Mama mia, what a mama!

My mother spent Christmas in the hospital due to a sudden, extremely painful condition. She’s home now and slowly getting better. But I figured, what better time to share a post from our wonderful, last pre-Covid visit?

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? 

31 thoughts on “Mama mia, what a mama!

  1. What a wonderful experience for all of you. I hope you can keep the tradition going strong. Organizations like this are needed in our society to keep the generations together and pass down our heritage. Sorry to hear about mom, I will be praying for her.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. What a cool story, Ellen! Do you mind sharing the story behind the yellow flowers everyone was wearing? I grew up on a large Irish Catholic family and am quite proud of my Irish heritage. Sláinte!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I’ve tried Ancestry and 23andme to see if any unknown relatives pop up from the Jewish grandfather who disappeared, but when you hit those third and fourth cousins, I really can’t figure out the connections or if they’re worth even trying to connect with.


  3. Ellen, I love these pictures. Your mom was beautiful in 1942 — and now! I’m sorry to hear of her recent health problems. I hope she’s feeling much better!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. What a lovely story, Ellen! And you look so much like your amazing mom! So glad she’s back home and doing well.

    I’m always jealous of folks who have family in the “old country” that they can look up and visit, but my ancestors, alas, all arrived here many generations ago and I have no contacts of relatives back in Germany or the British Isles. (Which I guess is why I invented Sally Solari, whose family is still very much Italian!)

    Liked by 4 people

  5. El, I love this post! So glad you can be with your mom right now, and hope she’s feeling more like her old self very soon. I’m sure having you there is a special time for her (and you). xo

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story, El. So glad that your mom is getting better.

    We try to keep heritage alive through attending festivals–and eating lots of yummy food!

    (On a side note: my MIL also knows a song from Taiwan that talks about how the Alishan girls there are so pretty!)

    Liked by 2 people

  7. What a wonderful memory, Ellen! It must be wonderful to enjoy such special events with your mother who, by the way, looks amazing and not at all like her age. It’s a bit hard for me to connect to my heritage since I’m a “mutt” (Irish, No. European, Scandinavian, Eastern European, Jewish, and Nigerian) so I’ve become very connected to Italy. I’ve been there at least eight times, studying (art history) and once for my honeymoon, but I’ve also been to Ireland and several of my other heritage countries. I love the art and history of each of the countries but mostly meeting and sharing with the local residents.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I love this post and the beautiful photos!! And I absolutely see the gorgeous family resemblance. ❤

    My dad made a pilgrimage to his grandparents' home in Armenia several years ago, so that's my almost-connection. In related news, I'm considering re-taking my maiden name, although it does involve a lot of spelling aloud!

    Sending hugs and healing thoughts to your mom!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I found out the story of the crocheted yellow flowers! From one of the women from the Orsogna Mutual Aid Society page: “They symbolize the Festa della Donna. Women are given bouquets of mimosas on March 8th.
    They are mimosas (color of the flower). They were crocheted by Maria Luisa Del Greco.”

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Geez, me too, JC! You and I are on the same wavelength these days. Unrelated, but if someone would happen to gift me bouquets of mimosas, I’d be fine with that. Please be careful so you don’t spill.


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