My grandfather used to tell a lot of stories. Stories about growing up in Revere, MA in a predominantly immigrant community. He used to tell us about the chicken coup he had in his backyard in Revere; that he used to have rock fights with kids in the neighborhood, literally across the train tracks from one another; and every story seemed to involve a friend named Freddie Zizza. We never knew if Freddy Zizza was real or just a character my grandfather created in order to tell us stories. It turns out that these were the stories that my grandfather wanted to talk about. Stories that he wanted us to know about. But there were much more private stories in the Barresi family. Stories that his sons never even knew about.
Between 1906 and 1924, my great grandparents, Francesco and Caterina Barresi, had seven children. The oldest, Arcangela (Rose) was born in Sicily and emigrated with her parents in 1906. The rest of the children, Concetta (1908,) Margaret (1913,) Angelo (1914,) Agrippino (1917,) Anna (1920,) and Michael (1924) were born in the either Boston or Revere, MA. Then I found death records of two sisters that I never heard about and a sad story emerged. After I spoke to my grandmother about this, she said that my great grandmother gave birth to 15 children in all; only seven of the 15 reached adulthood.
It was heartbreaking to find the death records of two young girls that would have been my grandfather’s older sisters. He never had the chance to know them. On February 19, 1912 eight month old Giuseppa Barresi, lost her 15 day battle with “Broncho-Pneumonia”. And then on October 28, Margareta Barresi, age two years and seven months, passed away after only four days due to gastroenteritis.
I can’t comprehend how a parent is able to deal with not just the death of one child, but the death of two children in less than a year. Yet, in the end I think I know how my great grandparents were able to survive these tragedies. They lived through their children. In 1913, they had another baby, a little girl. They named her Margaret Barresi in memory of the daughter they lost only months before.