It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder, the third book in my Catering Hall Mystery series, launches in two weeks and I was wondering what to write for my last Chicks post before the launch. I figure most of you have been inundated with my Shameless Shilling Campaign. (And if you haven’t, have I got some graphics for you!) And then I thought, hmm… the series was inspired by my real life. Family members ran two catering halls in Queens. Mia, my protagonist, works at one of them. She lives where my real nonna lived. And my pen name, Maria DiRico, is my late nonna’s maiden name. So… why not introduce you to my Italian family?
This photo was taken not long after Nonna, my grandfather (who I never met; he died before I was born), and my mother sailed from Orsogna, Italy to America.
When Mom was five, her little brother Henry came along. Uncle Henry had a great sense of humor. He once said our family crest was a fierce warrior… and our family running away from him. At a particularly over-the-top wedding, someone at our table asked, “What on earth’s gonna happen next?” To which Uncle Henry replied, “They’re gonna shoot the bride out of a cannon.” He passed away a few years ago. He was a wonderful man and I miss him.
Papa, Nonna, and Mom arrived in 1930, just in time for the Great Depression. The family struggled. Nonna did crocheting piecework. They moved from one tenement to another. Mom says a treat for her was picking up a lollipop some kid dropped on the street without finishing it. But by the 1940s, life improved. Eventually, Papa and Nonna bought a two-family house in Astoria, Queens. They lived downstairs. Uncle Henry, Zia Rose and their growing family lived upstairs.
That’s Nonna on the right goofing around. (I have no idea who the other woman is.) I never saw that side of her. Except in the early 1980s when I went to spend the night at her house, she turned on the TV to watch Saturday Night Live. I was shocked. I asked her why she watched it, and she said in her very broken English, “Is funny.”
I had to share this picture because it’s so quintessentially New York. That’s Mom on a rock in Central Park with one of her younger cousins. I love Mom’s outfit. Dig those shoes! She calls them Gillies. I’ve always thought Mom looks a little like Shirley MacLaine.
Final photo. This was Nonna’s 80th birthday party – held at the Astoria Manor in Astoria, Queens, one of the catering halls run by cousins-by-marriage Ralph and Pauly that inspired my mystery series. I won’t walk you through the crowd. But notice who’s center stage – wearing the most beautiful vintage dress I will ever own. Nonna was born in 1906, so this is 1986. She passed away four years later.
The years of communions, engagement parties, weddings, funerals, and holidays are gone now. The family is dispersed throughout the East Coast. I’m the farthest from everyone – on the other side of the country. But I consider myself blessed that I got to grow up so strongly immersed in another culture. And doubly blessed I get to relive it through my Catering Hall Mysteries.
Here’s the cover of my new book. That’s Nonna and Uncle Henry’s house on the right. These days, my protagonist Mia Carina and her nonna Elisabetta live there. Whenever I write a Catering Hall Mystery, I get visit them – and my wonderful Italian family.
Readers, share a bit about your own backgrounds!