January 27, 1898 – August 16, 1970
(Last in a four part series about my wonderful grandfather)
|Ralph Schiavon, at train station,
Chicago (date unknown)
My grandmother Alice had lost her eyesight in the early 60s. Her diabetes worsened, and she died at home on New Year’s Day in 1963. My parents moved our family to Mexico City the following year. We stayed there until 1967, when my sister Joyce became ill and we had to leave the high altitude city. We moved back to the States and settled in California with its warm Mediterranean like-weather.
Now in his late 60s, Ralph began to think about retiring. He spent more time with Tom and Angie and their family, as well as meeting old friends for dinner or an evening out. He enjoyed inviting his brothers Leo and Tony and his cousin Ralph Sannella and their wives and children up to the family cottage, Bunny Rest, in Big Blue Lake, Michigan. And of course, he continued visiting his mother, Emanuela, and his family back in Massachusetts.
Emanuela Sannella Schiavone was now in her 90s. For many years after Vito’s death, she had lived with Filomena’s family, but as she became increasingly bedridden, her children decided it was time to move her into a nursing home. Ralph and Leo arranged a room for her at the Don Orione Nursing Home in Revere.
Ralph loved his mother dearly. He visited her twice a year, taking the train from Chicago to Boston for Mother’s Day in the spring and later in the fall. He and Leo contributed to the building of a new wing for the nursing home, ever mindful of the loving care she had given them as children. For these efforts, as well as for their philanthropic contributions to the postwar rebuilding of their native land, the Italian government had awarded Ralph and Leo the Stella della solidarietà italiana, or the Star of Solidarity, and made them Honorary Cavalieri, or Knights, of the Italian Republic. The Cavaliere, similar to a British knighthood, is regarded as the highest honor that can be bestowed on an individual by the Italian government.
|Order of the Italian Star of Solidarity,
originally established in 1947, recognized
expatriates and foreigners for outstanding
contributions to the reconstruction of post-
World War II Italy.
Emanuela, who had never learned English or even to read or write in Italian, had been relegated to a lonely life. Unlike many immigrant women around her who worked in the factories, she had stayed home to care for her children and was somewhat limited to her Italian neighborhood. Her granddaughter, Gloria Scicchitani Johnson, Filomena’s daughter, remembered that Emanuela prayed often throughout the day. Unable to read, she recited from memory Bible stories and stories of the lives of the Saints that the village priest in San Sossio had told her many years ago. Though she could converse with her own children, many of her grandchildren could not speak Italian and did not understand her. She could watch TV, but she had no idea what the people on it were saying. It was no wonder that she looked forward to her sons’ visits and seemed to come more to life when they came. Pasquale was present during these visits, and the brothers held animated political discussions long after tucking Emanuela into bed for the evening.
|Left to right: Pasquale Schiavone, Emanuella Schiavone,
and Ralph Schiavon, Revere, MA, about 1960
Shortly after his 78th birthday, Pasquale “Pat” Schiavone fell ill in early December of 1965, just as Ralph was preparing to return home from Boston. He was diagnosed with uremic poisoning – the final stage of kidney failure. He died a few days later on December 7th. His death came as a shock to Ralph.
Emanuela had been suffering from advanced heart disease, and she died five months later on April 18, 1966. At the time, no one knew her exact age and believed her to be 103. In fact, she was just a few months short of her 99th birthday.
In the years that followed, Ralph became acutely aware of his own mortality and growing loneliness. He began to have health challenges of his own, and after being a widower for six years, he realized that he could not go on living alone. In July of 1969 he married Emily Scheurer, and the newlyweds flew to Italy on honeymoon.
It turned out that for many years, Emily had lived two doors down the street from Ralph in a single-story, red brick Tudor house at 7133 South Luella. I remember meeting Emily when I was a little girl of about 5, though we didn’t know her name at the time. With our wild imaginations, my friends and I thought her house looked just like that of the witch in the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. Perhaps she unwittingly had perpetuated that impression one Halloween when she greeted all the trick-or-treaters wearing a pointy witch’s hat and stirring a large cauldron filled with steaming black ice.
One afternoon, we were playing on the sidewalk when Emily appeared at her door and offered us some apple pie she had just finished baking. To us, this could only confirm that she was a witch, because witches were wily and always used apples as a ruse to trick children so they could eat them. My friends screamed and ran home, but for some reason I stayed behind. She beckoned to me, and I found myself walking up the walkway to her door.
Emily invited me in and gave me a piece of her witch-pie. Terrified, I took it because I had been taught to be polite. I gingerly bit into the crust, wondering whether I would be poisoned, eaten, or ever see my parents again. To my friend’s and my own surprise, I lived! Although my miraculous survival (not to mention the tastiness of the pie) should have been sufficient evidence for us kids that “the lady in the witch’s house” might just be a nice older lady after all, we continued to keep our distance.
Ralph and Emily were married for two years, and her companionship surely filled a void during the latter part of his life. During the summer of 1970, Ralph’s health worsened, and he began losing weight. A lifelong smoker and recently diagnosed diabetic, he was suffering from emphysema and colon cancer.
Ralph’s family kept vigil with him during his final stay at Chicago’s Wesley Memorial Hospital as he drifted in and out of consciousness. On the morning of August 16th, before his family arrived to see him, Ralph asked one of his nurses to turn on the television so he could watch Sunday Mass. She obliged and noticed a faint smile appear on his face as she left the room. She returned just as Mass was ending in time to see him close his eyes one last time.
He was 72 years old.
From what I heard years later, Emily Scheurer Schiavon lived for several years after Ralph’s death, and then her only child, Yvonne Cooksey, brought her to live near her in Madison, New Jersey, where she died a short time later.
Coincidentally, as I write this, it is Ralph Schiavon’s birthday. How I wish I could tell my dear grandfather – my Baba – that I love him and miss him, but somehow I feel he must know. I think he would be happy that his memory lives on through his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and that we are grateful for the many blessings he gave us through his legacy of devotedness to his family, strong work ethic, love of learning, unwavering integrity, and pride in his heritage. Baba, grazie per tutto. Vivrai sempre nei nostri cuori.
You will live on forever in our hearts.
Copyright (C) 2011 Linda Huesca Tully