This is the first in a two-part series I am posting in honor of my lovely, wonderful, incredibly warm and caring mother – Nereide Francesca Padalino Sherwood – who passed away early today, December 3, 2009. I and all of my siblings, as well as our entire family will miss her deeply, and are only comforted to know that our beloved’s suffering is over, and she can now rest eternally.
The story below, originally entitled, “An Italian Daughter” was written for a website I started years ago, called mscheevious.com.
The premise for Extended Circles was to give people an opportunity to reach out and really “meet” or “get to know” others from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Alas, though the site still exists, I have other projects that take precidence, and have back-burnered it for now.
This is one of the “circles” that my mother authorized about her own life. I hope you are as touched by her story as I am – every time I read it.
I was born on September 25, 1924 in Torremaggiore, Italy to Francesco Padalino, my father, an Italian National (also listed in “Who’s Who in Italy for his academic achievements), and my mother Umanita Tamaroglio (who’d been formally trained as an opera singer and pianist in Italy). Though she was born in the United States to Italian immigrants, my mother fled the United States when the marriage went sour, with my older sister Licia (who was only a little over a year old), to the security of life with my paternal grandparents. She was still pregnant with me at the time. My father apparently followed, because he was there at my birth to help name me Nereide Francesca Padalino. Nonetheless, divorce was imminent, though virtually unheard of in those days, particularly in Italy, where it was still illegal! Her mother had intervened in that decision as well, and my mother, I am told, was left heartbroken, and was never the same again.
When my maternal grandmother learned of my mother’s plans to leave Francesco and return to the United States to regain her citizenship, she insisted that my mother could not come to New Jersey (where the rest of her family had emigrated). My grandmother did not want my mother to arrive back home with two babies to care for. So, even though I was just an infant, my mother found a family that lived on a farm in Tuscany (in Foyana de la Chiana) for me to live with. The wife, Julia Farcetti, took her 1 1/2 year old baby off the breast, to breastfeed me! She became my wet nurse.
My mother took my older sister Licia back to the United States to live with her family. She found a job working for a doctor and sent money occasionally to my new Italian family, to assist with my care. By the time my mother saved enough money to send for me, I was six years old. I did not understand what was happening to me, except that I would go to America on a ship. I was to be placed in the charge of the captain, Mr. Dinegri, whom my mother had apparently fallen in love with and intended to marry years before!
I remember my Baillia (Italian for “wet nurse”) sitting across from me on the train that took us to Naples where the ship docked. I was leaving the only family I had ever known and was being sent away. Baillia said I would see my real mamma and that I had a sister, too. She appeared sad. I distinctly remember the long, lonely, sad train whistle, which for months afterward always gave rise to tears.
It has been a very long time since those days, and many more adventures between then and now, including some time at a boarding house / orphanage in the care of nuns, where my older sister would not accept me as her sibling – with my broken English and Italian accent. I would try to sleep at night and hear the trains whistling in the distance, and cry from loneliness, only to be soothed by the gentle caresses of a young, lovely nun, who spoke Italian to me.
As I grew, I was determined to make a better life for myself, despite all the obstacles. I went on to have incredible experiences in the New York city theatre scene, working under J. J. Shubert, himself! Those times in the theatre came at what is also known as the golden age of America – just before and during World War II. It was a very difficult time, but everyone in the country worked hard and seemed determined to make it through the war to the promise of a better life. I met the man (Orville Joe Sherwood) I married and built a life with back then as well, and even our chance meeting had storybook implications. We were together for over forty years, and had eleven children together. We opened and operated successful businesses, and watched as our children grew and had children of their own. Joe went into retirement just before he died of cancer in 1988.
My elderly years have been filled with travel, family and fun times, and I realize that the journey is just a very small part of the process. There are wonderful people, faces and places to know and love, and I relish every moment.
Nereide Francesca Padalino Sherwood
September 25, 1924 – December 3, 2009
We love you mom! May you rest in peace!
I leave you all with these words: Don’t ever forget or delay saying “I love you with all my heart” and “Forgive me for ever hurting you” to anyone that you care about.
Love you people! Mmmmmphhhuuuhhhhh!!!
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Blog content copyright 2009, LISA JEY DAVIS a.k.a. Ms. Cheevious
Judie Aronson says
Dear Ms. Cheevious,
I love the story! Now I know where you get all of your determination and drive. I love the idea of the site, and you should continue it! It is so interesting to think about how each and every person in this world has their own story that is just unique to them, and all of them would be compelling to others if the stories were told and out there for people to read. Thank you so much for sharing. I wish I could have known her.
I remember reading this! It’s wonderful that you have this and so many other stories of her (I’m sure. She is and was a wonderful person (as I always tell your brother.) She was always so very nice to me, even when I was a flaky teenager she treated me as if there was nothing she had to do that was more important than talking with me at that moment. She will be fondly remembered by many and I am sorry she has passed, even though I know she is no longer tied to a body that gave out long before her spirit would. May she be at peace.
I’m so sorry for your loss. Losing a parent is devastating no matter what the circumstances. But if she died suddenly, unexpectedly, you wouldn’t be as prepared as you were. Not that anything can ever prepare you enough – you always want more time.
Although her body kept going at the end as you waited and watched in anguish, at least her death was expected. Take comfort in the fact that you children could surround her at the end and had a chance to say goodbye and that you loved her. Even if she wasn’t ‘mentally’ with you at the end, she could feel the love emanating from you guys. She realized she could finally leave this world knowing she had done a great job of raising 11 children. Feel peace knowing she is finally at rest. Her spirit lives on in her kids (definitely you!!!)and in her grandchildren etc…
All of us are sending good thoughts and prayers your way to help you feel our friends warmth and love.
p.s. I’ve been on your site and I remember this story as well as a past article you did about your mom’s experience working with Shubert. I agree with Judie — keep the site going. If people contributed similar fascinating stories about women in their families it would make a great ‘compilation’ book. The stories could be role models for young girls growing up in this ‘time’ in this ‘world’. A time of change and growth, where a ‘black man’ can become president and hopefully, gay marriage will eventually get the respect it deserves.
Actually you could honor her but writing a full length novel telling her life story. It seems like there is so much to tell. You cherish her words — share her story with others. Written words last forever….
So sorry to hear of your loss. I lost my mom to cancer earlier this year and no matter what the circumstances, there is never a good time to lose your mama. She is absolutely gorgeous and seems to have had a full, adventurous life…you seem to be following in her footsteps!! The story was great, thanks for sharing a piece of your mom’s history with us! My prayers go out to you and your family.
What a lovely woman and a lovely life. At least you can find comfort knowing that she was well loved and lived a very full life. Love you and big hugs and kisses!
Wow… my warm, heartfelt thanks to all of you for such kind and thoughtful words. My family and I are all plugging through the details and arrangements just now, and doing our best to honor our mother in the process… that in and of itself has it’s own set of challenges, but we loved our mother more than words can express, and are holding it together for her. Thanks again everyone. xo
Ms. Cheevious says
Anglie – I am so sorry for your loss as well. It is hard, and you definitely know the process.
Judie – thank you so very much. I know you know this pain as well and I thank you for your kind and loving words.
Kris – thank you so much for all of your support. It is so very much appreciated.
Rosie – you are so right. We all loved her so much. I wonder if anyone really ever knows how much people love them. But the truth is, she had all of us there with her (in person, or via skype – gotta love technology) at the end, and that’s the most important thing. Very fortunate circumstances.
Bud Kiggins says
Peculiar article, exactly what I needed.