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The Queen of the Big Time: A Novelby Adriana Trigiani
Author Q & A
A CONVERSATION WITH CONCETTA “CHETTIE” RICCI MARUCCI
Adriana: My readers are nuts for you, Chettie.
Chettie: (laughs) Why?
Adriana: They tell me that they have a best friend just like you.
Chettie: That’s very sweet. But it wasn’t hard to be best friends with Nella. I looked up to her.
Adriana: Tell me about her.
Chettie: I wish I would have had a quarter of her pep. She had more energy than ten people. She was straight as an arrow, honest, and very decent. I miss her every day.
Adriana: Tell me about your hometown.
Chettie: I wish everyone could have the experience of being raised in a town like Roseto. It was very safe—we never locked our doors! Our parents worked hard, but they gave us a hundred percent of themselves. They tried very hard to show us the world.We’d go to Philadelphia and up to Connecticut, places that were close by but different. I loved when we went to the shore in New Jersey. Atlantic City is one of my favorite places.
Adriana: Did your mother remarry after the loss of your father?
Chettie: Never. She didn’t even go out on a date. She said she had the best and there would be no topping that. So, no, she didn’t. But that wasn’t uncommon. Her friends who were widowed young didn’t remarry either. Maybe it’s just our culture.
Adriana: So many readers have asked me about the Roseto Heart Study led by Dr. Stewart Wolf of Tott’s Gap. Can you tell me about it?
Chettie:Well, it was a known fact that our people lived to be very old and didn’t die of heart attacks at the same numbers as the general population. In fact, our little Italian community in northeastern Pennsylvania had the lowest mortality rate for heart attacks in the country. And if you stepped across Division Street—just a few feet outside of Roseto proper into Bangor—the numbers shot up.
Adriana: Just a few steps?
Chettie: Literally, just a few! Dr. Wolf came with a team of doctors in the late fifties and early sixties and studied all of us, from the very old to the very young. At first they thought it was the food we ate—fresh from our gardens. Then they thought maybe it was the homemade wine that made us live so long, then the olive oil . . . Well, there were so many theories. But after the study was completed, Dr. Wolf said that it was our sense of community that made us live long. In Roseto, we had no fear, only a sense of family and community to sustain us. We knew that we would never go hungry, that we were safe from crime, and that when we were old we would not be put away somewhere, but rather would be taken care of in our own homes—so we didn’t have stress.
Adriana: I’ve heard stress can lead to heart attacks.
Chettie: Evidently. Stress can break your heart.
Adriana: And the women in your community worked.
Chettie: Of course. So many times, society’s ills are blamed on the working women, but we all worked, all our lives—in the factories, on the farm—and the men in the slate quarries. We did this while we raised our families! No one talks about that, but it’s true.We were traditional, and yet we had, as women, a sense of purpose outside our family structure. But you see, we had built-in day care. These two family houses in Roseto were often home to grandparents, parents, and their children—so when I went to work, my mother watched my children. But the whole community participated. All the children felt safe, and the adults surely felt they could look after the children. It was like one big family, if you will.
Adriana: What was the best part of growing up in Roseto?
Chettie: Oh, how can I pick one thing? Fall brought the hog killing—we all shared the bacon and the hams and cured our own prosciutto. Winter was wonderful because many families had horses and the fathers would hitch them up to a sleigh and take us for rides down Dewey Street and then on to Garibaldi. Spring brought Easter and the planting of the gardens. Summer meant the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Feast would come at the end of July. Main Street would be lined with stands selling candy and local delicacies, and there were games and rides and fireworks—
Adriana: So many folks remember the fireworks!
Chettie: They always went off at midnight on the Saturday night of the Feast. Then the next day was the Solemn Procession, where we would walk and say the rosary in thanksgiving. The Queen of the Big Time led the rosary procession, by the way.
Adriana: So religion played a big part in the life of the town?
Chettie: Oh yes. There’s our Catholic Church, but then, of course, the Presbyterian Church, too.
Adriana: On Garibaldi Avenue?
Chettie: Right. When the Italians first arrived here from Roseto Val Fortore, the diocese of Philadelphia would not send a priest to the immigrants here. The Presbyterians came, and saw a need for a church, so some of our forefathers converted.
Adriana: I noticed that there are two cemeteries in Roseto.
Chettie: Right. One for the Catholics and one for the Presbyterians.
Adriana: Is there anything else you’d like me to tell the readers about your town?
Chettie: We love where we come from. And we are so proud to be Italian American. In fact, when we built this town, we modeled it after our hometown in Italy. Many of us have visited it over in Italy, and we’re amazed at the similarities.
Adriana: So you’ve come so far and yet . . .
Chettie: Nothing has changed. We still hold each other close, even though the world has changed, and try to hold on to our traditions. It’s not easy. But there’s nothing more wonderful than making fresh pasta with the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren. I love to teach them everything I know and tell them all the stories I remember. It just seems right.
From the Paperback edition.
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