Mom was born on December 20, 1922 in Hartford, the 2nd of 4 daughters born to Carmela and Sebastian Zappulla. Early on, she showed herself to be head-strong, smart and capable. At the age of 8, she lost her father and quickly assumed the role of the "man of the house", helping her mother take care of her sisters. She walked many miles each day with her friend Lilli to buy bread for the family, and in the winter they would often eat a whole loaf on the way home just to keep warm. She would go to the market with her mother to get the food for the family and always hated walking home with the live chickens held out to her sides so they wouldn't scratch her.
Her favorite holiday was Christmas and she loved spending it with her family. She often told us stories about the Christmases of her childhood when she and her sisters would wake up and be so excited at the prospect of opening their only gift… an orange in each of their stockings.
She always said that they were poor in money but rich in love.
As she got older, she took more responsibility for the family. She left high school at the age of 16 to work and help support her mother and sisters. She once asked her mother why she had to do all the ironing, cleaning and other chores for the family. Grandma told her it was because she was the quickest and most capable, that Pat liked to read books, and Mary, Millie and Carol were too little.
Mom loved her sisters and was devoted to them. She remained devoted to them throughout her life. After Pat and Millie passed, she missed them dearly and spoke of them often. She continued to speak with Mary and Carol on a regular basis to make sure they were OK and that they didn't need anything.
She was a natural care taker and always wanted to be a nurse. She volunteered as a nurse's aid in her early 20's and was working at the hospital during the Hartford Circus Fire of 1944. Years later, she still had vivid memories of taking care of the burn victims. She was planning to join the Women's Army nursing core during World War II when she met Sammy. He found out that she was planning to join the military and convinced her to marry him instead.
She was beautiful inside and out.
She loved children and always wanted a house full. She had fond memories of baby Frankie crawling around her hair salon while she worked and could barely keep from laughing when recalling the time that his diaper opened up on the white shoes of a particularly difficult and picky customer.
Mom and Dad moved to Old Lyme in 1954 with their then 2 sons. Together, they ran Sam's store for 10 years. She had 3 more children and though she had a variety of jobs during that time, she was first and foremost a Mother.
Nothing was more important to her than her kids. She remembered everything about us. Even at 91, she could still recite the time that each of us was born, how much we weighed and what kind of babies we were. Rich arrived the fastest, was the easiest to raise, the most gentle and learned to read the earliest. Frank was the one she had to watch at all times (she once found him on the roof of the hair salon when he was two, after he'd wandered off). He was the one that kept everyone laughing. Lucia was the smallest and cutest and would stick her tongue out at everyone. As she told it, I was the most stubborn and if told that I couldn't do something, I would do it anyway. Sal had the biggest heart.
Mom taught us strength and compassion and was always an example of Grace in difficult times. She survived the challenges of raising a handicapped child, the loss of another and the declining years of a husband with Alzheimer's Disease.
She became a surrogate mother to many nieces, nephews and friends through the years. Mom hosted many of them at the lake in the summer. She tried to teach them about nutrition and gave lessons in manners! Mostly she wanted everyone to feel accepted and loved.
She loved to cook and bake, and her fried dough, chocolate cake and oatmeal cookies were famous.
Hers was the house where people were always welcome. On weekends, dozens of friends and family members would gather for cookouts and baseball games; and college friends whose families lived far away were always welcome for Thanksgiving. Every visit was full of laughter. Her laugh was infectious.
Mom raised five kids and then helped raise her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She loved them fiercely. She was a beloved grandmother who always had room on her lap for her kids no matter how old they got. She sang us lullabies in Italian. She danced with us in the kitchen.
She was proud of her family.
She loved her daughter-in-law Nancy and always said she couldn't have hand picked a better one
She always made people know that they were important to her. She travelled across the country by train for weddings and she travelled by bus to Arizona to meet Jesse, her first grandson. Sammy used to call her the "world traveler".
Mom was always "there" for every one of us. She never missed a soccer game or a dance recital, and she sat in the car for hours during piano lessons, dance lessons and sports practices. She sat by our hospital beds when we were sick and she sat vigil in her kitchen chair, waiting for Frank to come home from Vietnam.
She was a devoted wife and took care of Dad throughout his declining health and never ever complained about it.
She prayed a lot. Her faith got her through many dark times.
Mom taught us through her words and actions that there is nothing more important than family. She always said that your family is not just who you are born to, but also the people who you bring into your life. Mom had the biggest family of anyone we know.