July 30, 2016: I am reposting this and have added a few more photos. I wrote this a few years ago in honor of my Aunt Lily. Today, sadly, she died. She just turned 89 years old last month. I am overwhelmed with sadness. The world today seems to be a very empty place……
I have immense gratitude for my Aunt Lily. I have wanted to write about her for so long now, but as I write, I am not sure where to start.
I am not even sure how to write about my Aunt Lily.. She is a very special person in my life and even my friends, who have only met her through my stories, are in love with her! She is my godmother and she has been a part of my life since day one.
When my parents and sisters immigrated to the United States, they first settled in the Boston area to be near Dad’s brother Joe (Giuseppe) Gallo, his wife, and their two children (one of them is East Coast Fran!). My family was having a great time, settling in Boston. However, Aunt Lily, Dad’s little sister, was living in Gary, Indiana with her husband and was feeling very lonely. She got married at age 19 in Grotte, Sicily to a man much older than herself. I am not sure of their age difference, but my guess is Uncle Sam (Salvatore) could easily have been 30+ years her senior. If given a chance to get out of an impoverished situation, who knows, many might have made the marriage choice my auntie made. Salvatore Cuffaro (Uncle Sam) went back to his hometown, Grotte, in 1946 looking for a wife to bring back with him to America (to Gary, Indiana) where he had been living for many years. He was well dressed, well fed, and well filled-out in contrast to the post-war Grottese who were struggling to put food on the table. My grandmother encouraged Aunt Lily to marry Uncle Sam, knowing she would most certainly have a better life in America. When we were together last Christmas, I asked Aunt Lily if she was happy in her first marriage and she said, without any hesitation whatsoever, “Yes!”. She said Uncle Sam was a good man and he was really kind to her.
Aunt Lily lost one child and was never able to have other children. Childlessness was the absolute heartbreak of her life. The prospect of having her only brother and his wife and his beautiful 4 little girls live near her made her heart beat once again with the promise of life! Eventually my parents decided to leave Boston and go live near Aunt Lily in Gary, Indiana. I can only imagine how excited she was when my mom became pregnant with me. As I have mentioned in another blog, my mom and Aunt Lily shared the special relationship of what Sicilians call “cuma”, or co-mothers. Together, they co-mothered me. How many people do you know raised by two mothers and one father? One mother disciplined me and the other, Aunt Lily, coddled me!
Aunt Lily’s life in America was anything but easy. She worked and worked and worked. She has told me more than once, “I been a work’ real-la hard all-a my life!” Uncle Sam had a restaurant in Gary, Indiana called Isle of Capri and as soon as Aunt Lily settled in America, she was busy working at the restaurant. She did everything! She ran the show! She was prep chef, sous chef, main chef, shopper, bartender, waitress, bus boy, dishwasher, and cleaning person. She made everything from bread to tomato sauce to pasta by hand! The restaurant was hopping! The verdict was out about Isle of Capri. It was outrageously great! If, today, you ever meet an old timer from Gary, Indiana, he or she will have a recollection of Isle of Capri! Uncle Sam welcomed the guests and did the accounts. Then he started having heart problems. Aunt Lily continued doing the impossible, now running the entire business by herself and nursing her husband.
Eventually Uncle Sam died. I was 10 years old and his was the first funeral I ever attended. It was most disturbing to see Aunt Lily so distressed over his death. Sicilians WAIL at funerals and that is what she did. I was very frightened and my parents regretting bringing me along to the funeral. Aunt Lily came to live with us for a while and eventually she remarried an American, my Uncle Gardner Lum. Her life changed. They bought a huge Winnebago and traveled the USA. They became snowbirds and spent winters in Yuma, Arizona! For the first time since leaving Grotte as a 19 year old bride, Aunt Lily went back to Sicily with Uncle Gardner to see all of her relatives. Uncle Gardner charmed the villagers as he looked at Aunt Lily and declared the only words he knew in Sicilian, “Ti vogliu bene, mugliere mia.” (I love you, my wife.) Aunt Lily taught him well!
After 20-some years of marriage, Uncle Gardner died and Aunt Lily was widowed a second time. Even though she says, “It’s no good-a be alone, believe-you-me!”, she continues to be the independent awesome woman she is! She will be celebrating her 85th birthday in June 2012. She used to drive a truck that she had been spray painted with the words “Lily’s machina” (Lily’s machine!) She is adventurous. She still drives, and travels solo to Canada and Italy to visit her friends and relatives there. She still makes bread and is one of the best cooks I know. She said to me at Christmas when I was with her, ” When you gotta good-a man-a, you gotta good-a life-a.” She always says she was ever so lucky to have had two good husbands.
Aunt Lily is sharp, remembers everything, and is a great listener. She is worldly and nothing shocks her. Trust me, I have tested the waters and she is solid in her wisdom and worldliness! She has seen and heard it all. She is very easy to talk to. She has a lot of friends and her friends are of all ages. Everyone loves Aunt Lily! She is independent and is impressed by strong men! If she meets you and you are a strong man, she will surely have a chore or two in mind for you to do. Maybe she will have you move her sofa, or pull out the oven so she can clean behind it! Or maybe she will have you till the garden soil, so she can plant her zucchini! Needless to say, she loves Rick. His muscles get her thinking about all sorts of chores she can get him to do!
I can’t even imagine a world without my Aunt Lily in it! I love her way of talking, her expressions, her way of laughing, her sense of humor, her gestures, her smile, her stories, her cooking. She is so much like my dad and it is comforting to be around her. I love her and I am so lucky to have her in my life. We talk on the phone often and I am always the one to end the phone calls. It seems we can talk together for hours if only time permitted! Enjoy these pictures of my dear aunt: