This trip up north was occasioned by a Zaccardi family reunion. The family’s story deserves at least a quick recap:
Tommaso and Maria Zaccardi were my dad’s mom’s blood-parents. They came to America, got married, and over the course of eleven years had four sons and four daughters. All four daughters were named “Maria Something” or “Something Maria.” There were no repeated names among the boys, a freakishly rare occurrence among Italian families of the day. Maria, the mother, died three weeks after giving birth to #8. Tommaso died two years later. That left the eight Zaccardi children, ranging in age from three weeks to thirteen years, orphans.
Looooong story short (which I’ll have to have some of my older relatives write down if they haven’t already): a few tumultuous years later, all eight of them were adopted by Tommaso’s brother Vincenzo, whose wife was, of course, named Maria. Vincenzo and Maria raised their nieces and nephews as if they were their own biological children, of which they had none. As years passed, Vincenzo and Maria would receive accolades from friends, family, and civic leaders for having adopted all eight Zaccardini. A newspaper article that was framed and displayed in my grandparents’ house featured this picture:
Irony: First Maria died at 38, and Tommaso died at 41. Their children lived to an average age of 86, with five getting into their nineties.
My dad’s generation would distinguish between the birth parents and the step parents by calling Tommaso and Maria “Grandma and Grampa, I mean my mom’s and her brothers’ and sisters’ real parents, you know, the ones who gave birth to them” and Vincenzo and Maria “Grandma and Grampa, I mean my mom’s and her brothers’ and sisters’ real parents, you know, mom’s aunt and uncle who raised them, the ones I knew.”
Anyhoo, fast forward to mid-July of this year: I attended a Zaccardi Fest for the first time. I missed the first two or three and didn’t grow up in Chicago, so I’d only previously met maybe 15 of the hundred or so relatives who showed up. Others I’d seen in pictures, or heard stories about, or seen on the family tree. Some folks so strongly resembled people I’d seen in decades-old pictures that they were recognizable as this one’s son or that one’s granddaughter. It was fun to catch up with some and meet others, though a large portion of the time was spent figuring out who was related to whom. It’s especially difficult when the given names are recycled as often as they are.
Of the eight brothers and sisters, only the youngest daughter survives. Sadly, she couldn’t make the reunion because it was too far from home. I don’t know whether there’ll be other reunions in the future, because Tommaso’s and Maria’s family may have reached a critical mass whereupon it breaks up, and their grandchildren–the children of the eight Zaccardi orphans–may become the focal points of their own huge families. Even if that happens, hopefully the story of Tommaso’s and Maria’s and Vincenzo’s and Maria’s children will be passed on.