Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Sicilian Woman: Not To Be Underestimated

Maddalena and Vincenzo  Sciacca,  Erice 1957
Inspired by the conversation between Michael Corleone and his bodyguard Fabrizio, my husband, a second generation Russian-American, asks the perennial question to every Sicilian man he meets: Why are Sicilian women more dangerous than a shotgun?!    I’m afraid I don’t have an answer, and frankly the question is loaded (no pun intended.)  More importantly, the fact that he even asks that question attests to how much California life has mellowed this born and bred Sicilian woman!

Women have always been the backbone of the Sicilian family (and for that matter any family). But there is a particular quality to Sicilian women that embodies strength in times of hardship-- without loss of vulnerability--what Carl Jung described as maintaining a connection to the anima.
Nonna Maddalena Bavetta

 My mother’s name Maddalena is of biblical origins, meaning “tower of strength”. In retrospect, her parents could not have guessed how deeply apropos the name would be. She was named for her paternal grandmother, Maddalena Bavetta , a no-nonsense, strong-as-flint matriarch, who, beginning in 1900, crossed the Atlantic some 4 times to visit her sons in America—a virtual frequent flyer of the Italian Line of the Transatlantic!  Her final  solo crossing back to Sicily came at age of 82!  She lived another 10 years in Trapani with her son, (my grandfather) Leonardo and his family.

Maddalena and Vincenzo's wedding day
July 12, 1958

Born in the town of Sciara, in the Province of Palermo, my mother grew up in the port city of Trapani, a province of western Sicily.  Her father, a conductor for the Italian railroads, who moved his family frequently when they were young, eventually was awarded a post in his native Trapani.  The family lived in a flat at the  picturesque foot of Mount Erice.  My mother, the second-oldest in her family, virtually raised her three brothers with the velvet fist of a strong older sister.

With my mother in Sicily 1963
Publicly shy, she met my father Vincenzo, a dashing young man from Marsala, at a wedding when she was 18.  He, charismatic and hard-working, with dreams of helping to rebuild the postwar Italian state, was struck--as if by lightening--when he first laid eyes on her!  From that auspicious first meeting however, the archetypal Sicilian story of love and loss began to unfold.  My mother and father married on July 12, 1958 and two years later on November 5, 1960, my father died tragically in an accident while driving a Vespa.  That single event, changed the course of my mother’s life (and mine) forever. 
Maddalena with her
step-grandson Peter Volkov

Tragedy does not bend Sicilian women. Because of the harshness of our  island’s history, (or perhaps in spite of it), collectively there exists in the Sicilian woman, a reservoir of great creative energy that reveals itself in times of need. My mother, Maddalena, is a vivid example of that.   Armed with  little more than her extraordinary artistic talent, a deep love for her family, and an ever-renewing source of creative spirit, she found her place in the American dream-- through the sum of her own effort.  Her legacy to her six grandchildren is one of pure love …and a model of raw strength and determination!

Ciao a' presto!
Mom today boxing!


With trainer Ken Eldridge

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