Under the Fedora 1924-2012
In November of 1924 Calvin Coolidge who came to the White House the year earlier after the death of Warren G. Harding, was elected in his own right to the presidency taking 35 states, 382 electoral votes and 54% of the popular vote vs John W. Davis’ 136 Electoral votes and 28.8% popular and Progressive Robert M. La Follete who managed 16.6% of the popular vote but carried only Wisconsin.
Despite the prosperity of the nation and his own personal popularity Coolidge did not choose to run for president in 1928 and would retire from public life dying in 1933 at the age of 60.
Twelve days after Coolidge’s election in the state he served as governor, a Sicilian woman named Grazia gave birth for the seventh and final time. Grazia had come to America shortly before the eruption of Mt. Etna and follow up earthquake that destroyed the city where she and her future husband Antonio had lived. He had left Sicily before her and after a brief time in Brazil, would settle in Fitchburg Massachusetts There he would become a barber, marry Grazia, and raise their family at the end of a dead end street.
Two of their 4 girls and two boys did not live to see their sister Mary born. Steven died at birth and the oldest girl had died at age three. Mary would be baptized at the fairly new Italian Catholic Church, St. Anthony di Padua that her parents had been married in and would live her entire single life in the house on Matthews street where she was born.
On February 22, 1937 Congressman James Paul Buchanan of the 10th District of Texas died. His wife was considered a shoe in for the special election but had not yet decided to run. A congressional aide named Lyndon Johnson, wanted the seat. He visited his father a former three term state Rep Sam Johnson for advice. The elder Johnson as Biographer Robert Caro put it, didn’t have to think twice. “She’s an old woman. She’s too old for a fight. If she knows she’s going to have a fight she won’t run. Announce now—before she announces. If you do she won’t run.” Lyndon listened to his father. Mrs. Buchanan didn’t run and after a hard fought victory he took his first step on the road to the White House.
In August of that year Angelina Garbarsi and her husband came from Boston to stay with their relatives on Matthews Street for two weeks as they did every year for the Annual two day Madonna Della Cava festival at Saint Anthony Di Padua celebrating a 13th century Marian Apparition in Sicily.
While Mary & her family (including older sister Lucy, Angelina’s Goddaughter) were strong Catholics, the childless Angelina was considered particularly devout and saintly, even for her time. She attended daily Mass and had taken the vows of devotion in honor of the Madonna Della Cava including abstaining from meat on Wednesdays for life. She had spoken to Mary and her godchild Lucy about the faith often during her annual visits and while Lucy’s devotion to prayer and her Godmother would be strong and lifelong, that November it would be Mary who would take that same vow on her 13th birthday that Angelina had taken the previous century. She would never break it.
June 1942 was a pivotal time for America at war. Off the Island of Midway the American Navy under Admirals Fletcher and Sprague would win the critical battle of Midway sinking four Japanese Aircraft Carriers and destroying the cream of the Japanese naval air force.
That same month Mary graduated from Fitchburg High School. Many members of the class of 42’ would go directly to war. Some would not come back. Mary’s older brother Johnny was already serving in Patton’s Army and would eventually be awarded the Silver Star for gallantry. A cousin that Mary corresponded with regularly would be killed in action. Mary would use her math and typing skills sharpened on a Royal Typewriter that her father skimped to buy her to good effect as a secretary but he drew the line when one of her friends offered her a chance to join her in the program flying military aircraft domestically freeing up the men for combat It would be one of the biggest disappointments of her life and she would speak of it whenever an air show came to town.
In 1946 Winston Churchill gave the speech coining the term “Iron Curtain” to describe the state of countries made puppets under Soviet control at the end of World War 2. It was a public declaration of the new reality of the conflict between the free west and the enslaved nations of the Communist world that would dominate life on the planet until the end of the 20th century.
In 1946 Mary would lay out an ultimatum to a 25 year old sailor named Dominic. They had met through a comedy of errors a few years earlier and when that sailor, who was a hardworking, gregarious carpenter returned from the Pacific he was anxious to marry her. Mary bluntly refused if he remained in the navy. Dominic wanted a future in the navy, but he wanted one with Mary more. They would marry the next year and raise five children in their 40 years of marriage.
1968 would begin with the Tet Offensive in Vietnam a military disaster for the Communists but a Propaganda victory leading to the defeat of South Vietnam and causing Lyndon Johnson to not seek re-election. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy would be assassinated within a few months of each other and in November Richard Nixon would win his first term as president.
Just before Christmas in 1968 Mary & Dominic would move their five children to a much larger house built next door to Grazia who had been widowed the year before. It was largest home the family had ever had with 4 bedrooms three bathrooms to be shared by the children ages 5-20. Ironically, within a few years 3 of the five children would be married and gone.
In 1974 Richard Nixon resigned as a result of the Watergate scandal, a transformative event in American political history that is still felt today. Nixon was ill in body and mind at the end. He would recover physically and pols would consult him privately on serious matters but the miracle necessary to recover his public reputation would not come in his lifetime.
It would be a different story in 1974 for Mary. For the second of three times the miraculous would intervene in Mary’s devout catholic life. This occasion was in a near empty basement chapel at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church.
After Sunday Mass at St. Anthony’s Mary would attend the healing services of Fr. Ralph DiOrio at St. Bernards making prayer intentions for her ailing mother.
Mary didn’t tell Fr. DiOrio about illness that reduced her to an all milk diet keeping her from the spicy Italian foods that she so loved. After all she had somehow survived a horrific gas explosion more than a decade before, her terrible burns inexplicably healing without scaring thanks to a cream nobody heard of, purchased by her husband days before, from a salesman nobody knew that he applied directly afterwards from a jar nobody could find. That explosion and two unrelated illnesses had brought her so close to death that by age 50 she had already received the last rites three times. Between that and a life that included some gunplay in defense of her business & children during a long incapacitation of her husband, a limited diet was certainly not going to elicit complaint.
But that particular Sunday after the service ended Mary’s son approached the priest telling him of her illness and asking him to pray for his mother. Fr. DiOrio calling Mary over declaring: “You’ve been coming here all these weeks and you never told me you were sick?” When Mary deferred citing her mother’s illness the priest insisted on praying over her. At the touch of his hand she collapsed. When she revived 15 minutes later he ordered her to go home and eat “A good Italian meal” She went home and feasted on Italian food. To the amazement of her doctor who she visited that week, her illness was gone.
Later that same year she would get a job at the Safety Fund Bank in Fitchburg. Before the end of the year her experience from the business they owned brought her the position of head teller. She would stay their till her retirement.
1994 was a year of political change in the country. For the first time since the 50’s the GOP controlled the House of Representatives and the country would shortly move from deficit to surplus. The Republican Revolution and Contract With America would mark a resurgence of the GOP for years.
1994 would be a year of change for Mary. Her mother had died in 1986, Dominic died in 1987 and her final child would marry and move out the very next year. With an empty house Mary had thrown herself into her work but at age 70 she decided it was time to leave. Her life remained busy. She worked the polls for the city, attended daily Mass, and served the church in the senior’s group, and as a Eucharist Minister to the sick & homebound where one final time the miraculous would visit.
But the biggest change in her life was, for the first time in her life she had abundant free time for her grandchildren. Most were now teens, some had children of their own, but the two youngest 1 & 3 would get considerable attention from her in their formative years. By 2006 both of them and their father would take the Madonna Della Cava vow Mary had taken almost 60 years before. For her it was a source of considerable pride.
2012 was a big election year for America; Barack Obama was re-elected and in Massachusetts Scott Brown was defeated after winning a special election two years before.
2012 was a full year for Mary. She watched her youngest grandson graduate from her Alma Mater 70 year after her class of 42. Her oldest daughter watched over her living in the house Mary was born in 88 years prior helped by a grandchild and his family. She spent the year surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and her older sister Lucy still active at 91.
She still had her New Testament, falling apart from daily reading as two others had before. She had her pistol, but not her bullets, unknown to most and over her objections her oldest son had taken her ammo. She never owned a computer, a cell phone (let along a smart phone), a credit card or cable TV and she was happy.
On Nov 6th Mary voted for Scott Brown, Two years earlier Brown was the first member of the GOP she had ever voted for in 64 years and talked of it to Robert Stacy McCain.
This year after voting for a Republican for president for the only time of her life she greeted the poll workers whose tasks she had once shared still angry her Scott Brown sign had been stolen.
10 days later on her 88th birthday she renewed her license but a few days later took ill. She was hospitalized. Her daughters never left her side and her children and grandchildren visited her daily.
16 days after her initial doctors visit and five days after returning home, my mother Mary died in the house next door to the one she was born in. She lived a long useful eventful life full of faith and family and had positively touched the lives of others.
Her life might seem an anachronism to people today, I think America would be better off if they saw it as an example.