Mama mia, what a mama!

When my mother told me that the daughter of her old friend Adia would be speaking at the Orsogna Mutual Aid Society’s Women’s Day luncheon, and that Adia herself would be there, my first response was, “You have to go!” My second response was, “And I want to go with you!”

My mother is from Orsogna, a small town in Italy, and Orsogna M.A.S. looms large in our family history. My grandfather was one of the original members of the organization, which was founded to assist pisanes immigrating from Orsogna (Province of Chieti in Abruzzo) to the United States. Orsogna M.A.S. is headquartered in Astoria, Queens, the neighborhood to which many Orsognese migrated – and where my upcoming Catering Hall Mysteries series happens to be set. (Which I’m writing under the pen name “Maria DiRico” – my Orsognese nonna’s maiden name.)

I flew to New York in mid-March, and Mom and I took a car service to the luncheon, sparing me the goddawful drive from the Westchester suburbs to Queens. The minute we arrived, I was struck by the generational span of women at the event, which ranged from infant to at least my mother’s ninety-two. My mother and Adia enjoyed a warm, wonderful reunion, and we all relished the surprise of discovering that Mary, a cousin by marriage, was also at the luncheon.


Adia, Mom, and Mary.

Mom was treated like a rock star. Maria Fosco, the extraordinary woman who organized the event, showed everyone a photo of the Orsogna Mutual Aid Society’s 1942 Peasant’s Ball. Mom pointed herself out in the photo, and then she and Adia helped the younger women who crowded around them identify their mothers and nonnas in the picture.

The food was amazing…

… And the speech from Adia’s daughter, Lydia Tenaglia Collins, inspiring. Years ago, after reading Anthony Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential, Lydia tracked down the chef and asked him if he was interested in doing television. She wound up producing all of Bourdain’s series until his passing, and building a media empire responsible for a variety of documentary TV series.

Attending the Orsogna Mutual Aid Society’s Festa Delle Donne was an incredibly rewarding experience. Not only did it give me a chance to reconnect with my heritage, something that’s so special to me, there was the added joy of seeing my mother lauded for being the true wonder that she is.  Mom used to sing a song from her hometown that began “Le donne d’Orsogna e la piu belle…” Translation: “the women of Orsogna are the most beautiful.”  I’m prejudiced, of course, but I think they are the most beautiful –on both the outside and inside.

My goal now is to make this luncheon an annual event for mom and me. Who knows, maybe one day this “donna d’Orsogna” will be a guest speaker herself. Until then, viva tutte le donne d’Orsognese!

Readers, do you have a special connection to your heritage?


39 thoughts on “Mama mia, what a mama!

  1. Oh, my gosh, Ellen. My grandfather came from Chieti in Abbruzzo in Italy. And your brother lives two streets away from me. At the rate we are going, we are going to discover we are long lost cousins.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. That sounds so exciting. Talk about a tribute to women! It is a touching post.
    I try to have a connection to my heritage, but unfortunately my family is is not really into that kind of stuff. The generation who cares about our history is slowly passing away, and my generation doesn’t seem to care. I’m in the process of trying to find something, I don’t know what, but something to give my cousins to wake them up. PA Dutch is a hard heritage to uphold when one doesn’t live there.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I so envy you being able to share this with your mom and the women she’s connected with. I probably can’t get through a conversation without mentioning I’m Irish. The generations above me are gone now but I have a host of cousins, some I knew growing up, some I’ve met on ancestry as our family trees connected. My genealogical research took me to Adams, Mass. which is now the inspiration for my yet-uncontracted historical series.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I know Adams, MA. We used to go when we visited the Berkshires. And Keenan, I always thought I might have a little Irish in me. I don’t, but I made up for that by dating pretty much only Irish or part Irish guys!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. There is so much I love about this post, Ellen, I don’t know where to start! What an incredible event. The food, the photos from the Peasants Ball, your mom being recognized as the rock star she is, and the speech by Lydia Tenaglia Collins–holy moly, I can only imagine how amazing it was.

    I’m half-Armenian and half-Scandinavian (a smorgasbord that includes most of the Nordic countries), but it’s my Armenian heritage that’s always been front and center, largely because of how important it is to my dad. He once insisted that Lando Calrissian was Armenian. “There are Armenians in space?” I asked. “There are Armenians everywhere,” he answered.

    There will always be Armenians in my books as a nod to my heritage and in remembrance of all those who lost their lives during the genocide. I get a lot of questions about Zartar’s name in Protocol. She was named after my great-grandmother. ❤

    So looking forward to your new series!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Kathy, it’s so hard to believe that you’re half Armenian – and half Scandinavian! What a fascinating combination. We have a huge Armenian population in SoCal. In fact, Eliza’s high school had so many kids of Armenian descent that the place emptied out on Armenian Genocide Day!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can’t tell you how jealous I am of his fabulous event and reunion. Since my grandparents all came West to California as youngsters, we had no family history like this. And although I hoped and hoped for some Italian or Jewish DNA upon taking the test, I learned to my chagrin that I had none. But I can pretend! (Can I attend with you some year, as your long-lost cousin?)

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Wow! Love hearing about Orsogna (Province of Chieti in Abruzzo). I looked up where this is in Italy since I’ve never been. My grandparents came to the US from a small village in Sicily called Montallegro in the early 1900s (separately with their families as young children) and met on the East Coast as young adults. Your mom of course is of a much younger generation than they were. Looking forward to reading the new series.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Ellen, I will always remember “La Festa Delle Donne 2019”
    It was a pleasure to meet you and I can’t wait to read your book.
    I was so happy to meet your mom and finally give her a hug, and I can’t wait to do it all over again next year💕

    Liked by 4 people

  8. What a cool event and so special to share it with your mom! We don’t really have a lot of those heritage markers in my family, but my mom shares memories of her very German grandmother who lived a couple blocks away when Mom was growing up. Always fun to hear those.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. All my family DNA points directly across the pond to Ireland, so not a lot of intriguing variety there. I guess that means we are all good storytellers. (Cooking? Not so much.) Last night at Easter dinner I did pick up some new intel on my great-nana. I’d known that she arrived alone, steerage, at Ellis Island at 16 to marry a New York widower from her Irish village (whom she’d never met). Apparently he’d seen a photo of her SISTER. Huh.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Pushed “Send” too soon–I meant to add that I am looking forward so much to your brand new series, Ellen. And the recipes, of course–we Chicks have gotten a sneak peek at some of them in progress and they sound DELISH!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Oh, I cannot wait for your new series! I’m all Italian on my mom’s side – got married in the same church mom and her mom were married in – Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the church built by the Italian immigrants in my hometown in CT. (Her family came from a little village called Santa Caterina near Arrezzo in northern Italy – there are still some cousins there) I loved seeing your mom honored! And that food – the cookies! My mouth is watering!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Shari, that’s fantasticl! Northern Italy, huh? That makes you very cool. Did you know that? An Italian once told me that they consider everything south of the Po River southern Italy. Snobs!


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