The bells tolled for Argene

Opinion: Columns

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By Don Giannetti

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Did you hear the bells of St. Edmund Church pealing for quite a while around 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 20? The funeral mass, celebrating the life of Argene Scolastica Maria Piazzaroli Giannetti had just finished. 

What a celebration it was! Eleven priests celebrated the Mass to a very full church. A cantor and soloist sang her favorite songs. She had been waked for two days in the center aisle of the church, surrounded by her favorite flowers: daisies. She was laid out in a copy of her wedding dress that was made for her 50th wedding anniversary in a simple casket made by Trappist monks. The funeral was actually on her 103rd birthday, so the community sang Happy Birthday, followed by standing up, waving, and repeating "Viva la Mamma!" three times.

"Mamma" lived in Oak Park and was a parishioner of St. Edmund Parish for 82 years.

Her story started in a small mountain village in the Province of Lucca, Tuscany, Italy. She was born on June 20, 1914 and was baptized on the same day as she was so tiny they didn't expect her to live. When she was 4, she got the Spanish flu and was nursed on coffee by her grandmother.

At 6 years old, an earthquake hit the village and delayed her schooling for a year. Mamma had very little formal education as only the wealthy could continue beyond elementary school. However, she was studying to be a dressmaker. There were no store-bought clothes in her day. 

When she was 18, Gino, who had been in Chicago since 1926 and was laid off from his job, with a little money saved came back to Italy to visit his folks. He courted Mamma and they married in September 1933 with the idea of coming back to Chicago in October. However, he had to return first to send for her. She got pregnant right away and her trunk was packed all winter. Finally in April 1934, she got the call and travelled by herself, seven months pregnant at 19 years old, on The Rex. She arrived at 1441 Flournoy St. on April 27 and Frank was born in June.

Shortly after, she was pregnant again with her second son (yours truly). She crocheted women's hats, a cottage craft, to earn the $25 so she could have her second baby at Mother Cabrini Hospital.

Early in June 1935, Gino got a fulltime job in Oak Park as a janitor helper. I was born in July 1935. That was the beginning of the Oak Park history. 

Mamma was a wonderful homemaker. She valued a Catholic education and they put both boys through Catholic elementary, high school and college.

She was a warm, loving woman. Our home was always open to everyone. The meals were always delicious. We always had company.

Through careful saving, they were able to buy a six-flat at 309-311 Wisconsin Ave. What a glorious 20 years it was living there. The tenants were like neighbors and some have been loyal to us these many years. Frank married Sadie, who was like a daughter to Mamma and lived with their three children next door in one of the apartments. What a sad day it was for "Nonna" when Frank moved out of our lives.

Dad developed Alzheimer's and the building had to be sold so he could be the prime priority. The family moved to a condo on Kenilworth in 1988. Mamma took good care of Gino until he could no longer be kept at home. He died at Villa Scalabrini in June 1992.

 

Mamma was a fixture at St. Edmund Church, attending Mass daily until her mid-90s. Her mantra was "You gotta love everybody" and she was so loved in returned. In her quiet way, she touched many lives with her quiet smile and accepting way.

She fell at home and fractured her hip six years ago and the anesthesia caused a decline into dementia. She was well cared for by Lina, a wonderful caregiver, and myself. She was not put on a shelf and was taken everywhere. The Saturday night before she died, she was wheeled over to St. Edmund for evening Mass. 

She slipped away peacefully after midnight early on June 6. Since they say hearing is the last sense to go, her out-of-town family talked to her on the phone all day.

Mamma and Dad were the real American success story. They worked hard and helped out folks in Italy. They both had a sense of humor, hospitality and service.

Mamma saw a lot of changes in Oak Park: The opening of Mills Park, the fabulous Lake Street shopping district through the malling and de-malling. The Lake Street el going up on the Northwestern tracks. Emerson School being torn down and boarding and rooming houses being turned back to single-family homes. From being the Italian minority to living in a community that is very diverse was also a major change.

We love you, Mamma.

Don Giannetti is the longtime pastoral associate at St. Edmund Church.

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