This was originally written 11 years ago when my mother was 85. She left this world on 12/04/2020 at 94, saying, “Be kind to others no matter what.” It’s not always an easy task to fulfill, but if nothing else, my mother reminded me to at least give it a shot daily.
On this Mother’s Day weekend, I decided to pay homage to my mother … Venita. My mother is the oldest of three children born to her Italian immigrant parents, Vincenzo Torcini and Maria/Mary Landini, in 1926.
Vincenzo left her life at 4 years old, shortly after the Great Depression entered. This left her mother with the burden of raising her young children alone, without any means to do so. After this abandonment, she suffered from what would most likely be considered a nervous breakdown today. No welfare, free housing, or valium for Maria.
Years later, my mother was told that the apartment they were living in had caught fire, and her mother was under the impression that the children perished. That pushed her over the edge and led her to the breakdown.
Scenarios like this were common, especially amongst immigrant families during the Great Depression. Many could not find work to support their families because they could not speak English. This frustration, piled on top of economic pressures, led to abandonment and, in some cases, suicide.
This tragic set of circumstances left my mother and her sibling in the care of Catholic Charities in Philadelphia. They were placed in an orphanage, followed by a Shelter. This emergency lodging was set up to accommodate all families that had become homeless following the Depression. Some were run privately and were set up to serve cases like that of my mother’s family. These children needed homes until their parents were able to support them again.
My mother and her brother, who were only 14 months apart, were separately placed into homes. The children were taken to several homes before settling into somewhat permanent residences. My uncle was raised by an Italian family in South Philadelphia, while my mother was raised by an Irish woman in North Philadelphia. My mother still calls her “the Irish woman who raised me.” She rarely refers to her by name, which was Ellen O’Malley. Ellen was a widow at a very young age, never had children of her own, and never re-married. Her single lifestyle allowed her to open her home to these children. Giving children to single women..now that’s a switch.
Ellen O’Malley, or “Auntie,” cared for my mother from when she was 7 years old until she was 16. Other children were placed during her time with “Auntie”; however, they had parents who remained in their lives with weekly visitations. These children were just waiting for their parents to get work to rebuild their lives, but this was not the case for my Mom. Her father never did return, and her mother remained at the hospital until her death. This left my mother to just wait, wonder and hope.
Auntie did the best she could to raise her. However, she did not maternally express herself. This is understandable since the other children had mothers in their lives, and she most likely didn’t want to impose.
When my mother talks to me about her own mother, I can hear the yearning for unanswered questions in her tone.
At 85 years old, she is still left to wonder if her face resembles that of her mother or father. No pictures, trinkets, memories of her own, and surprisingly…not one ounce of resentment.
What is her secret? How did my mother raise (4) children of her own without ever experiencing the love and nurturing of her own mother?
I have to conclude … Momma, you were born this way. She is a humble and loving person who gained strength from her hardship, which resonates with her enormous love for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
The reason I chose the title of this Blog is that my mother, Venita enjoys Lady Gaga. You heard me…the same day the photo above was taken, “Just Dance” came on the radio. My Mom asked, “Is this Lady Gaga? I saw her on The View in the cutest black and white outfit. If I were young, I would have that dress.” This was followed by “She’s a smart girl.” I was so grateful she wasn’t referring to the Meat Dress.
At 85, she is a hip, hat-wearing, organic-eating, interesting, funny, strong Lady Gaga-loving Democrat who enjoys going to the movies, solving crossword puzzles, dropping hilarious one-liners, and LOVING her family with all her heart. But most of all … she is my Mom. Enjoy the Ride!
Oh my. I remember this, and that first photo in particular. How apt to post this in tribute because she was such a special person, right till the end when Greg, who also loved her, redid the basement for her. That always impressed me since, she did deserve the very best and his willingness at the time, made me cry.
I’m sure she’s smiling right now happy her Lisa remembers her mom.
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Thank you! I woke up thinking about this today, so I think you are right that she is smiling.
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I know she is. 🙂
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