Saturday, June 18, 2016

Immigrant, Catholic, and 1-percenter

cover of 1987 memoir 'Panhandle Memories' by Adelia Rosasco Soule
I jumped to read the 1987 memoir, Panhandle Memories, by poet Adelia Rosasco-Soule. Frontier memoirs are a favorite, and this one was about a pioneer Catholic family.

There aren't as many references about Catholicism as I expected. I wondered why, because Catholicism shapes one's whole being. Adelia and her family were minorities: Italian immigrants, Catholic, and members of the region's 1 percent. The mix was certainly unusual. Perhaps Adelia focused only on the big picture in her writing, even when elderly and the Poet of the Panhandle. She was named the first Poet Laureate of the West Florida Panhandle in 1986. Also, the book is a compilation from the poet's writings, not a straight memoir. It was edited and published by the West Florida Literary Federation and the Pensacola Press Club.

The memoir is shaped as though written alternately by Adelia and the family's mixed-race housekeeper "Aunt Mariah" Cosey. Adelia was 3 when her family moved from Genoa, Italy, to Bay Point, outside Milton, in 1904. They lived in the waterfront "Big House" and her father was president of the sawmill and a bank. The family also conducted a shipping business.

Tidbits of Catholic history I gleaned are (with page numbers in parentheses):
  • Before "Madam" - Adelia's mother, Ermelinda Schiaffino Rosasco -  arrived there was only one other Catholic lady in Santa Rosa County, a German immigrant. (34)
  • A Father Fullerton from St. Michael's arrived by boat from Pensacola to christen the first Rosasco born in Bay Point. After that, "all the mission priests were Irish from little St. Anne's in Bagdad." The German Catholic lady was caretaker of St. Anne's. (34)
  • Locals ate gopher gumbo each Friday, "whether Catholic or not." (48)
  • On weeks when Mass wasn't said, Adelia's mother had her children say "the Rosary and Litany, all in Latin." (73).  
  • In 1909-10, and 1911-12, Adelia attended Perpetual Adoration Convent school in Pensacola (today's Sacred Heart Cathedral School). (81-82)
  • Faith "was kept alive and nurtured" by Adelia's mother and mission priests from Pensacola. The priests lodged with the family, and were given coffee and sweet buns for the trip home. (95).
  • Mass was said once a month in the parlor, and Adelia's mother took care of the altar linens. (134)
  • Adelia's mother went on retreat two days a year at the convent. (134) (Historical note: the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration left Pensacola in 1945.) 
What does this all tell me?  That we've all been immigrants at one time or another, either in recent generations or in the distant past. At some point in every family's life - even our Native Americans, for they, too traveled here from elsewhere - a generation has been alone in an unfamiliar place. Gradually, each found a way to make the old and new fit together. May we continue to do so today, without animosity, and with love.

My gratitude to Volusia County Library System for having this book.

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