Lucinda: Mistress to the Mob
Official website of the in-work novel…..
Crying: The First Step to Toughness
I was about three years old, and came inside from playing. Papa was home and didn’t look happy. Something was wrong. Small children can sense when adults are upset, even when it’s not being said.
“Where’s Mama?” I asked him, in our native Italian, of course.
“Mama is not here,” he replied.
“Where is she?”
“She is gone,” he spoke softly.
“But where is she and when is she coming home?”
Papa was holding back tears; fighting to be strong, “Mama will not be coming back. She is gone forever.”
I didn’t understand. I just knew it sounded bad.
What I learned as I grew older was Mama did not do well physically on the trip, nor did she have an easy time giving birth. The entire time in America Mama was ill. She grew weaker and weaker until she succumbed to her infirmities, in 1900.
Because of her illness there were no more children. That left just me and Papa --- a small, scared family --- in a strange land: at least it was strange to him.
Looking back, he was incredibly strong to endure what he did. He was very young, in a new country where he spoke very little of the language, working long hours at hard labor to afford a meager physical existence, and now he lost his mate. That left him alone to raise a little girl. He was ill prepared for that adventure. Although I loved him as much as a child is capable, I was equally incapable to help him cope with his voyage.
However, from my perspective, all I knew was I wanted my Mama! I cried and cried and cried. Over and over I begged that Mama come back. That must have broken Papa’s heart: but that was all I knew to do.
It didn’t take me long, just a few days, to come to a realization; no matter how hard I cried or how much I begged, it wasn’t bringing Mama back. Crying was doing me no good; so, I stopped. I started becoming tough.
In addition to a pragmatic outlook on life, at least for a three-year-old, I also learned to become self-sufficient. Papa worked so many hours that I had to look out for myself. Sure, the neighbor ladies kept an eye on me, but I took care of number one.
I learned how to find food, first of all. I figured out early if I used my pretty face and big blue eyes the adults were always talking about, I could get them to give me anything I wanted. My big, broad smile didn’t hurt, either. When you’re poor you learn to be resourceful; I was learning that lesson before the age of five.
We didn’t have many clothes, so they also weren’t always the cleanest. But in our neighborhood that wasn’t unusual.
Though we didn’t have much; a small, dingy tenement, almost no furniture, few clothes, just enough food to get by and none of the niceties of life, I was happy anyway; at least I suppose I was: I don’t recall being unhappy. After all, the existence we were living was all I had ever known. There were no radios or televisions, and we couldn’t afford newspapers, so knowledge of how anyone lived outside of Little Italy was completely foreign. In fact I was scarcely aware that anyone else existed outside of our neighborhood; until one day, in 1902.
Man On The Sidewalk
It was a bright, sunny, summer day. I was about my normal, daily business; amusing myself on the street or sidewalk in front of the apartment houses on our street.
I was wearing my white dress; it had been a very nice, little girl’s dress when new; long and frilly, in the Victorian style. It had a hint of colors, reminders of a pattern, maybe flowers, which were once present. The dress was tattered and most likely could have used a wash: but it was my favorite, so I proudly wore it.
The neighborhood was abuzz with activity; women hanging laundry, sweeping the sidewalk or yelling at their children; older kids playing and laughing in the street. There were also the not-so-lucky ones; the families who lived on the street. They were doing all manner of things; trying to wash themselves in the gutters, arguing with each other, or simply lying on the sidewalks.
Amidst that scene, a stranger appeared on the sidewalk. He was well-fed and dressed much differently than the people of our neighborhood, wearing what I would later come to know as a business suit and black derby. He was clean and neat and even had a gold chain on display, attached to his pocket watch. He must have been famous or important, because the adults knew who he was: at least that’s how it appeared.
The sight of me sitting on the edge of the sidewalk in my ratty white dress must have gotten his attention, because he walked over.
“What’s your name, little girl?” he asked as he leaned over and placed his palms onto his knees. I understood him because I had learned to comprehend and speak some English.
In response I stood tall, looked him in the eye, placed my fists onto my little hips, and in a loud, strong voice, as quickly as I could say the words, said “Lucinda DeLaRosa Donicelli.” Promptly and smugly I crossed my arms over my chest in pride.
He stood up straight, backed up a step, looked startled, and began to laugh.
Just then, one of the neighbor ladies called from her porch, “That’s the little Donicelli girl.” He told me he was glad to meet me, stuck his hand out to shake, and turned his attention to the woman. I went back about my business and paid no attention to their conversation.
I never saw him again, but that event helped me recognize when I said or did something that got over on someone. I sought to repeat that reaction, especially from strangers, for many years.
It was also apparent to me that I could take care of myself. I was in for a shock regarding that. It was about to be made clear that Papa didn’t agree with my opinion, and had done something about it; without my knowledge.