Michael & Maria
Folkestone, Kent, 1932: An impecunious yet ambitious young Irishman and a charming Italian beauty meet and fall in love. Ignoring family dissension and very different upbringings, they marry and settle down to raise a God-fearing British family. But a world war is brewing…. This tale of roots, upheaval, divisions overcome, living, dying, and a 60-year marriage is ultimately a story of true love. More
This memoir opens in England, in the outskirts of London. It is June 1992, and a family gathers to host a surprise celebration in honor of Michael and Maria's upcoming fifty-ninth wedding anniversary. Here, the reader meets both immediate and extended family and, as the day progresses, learns of underlying tensions, one of which was caused by another recent family event. At this time too, the four offspring face the reality that age and infirmity are starting to take their toll on this, until very recently, fully independent couple.
Though the parents' lives are centered in south-east England, their roots are not English: Michael's origins are in the east coast of Ireland, in Counties Wicklow and Wexford, while Maria's reach back to Piçinisco, and the scattered hillside villages seventy-five miles east of Rome, skirting the wild and beautiful Parco Nazionale Abruzzo.
Michael and Maria met and fell in love in Folkestone, Kent, in the early 1930s and, ignoring family concerns and even active dissent, they married. As with most British families, the September 1939 outbreak of World War II had a huge and immediate impact on their lives. But they were in many ways more fortunate than most, and we follow them to North America, and back again at war's end.
After that, the years sped past as the family moved from one home to another, and the author and her siblings grew up and spread their wings. Marriages took place. Babies arrived. It was not until her own children were moving into their teen years that she began to wonder about her parents' roots, and her own, and the talents and challenges she had passed along, as her contribution to her children's gene pool. Though by now living in the United States, she set out to uncover those roots whenever an opportunity arose.
Family origins are explored and Stephenson comes to better understand the very different ways in which her parents were raised, and the challenges impacting their shared goal of raising a God-fearing English family. The details provide a frank and engaging back story, as we are introduced to family on both sides, through their own or their siblings' recollections. The story is enriched by the inclusion of excerpts from Michael's written memories, and Maria's frank and lively sharing of the Rossi family's patchwork upbringing.
Within six months of the June family gathering, the health of both parents seems to slip into a rapid decline. The author, able to be present and actively involved during this crucial period, shares with the reader her very poignant experiences with her precious yet very different parents; each passing is very much in character with the life each had led. But over and above the gift of being there when needed, is her slow-dawning realization that, regardless of her negative opinions of their marriage, and the times of turmoil and disputation, her parents loved each other more deeply than she could ever have imagined.
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