Tag Archives: italian immigrants

Momma, You Were Born This Way

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 faced 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 Mary. 

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 lead her to the breakdown.

Scenarios like this were not uncommon especially amongst immigrant families during the Great Depression. Many of them 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 siblings in the care of the Catholic Charities in Philadelphia. They were placed in an orphanage, followed by what was called a Shelter. This was emergency lodging that was set up in order accommodate all of the 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. Unfortunately, their sister and youngest of the three, died of malnutrition while waiting for placement. The children were taken to several different 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. To this day my mother refers to her as “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. It was her single lifestyle that allowed her to open her home to these children.  Giving children to single women..now that’s a switch. 

Ellen O’Malley a/k/a “Auntie” cared for my mother from the time she was 7 years old until she was 16. There were other children placed during her time with “Auntie,” however they had parents that 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 express herself in a maternal manner. This is understandable since the other children had mothers in their lives and she most likely didn’t want to impose.

Mom “Venita” enjoying lunch prepared
by Evan, one of her 8 remarkable
grandchildren.

To this day when my mother talks to me about her own mother, I can hear the yearning of 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, no trinkets, no 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 that resonates into the enormous love she has for her own children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

The reason I chose the title for this Blog is because 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!

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