Framing a Life

A hospital admissions nurse asked Antonetta Ferraro, shortly before her death, whether she had graduated from high school. “No,” Geraldine Ferraro heard her mother reply, “but I graduated from elementary school. Big deal, huh?” Stunned by the self-deprecating remark from one who had worked long hours as a crochet beader to assure that she and her brother would get the best schooling America had to offer, the author conceived this project to validate her mother’s sacrifices and celebrate America’s immigrant heritage.

Since Antonetta had shielded her daughter from unpleasant facets of her life, Ferraro started out with, in her words, the “barest frame.” Not until forty years later, for example, did she learn that when her father suddenly died from a heart attack, he and Antonetta had just been arrested for running an illegal numbers operation. Rupert Murdoch’s smarmy New York Post had dug up the information during the 1984 Presidential campaign, which pitted the Walter Mondale-Ferraro ticket against Ronald Reagan and George Bush. The innuendoes of media stories concerning her husband’s business dealings perhaps helps explain why Ferraro’s political mentor and ethnic compatriot, New York Governor Mario Cuomo, shrank from throwing his hat in the presidential ring. The vice-presidential nomination, a source of both pride, hurt, and anxiety to Antonetta, demonstrated how far the female offspring of immigrants could rise but also how Italian-American stereotypes still persisted.

Recommended, especially for aspiring genealogists who seek models to help them breathe life into their family histories.