by Rose Anna Lucarelli
One hundred years ago, my beloved mother, Maria Regina Lucarelli, was born on April 13, 1914, in Toritto, Italy, in the province of Puglia, a charming town bathed in brilliant light and soft Adriatic breezes. Mother married my father, Filippo Lucarelli, a handsome gentleman, a conductor and music teacher, who was also from the same town and had been educated in Rome. Their marriage in 1947 was sanctioned by Padre Pio, and blessed with three daughters, Rosa, Chiara and Agnes, and two grandchildren, Marissa and Erik, and two great-grandchildren, Avery and Sebastian.
Maria’s life is what you may call a living history. The stories of hardworking immigrants determined to survive and thrive in America forged our paths throughout the years through blood, sweat and tears, and mostly hope, for the next generation. Her childhood in Italy was recounted with pride and fond memories of a beautiful and bountiful land of olive and almond trees. And a youth of endless hard work: caring for younger siblings, chores, cooking and sewing.
My grandparents, the landed-gentry, inherited land and rented parcels to the “contadini” (farmers) who farmed the land and paid whatever they could. The honor system was passed down to each generation. We were honored to own the land and twice honored to care for it. Mother inherited her love of our land from my grandfather, Pasquale, a hardworking farmer, and love of education from my grandmother, Chiara, who recounted stories of our relatives who had emigrated to Argentina and became opera singers, lawyers and judges.
However, in those days, boys went to college, as did my beloved uncle Michael, who had learned five languages. Dutiful daughters were needed at home during the Great Depression, and mother cared for her brother, Nicola, and sister, Lucia. An education was a luxury, not a necessity for girls, to be shelved and prayed for. God answered her prayer many years later.
If you could imagine a woman’s hopeful face within Michelangelo’s painting of God’s hand reaching for Adam, it would be my mother’s gaze with smiling eyes, arms outstretched reaching across the Atlantic. God helps those who help themselves: Always. Although Europe was devastated during World War II, my family had all the necessities. They worked for it tirelessly. Once, mother defied Mussolini, who she believed did not have the right to tax the fruits of our family’s labor.
It belonged to our family, not a Fascist. That was that. Mother always saved our family, with a strong hold on what was needed for the present and the future. “No” was not in her vocabulary. Mother made everything: always something new from something old. With a fashion designer’s imagination and talent, her wedding dress was artfully redesigned into baptismal dresses for her daughters, Rosa and Chiara. An act of love without remorse or fanfare.
Years later, mother planned our journey to America. Just prior to our voyage, we were informed that my father’s papers were not in order. Undaunted, mother boarded the ship alone and tearfully said her goodbyes to her heartbroken family. Determined, she left for America without looking back. Upon arrival in New York City, she worked day and night until she could furnish an apartment. She was a highly skilled dressmaker and assisted a famous fashion designer, Jonathan Logan.
One of her designs appeared on the cover of a magazine. After our arrival in New York, mother worked at Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman where her talent, skills and hard work were recognized. Several years later, and with a new addition to our family, my sister, Agnes, my parents purchased a house. We moved to Long Island, and, once again, mother and father forged a better life for us.
Our beautiful garden boasted of tomatoes the size of grapefruits and lovely fruit trees. Mother jarred tomatoes with basil and made homemade sauce, pasta, bread, focaccia, honey dipped carte-latte and the best ricotta cheese cake in the world. And worked every day of her life until she retired.
My parents retired in Florida. Mother loved Florida and visited New York every summer, maintaining her independence well into her 90s. She currently resides at the Brandywine Assisted Living residence in New York, where she has enjoyed a lovely environment. At 100 years young, mother benefits from all the amenities and participates in a variety of activities, including exercise classes! She is still jumping hurdles, and we have the pictures to prove it. Of course, she loves visits from her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and my dog, Cheri, who charms all the residents at the wonderful residence, which is pet-friendly.
Happy 100 years young, Mom! We love you and thank God you have graced our lives. You have touched all our lives immeasurably.
Chestnut Hill resident Rose Anna Lucarelli is a teacher, artist, poet and screenplay writer.