The Carvel Lady, Ada, Mom, Nanny. She went by many names. Regardless, Nanny was always genuinely loving, caring, and compassionate. Her greatest pride was her family. Her 4 children, 11 grandchildren, and 17 great-grandchildren were a constant source of happiness. To everyone who knew her, she was a petite powerhouse. She always said that “good things come in small packages” and she represented the best of that. I was truly lucky to have grown up with her. Each day Nanny was there to share in our joys, comfort us in our sorrows, nurse us when we were sick, and model lessons of hard work, determination, partnership, and love. Nanny was my partner in crime as we would dash off together on little adventures and share secrets and knowing glances. She was feisty, electric, charismatic, and fashionable wearing heels even to the end. She was the matriarch of our family demonstrating to us how to live and laugh and showing us how to forgive and encourage.
Nanny grew up in Verona Italy in an apartment near the river that ran through the city. She used to tell me that her brother Ismael swam to work each day as he loved the water. Once when she was swimming with him, she was almost swept away in rip tide and not a strong swimmer Ismael saved her. During the war she spent a good deal of time living in the countryside of Villafranca with her cousins to avoid the bombing of the allied forces. At night, they were not able to light any candles as this would alert the planes above to drop bombs. To highlight this, she would tell a story that a little old couple in the village lit a candle to go to the outhouse and they were targeted and killed. While in the country, Nanny was a skinny girl and her grandmother, Regina (tall and regal), would always bring her extra food and raw eggs to fatten her up. She spent a lot of time in the country with her nephew, Renzo.
Later during the war, Nanny worked for the Red Cross with Milena and Louisa. They ironed bandages and sorted soldier mail and news. While working, a Nazi officer one day walked into the headquarters and pointed to her saying something in German and leaving. She didn’t know what he said, but her sisters knew that nanny wasn’t safe. They hid her in a closet and covered her with anything they could find: bandages, newspapers, etc. The Nazi officer returned and started beating his riding crop around in search for her. Her sisters though had protected her and kept her safe (One of her friends was not as safe, while walking through the streets of Verona with this friend again a Nazi officer pointed to her and told her to be somewhere the next day. Nanny did not see this friend again until after the war. This friend had been sent to a work camp where Nanny recalled she had lost some fingers). Her father, Guido, would ride around Verona on his bicycle and try to find the family food. He often would barter with neighbors for items likes sausages. Nanny didn’t know exactly how he did it but they always had food during the war.
As the Allied forces made their way up to peninsula of Italy, they eventually made their way into Verona. Nanny was working still at the Red Cross as a nurse and assistant. She was invited to attend a soldier’s dance but did not want to. Eventually her friend convinced her to go to the dance. She snuck upstairs before her parents came to pick her up. There, at the dance, she met my grandfather, Pasquale aka Pat aka Patsy. He spoke fluent Italian as his family was from Abruzzi. He was a tank sergeant in Patton’s army. He convinced her to dance with him. As the night went on, she told Pat that she had to go because her parents were picking her up. He did not believe her and followed her downstairs and saw her parents waiting. He called on her often while he was stationed in Verona. He told her he was going to marry her, but she was unconvinced. After all he was an American soldier and would eventually leave Italy and her behind, or so she thought. After his unit left Verona, he would sneak visits to her as often as he could. Once he even hid in the back of a coal trunk. Covered in black soot she barely recognized him when he knocked on her door. When he asked to marry her, Albina and Guido asked first to be able to write to his mother in America and to his priest. After these correspondences, Ada and Pasquale were married in December. Pat had to continue on with this unit and Ada prepared to leave for America. She took a ship from Italy to Ellis Island. The ship was filled with 500 other war brides and the entire crew of the ship were women including the Captain. The women on the ship danced and sung and played music through the Mediterranean Sea. Once they reached Gibraltar the seas grew rough and the women started to become sea sick. Nanny was so ill she spent the rest of the trip lying in her bed. She opened the little pothole and remembered the sea splashing in on her but she was too sick to move or even close the window. When she arrived in America they gave her a number of vaccines in her arm and dressed in green she met her mother-in-law, Ermalinda. Ermalinda questioned who this girl was who showed up so sickly looking wearing a green suit dress to match her complexion. They soon found out that Nanny was pregnant with her first child, Linda.
In NY, Nanny lived in an apartment on Thompson Street. She used to say that people still used chamber pots (which they spilled out the windows each morning) and donkeys still walked through the streets of lower manhattan. Nanny named her first baby Ermalinda though everyone calls her Linda. Ada and Pat had a lot of love for each other and their family. Nanny always recalled how Pat was the life of the party always up to practical jokes. They adopted two daughters, Anna and Cathy. And, later on they had a son, Robert. They moved to Mill Basin and eventually to East Meadow. Pat worked as a postman and Nanny did a little work in a local taffy factory. For some reason, they put Nanny in the first aid office (She said that she thought this was because she didn’t speak English that well and was a woman). She saw some horrific factory accidents while working there (including a man losing the flesh from his hand after it got caught in the machine). Once in East Meadow though, they opened a Carve Ice Cream Store. And Nanny operated the Carvel Store until I was in High School. After Pat died of a heart attack and my parents, Robert & Laura, married, they all moved in together at the East Meadow house. My parents had Bryan and five years later me.
I grew up living with Nanny, Mom, Dad, Bryan, and Aunt Louisa. It was just how it was and we felt to lucky to have them with us. Anytime I was sick, I remember Nanny would sit with me on the couch and keep me company watching the Price is Right or Matlock. She would stroke my hair or tickle my feet. Growing up, she often babysat Bryan and me at the Carvel store. We would turn refrigerators into spaceships, decorate cakes, and eat our way through waffle cones. There with Aunt Louisa, we had our “first jobs.” We celebrated every holiday together, every birthday, and really just everything. Bryan and I grew up in a solid home with lots of love and support. He and I left for college but we visited often and called home every day (really multiple times a day!). Nanny was there for our graduations, vacations, and most importantly on our wedding days. Nanny visited us in our new states, Bryan in California and I in Massachusetts. And, we visited her.
It is hard to process that Nanny is gone from this earth. She was such a lively and vivacious woman that her loss it truly felt every day. The loss of Nanny is painful and raw to me and to all who loved her. Nanny was a curious, passionate, intelligent, beautiful, and courageous woman. She was an inspiration and her loss will be felt each and every day.
“I’d found out that when you’re never going to see someone again, it’s not the good-bye that matters. What matters is that you’re never going to be able to say anything else to them, and you’re left with an eternal unfinished conversation.”