Wasn’t One of Our Ancestors a French Bishop Or Something?
Two of my second cousins are in town
so my Grandma and Mom take us all out
to a Monday noon lunch at the Pfister café.
My cousin Courtney, lifelong Texas resident
introduces us to her new husband, Michael
who, to our collective delight is as Wisconsin as
Green Bay where he was raised.
Then there is my cousin Amy and her new husband, Punit
who grew up in Zambia, Africa.
Soon Amy & Punit (of Kansas) will voyage to India
to visit all his grandparents and family there.
Many countries and continents encompass our family,
but today’s meeting concerns the Italian “De Simone” side.
My mom wants you to know De Simone
should be pronounced Deh-si-MON-eh
not Dee-Simone as they switched it long ago
to fit their new American life in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Courtney says she thought she once heard
that De Simone is really a French name
and that one of our ancestors married a French bishop,
which would be against the Vatican’s wishes if true.
But my mom says no, that’s not right, at all,
Grandpa (my great-grandpa) had an uncle who was an archbishop,
Filippo, born in Acri, Consenza, Calabria in 1807
long before it was considered Italy, unified as we know it today.
Filippo was installed as the bishop in the Cathedral of Santa Severina
which my parents snapped a picture of when they visited Italy in 1983.
Bishop Filippo’s brother and sister-in-law lived with him,
as the caretakers of his house.
Once, when this sister-in-law turned gravely ill,
her husband prayed to let her live
and to have him be the one to die instead…
and that’s just what happened.
Then the bishop’s widowed sister-in-law remarried
to a man with the last name of Pignataro.
Years later, her son Giuseppe De Simone
(from her first marriage),
moved to America and worked
to provide enough for his teenage bride, Maria
and their first son
as well as his sisters and half-sisters
to all cross over in 1914.
Years later my mother explained to Maria all about her new waterbed
Maria was repulsed at the idea of a swaying, watery bed,
“I came over on the boat, that’s enough for me.”
Maria and Giuseppe’s son, Alberto De Simone was my Grandpa.
My cousin Amy’s Grandpa was Alberto’s brother, Alfredo.
Both Al’s eliminated the o’s off the ends of their name
so they wouldn’t stick out as Italians.
Courtney’s Grandma, Elvira became Vera.
Salvatore became Uncle Sam,
Guillermo became Uncle Willy.
Aunts Florence and Eva didn’t change their names,
Aunts Adeline and Angeline did not survive childhood.
Now, a century after Giuseppe (a.k.a “Peppi”) came over to America
looking for his new life as a blacksmith,
his offspring gather in the Pfister, ordering a bloody mary,
cream of broccoli soup and a couple of salmon salads
“Wasn’t one of our ancestors a French Bishop or something?”
No, he wasn’t,
but isn’t this game of generational telephone interesting?