Remembering Rose Fieramosca
If the Feast of St. Gerard is the most important day during Italian Heritage Month, then October 21st is the second most important. What makes it so special? It is Rose Fieramosca’s birthday. But I knew her simply as Grandma.
Born Rosina Fucetola, there has been no other person that had a greater impact on my life. From repairing a hem, to cooking a meal I would put up against the best restaurants in New York City, she could do pretty much anything in my opinion. When I had a plant that was on the verge of death, she would bring it back to flourish. Wine stain on a white top? She knew how to make it look like it never even happened.
She took great pride in her family and her home. Some women today may roll their eyes when it comes to the lost art of keeping a home, but she could teacher a master class in it. To her it wasn’t simply a chore that needed to be accomplished, it was a pride in preparing a place anyone could be comfortable. Her, together with my grandfather, Pasquale Fieramosca, had a story that lasted for the ages.
They worked as a team. He worked hard as a truck driver to provide for his family. She raised their children, cared for both sets of parents as they aged, and always made time for anyone who needed help.
During World War II, she was a neighborhood air raid warden in the First Ward of Newark. This doesn’t surprise me one bit. She was a proud American.
After I was born, my parents and my grandparents purchased a “mother-daughter” home in Belleville on Irving Street. My grandparents and my Uncle Sonny lived upstairs. We lived downstairs.
I spent almost 30 years in that house. She cooked just about every Sunday. On holidays both ovens would be going and every space in the refrigerators would be filled. She made me pastina when I was sick and stunned everyone on Sundays with meatballs and gravy.
When I started to date the man who would become my husband, she learned he liked his meatballs “plain fried;” meaning not in the Sunday gravy. So every Sunday she would put aside two fried meatballs for him. After she passed away, my Aunt Roslyn took on that duty for him. We would regularly “complain” and ask how he ranked to get plain fried meatballs.
She was there for my entire life. When I was old enough to get my driver’s license, I would take her to her senior citizen meetings at St. Francis Church in Newark. No matter where we went, she was always on my arm and I would help her walk.
When I married in 1994, it was her idea that I move upstairs in the spot she called home. She moved downstairs into my room. I never even gave it a second thought. It was the right place to be and I could still see her every day. My husband would have lunch with her most days and would have an after-school snack with her after he finished his day teaching in Belleville.
When I became a Eucharistic Minister, it was my honor to be able to bring Communion home to her from Holy Family in Nutley. It was honestly the biggest reason I wanted to take that on that mission.
I never thought of a life without her. She was just always there.
Until one day she wasn’t.
It may sound silly, but by the time she passed away at the age of 96, I never thought of my life without her. I just always thought she would be there. So when she passed away, it was a shock to my system. I remember sitting in Megaro’s Funeral Parlor and someone saying to me “you look so sad; she lived a long life.” I don’t think that person really understood the profound sense of loss we were all feeling. I remember feeling like I was watching myself from outside my body. I was sitting in the front row. It was toward the end of the night and no one was sitting near me. I was slouched down in the chair, my legs not crossed. Not sitting very “lady like,” as my grandmother would put it. Black chunky heels, black cuffed pants, white shirt, black vest. My hair falling in my face. My head propped up by my hand in a fist. My elbow on the arm of the chair. I just stared at her. Thinking if I willed it hard enough, I could get her to wake up. The thoughts of a child from a 31 year old woman. I knew she was gone, I just couldn’t convince myself it was true.
That fall I left the house on Irving Street for the last time. I couldn’t imagine living there anymore without her. She was the beating heart of our entire family. And now that beating heart was silent.
People say things like “you’ll get over it” or “you’ll move on.”
Well, I guess you learn how to move on, but you never get over it. When I see people who knew my family, usually the first story I would hear would be about my Uncle Chubby, but the second one would always be about her. She was warm, kind, and loving. I never heard a bad word about her from anyone.
Words do not exist to express how much I miss her.