My cousin, uncle Jack’s daughter, was everything I wanted to be. She was tall, long legged, blond, finished high school, went to college, and was runner-up for Miss Toronto. We went to Rockaway Beach in New York together and saw my aunt doing laundry in an automated machine, not a wringer type with two tubs. I knew right then I wanted to live in America. I went home and told my Irish mom, “I’m moving to America. It has a much better way of life. She said, “I can understand; I came from Ireland for the same reason.”
Born in Canada in 1934 to an English Protestant father, and an Irish Catholic mother, the highlight of my life was when my Italian husband Al and I finally moved to America. We waited one year to get a visa, and five more years to become citizens. It happened in 1966. It was a beautiful day. The neighbors had flags flying, a cake decorated like a flag, and we received many patriotic gifts.
There was one sad thing about getting citizenship. It was super hard to denounce the Canadian Flag. Also, my two brothers thought of us as traitors. The presiding judge said, “You will always be who you were born.” His words made me feel better.
I love Americans. They’re always happy, and I fit in.
I take after my mother. I pick up strays. If I see someone sitting alone in a corner, I love going to them. It’s like seeing a flower open. If Mum saw someone who looked hungry, she would bring them home.
My dad, who died of cancer when I was ten, was like a Pied Piper. He was always up to having fun. He put a sofa next to the window so we kids could jump through the window, and land on something soft.
The best time of my life was when my little brother got out of the sanatorium. Both my brothers had tuberculosis (TB). We were close; he was only twenty-two months younger than I. Even though I was a six month premie weighing in at two pounds and eleven ounces, I was the healthiest of the three kids. I had a peculiar blood disease when I was five and almost died, but I didn’t get TB.
Because the neighbors wouldn’t let their kids play with my brothers, for fear of getting TB, my mother took us to a health camp where we could freely play with other’s who were sick. I don’t know how she scraped up the money, but we went for two weeks every year for four years. It taught me how precious life was, and to go through life with great gusto.
As a child, I had a temper. I saw neighbors who wouldn’t let their kids play with us going to Mass and church. They acted so pious and quoted scripture. I yelled at them, “You’re not fooling God; He sees everything!”
Living in a small township with one high school and one grade school, the Protestants and Catholics were very divided. My little brother and his friends, would yell at each other: “Protty watty went to church clinging to the devil’s shirt.” “Catty waddy, went to mass, clinging to the devil’s ass.”
I was raised a Protestant because my mother was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for marrying a Protestant. I was a member of the Orange Order. When they wanted me to swear, on the Bible, I would have nothing to do with Catholics; I said, “My favorite uncle is Catholic, and I cannot swear on the bible not see Catholics. God would strike me dead if I swore to a lie!” When I got home, my mum said, “I’m proud of you!”
I married a Catholic, and my mum didn’t come to my wedding. She said, “I just can’t.” I understood, but it hurt.
Sitting at the kitchen table this week, Al said, “We’ve had a good life. I can’t believe how far we’ve come. We lived the American Dream.”