Vittoria Amandala, born in 1874 in the town of Antilia, was the daughter of Serafina Amandala and a father unknown. To be sure, not an auspicious beginning because an unwed mother—which Serafina doubtless was—would have been considered a whore. Only a whore would get pregnant and have a child without the protection and companionship of a husband. Vittoria Amandala, daughter of a whore.
But in 1899, Vittoria married a man named Pietro Maione. A common labourer, Pietro would not be able to give her a comfortable life, but they could be together and raise a family. This, amidst the rising turmoil in Italy at the end of the 19th century, would be the prospect ahead of them for the years to come.
And joy would have arisen in Vittoria as she discovered in January of 1900 that she was pregnant. She would later give birth on September 5th of that year to a healthy and happy daughter, Maria Rosina Maione. But by then, her joy would have evaporated. For in May of 1900, Pietro had left.
There are no stories about the leaving, no tales of how or why he left; all anyone knows is that one day, he did leave. Walking cross-country, Pietro escaped the poverty and uncertainty of Italy and boarded a ship in Naples destined for the United States of America. And, once again, Vittoria, daughter of the whore, was alone, but this time with a baby on the way.
Maria Rosina Maione would be born, live, and die. And, perhaps on her wedding certificate may have been written the words “father unknown.” Maria Rosina Maione, daughter of a woman abandoned, of a mother as alone as her grandmother.
My family tree includes a small branch, Vittoria Amandala and Maria Rosina Maione. They are connected by a solid line to my great-grandfather. The irony of all of this is that the woman whose name does show up in the great-grandmother slot next to Pietro in my family tree is there due to a dotted line, for the two were never married. While it is possible that Vittoria was able to get her marriage to Pietro annulled, which would have been required in order for her to have married a second time, there is no record of that in my family because she is not really a part of our tree; she has become an afterthought. Vittoria shows up only as the “first wife of” Pietro Maione. But, given the legalities of the situation, she should show up as “the one and only wife of” Pietro Maione.
We quite easily make determinations about heroes and villains in our personal stories, often based on convenience and pragmatism, on our comfort levels. We see our lives through our own lenses, embracing those whom we’d embrace and rejecting those whom we’d reject sometimes for no reason other than that they, in the mist of time, have a familial connection to us. And such is the effect of our personal stake in the matter that the farther back in time we go, the more willing we are to embrace the villains as essential parts of our stories.
I cannot truly judge my great-grandfather, for I did not know him nor did I know his story. But, if I were to label him based on what I do know he did, at least in the beginning, I would with ambivalent hand place “villain” on his picture.
But, I have seen redemption. I have seen redemption in my life and in the lives of those around me. I have seen redemption in the lives of my family members. I have seen many individuals overcome what they should have been to become something better. And I can, perhaps presumptuously, over the span of the years, hold out a hand of grace to Pietro for this thing that he did.
We are bastards, all of us. For the woman who is my great-grandmother was not married to my great-grandfather and, therefore, were we royalty, we would have no claim to the throne. That claim would fall to the descendants of an unknown (to me) woman named Maria Rosina Maione. The daughter of a woman who through no choice of her own carried on the label which her mother bore. And I wonder what became of her, Maria Rosina Maione, twice daughter of a whore. I do not know, but I have to believe that, having Maione blood in her veins, she could not help but rise above the path that her life was set on to become something more.