance-a! Dance-a!"

And so, I say "Salud" to Sal and Lucy.