August 23, 2021
Monday, August 23, 2021
Eulogy for Barbara Bitonti
Friday, August 27, 2021
St. Gregory RC Church, Sault Ste Marie, Ontario
Welcome and thank you for attending this celebration for the life of Barbara Bitonti.
I’m Frank Bitonti, the eldest of her four surviving children.
Barbara lived a full and most productive life in her 96 years.. She has left us a very rich legacy of perseverance, of devotion and of love, and a zeal for living.
Barbara’s perseverance – born in San Giovanni in Fiore in 1925, she grew up during a very turbulent period in Italian and world history. She was a teenager at the start of World War II. She and our father often spoke of those lean years, of many days of hunger that many in southern Italy experienced during the war. Molte volte abbiamo provato la fame. Many times, we tasted hunger. Their reminders recall the famous scene Gone with the Wind where a famished and desperate Scarlett Ohara, near the end of the Civil War, raises her fist defiantly crying “As God is my witness, as God is my witness, I shall never go hungry again.” I picture Barbara doing a Scarlett Ohara during the lean years of World War II. And perhaps true to those words, she made sure for so many years anyone who entered her house, never left hungry. And for her children and grandchildren she made sure her pantry and cold cellar were always full; we all came to benefit from her incredible and varied skills as homemaker – baking home made bread, making sausages and prosciutto, curing olives, and pickling tomatoes, melanzane, and peppers. Not to mention, the strength that she showed in administering the fatal blows to rabbits and chickens we kept at 154 McFadden well in to mid 60’s. The rest of us, including our Dad, would squeamishly leave Mom on her own to pluck the chicken feathers and skin the rabbits. Her grandchildren always marveled how she could quickly whip up chicken cutlets, French fries, and a tomato salad in minutes to feed them a hearty lunch.
Her determination would be most evident after her first unsuccessful attempt at settling down with her children in Sault Ste Marie in 1952. She returned to Italy in 1954 with four children in tow. Our Dad Pasquale stayed in Canada hoping to get permanent employment that would hopefully lead to Barbara returning with his family. Barbara returned in 1956 determined to settle down. I recall vividly her strength on the ten-day voyage in 1956 from train to passenger ship across the Atlantic and back to train to Sault Ste Marie with four young children. There were moments on that voyage that she was so exhausted she’d burst into tears. I remember vividly trying to console her in our cabin on the passenger ship as we crossed the Atlantic. She could have been feigning sea sickness to keep me and my brother Joe from leaving the cabin to roam the ship – which we too often did. Little did I know that she was so prepared this time to meet the challenges of the new world. My brother Joe had completed grade 2 in Italy and I had completed grade 1. And my younger brother Sam, at 4 was only two years away from starting school. As some of you older Italians are aware, Italian school children wore black smocks and coloured bow ribbons that we would don to indicate a specific grade, red for example for grade 1, blue for grade 2 on so on. She brought with her all the correct coloured ribbons that would last her children through elementary school only to be told by Aunt Lucia, her sister-in-law, that black smocks and coloured ribbons are not worn by students in Canadian schools. She recovered from this revelation to her lack of understanding of Canada. She was determined to become more informed and made sure that we all got the education that would serve all of us well into adulthood.
Barbara’s Devotion to Family and Friends
Barbara’s devotion to family was best illustrated in the care and commitment she showed our father Pasquale during his five-year battle with colon cancer. She was at his bedside when he passed. In 1969, when she was able to afford it, she made the trek back to Italy to see her aging mother. In 1985, she and Pasquale, reconnected with the extended family back in Italy. Beyond her immediate family, she was devoted to maintaining her relations with all her relatives in Canada and in the United States, sending her famous bread-sticks to her uncle Bill and her cousins Albert and Rosemarie in Clarksburg, West Virginia and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as well as sewing and mending dresses on her Singer machine for so many in the neighbourhood.
Barbara’s Unconditional Love
She always made sure that her children and grandchildren got the love and attention she was always so eager to give. In 2006, she and her sister Lucrezia, made a trek to Nova Scotia, to visit her grandchildren Pat and Anthony, their wives Heidi and April. Her piercing hazel eyes would sparkle with delight upon seeing her great grandchildren Megan, Matthew, Kiara, Kalie. In the last year, Henry her youngest great grandchild was the light of her life. Her love for her family came with some deep pain with the loss of her two adult children, Sam in 2008 and Joe in 2020. No greater pain does a parent experience than the loss of a child, even an adult child. Mom often talked about the pain her own mother had had losing three children – Lucrezia, Barbara, and Giovanni – to the Spanish Flu in 1918.
Barbara’s Zest for Life
Barbara raged and raged against the dying of her light because she loved living so much. That was so evident in way she reveled in relating her stories of the old country and her life experiences. As an adult, I could listen to her entranced for hours at her incredible memory of the minutest details of her life in Italy. She was often tired of late but a few weeks ago after lunch I saw how in the presence of Kaitlin and Courtney, two of her Personal Support Workers, (PSW) she lit up brilliantly and talked incessantly for over a half hour. The three of use could only understand a word or two of what she was saying but she felt she was communicating well by the sheer power of her emotions. Barbara loved the bright lights and excitement that was part of her many visits to the casinos with her sister Lucrezia. Similarly, she reveled in the noisy screaming game shows such as The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud. She and Lucrezia would watch these shows faithfully for many years even though they didn’t understand the English well. And their limited English did not prevent them from becoming big fans for many years of the soap opera, The Young and the Restless primarily because of the popular character Victor Newman played by actor Eric Braeden. They would refer to him affectionately as Mr. Newman.
Special thanks to my sisters Theresa and Rose and my younger brother Tony, their spouses, Rick, Marchy, and Julie as well as their children for the immense sacrifices they made over the last seven and half years in caring for our dear Barbara after her stroke in 2014. They showed enormous love and care for Mom by making sure she had someone there for her at night and in the morning. Up to 2014, as so many of you know, Mom was a fiercely independent woman in her home.
I recall Mom saying a number of times, that when she lived in Italy, she could never in her wildest dreams imagine living in a house so big and with so much. To her, only the very rich lived in such palaces. Quest casa e un palazzo, – this house is a palace. And perhaps over the last 7 and half years she arguably deserved to be waited on hand and foot like royalty for all she did for her family. And true to form, she felt an allegiance and special kinship to Queen Elizabeth with whom she shared many birthdays. Queen Elizabeth was born on April 21, 1926, exactly one year to the day after Barbara’s birth. And of course, when Queen visited Sault Ste. Marie many years ago in 1959, Mom rushed downtown to try to get a glimpse of her.
The family would also like to extend a special thank you to Vicki Fecteau, the special PSW who for seven and half years provided such wonderful care for our Mom.
Mom, was often so distraught at having lost her son Sam in 2008. He was such a supportive son to her after Dad died. Theresa and Rose would often joke with her that Sam who was such a fine handyman, was building a castle for her in heaven. Mom, your castle is now waiting for you. We will miss all things you did for us on earth. Mom, now heaven is blessed to have you.