170. Voices Across the Century

A few weeks ago, my cousin Anna Abbruzzese sent me an email containing a short video that her daughter and grandchildren had made to celebrate her 80th birthday. The video consisted of them reading a translated letter written in 1915 by her mother (my great Aunt Mary) to her father, Nick, when they were engaged to be married. As must have been the custom, while he was in the Boston area establishing himself, she was living with Nick’s family in our ancestral home of Gaeta, which included his sisters Clara and Angelina.

Anna, the birthday girl in front, with her sister Nancy and her parents Aunt Mary and Uncle Nick. My father is in the background at about age 19. He lived with them for several years when he first came to America in 1939.

Reading an old letter would simply be an interesting snapshot in time, except that I know these people, and I know what the future has in store. Mary notes that the impending war has not been so bad thus far, but mentions that Clara gets a daily letter from Salvatore, her husband in the navy. From my vantage point of 2023, I know that he sank at sea, leaving Clara with baby Tonino, who never knew his father. (Tonino lived to be in his 90s, and was delighted with the idea of meeting his father in Heaven, where he’d be the old man and his father would be in his 20s.) She writes about Angelina’s young son Pasqualino, who was a mischievous spitfire, shocking people by taking the Lord’s name in vain and telling them, “You bust my pastries.” Just a few months ago, I met up with little Pasqualino’s daughters in Rome, all well into their seventies. I’m pleased to report there was no swearing or busting of pastries.

Pasquale’s daughters, trying to figure out something on their phone.

But most goosebump-inspiring was Aunt Mary saying that Angelina’s husband Giacomo, also living in the Boston area, would soon be coming back to Italy for a visit, and perhaps he and Nick could travel together. That trip would have been delayed by the war, but when Giacomo finally made it in 1920, my father was conceived, leading, most significantly, to ME.

My grandmother Angelina with my father baby Luigi, Tonino and Pasquale in 1920.

It goes well beyond obvious to say that all of us have ancestors who, a hundred years ago, went about their daily lives oblivious that the choices they made, major and minor, would end up with us down the road. Those of us who will have descendants should know that a hundred years from now, they would be fascinated to know what we ate for breakfast, how we spent our days, and most important, the choices and circumstances that ultimately led to them.

What a gift it would be to them, as did my Aunt Mary, to leave a record behind.

The whole clan, including Aunt Mary on the left, Uncle Nick at the rear, my grandmother Angelina on the right, and my father Luigi, the little blond in the sailor suit.


4 thoughts on “170. Voices Across the Century

  1. this is a fascinating look at family as you see them all 100 years apart; I find it fascinating as I do my Ancestry and have marveled at all the little things that I find about various relatives, as well as some that i never knew existed.  Keep up the great posts. Thanks, Dave


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