Who was Mary Catherine Marini? You most likely have never heard of her because she wasn’t a President or First Lady. She wasn’t a poet or an heiress. She wasn’t a famous author. She wasn’t a Queen or a Conqueror.
She was simply my grandmother.
My grandma was born in a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania to Italian immigrants who dreamed of a better life in America. My great-grandfather, Joseph Marchesi, came first to America in the late 1890’s/early 1900’s along with a few friends and they worked in the coal mines. Needing a wife, his friend sent for his sister over in Italy and my great-grandparents were soon wed and starting their family. My grandmother was the fifth child born (two died in infancy) and soon after the sixth child was born, my great-grandmother succumbed to TB at the age of 29. My grandmother was only six years old when she lost her beloved mother and it was very hard for her.
When my grandparents met in the late 1920’s, my grandmother was a quiet and reserved teenager and my grandfather, Mario Marini, was a “wildcat” who was an Italian immigrant who stowed away on a ship to America and joined the US Navy as a young teenager. When the Navy found out he lied about his age…they naturally threw him out. But then he went back in when he was legal and then met my grandmother in a Speak Easy in the hills of Pennsylvania. He was a boxer in the Navy. Smoked cigarettes and drank beer. Used colorful language. He was everything that my grandmother wasn’t but she was totally smitten by him and so was he. They married in January of 1930 and would go onto have four children (one would be my mother, Anita) and from what my mother recalled, they truly loved each other very much until he passed away in March 1953.
After my grandfather died, my grandmother had to support her young family and immediately went to work. She was a young girl in the days when America was in the throes of the Depression era and she always had to work from a young age. When my grandfather was in the Navy and in the Pacific during WWII – she worked in a factory to support her family. All of her life she had this strong work ethic – so to work for a living was just something she always did and she never complained.
Years later, she became a businesswoman – which is truly amazing. My grandmother who had only an elementary school education, decided that instead of waiting on tables and working for someone else, she wanted to be her own boss and open her very own restaurant. And so she did. In the early 1970’s she opened up a restaurant/bar in one of the busiest areas of Arlington, Virginia and she was the boss. When she had to close in 1983 it was truly heartbreaking for her and it was most likely the beginning of her long struggle with Alzheimer’s.
She was opinionated.
She loved watching wrestling on tv.
She only watched football to follow Dan Marino (because that was my grandfather’s name).
She only consumed toast, donuts and coffee.
Never wore pants – only dresses.
Saved every scrap of food (No wasting. She knew what it was like to starve in the Depression era) and once saved the turkey carcass from Thanksgiving in the refrigerator until Easter (the bones were good for soup, she said).
Now that I am getting older, I wish that I could bottle every memory and every word of wisdom that she had shared with me but unfortunately with time, it all fades into a distant memory. The most important thing that she ever taught me were not words though. Through her, I learned that life is not always easy and you have to be strong to survive it. To never give up. To keep pushing forward and you have to do your best with what God has given you.
I miss her. It has been 14 years since she has passed away and I think of her every day. On her birthday and Christmas, I often come across her favorite candy: chocolate covered cherries, and I smile thinking about her.
Happy birthday to you, Grandma!
All my love,