In which we meet Melania.
| My name is Melania Tommaseo. This is my memoir, a diary of sorts. I don’t feel that my life is anymore important than anyone else’s, but it makes me happy to think of letting go of these secrets I’ve been holding for years. I’m not a bad person, although over the course of this story, you might feel that way about me. I look back and all I feel is surprise at the way things played out and how naïve I was in my situation. Maybe it was the way I was raised, maybe it was just the way I would have been even in a different situation. I don’t look back with regret, or feel that I should have done things differently. I’m old now, and my life is almost over. But enough of that; let me start at the beginning.
I was born in America, I’m not sure what year, some time during the early years of the turn of the century. Both my parents were from Sicily. My mother was brought to America by her parents in her early teens, and my father came over by himself. Papa never talked about the journey over, nor did he ever talk of family.
My mother grew up as most traditional Italians living in New Jersey would. She was expected to take care of her Madre e Padre, and she did by working in a button factory, about ten hours each day except on Sunday. Mother wasn’t unhappy living this way, as she really didn’t know any other lifestyle. She met my father at the button factory. He was one of the head foremen, and every Saturday he would be the one to hand out paychecks. I guess that’s how they met. Not very romantic, is it?
My mother fell in love with him quickly, and it was a good thing he was Sicilan and had a job, because my grandparents agreed to the marriage. They were married in a small, but traditional Catholic wedding ceremony. There was no honeymoon because there was no money. At about this time, my nonna began to get sick. She blamed in on the dirtyness of the city and the doctors all agreed. Everyone decided it would be best for Nonna e Nonno to go back to Sicily to live the rest of their lives in comfort.
When they left, my mother and father moved into the apartment my mother had been sharing with my grandparents. I came along the next year. My mother and father loved me very much. This my Mama told me adamantly. Papa made her stop working at the factory to spend time taking care of me. But about two years into their marriage, Papa was dead.
Mama told me it was an accident at the button factory. A barrel full of thousands of wooden buttons rolled down the stairs, crushing my father who was going from one floor to the other. He had decided not to take the elevator. I don’t remember my father, so it doesn’t make me sad to think of his death. It makes me sad to think of what I might have happened, had he still been alive.
Mother decided to go back to work. She couldn’t face going back to the button factory where her husband had been killed, so she asked around and got a job working in a textile mill. Once again, there were ten hour days working in a noisy factory. My mother found a lady, Signora Rossi, whose husband worked at the grocery store on the corner from our apartment, to take care of me. I spent most of my time growing up with the Rossi familia.
They also were a traditional Italian family. Signora treated me like one of her own children, making me go to school and helping out in the store in the afternoons. She had her own six children, three boys and three girls to take care of, so she was always busy. It was mostly her oldest daughter, Anna, who taught me about the way of life outside of the confines of an Italian Catholic family.
On Saturday nights and Sundays, I would have my Mama all to myself. I loved her very much and I could see that she was very tired from working all the long hours. Even at a very young age, I would do as much as I could to make it easier on her. As I got older, I didn’t spend as much time with Signora Rossi and her family. Occasionally I would get to spend time with Anna, who was the only one close to my age that I spent time with. Anna was younger than I was, although by how many years I don’t remember .She would show me magazines of movie stars, or comic books. She kept them hidden in her underwear drawer where no one would find them. She taught me the dance steps to the popular dances of the day, although how she learnt them I never knew.