This will be in two parts. What I have written is not nearly sufficient to describe my mother’s ninety plus years on this Earth so there was no way to shorten it to one page.
My Mom, Ottavia Ann Maida was born Ottavia Ann Pacini in Rensselaer, New York on April 17, 1923. She was the oldest of seven children and she and three brothers and three sisters grew up in the small town of Herkimer, New York.
She graduated with honors from Herkimer High School in 1941. One by one her brothers went off to WWII and she went to work. My mom worked in a garment factory. She sewed store labels on shirts. She told me to buy my shirts in a five and dime because, when she was working, she would sew five and dime labels and high price store labels on shirts from the same batch. The shirts were exactly alike.
In the late forties my Mom married my dad, Peter J. Maida. They moved from New York State to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. They stepped off the bus with not much more than some clothes and hope for the future. In 1949 our family started with the birth of my brother Tony. They moved to a little apartment above Sam Jane’s store on Hazel Street. That’s where I was born in 1950, and my brother Richard in 1954.
My Dad had chronic health problems. For twenty years he was in and out of the Veteran’s Hospital. The doctors didn’t know until it was too late that they were dealing with stomach cancer. In those days if you were out of work for illness for more than a few weeks, you were replaced. My dad was a chef and most places only had one chef. When he had to go into the Veteran’s Hospital he would lose his income and then his job. Times would get rather tough and it was up to my mom to make, what little money we had, stretch. She was a miracle worker. I don’t know how she did it, but we never went hungry and we had clothes on our backs.
Mom was there for my earliest memory. She helped me up onto a wooden crate so I could look out the window. They were building a new Salvation Army thrift store across the street and I wanted to watch the big machines work. That was my earliest memory, I was three years old. I know because it was snowing and my brother was born in September when I was four and this was before that.
My mom was there to bake us cookies by candlelight as Hurricane Hazel roared through the city. The funny thing was that we lived on Hazel Street. Mom’s cookies made the worry of the storm go away.
When I was six we rented our first house up on Moyallen Street, and at nine we moved to a little house next to the Parrish Street Municipal Swimming Pool. The real estate people always say location, location, location; well there was no better location for a kid than that little house by the pool.
My Dad’s fight against cancer continued and Mom didn’t have it easy taking care of three kids on very little money. But she was there day and night as I was growing up doing everything including tending the hand fire coal furnace in the basement. This is where the regrets come in. While I was out playing and later hanging on the corner with the guys, my mom was carrying groceries from the store, hand washing dishes, dealing with an old wringer washer, hanging clothes on the old lines in the yard, shoveling coal into that old furnace, and hauling out ashes. I did nothing to help her with those burdens and now that haunts me. I begrudged her the few times she would ask me to run up to the store. For that I am very sorry Mom.
I have written many times about how great it was to grow up in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in the fifties and sixties. It was great because my mother made it great. She did all of the work without ever burdening us with her troubles.