The Good Old Days: A tribute to my stern Italian grandmother
Some joke that old Italian women have no power to control their family, as it is a man’s world. But these people never met my Nonna, Rosina (Rizzuto) Falcone. Over the years, I never understood why my grandmother never smiled in any of her pictures. Now, when I look back at these same photos, I have a grin on my face when I say, “She’s not smiling because she is planning her next move.”
Rosina was born in 1895, in the province of Cosenza, a region of Calabria where she experienced extreme poverty. Many lived in huts on dirt floors within mountainous regions.
In the 1900s, she came to America with her family. It was not long before she was matched by her father in marriage to a young Nunzio Falcone. The marriage would have a tumultuous beginning. Eventually, time would soften the unruly Nunzio, and both would grow comfortable in old age.
The couple settled on Talman Street in Norwich and raised a family with my father being the youngest of seven siblings.
My grandmother was a woman of few words, yet her actions proved great strength. As a teenager in the 1960s, I remember helping her pour my grandfather’s whiskey bottles down the kitchen sink. If she had been scared of his loud voice in the beginning, now she had become his match, perhaps even stronger.
She carried a set of Rosary beads in her apron and pulled it out like a weapon.
My grandparents hosted Christmas Eve, and one memory in particular comes to mind. It was a gala event with a white Christmas tree and color wheel that reflected rainbows over the ceiling.
Each grandchild received a five-dollar bill. We appreciated this gift. We knew after we reached high school, the gift would stop. We never complained, for it taught us to be grateful for a gift — no matter how small.
As the evening progressed, the men settled down to play cards and gamble with silver dollars. The whiskey poured freely, and the women cleaned the kitchen with an edge of trepidation. They knew when men mixed money with whiskey the outcome could be disastrous.
As children, we stayed out of the adults’ way and played in the basement. We were playing hide and seek when my cousin C.J. Berghinzo stumbled upon a hole in the cement wall, after accidentally kicking a brick loose (Chester’s father was Dr. Berghinzo, a prominent foot doctor in Norwich).
Now came the question…who would be the one brave enough to reach inside the dark hole? It was C.J. of course, whose hand came out with a slew of silver dollars. We were scared.
Even as children we knew that Italians kept secrets, and if you stumbled upon one, you better forget it fast.
We put the coins and brick back and never said a word.
After my grandmother died in 1971, I told my father about the money. I learned that my grandmother had saved hundreds of silver dollars without anyone knowing. After she died, the Christmas Eve celebrations abruptly stopped.
I do remember the one time my grandmother gave me advice. We were sitting on her porch watching the boats sail down the Shetucket River. I had expressed that I wanted to move away, and she said, “Don’t go searching for new lands that have no meaning. Your heart belongs in Norwich.”
She was right.
Concetta Falcone-Codding is a 1971 graduate of the Norwich Free Academy and author of “The Lonely Nest.” You can contact at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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