Monday, August 22, 2005

Ciao Cugini!

Published August 22, 2005

JD’s mom is a pure blooded Italian. Mama Rose brought her into the world the same day that Gladys Presley gave the world a baby named Elvis. Rose Martorella and Giuseppi Luzzi had two children and raised them to be the wonderful adults I call MoMaher and Uncle A. My mother in law grew up in Santa Cruz amongst a very loving Italian family, one that passed along wonderful traditions to her so that those traditions could become a part of our family. Our family has grown so much since 1990. I know her parents are smiling down from heaven because of it. The bridge that was built to Italy from America had sorrow, courage and a letter attached to it.

When Mama Rose passed away in 1990, I thought my mother in law would never recover from the loss of her mother. Since Nono had died in the 60’s, she was truly the link MoMaher had to her Italian roots.

With constant encouragement and prompting from a few of us kids, we implored MoMaher to try to find her relatives in Italy. Her father came from a large family in the Northern Italian Alps from a village called Talamona. Although her father and one of his brothers immigrated to the United States in the early 20’s, there were cousins still there in the village and other parts of Italy that she had heard about but never knew. If ever there was a time to build a bridge to the family, we knew that this was the time. Death has a way of reminding us all how precious time is.

One letter led to another and within a year, MoMaher was off to meet her Italian family. The welcome reception she received was something one would see in one of those sappy reunion movies. Relatives came out of the woodwork to meet her. Over the coming years since that first visit, she has made return trips to Italy with JD, his brother and me in tow to experience a la familia usually because of a huge family wedding. These cousins are jewels in the family crown. The heart of my mother in law is transfused with new life every time she encounters them. It warms my heart to know that they are there for her and she for them after all these years of separation. Her father never returned home after he left, probably because of the depression and the high cost of passage. He was a hard worker and a family man. His daughter would the build the bridge that he was unable to cross.

Over the last three weeks, four of the cousins (cugini) came to the USA for their first transatlantic visit. They saw California and Nevada through the eyes of their American cousins. Their trip consisted of a rather large family reunion of JD’s immediate family, as well as the American Italians and Italy cousins. Everyone in JD’s family is referred to by their Italian names (Tomasso, Patrizio, Giovanni, Giacomo, Adriano, Leonardo, Eduardo). We ate so much food! Pasta, amaro, limoncello, roasted vegetables, tiramisu and so much more filled our stomachs day and night. Our cousin Lenny from Seattle brought his accordion down and played for us all those great Italian cafĂ© hits that get the whole family celebrating in song. Parlor games, late nights and bocci ball filled our days. Not a whole lot of conversation was lost in translation. The language we spoke was singularly the language of long lost family. Most Italians speak with their hands, but my husband’s family speaks with their heart.

MoMaher, JD and I took the cousins to the airport Sunday. We spent two hours saying our hearfelt goodbyes “Ciao Cugini – kiss kiss”. For three weeks our MoMaher had her family from two continents surrounding her. It’s been a few days since we’ve all been able to stop our Italian responses to each other (si, grazie, prego, etc). MoMaher has plans to return next year in April for Pasquetta (Eastertide). This time she will bring Tomasso, my brother in law, to meet his Italian cugini in Lake Como and Talamona. No doubt, Nono Giuseppi is smiling somewhere from heaven.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Father, friend and brother

August 4, 2005

With a legacy that will last long after he is gone, our pastor, Father John Berg, gave one of his last sermons to our church community at St. Stephen the First Martyr Catholic Church. We know it’s getting close to his August departure so he’s getting in his final words to us – they are the words that most parents would say to their children if they were leaving for a long time, such as when your loved ones leave for college, the military or moving out of state. He’s careful, thoughtful and serious because he can be that way when he knows it’s important, because he recognizes that he is the shepherd of souls. What is important, truly important, usually are those last parting words. Worried that your children have what they need, the necessary tools to stay safe, common sense to see them through their journey, these are the things all good parents are concerned with when they are separated from their children. His words are spiritual because he is a priest who has invested himself into the lives of his parishioners. His words are of caution and admonition. He’s concerned like a father, a friend and a brother.

His comportment is always energized and friendly, yet I know he has sacrificed himself like most good parents. He’s been at the bedside of the sick and dying, attending to the deceased and their grieving loved ones. He’s on sick calls and sacrament calls to those who are within and outside our church. He runs an altar guild of approximately 100 boys, a week long summer camp, a youth group, a girls society of 70, a bustling parish of large Catholic families who have baptisms, weddings and many things that need blessing, such as people, homes, cars, and businesses. He’s blessed our home, shared our meals, holy days and prayed with us. He’s taken our calls late at night, answered our emails, comforted us in our sorrows and instructed us in the faith. He’s present in our sorrows and joys and always seemingly untiring in his zeal, especially with the youth.

How does one possibly thank someone such as this, who has poured himself out thusly? When we first joined the community 7 years ago, St. Stephens was not in existence. It was a community of families who had an attachment to the classical liturgy of the Catholic Church and the traditional devotions. We were leasing space from another church and had no real space of our own to come together and worship. Since Father Berg arrived, we’ve managed to purchase, completely renovate and dedicate our own church. The magnitude of what he has built can only be comprehended in light of the short time he was amongst us. His dedication to the faithful, his constant attention to his duty as a priest, making sure he was steadfast in his duty to his office and to a strong prayer life. There were nights when he’d be late at someone’s home, praying his breviary, making sure that while he was spending time with your family in fun and fellowship, his focus was always on his primary relationship with God and his duty to his prayer life.

His example to the children, his contribution to their faith formation, his zeal for God, fortunately, are all legacies he will leave behind to us, like a good parent who has raised his children well. He remarked recently that it will be difficult to leave because he likens his transfer to that of handing over his child, but you would never know that from his exterior, because he is humble.

There is a side to him that is completely a boy at heart. You see it when he is out on the field with the boys playing dodge ball or the girls playing volleyball. You see it when he sits down with a group of toddlers to play ‘duck-duck-goose.’ You see it when he meets the men for basketball, the kids for street hockey and the ladies for coffee. He makes himself completely and totally available, that’s if you can get into his appointment book on time because he’s always ‘booked’. He’s a phone call or email away…and not far from your hearts, like a parent, a brother or a good friend. It’s been said he rarely sleeps well or long.

There is no way to adequately express our gratitude to such a fine man of God. I hope someday God will show him how much he meant to us. He is off to teach at the seminary from whence he came. No doubt the young seminarians there will greatly benefit from his experience and wisdom. Word has it that he will be elected someday to be the Superior General of his order. This would not surprise me, but he will always and eternally be ‘our father, friend and brother.’

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at