November 21, 1912-January 29, 2015
My great grandmother had but an eighth-grade education, yet she was a woman of wisdom. She lived at home, cooked meatballs on Sunday and shoveled snow until age 99. Mafalda loved music and saved aluminum foil in perfectly neat little squares. She loved plants and people.
She was born to two Italian immigrants from Caserta. In 1935, she married a Sicilian cobbler, Antonio Caliri, in a simple wedding where she carried three orchids as her bouquet. At around that time, she registered to vote to cast a ballot for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who made an impression on her when he spoke in Providence.
When I was 30, she said she wanted to show me something and led me to her dresser drawer. Wrapped in a silk handkerchief was a small dinner roll, shrunken from its original size and fossilized by time. “It was blessed by the spirit of St. Anthony,” she said. “It’s over 60 years old and it’s good luck—I carried it in my suitcase everywhere, even to Italy.”
When Mafalda got sick and needed long term care, I hid the dinner roll in my own dresser, periodically checking to make sure it was still there. When she was laid to rest, next to her husband, Antonio, so too was the magical roll.