Inspirational Greats

I count myself fortunate to have known my great grandparents. Lots of people know their grandparents and find out little details about their parents growing up, but great grandparents hold deeper secrets and stories. Family multi-generation relationships provide richness to the family histories and foster compassion between family members. 

I was small when we would visit my dad’s grandparents, who lived with their daughter and family in Queens. They were both old and frail. That great grandma suffered from dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease. She was very pleasant, though, and always held her arms open for a big, soft hug. She wore floral housedresses. My only memory of my great grandfather was him in a sleeveless T-shirt at the kitchen table holding up my then infant brother. He sang a little Italian song to the baby. The bald, toothless baby giggled at the bald, toothless old man. 

Memories of my mother’s grandfather are not as happy. I was very young when he was sick and slept in the “death bed”, pale and cold, mumbling in Italian. I remember kissing his forehead and quickly scampering away. 

The one great grandparent that remained vibrant and present throughout my childhood and into adulthood, was my mother’s grandmother, Francesca D’Aguanno. Despite her age and short stature, this great grandma stood erect and strong. She was always lean, always wore black (constant state of mourning) and always held control over her family—a crowned matriarch without the pomp, circumstance or glamour. Francesca reluctantly immigrated from Sicily where the old world ways stubbornly remained consistent and unyielding. Her life in Sicily and coming to America story explains the stoic practicality that guarded her heart against forces she had no control over—famine, disease, child loss, family loss, and marriage arrangements. 

Great Grandma’s stories are for another time—perhaps another book. For today I will summarize that she demanded obedience from her daughters, in exchange for her favor and love. Francesca was a great believer in what should be, even if unwanted. The demands often resulted in heated arguments, which was her most enjoyable pastime. She was a master at stirring pots, planting suspicions and gossip, then watching the drama unfold as the daughters blamed and accused. It was better than any afternoon soap opera. 

You would think this would tear families apart and make them leave without looking back. But our Sicilian family ties are a hard knot to untangle, especially for the women. The daughters, my grandmother and her four sisters, remained loyal to each other throughout their very long lives. They helped each other in hard times, kept secrets, celebrated, and made room for each other at the table. One uncle joked that the sisters may have been able to forgive the trespasses, but nothing was ever forgotten. They were rehashed during dinner. 

The mama character in my Becoming America’s Stories series was conjured from my memories and stories of my great grandparents. The great grandma I knew is well represented in the stories. The fictional mama is a little nicer and yielding than the true Francesca—my poetic license. I weaved kindness and comforting scenes, joyful singing, and steadfast directing of expectations into my fictional mama. I used remembered gestures and temperament from my real great grandma.

Fictional Francesca Taglia is the master of the household, protector of her children, the warden and forewomen of daily chores, and the gatekeeper to all assets (as minimal as they may be). There is a soft spot to her stern manner.

In my memory, Great Grandma was old but a reckoning force. She lived for almost 100 years. Great Grandma would not speak English and never learned to read. She insisted her way was the only way to do anything. It did not matter how hard the task or the sacrifices endured. She showed love through her no-nonsense strength and actions. Her hugs were hard, brief, and included a shake of the recipient’s shoulders to account for sturdiness. There are so many wonderful stories. She was pretty great.

Enjoy ❤️.   Like 👍.  Share 😊. 

Work for Peace

You have a voice

Hope you are hungry. Becoming America’s Food Stories recalls the tales that have been told around my family’s dinner table. The histories explain the motivations over bowls of macaroni, antics play out while slurping soup, and laughter echoes throughout the dining room. Pull up a seat. There’s always room.
The Heart of Bakers and Artists is set in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, 1911. The story follows nine-year-old Lily, an American-born child of Sicilian immigrants, who wants to prove she is not a little kid. To be a big kid in the crowded tenement neighborhoods, she must tackle bigotry, bullies, disasters, dotty bakers, and learn to cross the street by herself
The Dreams of Singers and Sluggers picks up where The Heart of Bakers and Artists left off.Lily has big dreams to sing out with her powerful voice, but must do EVERYTHING, since Mama fell into a deep depression, the baby is sick, and the “Black Hand” terrorizes the neighborhood, threatening her chance to sing at the New York Highlanders Fourth of July baseball game.
Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.

8 thoughts

    1. I am often so grateful for the mulrugeneration ties. I think knowing the stories gives children a sense of who they are where they came from and where they are going. Lucky for your kiss. Thanks for reading.


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