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Family Stories: Nella Litterini

I remember MammaTwinkly, deep crystal blue eyes, a brilliant smile, petite (52) immaculate, a great dresser, an amazing homemaker (you could eat off the floor) and totally dedicated to her children - that was Nella Maffei as she was known to the Trentini of New York. She was born Cornelia Litterini in 1913 in the little village of Villa Banale overlooking the sweet, small valley of Val Giudicarie. Mamma, one of three sisters, never forgot her fathers reply when the teachers urged him to send them to Trento to further their education, We dont have the money and besides, theyre girls. Theyll only end up married. She would often say: An education is the one thing no one can take away from you.

Nella started working at 13 washing bed linen by hand at the Terme di Comano. She later worked at some of the best hotels in the area. One Italian colonel during the war suggested that she think of going to Cinecitt - Italys own Hollywood. Never in her wildest dreams did she ever imagine herself living in America. Nella was 35 when she came to America as the wife of her brother-in-law and mother to two Coming to America -- 1949 teenage girls. Toni Maffei had left Stenico at 18 to work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. In 1929, he married Margherita, the oldest Litterini sister, who died very young, leaving him two young daughters to raise. In 1948 Toni returned to Stenico with Nora and Mary and that is where il destino took over. Life in America began in a small 4-room apartment by Prospect Park, where Poppy worked as a building superintendent. Nella first worked in an embroidery sweatshop in NYC. The job was short-lived because the landlord expected two for the price of one! Shortly thereafter I and my brother, Walter, arrived and Mary and Nora married wonderful husbands. For the next 40 years Toni and Nella worked side by side. They spent Sundays in the park with other Trentini in their own version of Fil: The men playing cards and singing; the women chatting, watching the children and sharing news from home. The annual Tyrolean Ball in Ridgewood Queens was the highlight of their year. Mammas letters were famous. She corresponded with Padre Bonifacio Bolognani, who wrote about the Trentino emigrant experience in America. Mamma taught herself English and kept up with current events, letting Governor Cuomo and Mayor Giuliani how proud she was of them. While her English was heavily accented, when she had something to say, the words flowed eloquently. Family always came first. She and Poppy took in my cousin, Carla Bazzoli from Val Rendena, and later her brother Riccardo lived with us until they got on their feet. Mamma was famous for her canederli` and coteghino and crauti. No visitor ever went away hungry. Mamma and Poppy returned to the Trentino as often as they could and we fell in love with the valley I call Shangri-La. Mamma went on to live another 25 years after Poppy. She died at the age of 97 in 2011.Both their spirits remain alive in all four of us in the traditions and values they imparted. Written by Tulia Maffei Lynch. 22

A 21st Century Woman