My Italian Mamma – Growing Up


My mom’s “coming of age” stories are beautiful, even though I can feel the difficulties she experienced.  Life was not easy for them.  They did not have the modern conveniences that we so take for granted.  To wash their clothes was a real chore.  During the summer months, they actually took their laundry down to the lake to wash them, and let them dry on the white rocks at the lake’s edge.  According to my mom, the sheets came out sparkling white!  During the winter months, they would heat up water on the stove and wash their clothes in tubs.  Then they would string them up inside to let them dry.  Bathing was kind of the same thing…during the summer, my mom and her friends would go to the lake and wash their hair in the sparkling clean water!  Again, it came out shiny clean!

My mom started working when she was 11 years old!!  Can you imagine a child so young being so responsible to work?  But times were definitely different then, and children had many more responsibilities.  Families needed the extra income that the children provided just in order to survive. My mom was a very good seamstress, and her first job was with a furrier in town.  She would cut the skins with the patterns and sew up the pieces to make beautiful coats.  She worked with fox, otter, mink, and other furs.  Her boss was so impressed with her that he asked her father if he would allow my mom to live with him and his wife in Milan.  Milan was a big city one hour away by train…My grandfather could not bear to have his youngest little girl taken away from him, so he refused.  Being a widower, he was so protective of his little girls that he would never allow them to be taken from him.  Even though it would mean more money for the family, his family was more important to him than the extra income.  So my mom left this job and began working at “La Camiceria” – the shirt making factory in town.  There she was in charge of making sure all the machines were threaded properly while the shirt fabrics were being made.  She spent her entire day walking up and down the long aisles housing the cloth making machines.

She would ride her bike to work everyday…no matter if it was summer or winter.  Her father would check her tires daily, and would either blow up the tires or let air out of them as needed for the weather. Girls did not wear pants then, so she would wear her father’s long socks to keep her legs warm.

In the evenings, especially during the summer months, my mom and her friends would go to the town dances. These dances would be held at an outdoor park at the shores of the lake which was done up especially for these dances.  It was called La Ballera (the ballroom) .  There they would dress up in their favorite dresses, and always with their very fashionable shoes, they would spend the evening dancing and flirting with the boys.  The beauty of growing up in a small town is that you know everyone…and, of course, the drawback is that everyone knows your business!!

August in Italy is vacation time!  Factories shut down and everyone heads out of the city.  Fortunately, my mom lived in a place that was so beautiful that she didn’t need to go anywhere during August.  She and her friends would spend entire days down at the lake, soaking up the sun and swimming.  The lake was THE HANGOUT!  All the youth of the town would congregate at the shores and enjoy each other’s company.  Boys and girls would hang out together in large groups and youthful flirting was always happening! There was always a new crush and life was never boring!

According to my mom, life was simple – they didn’t have a lot, but they still enjoyed their life immensely.  She felt safe in her community and she looks back on those days with extreme affection!

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