I am the grandchild of an Italian immigrant on Mom’s side and a great grandchild of an Irish immigrant on Dad’s side. Here on the east coast that’s pretty common. Most people I know are first,second or third generation immigrants. I think it’s one of the things that give cities like Philadelphia such a rich culture. It also contributes to our tendency for not just tolerance of different kinds of people but a real appreciation for different cultures.
What an amazing gift those immigrants gave us. So many were motivated by the desire for a better life than they had, for their children and grandchildren. They had to be such driven people to suffer the life threatening ocean crossing and then build a life from nothing. Maybe it was their genetics. Our grandparents like so many immigrants were such hard working dreamers.
We called my Italian grandfather Baba. He landed here alone at age 15 . He spoke broken English. His older brother Paul arrived in America first and smoothed the way for my Baba. They arrived and made a new life that I still benefit from. I loved my grandparents more than I could ever put into words. Such unconditional love. To this day their love still affects me in so many ways, both big and small.
I remember my grandparents had a beautiful grandfather clock that mesmerized me. I loved watching Mama (our grandmother) reset the weights to wind the clock. But the best part was the story that she told us each time she did it. The clock played Westminster Chimes. She told us that even the clock loved us so much, that it sang its love to us every single hour. It sang : I love Kimmie..I love Karri. I never hear those chimes without feeling her hand in mine and Mama singing along with the clock. Thank you Mama for giving me such a gift. I feel your love every time I hear those chimes.
Baba passed when I was just 6 years old. I loved him to the moon and back. We had a
very special relationship. I looked the most Italian out of all the grandchildren and he would scoop me up and say I had the map of Italy on my face. I remember checking the mirror for that map so many times. I never found that map but I knew Baba could see it and it made him happy…..And that made me happy. I spent most of my time sitting on his lap on his rocking chair or at the kitchen table. The poor guy never got to eat a meal without me scrambling up onto his lap. He would fix me little glasses of red wine with sugar mixed in. I was anemic and he told me it would make me strong and who knows? Maybe it did.
Years later when it came time for me to choose a career, I chose to become a pharmacist. I had no reason why, it just sounded like a good job. I went to Phila College of Pharmacy & Science. One summer I ended up taking a Psych class at the county college. It was one less thing to do at college and it saved my parents a little money.
One day the teacher’s lectured about child development and how strongly our early childhood effects us. She said something about our careers and futures being formed during these early years. I found that ridiculous. I raised my hand and said so. (yes, I was a charming student) I explained that I was in pharmacy school. I had never met a pharmacist. We had no friends or family that were pharmacists. Yet here I was in pharmacy school. So there! There goes your theory, lady.
She took my bad attitude incredibly well and asked me to go home and really discuss it with my parents. She was confident that we would find a trail that lead me to pharmacy.
That night over dinner, I told my story. Isn’t that so stupid Mom? (I was so full of myself at that age.) This lady and her Psych stuff! Its hocus pocus! Both my parents smiled.
Mom said, Well, there might be a connection to you and pharmacy.
What? No way. Who? Name a single pharmacist we’ve ever known!
Mom explained things. Baba had a cousin who came to America before he did. He
worked hard and eventually became a pharmacist. He also went to PCP&S and was well known in South Philly as “Doc”. Mom said her wore those old white smocks that buttoned up the side of his neck. She remembered his curled and waxed mustache. Baba was so proud of his cousin. My parents told me how Baba would so often say, If only one of my grandchildren became a pharmacist, all his work would have all been worth it. It was his biggest hope and dream, it was better than a doctor or lawyer. A pharmacist!
Baba had three daughters, my Mom was the youngest. Only the oldest, my Aunt Dolores , who we called Auntie Big Sis went to college. She became a teacher and eventually got a Master’s in Special Ed. That was a very big deal in those days, but it wasn’t a pharmacist. My parents told me how often he talked about it. A pharmacist! Wouldn’t that make us proud? Coming from my little village in Chieti and having a grandchild that was a pharmacist in America? Imagine it! Mom and Dad said he would go on and on about it.
My mouth hung open. What? Why hadn’t anyone ever told me this? Mom shrugged. I guess you never asked.
I was so young when he died. Is it possible that On some level he influenced me all those years later? I guess I’ll never really know.
So here I am, a pharmacist at Cooper Hospital for 32 years.
Dear Mama and Baba, thanks for all you did for us.
And Baba, I hope I made you proud.