Many immigrants were in regular contact with their families back home. Those who were illiterate had people who wrote for them. In the case of a close relative’s death overseas, a letter of expressing condolences was necessary, especially due to the great distances separating the immigrants from the bereaved in Italy..
This old letter is again from Montelongo in the province of Campobasso. Gennaro, settled in Youngstown, OH, has tragically lost his young wife Carmela. Our attention is drawn to Lucia’s loving care with the text and also her oblique reference to the perils on the high seas. We are in the midst of the First World War, when German submarines are targeting passenger ships. Gennaro, who will be her brother-in-law in less than a year, has been devastated. Yet there is this consoling letter for him.
Montelongo, May 29, 1917
A terrible piece of news that displeases all of us spread yesterday along the streets of our small village. I almost did not want to believe it, but afterwards some letters that arrived persuaded me that your companion is gone to heaven, where at this moment she prays for you. While, overcome with grief, you melt into tears.
She was your trusted companion in this world and your protector in the next one. She was your consoling angel and now she is your shining star that smiles at you with the smile of your first love.
If it is true that the soul is immortal, if the spirit flies as thoughts do – Oh Gennaro, console yourself because Carmela is close to you. She attends all of your activities, she follows you in your trips, and she watches over you while you sleep – that beautiful Carmela who was yours in life. Therefore she is yours in death.
No one can say that he is happy in this land of tears. All mortals, some more some less, have had to experience pain. The more one walks in this life the more one finds suffering. Persuade yourself that down here in our earthly domicile we are pilgrims. In the other world, blessed they who go there soon to meet up with those who do good deeds.
Comfort one another. And you, a man, comfort that poor old woman who is your mother. I wish I could speak and comfort you in person, but the immense ocean full of dangers separates us. I hope that this poor writing of mine alleviates, in part, your pain. And I end giving you my heartfelt regards and the same to all your family and I sign myself that I am your dear…