Nella was raised by an aunt in a little village in the hills of Tuscany, Italy. There was little work to be had in Italy and Nella’s mother and father were working in France, she as a wet nurse, he as a shoemaker. Deficient nourishment resulted in Nella contracting a form of polio. The doctors told her mother that Nella would have to wear braces for the rest of life. A decade later (1918), Nella was walking off the ship, Conte Verde, at Ellis Island unaided.
The family settled in Chicago and Nella, 4’ 11” on her tip toes, learned English and defended herself fiercely against school bullies who picked on the new immigrants. She graduated from high school, got a business school certificate, and at 20 years-old, set out on her own for California, where she worked during the day as a hospital switchboard operator and studied ballet in the evenings at the Earl Wallace Studios. She presented the Italian version of the Paul Whiteman movie, The King of Jazz, in 1930, and was about to go on tour with the Earl Wallace Dancers when she met and married my dad. They were together for 76 years.
My mother’s admonition to never give up and her encouragement of my aspirations were the foundation of whatever success I’ve had in life, and the enduring respect I have for those early intrepid immigrants to America’s land of opportunity.