Personal Stories

My Mother, Me, and Memorial Day

Birth2Work Co-founder, mother, grandmother

“Remember, when you see war in your own backyard, it may not change who you are; it does, however, change how you behave in the future.”

“STOP, Elenina, STOP!”

“What’s the matter, Mama? What did I do?”

“Just listen,” she said firmly. “Do you hear the sirens? Remember when you asked me the other day what Florence was like for me during the War? And, why do I love America so much when I am an Italian first? 

“I told you it was too hard to talk about. The sounds of the sirens, a lot like those you just heard, were almost all I would hear for so long before the War was over, and Germany was defeated. When the Americans came, it was the happiest day for all of us.” That was when she could hear the church bells again. 

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The War from a Citizen’s Perspective

My mother, Giovanna, was only 10 when she was escorted with her schoolmates to a rally in Florence, Italy, in May of 1938. Children and citizens of Florence were bused in, she later learned, to fill the seats in an auditorium where German Fuehrer Adolf Hitler and Dictator Benito Mussolini spoke to an inflated crowd of Italians, pledging their support for a war that was unfolding.

She had no way to know that the long-term impact of the sirens going off, warning of possible bombings and sending countless families to bomb shelters, would have a lifetime impact—emotionally, psychologically, and physically. Over the next five years the citizens of Florence would endure sometimes nightly runs to bomb shelters when the sirens sounded.

Public squares where Mama had run and played, beautiful churches with neat rows of pews, perfect for endless games of hide and seek, and museums of priceless artifacts where da Vinci’s work, from his models of flying machines to limbs from human bodies showcasing his style of autopsy, enriched her knowledge and education on a daily basis.

My mother never attended high school, but that was insignificant when she applied to college in the US. She passed her entrance exams and sailed through her classes. She said it was easy. She even mastered the use of a computer when they first came out. Her confidence as a student meant she, and my father, had very high expectations for their five children. Of course, they assured us we too could learn anything, if we wanted.

The moment when the American soldiers and machines rolled through the city to firmly signal the end to the War that had torn her beautiful city apart was never forgotten. Having seen her enchanted home city threatened by the unfathomable horror of bombings that were impossible to justify changed her soul forever. She often said, “Remember, when you see war in your own backyard, it may not change who you are; it does, however, change how you behave in the future.”

Our Family Celebration

Memorial Day in our home was never an ordinary day. We always made time for celebrations and, most importantly, acknowledgements of those who lost their lives. It was a regular reminder that many who did not die in war were wounded as well.

My mother married my father when he was 19 and she was 18. He was a soldier in the American army, following in my grandfather’s steps.

They came back to the United States after WWII was over and settled in a small town in Texas because they wanted to be in a community that was VERY DIFFERENT from where either of them had come from.

While my mother’s citizen’s experience of war was different than that of the armed soldier, it had no less of a lifetime impact. We celebrated Memorial Day with gratitude and respect. 

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