Allow me to begin at the beginning. I was born in Brooklyn, New York on October 17, 1957. I was named Elvira Robina Mannarino and my parents were Albert and Alessandra. We lived on Herkimer Street off Eastern Parkway in the same brownstone where my father grew up with his ten siblings. My family moved to Long Island in the early sixties for a slice of the good life. Thanks to my three brothers Ronald, Robert and Richard—I was very athletic and also adept at self-defense (to protect myself from them!) The fifth and final stork delivery produced my sister Michelle—the ally and friend I had always hoped for.
Although New York is often referred to as a huge melting pot, the vast majority (all, to be exact) of my childhood friends were of European ancestry. Like most sprawling suburbs across America at that time, there existed an unspoken wall of segregation. Chances of meeting African, Asian, South American, or Middle Eastern Americans were slim to none in my white, “Wonder Years” neighborhood. In 1970, we moved to a larger house on a wooded acre and it was that home that holds the fondest memories of my middle school, high school and college years.
Most New Yorkers never go too far from the nest. I never imagined that ten years after graduating from Boston College, I would return to the same town I grew up in, but with a husband and a baby. I embraced marriage and motherhood and my church became very central to my life. I loved the church and I loved our pastors. I especially loved the women of the church. I admired their strength and servant hearts. I was often convicted by their “no-problem…can- do” attitudes. These women took Titus 2 seriously and they freely opened their hearts and homes. I entered both and took plenty of notes.
Read this list of some of my favorite New Yorkers. Read it out loud. Be sure to enunciate every vowel. Stretch out your right hand (palm toward heaven.) Cup your fingers. Pronounce each name with feeling and melodic rhythm. Lift your hand up and down two inches with the pronunciation of each syllable. Ready? Go ahead.
Josie Greco, Amy Ciofrone, Diane Zarlengo, Marie Gebbia, Judy Conti, Valerie Infranco, Evelyn Zanoni, Michelle Como, Celeste Avolese, Dorothy Rondinelli,
Suzanne Azzolini. Congratulations! You are fluent in Italian! I didn’t try to have friends who sound like they’re in the cast of a Fellini film! It just turned out that way.
I enjoyed a deep sense of belonging. These dear friends saw me through my early years as a teacher, wife and mother. They encouraged me in the ever-challenging, sometimes uncomfortable call to take up the cross. It’s not that we had a lot of leisure time together. I don’t have many memories of “doing lunch.” It was the bridal and baby showers, the Bible studies and retreats, and the birthdays and funerals that so tightly knit them to my heart. It was the tears of joy and sorrow shared in the prayer room and at the altar that has cemented our life-long friendships. It knew they would come running if I had a need. What a comfort they had been to me. Then, in the summer of 1994, after fifteen years of “belonging,” we moved away.