Nick and Rose Muro are my maternal Great Grandparents through my Grandmother Josie Muro Serrapede. Philomena and Rosie were my Grandmother’s sisters and my Great Aunts. Since I was so close to my Mom and her generation I called them my Aunties.
This story is about Auntie Philomena.
Philomena’s mother Letizia passed away when she was a young child. Nicola married again a few months later. His new wife, Rosina, was a widow with a young son. Rosina had five small children to become a mother to upon marrying Nicola. She enforced her new role through the strict manner in which she ran the household.
Everyone in Wilmerding called Nicola and Rosina by their American names, Nick and Rose. Their American names are used in the telling of this story.
Philomena Muro circa early-mid 1930s.
Title: “Please stay!”
Time Period: 1930s through 1940s
Locations: Wilmerding, PA and Brooklyn, NY
Summary: Coming to America dealt a change in lifestyle Nicola never expected.
Nick journeyed to Calabria after the death of his first wife Letizia. He met and proposed to Rose while there. Rose, a young widow with one son, accepted his proposal. They were married within the year. Rose had a big job waiting for her in America: to become mother to Nick’s 5 young children by Letizia.
Rose soon began having her own children by Nicola. As the household increased in size Letizia’s oldest children got more chores to do everyday. Rose wanted to be a mother to all the children but her strictness did not lend itself to that perception amongst Letizia’s children. Although Letizia and Rose’s children got along very well and had good relationships for all their lives, Letizia’s children were never completely on-course with Rose.
Letizia’s three daughters were, in this order, Josie, Philomena and Rosie.
Josie was the first to leave in the late 1920s to get a job in Brooklyn. She married within 18 months and made Brooklyn her new hometown. Back in Wilmerding, the extra chores then fell on the next of Letizia’s daughters, Philomena. Every morning she had to clean the floors in the children’s rooms. Philomena was up very early mopping the floors and scrubbing the corners of the rooms. All this was completed before she went to school.
After graduating school at age 14 Philomena decided she had enough. Once her sister Josie was married and living on 66th Street in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, Philomena slowly considered, prayed and eventually realized her plans to came up to Brooklyn. This happened within a few years of graduating.
Nick pleaded with Philomena to stay in Wilmerding. His sons Louis and Peter were also going out-of-state in search of work. Nick said, “Dearest daughter, per piacere! Stay with us. My blood is going all over the country.” Philomena was not moved. She proceeded with her plans.
Philomena got on board the train and made it up to New York. She headed straight for Josie and her brother-in-law Sam. Once she had gotten a job, Philomena had a discussion with her brother-in-law Sam. Sam said it was better that Philomena get her own place. The apartment he and Josie shared could not accommodate another adult since his daughter Emily needed her own room. Sam and Josie wanted to have another baby, too.
Philomena persevered and succeeded. Her hard work and gentle nature won over a family in the theater who hired her as a nanny. That was an experience Philomena always treasured and a story for another time.
In time Rosie came up to Brooklyn, too. She had the assistance of Josie and Philomena.
Nick was saddened by the movement of his children away from the town he had settled in. He had expected them to remain close so he could see his grandchildren and great-grandchildren in future years.
This was America and the family dynamic had changed. Even if Letizia had not died the Muro family was no longer in Agropoli. America offered opportunities family never had back in Italy. Sooner or later, the movement away from the first generation who settled here was going to happen.
—As told to EmilyAnn Frances May by Philomena’s son
November 1, 2015