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?