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Look at these two people I was raised by, Francesca Sessa and Filadelfio Pisciotta. They are almost too perfect to believe in, but I, my other siblings, family and friends, are their testament.  They were a part of the greatest generation. Actually, they were the epitome of the greatest generation.  I take such pride in my parents!

My father, Filadelfio went by the name, Fred, in order to be more Americanized in his quest to grow in business.  He had to drop out of high school in order to help support his family during the great depression.  So, he shined shoes in Harlem and found other odd jobs that helped to put food on the table. He learned about life and responsibility outside of a classroom.  In his free time he would study the dictionary, and read the newspaper and other written material. He told me how he would take a word, memorize it, and use it in conversation. He never wanted anyone to know he had to stop his schooling and he wanted to engage intelligently in conversation.  My father went on from his days shining shoes to a career in sales that he built with pride in customer service and satisfaction. He was shrewd and tough but always remained grounded and humble. His heart was big but he came from strong stock.  He learned every aspect of the stock market and went on to make over a million dollars (huge in those years and not bad today either) with no help from anyone, simply of his own will to succeed and provide for his family! He served in the Army and became a Sergeant in WWII where he served years abroad.

My parents were both of Sicilian descent. My Mother grew-up in Brooklyn, my Dad in Harlem.  My mother was the oldest of three girls and the baby sister to a brother, Vincent, who perished during WWII at sea in a shark attack leaving forever a vacancy in his family’s hearts.  My mother shared letters from her brother where he asked her to pick-up Christmas presents for the family.  He wrote how he looked forward to seeing them all soon. He called her Francie.  She told me how her heart sunk into her stomach the day the telegram arrived.  She never forgot that moment. She described to me eating her favorite taffy at the time, and that after that day she could never bring herself to eat it again for surely the taste of her brother’s death remained.

My mother was beautiful, innocent, poised, gentle, spiritual, passionate and romantic. She was raised strictly to be a lady, Christian, strong but nurturing.  She was reverential of all of these things. Mostly, she was in love with my father.  They met at a dance.

They both have told the story of how they first met.  My mother explained falling in love during their first dance together.  My father was more apprehensive.  He thought she was lovely but too young.  They were six years apart.  When his leave was over and he went back overseas my mother wrote him.  He wrote back.  My father said that he was falling in love with the heart of the girl in the letters.  When they met again at another dance, that my mother happened to sneak-off to, (deceiving her parents, a highly unusual act) but in this case worth the risk and defiance, Filadelfio would come to learn that Francesca was no longer that girl from the last dance but had become a most elegant and beautiful woman. Together they danced, talked and laughed.  It was then my father promised to come home to my mother.

My father sent money home in an envelope to his sister, Lucy, and asked her to please pick-up a promise ring for my mother.  At this time my mother had become friendly with my father’s family and spoke of him to her own. The ring is pink gold with red ruby stones. It is engraved, “To Frances Love Fred”.  Years later, my parents gave this ring to me and I forever cherish its value.

When my father returned home on leave he went to meet my mother’s parents and ask them permission for their daughter’s hand in marriage.  In a questionable language they asked, “But what is this, I thought you said he was Italian? There will be no marriage!“ My mother frantically explained, “Oh but he is…!”  My father’s Sicilian dialect was often misunderstood. Once against his true will, being I was his baby no matter what age, he taught me how to speak to a boy about lunch: “Voy neshada con me natro voltro eo voglio neshada con tu.

They were married! My father went overseas again to serve the rest of his time. He explained how he would get airsick in the planes over France, and how they ate potato skins.  My mother prepared their first home, an apartment in Brooklyn for his return.

Their first child was a son, Vincent, named after my mother’s lost brother. Year after year they had more children, seven to be exact, and three miscarriages or it would have been ten! So, there were seven total, five girls and two boys.  They started off raising the first half of the family in the Brooklyn apartment but then bought their first and only home in Valley Steam, Long Island.

Life was never easy for my parents but it was rich with goodness, love, stability, religious belief, and family joy.  It’s been said to me by outsiders that my family life growing-up was unreal and resembled the television series, “Leave it to Beaver.”  This is the truth.  My mother was always well kept, dressed and beautiful. I think maybe three times in my life I saw her in pajamas beyond breakfast time, sick, and it scared the hell out of me it was so foreign that I should worry!

My father worked six days a week, one to two late nights and once a month on Sunday. He furnished our home with the same beautiful merchandise he sold. My mother worked hard in the home. She raised seven kids, cooked meals, cleaned, did laundry, changed bed sheets, took kids to the dentist, participated in fundraisers, and school PTA. She was the leader of my 4H group, The Pretty Tulips.

As a family we ate our meals together, until one by one, we grew-up and left the nest.  In the morning each day was a different breakfast before leaving for work or school.  Saturdays we always had pancakes and on Sunday, my father would wake-up early to go to Everbest bakery and pick-up rolls. My mother would make bacon and eggs. Our juice was poured out into glasses with printed flowers adorned on them, and a little red multi-vitamin for each of us sit at the side of the glass. If there was toast it was all buttered and in a central dish that we all shared from.  I was drinking coffee since I was four years old. My father would pour the milk and tell me to, “Say when…” and I always said when.  The theme was structure and togetherness.  My parent’s priority was family, always making God and religion and spiritual practice center, but above all connecting respectfully with love for each other in everything they did.

In looking at the world now as an adult with responsibility, family, hardships, I can’t imagine this was always easy, in fact I know it wasn’t. In addition to dealing with the turbulence of five teenage daughters, along with the typical roughhousing of having boys, additionally, they had a child with Downs Syndrome, lost another from cancer, learned of a son being gay in a time it wasn’t acceptable, never mind in a Catholic-Italian culture.  However, none of this deterred my parent’s. They never faltered, not once.  They worked harder with my sister who had Downs, they nurtured my sister with cancer more, and they taught my brother to be brave and that he was accepted and loved for who he was.  As a result of my parents and family, I learned diversity, acceptance, compassion and how to love unconditionally.  There was never a time I ever questioned the security of my home, the love from my parents for my siblings, me, or between themselves.  The foundation was a rock!

As I wrote earlier, I take great pride in my parents.  I am so grateful for the home and upbringing I come from.  I’m proud of the individuals they were, of their faith, courage, sacrifice, fortitude, and love.

My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in her late sixties.  She finally succumbs to her illness just shy of her seventy-second birthday.  Anyone who has dealt with this illness knows the depth of care taking involved but no matter my father would keep her home, the home they built together for us, until her final breath. We all said our goodbyes to the matriarch of our family, and our home reaped the sadness of the emptiness without her.  At eighty-nine years of age our father passed away in hospice care after suffering a stroke.  We each individually held his hand, prayed, thanked him with love and said our goodbyes.

Is it any wonder coming from this background that the realities of this life today, with its busied, unrelenting, for ourselves world, no time for God or breakfast, ego battling, control rather than ever submitting to another for love and sacrifice, would be found less than satisfactory, that my blessing would be my biggest curse?

I have the top of my parent’s wedding cake, their pictures and notes to one another in love, out in the open where I can see, as an invitation to the universe for the same, so that the seed they planted in my heart not be a romanticized view of life but reality.  I am my parent’s daughter.

So, is time the greatest betrayer when it comes to wishes come true?  Has the way of life evolved so much so that we lose the fabric of who we are and how much better we can become, together?

I never gave up but have tried to institute all that I’ve learned because the world may have changed but I’ve already lived the proof of what works!  I want to love this same way with all of my heart.  What better way could I show gratitude to my parents for making a home in a world of uncertainty so completely certain with the truth–

Maria Pisciotta-DellaPorte

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