My Tribute to Mama Sanfilippo

I met many wonderful people while in Sicily but one woman, Mama Sanfilippo, stands out. I would be remiss if I did not tell the story.

Cousin Bernardo tracked me down, where else? On the Corso Garibaldi! He said “Andiamo, Let’s go. You are going to meet the Sanfilippo family.” I smiled and my mind wandered.

Ahhh! Two years ago, during one of our Skype phone calls, Bernardo said one of his childhood friends lives in Florida. I chuckled as he was always telling me “I know someone in New York City and his name is….” I tried to tell Bernardo that more than likely I wouldn’t know this person. So, I asked, “What is the town?” Much to my amazement, he said “Sebastian.” Sebastian is the next town north of me. So, he gave me the contact information, I called and introduced myself. We made plans to meet for lunch – Vito, his wife Pauline, my Vito and I. We had a wonderful time at Mulligan’s, overlooking the river.

Ironically, last year, while Vito and I were having dinner at a local restaurant, Counter Culture, we were very loud and laughing with the owner Chef Anthony Damiano. I looked across the room and said “Sorry” to a young couple. After dinner, they came over to the table and wanted to speak with Anthony. After introductions, the young woman said “With a name like Vito you can’t be bad. My Dad’s name is Vito.” As we continued talking and laughing, all the towns that our families were from were mentioned. When the town of Castellammare del Golfo was mentioned, my mind was going at warp speed. I asked the young woman, “Is your Dad, Vito Sanfilippo, from Castellammare and a friend of my cousin Bernardo?” She and I were both stunned. Nina knew all about my cousin. Unreal.

“Andiamo, stop daydreaming.” he said again. We drove to Bernardo’s home, stopped in to say “Ciao” to his wife, Francesca, then walked over to meet the family. Bernardo introduced me to everyone and then left. He did not tell me I was invited to lunch! Had I known, I would have brought over a bottle of wine!!

Giuseppina, Vito’s sister, was the hostess and had made a feast for lunch – pasta with meat sauce, salad, scrumptious olive bread, olives, chicken cutlets, fruit, and dolce!! It was like my childhood when everyone was eating, talking, gesturing and laughing, all at the same time! Of course, my lack of language came into play but Giuseppina’s grandchildren practiced their English with me. No need for the dictionary, yet.

The one person who remained calm during the entire afternoon was Mama Nina SanFilippo. She had a quiet grace surrounding her. I can’t think of another way to say it.

While having caffe normale, I asked permission to take some photos for Pauline and Vito back home. The only person I did not photograph was Salvatore, Vito’s brother, as he left right after lunch, which upset his mother.

Soon after, I was asked if I could walk Mama home across the street so she could rest. No problem. As I took her arm, I could feel she was still steaming mad and trembling. When we arrived, she changed her shoes and gestured let’s go. Mama had other ideas and resting was not one of them. Deep in my heart, I knew where we were headed. We walked with our arms wrapped around each other, as I didn’t want her to falter.

When we arrived at Salvatore’s home, we knocked and as he opened the door, I could see that he was stunned. He looked up and down the street for a car but I said “No macchina. Abbiamo camminato, No car, we walked.” I thought he was going to faint. He quickly directed his mother to a big comfortable chair.
After I was introduced to Salvatore’s wife and children and took a tour of their home, Mama Nina insisted the photos be taken. She was a funny and stubborn lady. I had a lot of fun especially when I brought out my dictionary!

Fast forward to August 2, 2017: I was very sad to see the Facebook posts by Nina and her sister Danielle saying a sad farewell to Mama Nina. In the short time I spent with her, I found her to be a very caring, loving, funny and special woman. “A presto Mama.”

Mama Sanfilippo