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Oh my God, Joe DiMaggio!

From left: Nana Maria Carone, Mary Carone Nicholson and Nana Grace Billecci, during Mary’s 2nd Grade Holy Communion. The picture was taken outside the Billecci home at 425 Talbert St., Martinez, circa 1954-1955. (MARY CARONE NICHOLSON / Courtesy)
From left: Nana Maria Carone, Mary Carone Nicholson and Nana Grace Billecci, during Mary’s 2nd Grade Holy Communion. The picture was taken outside the Billecci home at 425 Talbert St., Martinez, circa 1954-1955. (MARY CARONE NICHOLSON / Courtesy)
By KRISTIN HENDERSON
Special to the Tribune

Vince Ferrante of Pittsburg writes: “In 1978 when I was 13 … Dad took me to Amato’s bar to visit his cousin Vince who was working. … Vince Amato asked me if I liked baseball … he then asked me if I would like Joe DiMaggio’s autograph, of which I excitedly said yes. At the time I was a bubble gum chewing, baseball card collecting teen. Vince asked Dad to drop off a baseball at first opportunity. … A few weeks later, we got the phone call, and low and behold I was the proud owner of a baseball autographed by the Yankee Clipper himself, ‘To Vince Ferrante from Joe DiMaggio.’ This ball resides in my curio to this very day. Thank you, Cousin Vince Amato, for making a teen’s day back in 1978 and for still putting a smile on my face 37 years later.”

Mary Carone Nicholson writes: “My Nana Carone was very religious, attended Mass every day and had a little corner in the kitchen set up as her Rosary station. She said the Rosary every night at 7 p.m. It was telecast on the radio. That custom was carried out in my home for many years. We ate dinner, cleaned the kitchen, said the Rosary at 7 p.m., then did homework. My parents didn’t get their first TV until 1960, to promote studies and participation in the Catholic religion that was a very big part of our lives. My husband Bill isn’t Catholic and when we visited, my Nana would always ask Bill, ‘When you going [to] become a Catholic?’

Mary Carone during her confirmation at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Martinez. (MARY CARONE NICHOLSON / Courtesy)
Mary Carone during her confirmation at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Martinez. (MARY CARONE NICHOLSON / Courtesy)
“My cousin Rose Billecci Santos told me this story about my Nana Carone. When her eldest daughter was a baby she was colicky and sick a lot so her mother-in-law, my Aunt Rosalia Billecci, would take her to see my Nana who was known as a healer and would pray for my cousin Mary Sue, who would get better. I believe I had that same thing with my son Dan as a child, who I was able to make better when I would place my hand on his forehead. He had terrible allergies and would get ill, and had bad headaches that would go away after I would soothe him and tell him he would get better. It was an interesting phenomenon.”

It was this Mrs. Carone that Mary Amato would pray the Rosary with every day to ensure her son would survive WWII. It was with this God that Pete Amato made a deal with for the same reason. A similar story of healing and attribution gave rise to the Ciaramitaro annual St. Giuseppe feast which was continued into this decade here in Martinez.

I call God “The Great Creator.” Architecture reflects the Creator in all of us and is an expression the public cannot escape.

St. Catherine of Siena Parish Church is the formal parlor of God. The interior was designed, with the power of images and music, long before radio, film, or Internet. St. Catherine’s has occupied the same block since the 1850s. In 1930, the rectory (the priest’s apartment) was erected in a Tudor style. In 1940, the Neo-Gothic church was erected. This era was the peak population of Italians in Martinez but many groups contributed to St. Catherine’s.

I have a 1916 article about a religious festival undertaken in Portuguese. View it here: http://1drv.ms/1WgeYOp.

I lived for six years across from the rectory and the week I moved in, so did Father Niel Clemmens who was born on the exact day and year as my brother. The hourly church bell measured my life like cups of brown sugar. I imagine how Native Americans would be overpowered by such a massive, loud metal thing, suspended in air, dissecting their sense of time into controlled tendons of man’s power over man.

Immigrant lives were ruled by hard work and prayer; what they could do with their hands and their hearts. Today, Mass Media sets the tones of our lives. Is there a difference between a religious icon and a movie icon? Joe DiMaggio is one of the few remembered sports figures, despite rockiness in his own life including alcohol use, to not be deposed from honor. Jesus has a better chance of coming back than Joe, but Joe has yet to disappoint.

One of these crisp, green-apple days, I will ascend the North Beach-like elevations of St. Catherine’s cemetery and stare back into Italian eyes, still fresh in their headstone cabochon photos, and ask them about God.

2 comments

  1. Kristin Henderson

    Mary Carone Nicholson: “Two of the most inspirational women my Nana Maria Carone on the left and my Nana Grace Bellecci on the right with me on my Holy Communion celebration spring of 1955. Raised large families worked tirelessly strong work ethics sharing their love through example courageous in times of hardships always striving to make others life’s better by caring for them and taking care of all who came to their homes and knew them.”

  2. Great article! Thanks for sharing.
    Franci Lucero

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