Christmas Lessons

Christmas Ponte

Buon Natale a Tutti! 

May the Christmas Spirit be with you all year long.

Tonight, Pontelandolfo is hosting Concerto di Natale by the chorus from Liceo Musicale G. Guacci.  When I saw the poster of young singers in their tuxedos and black dresses, I flashed back to my teaching time at Westminster Choir College and my first evening of “Lessons and Carols.” Teaching at Westminster was one of the most rewarding and special times of my life.  Surrounded by music and students who were accepted because they had great musical talent, academic ability and drive, I formed relationships that mean a lot to me today.  As my brain twirled, racing from those young musicians singing their hearts out during a Christmas Lessons and Carols to our life today, I realized there was a lesson that I should have learned then but really hit me now.

This year, Jack and I decided to to try on a different holiday experience and spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Italy.  The Christmas lessons began in Milano, continued in Vienna and seeing the lights in Piazza Roma were reinforced in Pontelandolfo.

Thanks to Stefania, Nina, Kristie and Silvia, Non importa dove vai, importa chi incontri, became so evident to me.  It is not important where you go but who you meet along the way.  Strangers become reflections of who we are and where we are going. That first night, tired and hungry we walked a scant few blocks from our favorite B&B – Il Girasole – to Tony’s, a jam packed local eatery. We were given a deuce next to a woman eating alone.  When I say next to, I mean our elbows touched.  What could I do but say, buona sera.  Stefania, was no longer eating alone, and we had a great conversation about her early life as a dancer with the Royal Ballet in England and now in a government office here in Milano.  Politics, political appointments, the problems facing Milano and the rush from hearing the sound of applause wafted from table to table. The back story that stayed with me is one we have all known – a young woman with a promising career as a dancer comes home to attend to the elders in her family.  Family is so central to the soul of Italy and central to me.  Eating and connecting with a local woman who was as interested in us as we were in her made the night magical.

One morning, our eyes finally no longer glued shut, we wended our way to breakfast.  There were only three of us in the room.  What else could I do but say buon giorno?  Nina replied in perfect English, Good Morning.  A German international political science Ph.D who had spent a year working for a major California university, Nina provided a European view of world events and the plight of academics.  Munching our corentti and sipping our cappuccini, I found interesting her perspective of the rise of fascism in the United States. What really smacked me was just how spot on the old men in Pontelandolfo’s bars where when they warned us that candidate Trump would lead the USA in a goose step toward a fascist regime.  Too bad they didn’t get a chance to manipulate FaceBook! When Nina explained the hiring process in German and other European universities, I responded on how I had been F*&!ed by an institute of higher learning. We were sisters under the adjunct banner. While we did not agree on all global issues, we had a robust discussion that helped me understand even more clearly european perspectives.  If you never leave your hometown you miss the opportunity.

The universe always provides – even sweets and prosecco after a day of exploring.  Arriving back at the hotel and wanting to anty up our bill, we went into the breakfast room to find our hosts.  There we met Silvia Pitoni whose goal in life is to open a pasticceria in her home town of Rieti (suburb of Rome.)

IMG_0077

I’ve been graced with impeccable timing.  Silvia had just gotten back to the hotel from a master class with a famous Milanese pastry maker and was laden with samples of the delights she created.  While munching away, we listened to Silvia talk about the Roma Academia Italiana. She is  studying for a professional diploma as a chef.  More importantly, we listened to Silvia’s dreams of having a pastry shop that features both sweet and apertivo style treats.  Silvia’s enthusiasm for baking and her love of local, natural ingredients gave me an “Ah Ha” moment.  Maybe the universe sent her to add a Roman dimension to Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo?  (Check out our groovy new web-site.)  Perhaps the adventuresome foodies that come to cook in Pontelandolfo homes could do a pastry add on in Rieti!

Jack and I headed off to Vienna – I really wanted to hear the music and see the Christmas bling.  We did do that but coming full circle – we ate dinner in a crowded local restaurant and were fortunate to be squished next to a couple from North Carolina.  Kristie, a realtor, and her husband were great dinner companions.  We talked about politics, living abroad, places one should visit, lack of travel leading to limited vision, life in a red state when you have blue politics, the state of the nation and the world.  None of us wanted to relinquish our tables to waiting diners.  We enjoyed the company and the conversation.

When we finally, got home to Pontelandolfo and became immersed in conversations in the bars, library, restaurant, I knew the the journey we’ve taken to become part of a different community has been a blessed one.

These encounters may not seem like much.  However, hearing, listening, responding and understanding the places that people come from and the journeys they have taken enhances our journey.  As our pal Nicola from Il Girasole Hotel said, Non è importante la destinazione ma il viaggio.  The destination is not important – it is the journey.

 

Buon Natale, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year.  May 2018 bring you joy, laughter, health and incredible journeys.

Ci Vediamo.

Advertisements

Folk Festival to Stream Live!

Ri Ualanegli knows how to produce a Folk Dance Festival!  If you can’t get to Pontelandolfo – and I encourage you to get here – you can see the festival streamed live on Pontelandolfonews.com and on FaceBook Ri Ualanegli Pontelandolfo.  Save those links!  Save the dates – July 31, August 1 & 2. At the end of the blog there is a complete schedule of events – don’t forget the time difference if you want to catch the live stream.  The commercial will wet your appetite for folk dance and if that doesn’t work, read on about the two other Italian companies that will be in the festival – Urbanitas and La Pacchianella.

Associazione Culturale & Folcloristica Urbanitas

Based in the town of Apiro, Urbanitas, formed in 1933, shares the rural traditions and culture of the 19th-century Marches.  This was a period of abject poverty.  There were rare occasions for festivals.  Because they were rare, the festivals were incredibly unique and intense.  The peasants of the Marches, accompanied by sprightly music enjoyed themselves dancing that bordered on the phrenetic.

urbanitas

The company was included in the filming of Dino Risi’s Straziami ma di Baci Saziami, starring Nino Manfredi.  They have also been seen on both regional and national television.

Since the 1970s, Urbanitas has collaborated with the town of Apiro and produced an annual international folkloric festival, Terranostra Apiro.

La Pacchianella

This folk group claims to be one of the oldest – founded in 1923 – and most famous Italian group.  They come from  Monte Sant’Angelo in Foggia – noted for the white line of terraced houses and in the Christian world for its ancient rocky shrine where in 490 The Archangel Michael appeared.  I thought it was interesting that their costumes hint of Spain and reflect the Spanish rule of the area.  Lots of color, tons of gold – bling personified – is fun to watch and adds panache to the dances.  They have toured the world and made a number of films including one by Disney on folk lore.  This video has them dancing in front of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower!

folk poster

 

See Polish Folk Dancers in Pontelandolfo!

 

folk logo

Thank you Associazione Culturale Ri Ualanegli Pontelandolfo for bringing an international Folk Dance Festival to Pontelandolfo!  Timing in life is everything, and I am incredibly lucky to be here this summer.  Ri Ualanegli is bringing some of the best folk dance companies in the world to our corner of the universe on August 31, July 1 and July 2.  Since, Ruth St. Denis invaded my body (mother of modern dance in America) 40 years ago, I have been a dance junky.  As such, I couldn’t just write about the festival – I had to – needed to – felt compelled to write about each of the companies that will be performing.  No matter what your heritage, you will appreciate feeling the music, spirit and passion of these companies.

Polonia folk

pol2

The Polish Folk Dance Group Przygoda was created in 1972 and has been on the road ever since.  Their home is Rybnik city in the Upper Silesia. Like many folkloric companies, they strive to encourage not only youth but the world at large to understand and appreciate the traditions and culture of Poland.  One might think pierogis seem a lot like ravioli but they are as unique in their flavor as this company is to the Italian folk companies that will be performing.  The Polish dance company has shared its heritage in places like Canada, Denmark, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, South Africa and now Pontelandolfo!

Przygoda performs the dances and the folklore of Poland’s different regions.  As is important to the Polish tradition, the company sings and dances, maintaining a balance between the two.  The musicians play violins, violas, flutes, clarinets, bass and of course – the accordion. To enhance the regionalisms and make sure the dancers fully understand their heritage,  all participate in making the costumes. The costumes are all handmade -including the embroidery.  Natural materials, appropriate to the given region, are a must.

pol3

Just because they have been winning international awards from Chile to Romania, isn’t the only reason you should come to Pontelandolfo to see Przygoda perform.  You should come, because the opportunity to see companies of this caliber performing in the same festival is something that doesn’t happen often.  You should also come because this dance junky wants to see a huge audience for this festival!  Be there – I’m taking attendance.

Ci Vediamo – July 31, August 1 and August 2 in Piazzo Roma, Pontelandolfo (BN).

Love Fish? – Il Corsaro della Baia Azzurra

Some days – the ones when I am not pretending to work – Jack and I get in the car for rides to nowhere special. We simply drive and stare.  We have visited and lived in Italy for more years than I will admit to and the views still enthrall us.  Patchwork green hills frame the blue sky.  My favorite nowhere special drives have the sea on one side of the road and the hills on the other.  One day, we saw a sign that said Porto Vasto and thought – what the heck lets check out the port.  We veered off the highway and started bumping down one of Italy’s many pot hole riddled roads.  I think it was the bumping that got our tummy’s  gurgling for food.  Stop! I screamed.  What! Jack screamed.  Look there is a sign for a restaurant – Il Corsaro della Baia Azzurra.  Pirate by the blue bay????  Ahoy matey we found a place to eat. We made the 90 degree turn and slowly crept down the narrow lane.  We approached a large white house that seemed perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea.  Jack and I stared at each other.  There was no sign of life – and certainly no sign that said “Good Eats, Eat Here.”  What the hell, we are adventurous.  As I started to open the car door,  Woody Allen with a Jerry Garcia haircut burst from the house, helped me open my door and hugged me like I was his long lost Auntie Midge.  We were whisked into the house and a smiling gracious woman came out of the kitchen wiped her hands on a mapine and gave us hello kisses.

Where are we? I thought the first time we went.  Where are the cameras?  Is this my closeup?  Antonello and his wife Grazia are the owners, front of house, cooks and bottle washers of what has become our absolute favorite seafood restaurant. The interior is adorable.  The walls were festooned with portraits of press clips of a man who kind of looked like our host.  Further investigation revealed that Antonello’s dad, Claudio Crisci, was a vibrant entertainer who started the restaurant with his wife.  It has always been a two person operation committed to slow fresh food. The tables faced a wall of windows with a stellar view of the sea.  Rather than sit, we were taken on a short tour of the veranda that overlooks the Adriatic ocean.  Talk about view!  We would just come for the view but the food!  The scents of the sea wafted over us and we remembered we were starving. We only chose courses from the sea and all were prepared perfectly.   How can one woman alone in the kitchen turn out such great stuff?  Now that we are five times a year regulars, I can tell you that it is a wee bit more than eating in Pontelandolfo but worth it.  Our bill is usually around €100 but we spend hours drinking two bottles of wine, eating seafood antipasti served in multiple courses and a grilled fish entré that would feed a small family.

I could show you pictures of the food and talk about each course, but you will only get jealous and race to the refrigerator to angrily discover you don’t have any miniature clams opened in white wine, or octopus sautéed with parsley and garlic in the most fragrant of local olive oils and be frustrated because you can’t find langoustine split and grilled in your grandmother’s clay baking dish.  So, I won’t tell you what we had.   But please watch the video!

IT takes us an hour and a half to get there but ahhhhh – seafood by the sea with antics by our host. Who could ask for a better way to spend the day.  “Ristorante Tipico, Il Corsaro della Baia Azzurra is located at Via Osca, 51 in Porto Di Vasto.  Call them at 0873.310.1113

 

Storms Silence This Yapper

Shout out to subscriber Kathy H. who said “I feel a blog about being silenced is in your future.”  Now, Kathy knows I love to chat.  We  Facetime, Viber or Magic Jack call each other a lot.  What do we talk about?  I haven’t a clue, but for about a week the chatting  stopped.

IMG_1623
Run Dorothy Run!

On those chatless days we were plagued with thunder, lighting, whooshing rain and turn  your umbrella inside out wind.  The internet went kaput. No Internet no chatting.

What? No Magic Jack or Viber?
What? No Magic Jack or Viber?

Suddenly I was silenced!

 Yeah, yeah I know – I could still e-mail from my smart phone but it ain’t the same as voice to voice chatting.  For one whole week I couldn’t verbally reach out to family and friends in the USA. WHAT!

It was a great opportunity to read books, sit in the caffè and gossip and maybe even play at writing something.  It also made me realize that my blabbing about our great cheap ways to communicate with folks in other parts of the globe needed a revision.  Here in the hills we have one communication tragic flaw – storms knock out the internet.

images

Our internet is provided through an antennae on our house and a signal sent from an even bigger antennae somewhere in the hills.  When the wind is whoooooooooossssshhhhhhhing the signal starts swirling and may be providing internet to Saturn.

NO INTERNET

(Read – https://nonnasmulberrytree.com/2013/09/27/internet-cant-…ome-without-it/ ‎)

No internet means NO Magic Jack.

(Read – https://nonnasmulberrytree.com/2013/07/16/land-line-phone-no-voip-yes/)

No internet means NO Facetime or Skype

(Read – https://nonnasmulberrytree.com/2013/06/05/talking-for-fr…ound-the-world/)

How does one overcome this dilemma?  First, make sure you have a good cellular telephone provider.  We use WIND and pay ten Euro a month for 200 minutes of calls, 200 texts and UNLIMITED data.  Second, make sure you have a phone that can become a wi-fi hotspot.  I have an iPhone 4s that works well as a hotspot.

I will caution you, there were times when the storms also limited our ability to use our cell phones but not often.

To make quick calls to the USA – really quick because the more you use the unlimited data the slower it becomes – I would turn the cell phone into a hot spot and call through my iPad or Macbook Air.  Apple doesn’t send me dime for saying what I’m about to say (though I would gladly accept the latest iPhone.)  Apple products all work incredibly well together.  

I’ve installed Viber and Skype on my iPad.  Facetime comes with the iPad and Macbook.  Magic Jack also now has an application for smart phones a well as your computer.  Our New Jersey phone number is our Magic Jack number so folks can easily call us and/or leave a message. (Though I wish telemarkerters would stop calling at 6:00 PM Eastern Standard Time which is MIDNIGHT here.)

Bottom line – I may not be able to sip Campari Soda and talk about nothing with pals in America for an hour but thanks to a good cellular provider and the hotspot on my iPhone we can still get our words out.

photo (1)
Thanks Apple for Facetime.

 

 

Un Miracolo Di Natale – a Reader’s Story

Auguri di Boun Natale!

December 15th the best Christmas present this blogger could ever want came from Kristen Ross.  Kristen posted a comment asking for help finding out more about her friend Nancy’s family.  I e-mailed her, then she e-mailed me and soon we were chatting on the phone like old chums.  The surnames in her pal’s family can also be found in my family! Rinaldi, Fusco, Mancini – wow – my bis-nonna was Mariantonia Rinaldi who had a brother Francesco.  Nancy’s grandmom, Maria Rinaldi, was the daughter of Francesco Rinaldi !  Could this Californian’s family tree intersect with mine?

Those of you who grew up in or live in Pontelandolfo may know the family – if you do please leave a comment on the blog.  Nancy’s dad – Domenic Mancini was born in the Minicariello section of Pontelandolfo.  His dad was Antonio Mancini and mom was Maria Rinaldi.  Antonio’s father is Angelo Mancini and his mother is Catterina Fusco. Maria Rindaldi’s father was Francesco Rinaldi and her mother was Antonia Rinaldi.

This is Kristen’s Story –

IMG_3481
Kristen, Domenic & Nancy Mancini

Un Miracolo Di Natale

By Kristen Ross

Domenic Mancini was born on a small farm in Pontelandolfo, Italy. During World War II, nine year old Domenic was the first one in his family to discover that his father, Antonio, was killed in Bardia, East Africa.  His mother’s inability to read meant that this little boy had to personally deliver the devastating news to the family.  As I began to hear more about Domenic’s early childhood, I was deeply affected by the tragedy of it all…images of Domenic being held back by his Mother as the only father he knew left for lands and battles unknown, the longing of a little boy for an absentee father, and the courage he had to support his grief-stricken mother.

To compound the sadness of war, he never knew where his father was buried.  He was told that Antonio was buried somewhere in Africa, but no one had been able to locate any information, and Domenic (now 82) had begun to come to terms with the idea that he might never be able to pay his respects to the father he lost and have closure.

After hearing him tearfully tell this story, I could not imagine what is was like to not know where his dad was after all these years.  I was determined to do some research of my own.  I felt the sense that nothing is impossible and nothing is ever lost, it just hasn’t been discovered.

Having taken only one Italian class, after traveling to Italy several times, I used my broken Italian to make numerous phone calls, emails, and research Italian websites. Having looked at almost two thousand names, a thousand war memorial sites, and spent countless hours of translating Italian handwriting from the 1940’s I was coming up with nothing.  It was like searching for a needle in a haystack, an Italian haystack for that matter.

I needed un miracolo; a miracle.  Every time I find myself helpless, I turn to something higher. I simply prayed for this right intention to manifest itself.  For a father to be reunited with his son, even 72 years later, is still possible.  Having lost my father too, I knew how much this would mean to Domenic to have some sense of unity, closure, full circle ect… I kept ricerca; searching.

Before I went to sleep that miraculous night, I checked one last Italian website.  I typed in the letters of his last name and there he was.  Antonio Mancini had been found.  I started scrolling down to make sure I was actually seeing straight.

Image

 Luogo Sepoltura means Place of Burial. He was back home in Italy. From previous research that I had done, I knew the bodies of the Italian Soldiers who died overseas, were sent back to Italy in December of 1967 and placed in a beautiful memorial museum in Bari, off the coast of the Adriadic Sea. Dominick’s father has been honored there.

I called Nancy, and she quickly made the phone call to Domenic! He was in total shock and was filled with so much joy. He told us that this was the best gift he’d received in his entire life. As his voice teared up on the phone, he told us he would travel back to Italy to see his father. This summer, we will be traveling with him on this beautiful journey to witness this father and son reunion.    

 Unconditional Love is the best gift in the world.  

This is the true meaning of Christmas to me.

 **********

  Sample Photo from Location

 

The Sacrario Militare dei Caduti d’Oltremare (Military Memorial to the Fallen Overseas) was opened on 10 December 1967 on the outskirts of Bari, on the way to Brindisi. The structure houses the remains of more than 70,000 Italians who died in foreign lands. These lands include Greece, Albania, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Germany and the Mediterranean Sea, in the First and Second World Wars.

Laundry – Venetian Style

Traveling through Italy, Midge had an epiphany! Laundry wasn’t some mundane yet necessary act. Yards of laundry strung around Venice was art.

Zia Caterina and F.D.R.

Time to tell  Zia Caterina’ s tale of  Eleanor and Franklin Delano Roosevelt –

It’s presidential!

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt in...
Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt in Warm Springs, Georgia – NARA – 195635 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the tale of my dad’s older sister, Caterina Guerrera’s, journey on the rocky road to the American dream.  You may remember my Aunt Cat from the earlier blog about my family’s Ellis Island experience – https://nonnasmulberrytree.com/2013/09/18/nonna-comes-to-america/.

Two-year old Caterina Guerrera was racing over the hills of Pontelandolfo talking as fast as the village’s babbling brooks.  Then the world stopped.  This peasant child was stricken with polio.   Her mother put hot stones on her limbs, massaged and massaged.  One of the reasons the family came to America was that my nonna, Maria Rosaria Solla, was afraid that Caterina would end up in an institution for the insane and deformed.  Caterina was smart and fought hard and seven years later was able to board the ship in Naples for America.

IMG_0060
Charcoal Drawing done in Italy.
Maria Rosaria Solla, Savatore, Caterina, Francesco and Nicola Guerrera

When nine-year old Caterina entered her first American school she discovered just how quick a learner she was. In those days immigrant kids didn’t have the benefit of  bi-lingual education or ESL – it was total immersion.   On the happy little girl’s first day of school the teacher said something –  Caterina looked at her and  smiled – the other kids put their heads on their desks.  Suddenly the teacher’s yard stick whacked Caterina on the back of the head.  Aunt Cat  figured out immediately what the English phrase “put your head down” meant.

Polio left her with a short right leg, “baby sized” arm and marked limp.  Because of her jaunty walk – step and drag the dead leg, kids would call her 1 and 2 and.  She swore to me it didn’t phase her – that they were just teasing. Bottom line, she remembered and replayed the story tape for me.

At that point in time, folks who were disabled were often hidden away. Well no one was hiding Caterina Guererra – “Guerrera” does mean female warrior. She was a fighter, often protecting herself and her younger brother, Salvatore,  by tossing rocks squarely at all taunters.  Eventually, the family  moved to a small farm in the Flagtown, section of Hillsborough Township, New Jersey.  A number of other Italian families had settled in Flagtown – this was the depression and members of this tight knit community helped each other.

Flagtown house
Fifteen acres for nonna to farm with Catherine’s help.
Nonna Garden
Grandma and Aunt Cat tend the garden to feed us all.

She graduated from Somerville High School in June of 1933 and then attended Drake College (business course – 6 months).  Catherine  wasn’t going to let anyone hold her back.  After attending secretarial school and pounding the pavements looking for work, the only job she could get was in a sewing factory in Bound Brook – cleaning.  With her shriveled right arm that hung like a dead branch and a right leg that didn’t work at all,  she picked up dropped pieces of cloth so the ladies sewing wouldn’t have to take the time to bend down.   Catherine took the train every day, angry that her active brain was mildewing in a sweatshop.  There had to be something better – mannaggia this was America!

The President during this period of American history was, Franklin D. Roosevelt,  also a victim of polio – something he hid well.  Roosevelt overcame his affliction and Catherine felt she would too.  He had helped all kinds of folks during the great depression.  Including her brother, Salvatore, who traveled across America improving our park lands with the the other poor young men of the Civilian Conservation Corp.  The CCC was just one of the programs that were instituted under the “New Deal” moniker. The  Works Progress Administration was one of my favorite programs.  Jobless Americans built buildings, bridges, schools.  More importantly artists, writers, musicians and theatre professionals were included in the WPA.  WPA art can still be seen in public spaces around the country.

Barracks D
CCC Camp in Hackettstown, NJ 1935 –
Uncle Sal is 6th from the left – front row!

 

“It is only in recent years that we have come to realize the true significance of the problem of our crippled children. There are so many more of them than we had any idea of. In many sections there are thousands who are not only receiving no help but whose very existence has been unknown to the doctors and health services.”  Radio Address on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Birthday Ball for Crippled Children      January 30, 1934 

Aunt Cat saw that Roosevelt also was instrumental in raising funds for polio treatment and creating the innovative use of hydrotherapy  with polio patients in Warm Springs, Georgia.  This plucky young lady sat down and penned a letter to the Roosevelts.

This is how my Aunt Cat told the story to me:

I wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt. My friend Libby (Elizabeth Quick) thought I was pazzo – why would the president’s wife listen to a “guinea” from Flagtown, NJ?  My father and Mr. De Angelis started the Democratic Club here.  All the Dutch farmers were Republican.  I wrote 20 different letters and finally got it right.  I sent it.

One day – I was giving Mary the horse some hay – and then a big black car pulled in the yard and sent the chickens running.  This woman got out of the car and showed me some papers.  She came from the state and she said that she was going to take me to see a doctor who could maybe help me walk better.  My father was working and my mother was at Mrs. Gallo’s – Julie’s mother – I told my brother, Tony, to tell mama I was going to see a doctor and I got in the car.  If someone could help me walk without dragging my leg like a mail sack than I was going.  What I didn’t know was that the doctor was in Newark – in those days you only had Route 28 and it took 2 hours to get to Newark.  She took me to Beth Israel Hospital – Dr. Henry H. Kessler himself saw me and asked me if I was strong.  He said it would take 8 surgeries but he could make me walk better and my bad arm wouldn’t just hang like a dead branch.  He laughed when I told him that I milked the goats and cows, plowed the field following Mary the horse and dragged my leg the ½ mile to the train stop to go work in the sewing factory – strong – I was strong.  I was old enough to sign the papers and the next thing I knew I was in a huge room lined with beds – in those days you slept in a bed in a ward with 40 other beds.  I wasn’t even afraid.  Dr. Kessler had this way about him – he cared – like the Roosevelt’s.  Dr. Kessler fixed my arm first.  I had 9 surgeries.  After the first surgery, Dr. Kessler asked the nurse why no one ever came to visit me.  Even then he knew that you had to treat the whole person – not just be an orthopedic mechanic.   He asked me if I had any family.  I told him my family lived in Flagtown – which to him was like living in Appalachia.  I had left with the social worker and never went home.  I thought she told my mother.

Dr. Kessler asked me if I wanted to use the telephone and call them.  You didn’t have a phone in the depression unless you were rich.  So I wrote them a letter and told them where I was – the boys could read in English – as soon as they got the letter they came.  Mama was furious that I would not let them take me home – but after all the surgery and I could walk she stopped being angry.

I have never voted for a Republican. They still are for the rich – look at Bush and the oil people.  Bush wouldn’t send someone to help a girl with polio unless he could get something.  What did Mr. Roosevelt get?  A thank you letter from me, a girl whose father laid railroad ties and whose mother kept us eating by her garden and animals.  

She was soon – well not that soon – I mean nine surgeries is a big deal –  back in the fields, passing her driving test on the first try – her macho brothers couldn’t do that –  and looking for work.   Then a miracle happened – the federal government decided that a post office was to be set up in Flagtown.  Whoever ran it wouldn’t get a salary but a commission on what postage was sold. (Damn, an entrepreneurial helping hand at no cost to the government – who’d have thought!) The whoever – thanks again to the helpful Roosevlet hand – was Catherine (AKA Caterina) Guerrera. At first she didn’t want to do it – a commission – who wants to work on commission.   Her dad, Francesco convinced her to take the new position.  In Italy it was an honor to be the postmaster.  

On March 26, 1943, Frank C. Walker Postmaster General of the United States of America appointed Catherine Guerrera Postmaster at Flagtown in the County of Somerset, State of New Jersey.  Originally she worked out of a shack near the rail road tracks.  Then her entrepreneurial brain started twirling.  Due to her personality, more people were buying stamps and the little postal stop was growing.  Why not own the building?  She got a parcel of ground from her dad and with her brothers help built a post office that she rented to the government.  To this day my cousins rent the newer version to the postal service.

86950-PH-GFB1-079
She also ran a small lending library and smaller general store out of the space.

She then marketed the hell out of that little rural post office and by the time she retired in 1980 – at a vital aged 69 – had built it up to a first-class post-office. (This designation is no longer used by the postal service.) The building also grew.  From that one room rural oasis to a solid facility with an accompanying luncheonette and two apartments.  She had a vision and watched it grow.  Cha- ching!

86950-PH-CA-006
From one room to many! That is my Aunt Cat.

Every story has a moment of sadness.  Catherine Guerrera  had been Post Master for forty years and hated that forced retirement.   In 1984 – four years after retiring – the dreaded polio returned – post polio syndrome.  I blamed the forced retirement – she was no longer lifting and chucking huge mail bags, standing and sorting mail, bending to talk to children.  This time she had the resources to get the best of care at NYU’s Institute of Rehab Medicine under the guidance of Dr. Kristjan Ragnarsson.  It took a while, but after a good number of months in New York learning how to deal with a wheel chair, take in the sights of the city from a little bit lower perspective and outfitted for new braces she was back to her “give ’em hell” self.

This great American Dream story demonstrates to all those non-believers – that a little bit of government assistance can jump start a life.  And – for those of  you who are died in the wool conservatives – her estate taxes more than paid off Uncle Sam for all his – I mean Roosevelt’s – help.

My fabulous Aunt Cat taught me that hard work, hope and being a Democrat was the American thing to do.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
She’s still batting for us!