I never had the opportunity to meet my Grandma Villa (mia nonna), as she passed away a year before I was born. I would have loved to have known her, because her story is as amazing as anything you read in novels or see in the movies. She briefly lived in a monastery, survived an earthquake that killed most of her family, and came to America alone with only a photograph of a man she had met once a decade earlier, who would become her husband and the father of seven children. This is her story... [Note to my Villa cousins: I've tried to verify as much of this information as possible - if anything is incorrect, please message me and let me know! Thanks! <3] Special thanks to my mom for helping me get the facts straight and for sharing this story with me, and also to my cousin Melissa, who provided the awesome photos in this blog post. Thank you both for keeping the Villa family history alive. :)
|Settimia as a Young Woman|
My grandmother was born Settimia Cerimele in Pescina, Italy on April 21, 1889. Her name reflects the fact that she was her parents' seventh (settimo) child. Several of her sisters grew up and married, as was the custom in the early 1900s. Many of them became teachers, which was one of only a few career options women had at that time. My great-grandmother tried to encourage her daughter to study to become a teacher like her sisters. But my grandma Settimia wanted to become a dressmaker - she didn't want to be a teacher and nobody was going to make her! (Love the attitude - I believe the Italian term is "capa tosta"!) So, rather than go to school to become a teacher, she decided to leave Pescina and went to live with the nuns at a monastery in Naples, where she learned to do beautiful embroidery (by hand). After about a year, she decided to return home to her family. Shortly after returning to Pescina, my grandma received a letter from a man named Gaetano Villa whom she had briefly met 10 years earlier while visiting a friend or relative. Gaetano had immigrated to America and was working with his brother, Giuseppi in New Jersey. He asked Settimia to come to America and become his wife. Her mother did not want her to go to America, so she chose to stay in Italy.
|SS America - The Ship Grandma Villa Sailed to America|
To view the ship's manifest, click here.
|Gaetano & Settimia's Wedding Portrait|
|Making Easter Pizza|
|Making homemade gnocchi with my Dad & Alana|
In loving memory of Grandma Settimia Villa
With Love and Aloha ~ Nancy