I have recently been spending some time looking into all the branches of my family tree. Over the years, various relatives have been kind enough to keep written records of our ancestors, detailing as much about their lives as could be remembered or researched. I have found that my roots reach across the U.S. to Rhode Island, Missouri, Virginia, and Kentucky; across our northern border to Canada; as well across the Atlantic Ocean, to Italy, England, France, and even Scotland and Germany. (I am truly a good, old-fashioned, American mutt! 😉 )
Most of my ancestors who immigrated from other countries are many generations removed from my own, but I do still have one living relative who can remember immigrating from Italy: my maternal grandfather, John (Giovanni) Delli Carpini, also known as “Grandpa.”
When looking through all the family records and research, I came across one memorable item that helped open my eyes to what life was like for Grandpa growing up in Italy. What follows in a short biography that Grandpa wrote about his mother, Maria “The Iron Lady” Pirraglia, in 1994. It also serves as a sort of introduction to the Delli Carpini branch of my family tree. I transcribed his writing almost verbatim, making only a few minor corrections to improve readability. (Keep in mind that his first language with Italian, not English 😉 )
Maria Pirraglia was born in Gallo, Italy, the only daughter of Pasquale Pirraglia and Angela Iannitti. She had a brother Antonio. At the age of eighteen she married a neighbor boy, Pasquale Delli Carpini. He was the son of Antonio Delli Carpini and Maddalena Boiani. He had two sisters, Rosa and Dominica.
Married life began. Their first child soon was born. He was named Giuseppe. Things weren’t very prosperous. Her young husband had to look for food elsewhere. He immigrated to the United States of America, leaving Maria all alone to take care of the family. There were five people: Maria, a baby, the in-laws, and a spinster relative. Things were not good or easy. She had to feed and care for the animals, work the land, and raise a baby. She was lonesome, tired, and desperately in need of help. The young husband crossed the ocean to help some, but soon he would go back to America. Pasquale was a good husband and a good provider. He brought money every time to buy more land, often leaving Maria expecting another baby. Six in all; two girls and four boys.
How she managed to survive and cope, God only knows. Not being educated, she took some tutoring at night and worked days so she could sign and communicate a little bit for survival. Things got worse when her father-in-law died. He got bit by a snake and was sent home on horseback by his son-in-law, who could not leave the fire that cooks limestones.
Her husband returned and took their first son to America to live. World War II broke out and there was no corresponding except through the Red Cross channels. She only got a trickle of news. Antonio got drafted into the Italian Army Special Forces as a Carrabinieri (State Trooper). She was so proud of him and smiled at times. Troubles began again as Mussolini collapsed. Tony’s force had to disband and come home through the Apennine Mountains, dodging the enemies. With luck, he got home in nine days. No on recognized him; he looked like a hermit.
Tony seemed okay considering the trouble he went through with Mussolini. Before going into the Army, he was supposed to go to America, but one Black Shirt doctor said that he had defective eyes and almost blinded him with medicine.
War progressed through Italy. Gallo was waiting to be liberated. Most of the town was deserted as the people fled to the mountains. All in all, Maria was doing poorly. She had acquired a nerve exposure of the skin disease called resibler. All her exposed skin was cracked and covered in oozing sores. With all her pain, she still managed to care for the family. She went back to the house to bake bread caught by searching German soldiers. One of them put a bayonet to her throat, demanding to know where the bread was. Fortunately, she turned her head and hinted toward the baked pears. They were delighted to have them and they released her. Maria got word from the Red Cross that Giuseppi was drafted into the American Army. We got liberated in November. We got through it with little property damage.
Grief continues. Tony got called back into the war for the Allies, serving with the British troops. The war stalled on Monte Cassino. The troops came for R&R and bivouacked on our land. They destroyed all that was left from the battles. Maria could not take any more. She yelled to the Polish commandant that his soldiers were destroying her crops! Thank God he obliged and gave order to use single file to and from their destinations. She was relieved that some crops were saved. The battle of Monte Cassino raged and stalled for five months. More Allied reinforcements came, including her son Giuseppe.
He was assigned to the North Africa Campaign and was catching up with them on the front line. Passing below his hometown, he asked for and got four hours permission to go see his family up on the mountains. We saw him for the first time since he immigrated to America at the age of twelve. We received notice in June that Giuseppe had been killed on February 12, the second day on the battle lines. We found out later that Giuseppe and Tony fought the battle of Monte Cassino within a few miles of each other. Tony was with the British Army to the north of him. Giuseppe never made it back to the United States as he was buried in the Nettuno Cemetery near Anzio. Maria got a little consolation when Tony came back home untouched and in good health. The war was over. We got news, many packages, and papers to file for immigration to America.
In 1947 we arrived in America. In America, we had good jobs, a good house, and a good life. In 1950 her third son, John, got drafted and was sent to Korea. He got wounded in 1951 and came back a crippled man. Dominic, her fourth son, got drafted in the U.S. Army. He served with the occupation forces and returned unharmed.
Grandpa in his army uniform
Time goes by and things got better. The family has grown. Everyone got married and Maria has ten grandchildren. Now time goes by and things change. She had loneliness, worries, and her husband, Pasquale, took his life.
Maria Delli Carpini, with the help of her daughter, Maddeline, lives on to be 100 years old. God bless her and God bless us all that she has some joy to share with us all.