Sunday, October 24, 2010

Goodbye to Nana as She Goes off to College

Nana on the shore of Lake Ontario a couple of years ago. Nan, sorry I don't have any earlier pictures.

Laurina Fulgenzi DiCamillo was quite a lady. She went to sleep after dinner on Saturday night and didn’t wake up, peacefully passing away surrounded by family, with an even broader cloud of good feelings sent her way by those of us who were cities, states, and oceans away. We sure are going to miss you, Nana.

Hospice workers came to help ready her for her next adventure – college! Nana told us that she was finally going to go to college as she donated her body to the Medical School at the University of Buffalo (formally, SUNY-Buffalo). So off she went. Too bad the med students who will encounter her in their studies can’t tell us the secrets of how she lived to 97, or laugh at her jokes. Perhaps it was the daily garlic; probably not the gobs of butter and heavy cream. Or maybe her scrumptious ravioli or gnocchi, combined with her physical activity like tennis and gardening.

I’m sorry that I don’t have any of the old pictures of her, when she was a stylish young woman and athlete, hopefully I’ll get some soon, so here you will be limited to seeing her past 90.

Her father hailed from Calascio in Abruzzi, Italy, and her mother was born pretty much off the boat to parents from that same village (that her mother’s sister married her father’s brother is another story for a later date). They moved from Wimber, Pennsylvania, to which they had been recruited from Italy to work in the coal mines, producing the coal that fired the steel mills of Western Pennsylvania. They moved to Niagara Falls, where Laurina was the first of four daughters. Laurina was closer in age to her mother (Assunta, Susie) than to her youngest sister Julia, with Anita and Emma in between.

She eloped with a dashing Thomas DiCamillo at 19 because her husband-to-be’s family didn’t approve of her – not Catholic enough, from a different region of the Abruzzo state. The same state of faraway Italy mind you, but further inland, in the mountains. He worked in his family’s bakery (her family also had a bakery). Her badminton skills took her to the top of New York State badminton competitions. Her tennis skills kept her fit, as did her early morning shifts at the bakery rolling out dough with the men at the bread table. As the lifeguard at the Big Pool, the public swimming pool in Hyde Park in Niagara Falls, she encountered the entire spectrum of the population. She was a PhyEd teacher at Stella Niagara, a convent school, where I remember her cleaning the floors as well as teaching a lot of rich Latinas how to swim, shoot a basket, and smash a birdie. She played tennis throughout her life and well past 90 years old, and lived independently until 95. Her daughters Betty and Jerri grew up to be good tennis players too, and Jerri continues to be a tennis coach.

She never went anywhere unless her face was made up, and wouldn’t let the police in to answer an alarm call until she “put her face on”. She favored bright pinks and greens and yellows (SHE never complained about my colorful gifts from India, and Mexico before that, unlike everyone else!) for her clothes, and would take us clothes shopping for colorful clothes too.

I grew up with Nana bringing us fresh bread and doughnuts as she finished her morning bread shift before we set out to school. After stopping in to see us, she would continue on to see her mother (who lived almost to 100) to have morning coffee. I very vividly remember her (and her mother too, for that matter), hanging out windows to make sure they were clean, because clean windows, and clean everything, was very, very important.

When I was little I would spend Saturday nights at her house so my parents could have a social life, and she would wash and rinse (a big treat) our hair, and paint our toe-nails with nailpolish. The primping didn’t take with me, and she was forever asking me if I had lost my hair brush or comb. Even when I saw her a couple of weeks ago, at least once each day she would ask me. In the last few years, when her memory wasn’t what it used to be, she would ask several times a day about my next hair appointment , or who stole my comb, and the like.

She taught us to swim, took us to practice driving, and played hours and hours of tennis with us, especially me. We drove to visit her one sister who lived out of the area, and almost always had arguments about directions and map reading.

My big adventure with her, though, was a three week trip in Italy in 1985, before I started grad school. We stayed with relatives in Rome, L’Aquila (now devastated by the earthquake in 2009), and Ofena; visited her father’s house in Calascio and climbed La Rocca with her cousins; and traveled to Florence and Venice. For me it was a great chance to spend time with her, learn more about Italy, and get to know my relatives there a bit. My image of them was stuck with Topo Gigio and other kids books they brought me when I was little, so it was nice to move beyond that. We had a fun time visiting tourist sites, riding trains, eating great food, and exploring together, although her impression was almost always different than mine. For example, at the Vatican, while I wondered where they had gotten all the money for all that gold, she commented that they should have spent some of their money on cleaning, cause it was very dirty and dusty.

I could write on an on, but will end here today. Nana, wherever you are, you will be impossible to forget. I’m sure you will have your rouge on. And still be asking where my comb is.

Making pasta.

Visiting with Uncle Hook, her little sister Julia's husband, probably about 5 years ago.


Mick said...

Hi Robin,
Sara and I just enjoyed reading this - it made us smile and laugh a bit. Nana certainly never held back her opinions on your hair :) She will be missed.

maria said...

What a great tribute to a great lady. I have tears in my eyes, recalling the great times I spent with my Grandma Meme, who passed away at 'almost 101' last December. Thank you for sharing. And I love the picture of your mom, aunt and Grandma making pasta. Priceless! You are all in my thoughts and prayers.

Anna said...


Thanks so much for sharing. Our grandmothers sure did come from exceptional stock!!

Hugs to you,