NOTE: With many thanks to my creative friend Lynda Lambert for asking me to be one of her “guest bloggers,” I happily share with you a post from my Word walk blog. The following memoir and poem comprised a Word walk post on May 14, 2014. The accompanying photos of my grandmother’s lace pieces were taken this summer by my sister, Mary Elizabeth Fanyo, of Colorado. As you enjoy looking at the photos, remember that my grandmother never crocheted from a pattern–except the patterns that were in her artistic mind.
Remembering Grandma Farm on the 122nd Anniversary of Her Birth:
May 17, 1892-February 27, 1988
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
Photography by Mary Fanyo
At times when I am walking home from Metro Market with a bag full of groceries in my right arm, other groceries in my backpack, and my left hand on my Leader Dog’s harness handle—I think of my paternal grandmother, Elizabeth (Liza) Massa, who too frequently walked the three miles from Klondyke, Indiana, to the nearest town of Clinton to purchase groceries. While I am walking just a few blocks home, I ponder the load my grandmother carried for a few miles. Since she lived on the small farm at the curve in the gravel road in Klondyke, so many of us called this remarkably strong woman “Grandma Farm.”
Born in Levone, Italy, on May 17, 1892, my grandmother quickly matured into a very young woman whose dreams looked toward a new life in the United States of America. Having had a not too easy life in Northern Italy where she was raised by her peddler father and an unkind stepmother, Liza worked for a ship captain and his family before she and her dreams set sail. In 1910, my grandmother took the SS La Savoie from La Havre, France, to New York. The story is that aboard this ship, she danced across the Atlantic Ocean. At Ellis Island, Liza became “Elizabeth.” My grandmother ventured onward to the Midwest; soon after arriving in Indiana, Elizabeth kept her promise and married a tall, thin coal miner (who was also from Levone) on June 29, 1910. James and Elizabeth Massa had six children. After the arrival of sons Charles (Charlie) in 1911, James (Jimmy, my father) in 1913, and John (Johnny) in 1916—my grandmother gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Rosemary in 1925; but sadly, Aunt Rosemary died in infancy. Then, my grandmother had two more children—Jules in 1926 and Katherine Mae in 1937. Besides raising her five surviving children, cooking, gardening, working on the farm, keeping a meticulously clean farmhouse and outhouse—my grandmother learned English and loved to talk with family and her many friends. Both of my grandparents were truly proud to become citizens of the United States.
The period which demonstrated her greatest strength and her greatest worries was during World War II when four blue stars were proudly displayed on a window of the farmhouse. Yes, all four of my grandmother’s sons served in the United States Army, in Europe, during WW II. Throughout those long years, I cannot begin to imagine how many prayers and rosaries my grandmother must have said nor how many tears she must have shed. Most fortunately, all four of her sons returned safely home after serving their country. Soon after the homecomings, the years of enjoying grandchildren—ten of us–ensued.
I can still picture my grandmother wearing her dark royal blue and white dress and donning a hat for her daughter’s wedding on June 16, 1956. A few years later, in 1960, what a celebration our family had for my grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary! Grandma even wore a corsage for the dinner at Binole’s Restaurant, followed by a reception at Aunt Kathy’s house.
When I was in high school, my grandparents left the farm with its grape arbor and front-porch swing to move to a nice house with indoor plumbing—a house just across the very small town of Blanford where my parents, my sister, and I lived.
Whether in Klondyke playing cards with her good friends Julia and Dominic or in Blanford visiting with relatives at a family reunion, Grandma Farm knew how to have a good and happy time with company around her. Although life was not always easy for my grandmother, she had a way of finding and sharing good cheer and keeping up with modern times. When her beloved daughter Kathy and her family moved to New Jersey, my grandmother—with Italian salami and brick cheese in her train case—flew in a jet to the East Coast to visit her daughter, son-in-law, and the three grandchildren—as well as visit our nation’s capital. When my sister was married in 1975, my grandmother attended her first wedding reception at a hotel. Throughout the years, Grandma Farm wrote a letter each week to her son Jules who still lives in California. Watching the news on television, reading The Daily Clintonian newspaper, talking with her friends and family at her home or on the telephone—Grandma kept in touch. Besides her ready laugh, she had a forceful voice and was not at all hesitant about giving advice. Although Grandma continued to speak Italian at times, she was perfectly adept at speaking English, with a little Italian accent. Not even once did I hear her talk about returning to the “Old Country”—her family, friends, and home were in America, the country of which she was a proud citizen.
Although I most remember my grandmother’s apple pies, apple turnovers, and yellow cake—I am gratefully surrounded by her artistry. When she came to the United States from Northern Italy, my grandmother brought with her—only in her mind—the skills and patterns for remarkable crocheting. Not only did Grandma Farm crochet afghans for all her children and their spouses, grandchildren, and others—Grandma crocheted from thread exquisite lace pieces. Called “doilies” by some, my grandmother’s lace pieces numbered into the hundreds and were of many patterns and sizes. Her lace pieces would rank her as a textile artist today. Although the majority of the lace pieces were white or ecru, some thread which she worked into her patterns were pink, blue, and green. Even though the lace pieces were traditionally starched, I still use her lace pieces, but do not starch them. Her lace pieces of varying shapes were made to adorn the tops of tables, end tables, bookcases, and my piano. While many of her designs are floral patterns, others are geometric patterns. Having these treasured lace pieces in various rooms of my townhouse allows me to keep warm memories of my very artistic grandmother who—despite her arthritis—could crochet with yarn or thread faster and more precisely than you could ever imagine.
One day, a number of years ago, after the death of my grandmother at almost 96 years, I began pondering the lace pieces that were around me and thought of the following poem as a tribute to her textile artistry.
At a local copy shop, I had note cards made with this poem on the front of the card and gave sets of these cards to relatives. This poem has special meaning for me, and I reprise it here to honor the 122nd anniversary of Elizabeth Massa’s birth.
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
More than just dust-catchers,
these snowflake look-alikes—
lace pieces from the Old Country—
become starched artistic monuments
which once could have dressed angels
at the Sistine Chapel,
now rest pristine on tables
to gather soft memories of
hands that crocheted them,
hands that starched them,
piece by piece—
not for famous chapels,
but for family hope chests.
God bless all on our Massa Family Tree and all on your family tree, too!
May 14, 2014, Wednesday—the eleventh month birthday
of Grandma Farm’s great-great-granddaughter Lanie
* * *
Biography: Alice Jane-Marie Massa
After earning two master’s degrees and teaching for 25 years, Alice Jane-Marie Massa retired from teaching writing and public speaking at a technical college.
Alice invites you to visit her blog: http://alice13wordwalk.wordpress.com, where she posts her poetry, essays, short stories, recipes, or memoirs each Wednesday. Her writings on Wordwalk frequently focus on her guide dogs, her rural hometown, her Italian family heritage, and holidays. Being the current president of Behind Our Eyes also fills hours of her retirement. Away from her desk, Alice most enjoys long walks with her third Leader Dog (Zoe), container gardening, and the television program Jeopardy.
Copyright 2015. Featured GUEST BLOGGER on
28 November 2015 – by Lynda McKinney Lambert.
All rights reserved by the author, Alice Jane-Marie Massa.