Yesterday I heard the news that a childhood friend of mine, Berto had died. I hadn’t seen him for about ten years, but I knew him very well when I was a young girl. My mother still keeps in close contact with his parents Anna and Angelo.
I grew up in the small Northern Ontario town of Capreol. Berto lived across the street from me. Most of the men in town worked for the CNR but some worked for a small iron ore mine north of the town. My neighbourhood was a mix of people of European ethnicities. Many people had come to Canada and settled in the north to work on the railroad or in the mines. They were first or second generation immigrants raising their families and working very hard doing so.
Ours was an interesting and very enriched childhood. I was surrounded by Italian, Portuguese, Irish and Eastern European families. Many of us didn’t have extended family in the area, so we nurtured connections within the community with friends and neighbours. Churches, schools and recreation played a vital role in the town.
Neighbours were very familiar with each other. The children grew up together and went to school together, played together and socialized together.
Our parents worked together and the stress of northern living was shared together. Weather was harsh. The work was hard and the isolation from extended family was difficult for the stay at home mothers. The women became very close.
That is how it was for the women in my neighbourhood. My mother and Berto’s mother were very good friends. They are both in their 80′s now. They raised their young families together and I imagine that they have shared some interesting times.
We all went to the Roman Catholic church and worshiped together. My mother and Anna share that aspect of their friendship….their deep faith.
I remember being in awe of Berto’s family. His mother and father are very proud of their Italian heritage. They decorate their home and entertain in typical Italian style. But not only that, they are generous and kind. Anna is stunningly beautiful even to this day. In her younger days she had long black hair that she wore in a fashionable up do and she always reminded me of Sophia Loren.
But most of all Anna and Angelo had a handsome son Berto (whom I only found out yesterday was really named Umberto). He had a smile that could melt your heart and was always a gentleman. Anna and Anglelo were so proud of him and they loved him very much, as they do all their children. For this couple, family is everything.
Berto met a beautiful young woman named Debbie and he married her and started a family of his own. From all accounts he followed in his father’s footsteps. He was a terrific husband, father and grandfather and made his parents proud.
I spoke to my mother this morning on the telephone. She had just had a chat with her dear friend Anna. Mom sounded so sad. Anna spoke to my mother about how she is anxious to see her at Berto’s visitation and funeral. Of course my sister and I will go with my mother (if my health allows). Ironically my brother cannot attend because he is working in Rome, a place that Anna and Angelo enjoy visiting because of their love of the Vatican.
All of this has me thinking about friendships and motherhood. My mother and Anna will see each other in the next few days. They have been friends for over 50 years. Yet what I remember are the 2 beautiful young women who worked so hard to make a good life for the seven children that they raised in Capreol. They did their best. It was hard. I would like to think that we have all done our best to make them proud. Berto did and we will honor him this week.
Be not afraid.
I go before you always.
Come follow me, and
I will give you rest.
John Michael Talbot