The Most Treasured Gift – A Memoir

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Memoirs

~by Katrina Haney~

My father was Italian; Sicilian actually. His parents immigrated to the United States from Calascibetta, Sicily, during the influx of immigrants known as the Ellis Island Years. My grandfather came in 1909 with $46 to his name. He got himself settled with a job, bought a house, and sent for his wife three years later. My father was the youngest of five children born to this couple, and by the time I was old enough to have a memory of them I had two aunts, one married, two uncles, both married, and three cousins: Billy, Elaine and Eileen, all several years older than I.

Calascibetta

Calascibetta, Sicily, Italy

The family settled in the Little Italy section of Reading, Pennsylvania; a tight-knit community, which provided me a great number of neighbors who were also affectionately known to me as aunts and uncles. As a child, we visited them often, although it was mostly Italian that was spoken, and neither my mother nor I knew it. For some reason, my father preferred we not learn it. By this time, my grandfather had passed away, but I remember my grandmother. She was now in her eighties, fairly sickly, and spent her days in the parlor of the old row house they had purchased and raised their children in. She always held me on her lap whenever I visited.

Shortly after I turned eight, and even more shortly after I had acquired my adopted brother and sister, my grandmother passed away. Not too long after that, most of that family disappeared from my life. There was some ruckus over the inheritance, and my father soon broke ties with two of his siblings, the two that had children. For some reason, the split of the inheritance had something to do with the number of children each sibling had, (which by the way, left out one aunt and one uncle entirely.) But the other two refused to accept my father’s two children by another woman as legitimate heirs, (remember my “adopted” brother and sister?) and I think that upset my father on principle, rather than on the loss of any money. But had they accepted the kids, my father would have received the bulk of the estate, having three children to their two and one, and my father believed that was the only reason his siblings made the fuss.

In essence, I had lost one whole side of my family.

In any case, he basically split from his family after that. We did see my Uncle Sammy and his wife, and my Aunt Mary, who never married, from time to time, but not for very long. In essence, I had lost one whole side of my family. By the time my father passed away we had moved out of state, and had lost contact with his family entirely.

Fast forward to fifty years later. By this time I had gotten interested in genealogy, and began seriously studying my family tree. But I knew little or nothing about my father’s family. I had no pictures of them, and extremely little information about their lives. I was able to find their Ellis Island records, along with pictures of the ships they came in. The ship manifests gave me a little bit of additional precious information. But I was hungry for more. So I began trying to find my cousins, though I was sure the girls had married, and I couldn’t recall my cousin Billy’s last name.

One day, as I was perusing the internet, I happened upon an obituary notice for my cousin Eileen. She had been living in Florida not 200 miles from me, and had died only eight months previously. I was terribly saddened by this, but the obituary notice gave the married name and city for her sister Elaine. I immediately began sleuthing until I tracked down her address and phone number.

I was so excited, but also quite nervous as I dialed the number. When she answered, and I verified who she was, I said, “Well, you may not remember me, but I’m your cousin.”

She immediately exclaimed my name, questioningly, but it was the kind of  question that came from shock rather than any need to verify who I was. She was just as excited as I was. She told me that the family had searched for me for years, and had never forgotten me. And then, she told me something else that made me literally burst into tears. My own granddaughter ran to her mother yelling with concern that I was crying, and everyone came to find out what was wrong.

What my cousin Elaine had told me was the most personally heartwarming thing anyone had ever told me in my entire life. Italians, at least from that era, held to many traditions. One of these was to begin a hope chest for all girl babies at birth, and to continue adding to them until the girl got married. Elaine told me that my grandmother and my Aunt Mary had made such a hope chest for me, and that my Aunt Mary had continued adding to it for some time after my father took me away from the family.

While this certainly warmed my heart, there was more to come. Elaine and Aunt Mary had continued to be close over the years, and Elaine was with our aunt when she died. But before she passed, she made Elaine promise to keep looking for me, and to give me my hope chest.

Elaine had tried to find me over the years with no luck so she was quite ecstatic to have finally heard from me. After over fifty years, she was still holding onto my hope chest. This was what had made me burst into tears.

About three or four months after this phone call, Elaine and her husband made their annual trip to Florida to see friends, and they brought with them the contents of my hope chest. While I would have dearly loved to have received the chest as well, even just to see it, to touch it, it was too heavy and bulky for them to transport. However, the contents of the chest were amazing, and my whole family was in tears along with me as we looked through it.

There were both purchased items and items made by hand, The purchased items reminded me of things I used to see, and that

But the real treasures for me were the handmade things…

my mom often bought from a store that was then called a “5 and 10 cent store,” or “the five and dime.” There were dish towels, that we used to call tea towels, tablecloths, pretty kitchen things. But the real treasures for me were the handmade things, the crocheted, tatted, embroidered, and sewn things, lovingly made for me by my grandmother and aunt.

I was thankful that my grandmother had been spared the heartache of losing me, but my heart ached for the pain I realized my aunt must have gone through; wanting for years to see me again, to know what had happened to me, wondering if I was happy; probably also suffering the loss of her baby brother. I mourn the loss of all those years that I could have been with a family who so obviously loved me, cared for me, and wanted me. I hurt for the pain they felt after losing me.

That is why this one thing, a hope chest full of things lovingly made, happily gathered, and carefully laid aside for me, a hope chest full of these too wonderful for words things, that managed to find their way to me fifty years later, was the most treasured gift I have ever received in my life.

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Katrina Haney is an author, creative writer, article writer, content writer and ghost writer. Reprint permission is granted as long as the text is not changed in any way, the author’s name is properly credited, and this footer information appears intact. Stylistic changes to match your website are permitted. To contact the author to discuss writing services, please visit the website at katrinahaney.com for contact information.

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That Was the Day – A Memoir

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Memoirs

It was the summer after second grade, and I had just turned eight. That made the year 1953. Back then, things were very different than they are now. No one locked their doors, or their cars, even when they left the house. Kids could play in the streets without their parents watching every minute, even after dark.

I lived with my mom in an inner city row house in Reading, Pennsylvania, right next door to the corner house on our right. That house doubled as a candy store, with a few other things thrown in for good measure. The couple who ran the store lived above it, and the lady’s name was Ruth. She was very nice to all the kids who went into her store.

That was where I used my allowance every week to buy comic books and a bag of candy. Back then you bought candy by the Horror-2nd-Badgepenny; a penny’s worth of Mary Janes, a penny’s worth of Hershey’s kisses, a penny’s worth of malted milk balls, a penny’s worth of caramels and a penny’s worth of red licorice, and you had yourself a whole bag of candy for a nickel.

I cut my reading teeth on comics, both comic books and the Sunday comics, which we called the “funnies.” One of my fondest memories was of sitting down with my mom on the sofa on a Sunday morning and reading the funnies with her as the sunlight spilled through the window and caught all the dust particles flying through the air, which for some reason, fascinated me. I only saw them on a Sunday, as we were out of the house before dawn every other day.

So after the bag of candy, the rest of my quarter went to buy comic books. If I had kept them all, I’d probably be quite rich today. From around age four, I began buying all the superhero comics I could find. I don’t remember which ones were actually available during this particular time, but over the years I had all the X-men, Superman, Batman, Fantastic Four, and probably other superhero comics I could afford. I also bought Archie, Little Lulu, Little Iodine, Nancy and Sluggo, and all the Disney ones; Donald Duck, Scrooge McDuck and Mickey Mouse and Pluto.

I never did get to go to kindergarten, but I could read on a second grade level by the time I started first grade. Also, Ruth used to let me sit on the floor in front of the comic stand and read the ones I couldn’t buy, as long as I was careful with them.

I said I lived with my mom, but that wasn’t exactly true, though the real truth of why that was didn’t come to me until many years later. In my little eight-year-old world, my daddy was a salesman, and so he wasn’t home much because he travelled around a lot. But he was home sometimes, and oh, how I loved those times.

I loved it when we would walk down the street together, with me holding his hand and having to skip or run to keep up, and other times with me riding on his shoulder, holding my hands around his neck while he held onto my feet. He also took me for rides on his motorcycle, which I loved then, but got afraid to do when I got older.

My daddy was the one who took me to my first day of school. I remember him telling me I would be just fine, and waving to me with a smile as he left me there on my own for the first time.

But my best memory of him was when he played the little money game with me. He would say something like, “If I gave you a quarter and took back a dime and gave you a nickel and took back a dime and gave you a quarter, how much would you have?” And if I gave him the right answer he would give me that much in money. I always gave him the right answer. This might account for my aptitude in math.

My daddy was my own personal superhero.

I have no memories of my daddy ever chastising me for anything. He never spanked me, he never yelled at me, he was always all smiles for me when he was there.  My daddy was my own personal superhero.

But for the most part, it was just my mom and me. I wished so often that I could have a brother or a sister, and that my daddy would live with us all the time.

Then came that day in June, right after my birthday, when my mom sat me down and asked me how I would like to have a brother and a sister, and go live with daddy all the time. I was so excited, I thought my little heart would burst with joy. She explained to me that my Daddy had a friend who was killed in the war, and that his friends wife was really sick and was going to die soon. But she had two little kids, one four and one just a baby, and they wanted to adopt them.

I was so happy, and so nervous when the time came for me to meet  my new brother and sister. I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to my sister, she was just a baby. But I tried to make friends with my new little brother. But he was very shy and spent most of the time hiding behind a living room chair. I tried to give him a toy but he cringed back and said he didn’t want it.

With all of this going on, we were also going to be moving out to the country, where my daddy owned some land with four little bungalows on it. We were going to live in one of them, and the kids’ mother and her family lived in another.

The day we moved was the first time I saw the new place, and it was really pretty; very different from the city, with land all around it. There was a small burbling creek that ran behind the houses, coming through from neighboring farm and then continuing on through our land.

My daddy told my new little brother to take me to the creek and show me the snake trap they had there. When we got to the edge of the creek I had to get very close and lean out over the water to see the snake trap, and when I did, my brother pushed me in.

I started screaming and crying and thrashing about and my daddy came running to see what was the matter. “He pushed me in,” I cried out as he pulled me out. As soon as he set me down on the ground and my mom was there to put her arms around me, my daddy pulled off his belt and grabbed my little brother and whipped him and whipped him and whipped him. And I was terrified for the first time in my life.

That was the day my daddy became my father. That was the day I learned so well to be careful what you wished for. That was the day that changed my life forever.

[2nd Place Winner, horror genre, Wordhaus Fiction Writer’s Contest, May, 2015]

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Katrina Haney is an author, creative writer, article writer, content writer and ghost writer. Reprint permission is granted as long as the text is not changed in any way, the author’s name is properly credited, and this footer information appears intact. Stylistic changes to match your website are permitted. To contact the author to discuss writing services, please visit the website at katrinahaney.com for contact information.