Today, January 17th is Mare’s birthday. She often told the story of her birth. Her great aunt, who acted as the midwife to her mother, had to walk through “snow that was this high”, she would indicate about 3 feet with her hands. Her family home was “back lots”, meaning a place off of Hillcrest Avenue, where the DiStefano family now call their compound.
The year was 1923 and Harding was President.
Mare was the first born to Frank and Angelina (Rossi) Germano, both immigrants from Italy. Frank and Angelina would have 5 more children in the next 12 years–Benny, Lena, Helen, Ray, and Anna. Thirteen years after Mare’s birth, Angelina would end her own life.
Her birth certificate gives her name as “Germain” and there are a few iterations of the name–Germani, Germain, Germano–before her family settled on ‘Germano’. Also, her mother’s maiden name was stated as “Russelli”, but was later called “Rossi”.
Mare described her Mother as kind and gentle. She had “big hands” as did Mare, and as I have, too.
That is about as much as Mare remembered about her Mother and what I know about my maternal grandmother. I had a sense that there was some shame to her death. Angelina is buried in St. Thomas Catholic Cemetery in town and I often wonder what was done to achieve that feat when the Catholic Church considered suicide a sin.
Mare had only two things that belonged to her Mother–a beautiful cut glass sugar bowl and a glass vase. I managed to break the sugar bowl when I was dusting the shelf it was show-cased on. At that time, I did not know of Martha Stewart’s advise to remove all objects from a shelf or tabletop before dusting to avoid mishaps. I now have the vase and I am very careful.
Mare was 13 years old when she lost her Mother. She was in the 8th grade and had to leave school to help manage their household and to care for her younger siblings. By this time, the family was living at 20 Bonair Avenue.
Later on, Mare and my father would buy the lots next door, from her father, at 40 Bonair Avenue and build their home, the home I grew up in.
The two youngest girls, Helen and Anna, went to live with their godparents. Helen went to Warwick, Rhode Island to live with Louise and Larry George. And Anna, 1 year old, went to relatives in town who lived in what was called the Mittineague section.
It must have been heart-breaking to leave school, for Mare loved her teachers and learning. Much later on, when Mare was in her 60’s, she returned to school, took “night classes”, and earned her GED. What a goal to set and an accomplishment to achieve!
Mare never complained about her childhood. She said it wasn’t easy, but she never said it was hard. It was 1936, in the throes of The Depression, when she was 13. Her family was poor and so were her neighbors. Her father worked as a conductor on the Boston & Albany railroad. He also sold fruit and flipped real estate. She said Pop brought a lot of “junk” home. I guess he was a collector of sorts.
She did say she “didn’t even have a doll”. Later on, as an adult she bought herself a doll and sewed clothes for it.
Her childhood experience did not leave her bitter, nor sad. She was keenly sensitive to others who experienced pain and loss and she offered a compassionate, helping hand to many people throughout her life. She had a formidable inner strength. Her byline was “to persevere” no matter what came her way.
Memorial bench at Old Tatham School in West Springfield where Mare attended grades 1-6.
I give heartfelt thanks to my Mother for all that she was as a person and all that she accomplished in her life. Truly, she was the wind beneath my wings.
Happy Birthday, Mom.