Grand mom, Leonarda Di Pace


At the age of five, burned into my memory is the scene: it is a room approximately 20 feet square. Three of the walls are lined with beautifully arrayed to red and white roses, lilies, carnations and with flowers and greenery of every sort. Against the wall opposite the outside entrance was the mortuary urn which entrapped my uncle, Pasquale, who was just 17 years old. Mourners, with flooded eyes, sitting with sobbing heads held in thought, are lamenting the death of that fine young lad. Why, oh why, had fortunes tickled fate should struck him? Grand mom, standing bereaved in front of her departed son, is suddenly overcome by the passion of her grief, and she cried out words to the effect, “oh my son, speak to me,” and she put her arms about him and tried to set him up.  “Stop–stop” they cried, but slowly the cold figure rose and gave out a deep throaty groan. I shot out of the room into the darkness like a bullet propelled by the explosive charge of the wailing and screaming in the room. why did God allow this dastardly thing to happen, to snatch the life from that flower of youth, to bring this tragedy to this hard-working family of immigrants to the newly found land of liberty? Is Christ the fraud of Christianity that some people have dared to say? Grand mom could not be consoled; but  who, with their hearts so shattered and robbed of such treasure, could find solace and contentment. Could she be like Thomas Vaux in his “of a contented mind” he said, “he speaks best that have the skill when to hold his peace.” Never! Cursed be that which brings unhappiness! But time, and her leisurely way, gradually heals the wounds inflicted on our parts and permits life to go on; although the scars remain, forever a reminder.


Greg Popp was also affected deeply by the loss of his eldest son; but he accepted this anguish with a pensive, dignified behavior. His mind reflected on his inner self; he turned to the Bible, and there he found a solace which opened his heart to Jesus. He gave up bootlegging, drinking, smoking, and all the vices that he knew. This tragedy to him was a time of self examination which made him a stronger and better man.


Not long after Pasquale passed away, the great depression of the 1930s settled upon the land. My father, who also is an immigrant and who had very little formal education, worked for Kieckhefer Container Corporation in Delair. The wages were poor even for 40 hours; then the work week was reduced to four days and then to three. The family kept growing; every two years mother would deliver another child. Grand mom would visit, and in a short time she would be furiously scolding Dad. She could see that there were many things we did not have, and naturally grand mom was concerned about mom. Mom also got a verbal lashing now and then. But I cannot say that grand mom didn’t have our welfare in mind. In fact, however, I think that grand mom was in part responsible for driving Dad half out of his mind. The result of this was that after our mother had her 10th child, he left home. He did not completely abandon the children. When mom went to work he would visit the children and bring them vegetables and fruit from his garden along with a pittance that he could afford.


Although all the children grew up in good health, all married and doing well, grand mom still could not leave Dad alone: last Christmas while visiting mother I met  grand mom. After visiting for several hours I expressed the desire to visit my father. “You go to see your fadra? Your fadra no good!” “But grandma ,” I replied, “doesn’t the Bible say, “honor thy mother and thy father?” “Yeah, ma respecta good fadra. Your fadra no good”  $500–$500 I gave your fadra when he married. Eh, whata he do? ----.”