Memories in Granite

2002, by Karen M. Lumino

It's Memorial Day and I have just returned from a funeral in New Jersey. My grandmother, Martha Karoline Emilie Hoppe, was born in Hamburg, in 1906. She was 15 years old when she passed through Ellis Island, on her way to Hoboken. She was expected to work in her aunt's laundry in Jersey City, and whatever money she made was sent back to her mother, father, and ten siblings in Germany. She wasn't the oldest or the youngest, just somewhere in the middle and I've sometimes wondered why she was chosen to make the journey. It was a lonely time for her, so I never pressed for more details. One day, as the story goes, my grandfather, Arthur Lumino, saw her through the storefront window and was hit by Cupid's arrow. Falling in love with a German girl earned him the nickname "Otto" with the guys in the neighborhood. I wonder if she was told to stay away from handsome Italian boys. They were married in 1929.

I'd been to the family grave only as a little girl. The cemetery is on a hill; the New York City skyline in the distance. I don't know why, but seeing our name in bold letters across the headstone startled me. Lumino is not a common name in the United States, perhaps more so in Italy. When I do searches on the Internet, I find that I already know most of the people whose names pop up on the screen. My cousins, who live in Manhattan, are sometimes taken for Spanish, mistaken for Puerto Rican. Depending on which story appeals to you more, my great-grandfather, Antonio, either made up the name when, from the bow of a boat, he saw the lights of New York for the first time, or, he brought to America the name given to him by the nuns who raised him in the orphanage. Lumino, the smart or "bright" one. His wife, Carmela Ascolese, might be easier to trace. She and two of her six children, Maria, age 4, and Francesco, age 2, came to New York on the Tartar Prince which departed Naples in 1900. Antonio and Carmela are buried in the family grave, along with three of their children and their spouses. A fourth child, Carrie, is buried in a different part of the cemetery with her first husband, Guillermo DeRose. Carrie deeded two of the remaining three spaces in the family plot to my father. When asked if he plans to be buried there, he says he doesn't know. With divorce and remarriage, maybe it's just become too complicated.

After the funeral, we go to Jersey City to see the house in which my father was born. It's a yellow brick, double row house on Wright Avenue. It belonged to my great-grandfather. Sic families of Luminos lived and loved there, three on one side and three on the other. This part of Jersey City, across from the projects, hasn't turned over yet. But a building permit is prominently displayed and beautiful new Anderson windows have been installed. We pass Our Lady of Mount Carmel, where so many important family events have taken place. I make a mental note to visit the church some time to review their records. Then my Dad shows us the house they moved to on Corbin Avenue. Only four blocks from the old house, it was said they moved out of the neighborhood.  We look as Dad points out childhood landmarks, like the manhole cover that was home plate during stickball games, and the lot where the bocci court stood. We listen as he tells us about the time he sat on the stoop, much like the young men who are sitting there now, waiting for his dad to return from Queens with his birthday present - a car. He heard the car before he saw it. There had been an accident on the way home and the bumper was split down the middle, the two pieces bouncing off the cobblestone street. My grandfather, a jack of all trades, and a welder at the moment, fixed the bumper but a black seam, 2 inches wide, remained. My dad sighs and says there are a lot of memories here. We start the trip back to Massachusetts.

In addition to being German and Italian, I'm Irish, Polish and English, with a dash of French. But I was raised Italian. I remember being surprised that others were surprised that we had lasagna with turkey on Thanksgiving. I work in Boston near the North End and try to get there every few days. It feels, well, so familiar. I didn't change my name when I got married. I don't dislike my husband's name (Swain) nor do I feel the need to maintain some degree of independence. I just couldn't imagine losing my Italian one. My name and I are inseparable. And so, like the granite headstone first cut in 1936, I will wear it boldly until the end of time.

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