Tomás Ó Flatharta

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A Tribute to Francesca (1936-2023) by Dave Kellaway

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This is a very affectionate tribute to an Italiam woman written by her son-in-law, Dave Kellaway. It comes from Dave’s facebook page.

The badante (live-in-home carer) system in Italy

Dave Kellaway’s description of the Italian state’s support system enabling unhealthy older people to finish their lives at home will interest readers in Ireland – where a similar system could easily be established.

A key reason why they have been able to stay together is the badante (live-in home carer) system that exists in Italy. Nearly entirely made up of legal or so called ‘illegal’ migrants from South Asia, Eastern Europe or the Phillipines the badantes live 24/7 with a day off a week looking after Italy’s infirm older people. Scandalously the present hard right Meloni government is always talking about an invasion of migrants and encourages racism towards them. However without this army of wonderful carers the old age welfare system would collapse. We have been very lucky with the most tender, skilled carers from Kerala, South India. Anton, Mariam and George have been essential for helping Ciro and Francesca to spent their final years together. Thank you for your service and love.

I don’t always write much about personal matters but my mother in law just died this week and I found myself wanting to write about her life – her struggles and success and how she was so welcoming to me. I have produced this memoir which is longer than the usual facebook post:

Part of the reason why I wanted to write this memory of my mother-in-law is that we need to respect and value the lives of those who are not lauded publicly, who are not elected, selected or the winner of prizes. Working class lives, particularly women, are particularly hidden from history. The priest came just now to bless the body and talked about gratitude. He was right, whether you are a believer or not, we need to show true gratitude to the lives of people who loved us, who gave up stuff to help us thrive.
Francesca grew up in some of the world’s more exclusive tourist spots on the Amalfi coast in Ravello and Albori. Her childhood was far from relaxing or contemplative. Childhood was different for people growing up as tenant farmers in poor rural areas. Nicola, her younger brother, went North to live and work with an uncle in Ivrea, near Turin when he was eleven. Her sister remembers when they used to gather wood in the hills of Albori to exchange for bread in Vietri on the coast.
After the end of fascism and the Second World War, she left school at 8 years old to help her parents work the land. Life was tough after the war as economic activity slowly recovered. She was born too early for the Italian state to ensure she stayed in school to become literate. Numbers, on the other hand, she learnt from an early age. Learning comes quickly if you need the money from selling lemons or milk. Everything depends on getting the prices right and counting the change properly. Francesca carried that skill throughout her life. She was the one who was in charge of the household accounts, the savings and much, much later, the prized house purchase.
Francesca’s own mother was not always supportive of her developing skills or interests than did not meet the needs of the household as she saw them. For example when she wanted to meet her future mother in law for the first time, she had secretly made her own dress without her mother’s permission. She even made another dress for her little sister, Maria, who was chaperoning her on this visit. Life was difficult in poor families and mothers were particularly harsh at times with their daughters who were expected to do lots of household chores. People who are familiar with the books (now a TV series) of Elena Ferrante – My Brilliant Friend – can see how tough, even cruel, parents could be at that time.
On 24 January, she passed away. I look at her skeletally thin body, grey pallor and sunken eyes as she lies out before her funeral. Then I remember just how fit, strong and healthy she always was until the shock of a life threatening operation for colon cancer three years ago. I remember once being called down to the front gate of her apartment block to give a hand to bring some packages in. I was amazed to see her coming up the stairs with a huge package on her head! She was well into her 60s at that stage.
How the strength has drained from her. At twenty years old she married Ciro and moved to Marini – a village in the hills above Cava dei Tirreni. There she used to milk the cows every morning and then carry the two ten litre cans three kilometres down the hill to sell in Molina near the coast. I know the area well, it’s really steep! The path in those days was a bit scary in places and you had to navigate a live railway line and bridge. Her eldest daughter, Carmela, remembers falling down one day with her mum. At least the cans were empty on the walk back up.

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Written by tomasoflatharta

Jan 31, 2023 at 12:56 am