Hello everyone. My name is Dean Frankmore. Sylvia is my grandmother, or as we came to call her, Nanny. The name Sylvia means “of the forest or woods” so I’m foregoing the traditional black attire today and wearing (forest) green. Before I begin, I’d like to tell you a little something about myself. Normally writing comes fairly easily to me, and I’ve written and delivered a fair number of eulogies these past few years. So it took me by surprise when this particular piece became a bit of a struggle for me…and I mean besides the fact that she is my grandmother, and that I love her very much and that she was (and still is) extremely influential in my life. Well, it dawned on me about 3 am this morning…this light went on inside my head, and it was like, Duh! Mr. Perfectionist, you have been trying for only 4 days now to capture 98 incredible years in a mere 15 minute talk, when in reality the full story of Sylvia’s 98 years, to do it the justice it deserves, would require at least a year to write, a full book to convey, and a day-long seminar to present. And realizing that, I had to tell that Perfectionist inside my head, wherever it came from, to cut myself some slack. That this won’t be perfectly complete, much as I would like it to be. And, much as I feel there are profound lessons in the life of Sylvia, I won’t be able to tease out all the answers and present them crystal clearly, as if I could do such a thing for everybody anyway. Yes, there are profound lessons in this incredible and wonderful 98 year life we find so beautifully set before us. Still, I want to challenge all of you to look for these answers yourself and let the lessons of Sylvia’s life gently unfold like springtime’s blooming rose. One more thing, these past couple years I would occasionally take Nanny on these little walks, we’d do a lap around her house arm in arm, and of course, she shuffled along quite slowly, each step taken very deliberately. Well, I’m a fast walker by nature, so this experience forced me to be patient, and in being so, I found myself nowhere but right now, in the moment…the time, when your full attention allows the beauty and wonder of it all to really come alive. So, let’s take a slow walk with my old grandmother now…listen to her own words so that we might capture The Nature of Nanny and The Essence of Sylvia Marcovecchio-Greco. Thank you all for being here. I was born at home on Goat Hill in 1912, October 5 at 433 Kelly St. in Pueblo, Colorado to Frances DeNiro and Mike Marcovecchio. My grandparents are Rocco DeNiro and Maria Orlando. I have seven sisters: Jane, Mildred, Rosie, Nelli, Leona, Sadie* and my twin sister Ester, who died at age 37. I had a brother Ralph, he died when 3 years old, and another sister who died at a young age. My parents came from Italy (around 1890, my mother was about 10 years old). They gave us Italian names: Conjeta, Miliata, Estarina, Rosina, Nicole Maria, Michalena, and Sarafina, mine was Silavina. We all changed them when we started school. My father he worked at the Brickyard. He walked to work every day, about 3 miles. Some days when there was a freight train passing by he would hop a coal car and dump big pieces of coal down and we would go get it. We carried it up the hill to use in our coal stove. My mother was a home worker. In the early days of her marriage she took in washing clothes for the young men who came from Italy. We helped with all the work, cooking, washing clothes, ironing them, cleaning house, whatever there was that needed to be done. Toughness…strength…durability…these words too come to mind as I listen to Sylvia’s life. No wonder she made it as long as she did. Right from the start, these qualities were built into the fabric of her spirit. Forget about having your own bed, much less your own bedroom…and never mind central heating, plumbing, electricity, a flush-toilet and all the other comforts life has come to offer. And yet, they had something perhaps lost to the modern era, something that later generations might do well to remember. Togetherness…teamwork…community…the stark reality that sharing the load makes life easier. Many hands make light work. We saw our grandparents every day. They lived across the street. When they came to the U.S. they lived in a cave on a hill, I remember seeing a bed in there. Then they built a 3-room house at the bottom of the hill. On the outside of the house there were some more hills, so they built a cave there and made a bedroom for the boys Tom, Tony and Jim. The two girls, Frances and Sarafina slept in the house. When my grandmother passed away we cleaned my grandfather’s house. We had him and my two uncles over for supper every night. My mom would sew all our clothes, slips and bloomers out of flour sack material. The dresses were sewn with any kind of material. I remember she made a couple of dresses out of drape cloth, it was beautiful, at that time we didn’t know anything about draperies. With so many sisters we had to take turns on the dresses we wore. There were times I had to stay home from school. I had to baby sit for the baby and some of the neighbor’s babies so the mother’s could go to the shoe sale. Mom would come home with about 6 pairs of shoes, any size, and whether they fit or not we had to wear them. So that’s where we got all the bunions and ingrown toenails. In the summer we had a garden in our front yard with a lot of different veggies…cabbage, endive, radishes, tomatoes, peppers, leaf lettuce… In the fall we would buy about 12 bushels of tomatoes and can them. We made our own tomato paste too. Some days Mom would get me up at 4 o’clock. I had to mix 50lbs. of flour before I could go to school. When the dough was ready we made loaves and wrapped them in flour sacks. We had an outdoor oven made out of clay. You could smell the bread all over the neighborhood when we baked. The games we played were all outdoors, hopscotch, jump rope, kick the can. These games were all played in the street. We didn’t have curbs or sidewalks then. Just dirt streets.
I didn’t have any favorite food, we ate what my mother cooked. No fancy foods. I didn’t have any toys. Didn’t have time for hobbies. Never learned to swim, ride a bike, ski or roller skate. No car. No one had a car at that time. (Tender days in childhood?) Didn’t have any, just a lot of house work. (Finances?) Poor.
Yes it appears theirs was a life most practical and physical, a question of mere survival…not too much time for play with all the work to be done…this was a simple, seemingly straightforward, matter-of-fact existence.
We had a good mother and father. Never a harsh word. My mom always dressed nice. My father would always march in the Labor Day Parade, he was so proud to be in the parade.
May Day, this was always a fun day for the whole school. We would all walk to Mineral Palace Park. Other schools would join us. We had lunch. They had games. I remember the May Pole. It was a tall pole with streamer ribbons on the very top. The girls would each take a ribbon and dance around it until the ribbon was all intertwined around the pole. I went to a lot of dances with my sisters. My mother came with us too. She was our chaperone. All the dances were on a Sunday night.
Faith…Hope…Vision…dreams of a better life…an easier, more enjoyable future. Sylvia mentions none of these in her childhood memories. And yet, certainly hopes and dreams are what got the family to America in the first place. So no doubt Sylvia had hopes and dreams, even if only as seeds in that strong heart of hers, tough flesh born of the good earth and warm fires of Goat Hill. And like all good seeds, to sprout and grow, they just needed a little fresh air and water. So enter now the farmer. We all know who that young man is.
I met him at my sister Mildred’s wedding. I was 22 years old. Then we met at the dances we went too. I don’t remember how he proposed.
We married in 1934, June 24, at Mt. Carmel church. I wore a white wedding dress with long white veil and white shoes. We had a small reception at my parent’s summer kitchen, a shack really. John’s sisters and brothers were there. His dad and step-mother did not approve of his marriage. So they did not attend. For our honeymoon we went to Colorado Springs and Manitou. Then went to Florence to stay with John’s sister Caroline. Our first house was a two room place, a kitchen and bedroom in Salt Creek. We rented a filling station, sold gas and penny candy and pop. Lived there about 2 years. Then the highway was changed. We were out of business. Then we rented the Coors Tavern and ran it for 47 years. My first job was when I became a mother, I took care of my two kids. Then I worked in our liquor store and at the Tavern. Now I remember hanging out with my grandmother as she worked the liquor store. And whenever we went to the Tavern, Nanny would sit with us in a booth, drying spoons and forks with a towel and tending the cash register. And even though the Tavern was mostly my grandfather’s affair, Nanny was indispensible to the business. And these past few years, with its ever-growing popularity, she would proudly introduce herself as “the slopper lady.” But really, most memories of Sylvia, both her own recollections and those of others, recall her more domestic work, raising her two children Sonny and Shirley, her special talent as mother and sitter, and dare I say homemaker, as well as baker and hostess extraordinaire, and of course always helping to raise nieces and nephews, grandkids and great-grandkids. Indeed, Sylvia’s heart really sprouted on West Routt, the site of their first and only house, which they had built in 1939. And as with her beloved peach trees, that place bore much fruit. Sylvia’s niece Annette says, “The memories I hold in my heart will definitely revolve around Aunt Sylvia at 631 W. Routt. Her home was our refuge---the place to go for comfort and holiday gatherings, especially Christmas night. There we found delicious ethnic food like cardoonies and fried peppers. She was the best cookie maker. Her fig cookies were above all others.” Annette’s sister Diane has equally fond memories of Aunt Syl’s great cookies, playing with Shirley, having sleepovers and spending the night during power outages. She says Aunt Syl was the family historian, you could ask her anything about the family, she had an instant memory, and it never failed, you got the same answer to the same question every time. Dianne says Sylvia taught her to wash sandwich baggies to use the again, and that a single paper towel could be used at least 3 or 4 times: once for the hands, then on a wet pot, then on the floor, and finally on the dog bringing in mud or water. Frugal to the limit, today’s most dedicated recyclers have nothing on Sylvia. Another case in point: You know when you go shopping and you find that sale item whose price has been slashed again and again so many times that it goes from $60 to $6. Well, in recognition of such shopping fortune and acumen, my mother Shirley calls those sale items a “Sylvia Good Deal.”
Niece Sandy recalls Aunt Syl taking care of her for two weeks while she had whooping cough. She remembers Aunt Syl and Uncle John would break them out of nursery school to go for long rides in the country…how my grandfather’s love of the fields and crops and all that life coming out of the dirt made a lasting impression on her. Aunt Syl’s homegrown canned peaches were the best. She recalls the time Aunt Syl (in true Nanny fashion) rescued her from a herd of voracious goats at Santa’s Workshop. “Aunt Syl jumped in and sent the goats packing,”
Sandy continues, “She was the littlest sister in size, but a force to be reckoned with in all ways. I remember her being strong-willed and powerful and commanding. Even though she was not the oldest sister, she was indeed the matron and the boss. She had a regal way of holding her head…she was independent, brave and smart, and she had the most beautiful widow’s peak. I am grateful for her love and kindness.”
Sandy’s brother Mike Vernon remembers when he gashed his head on the laundry shoot. Bleeding, Aunt Sylvia took Mike to the ER. After the doc stopped the bleeding he asked Sylvia if she wanted Mike to have stitches or not. Without stitches doc said, it would heal fine but probably leave a scar, which, of course, would only be a problem if Mike went bald. Well, with her typical strong maternal instinct, Aunt Syl said, “Go with the stitches.” Yes, many found memories of Nanny and the rest of the family reside in that old Routt house. As with many of you, my favorite memory is the Christmas night party. It was legendary…all the relatives, the good food, loud chatter and of course, poker. Need I say more, Syl and John knew how to party. They hosted all sorts of gatherings big and small, and judging by the pictures, it looks as though they could get quite rowdy. What secrets might be told by those dusty old basement walls? Sylvia’s nephew Miles says, “I remember visiting their house one night when Syl and John were going to a costume party. They were dressed in grass skirts and tops and had painted black faces. Not PC I know, but funny. They had spears and a cardboard shield that announced they were ‘king and queen culo culo (ass ass) from the darkest Africa.’” For sure, Syl and John were quite the socialites and travelers and I am sure wherever they went, merrymakers. My husband and I had lots of trips. We had friends that we traveled with…the Occhiatos, Mulays and Pattys…we went to liquor dealer conventions, most of them were in Vegas, Chicago, New York, Florida, California, Utah, Ohio… Went to a lot of World Series games, a lot of conventions…Jaycees, Footprinters, Sertoma…we’ve been to a lot of states. Sometimes we drove, sometimes we went by plane…we rode the train once to Ohio when Sonny was living there. We had a poker club of about 20 people. Then about 17 of the lady friends formed a bingo club. We played once a month at different homes. I helped with a lot of organizations: March of Dimes, Cancer, Easter Seals. Sold government bonds during World War II, helped with PTA at Carlile and Central, was a Girl Scout leader and helped with the Boy Scouts. I volunteered at St. Mary Corwin Hospital for 30 years. Some of my summer days were the best when we went on a picnic. We would go to the mountains with all our kids. We would take turns at different places, Rye, Beulah, Springs Parks. Had a lot of beer and pop and lots of fun.
My sister Gina remembers making cookies, reading nursery rhymes, curling her hair, learning to crochet zigzag blanket patterns and granny squares, eating boiled shrimp before dinner with grandpa’s tasty “horseradishy” cocktail sauce. She recalls shopping with Nanny, including a special trip for a pair of black patent-leather shoes. So in other words, as Gina herself admits, basically getting anything she wanted. When mom came back from college that summer, she said she had to “de-spoil” Gina.
Sylvia’s niece Yvonne says, “I have so many fond memories of Aunt Syl that it is hard to think of just a few. I remember her as small, sassy and smart but her cute little smile always tugged at my heart. Her house was always a friendly place to go. But I never wanted to tell Aunt Syl I had a headache or stomach ache as she would immediately go to her cupboard and get the blue bottle of Brioschi. Most of all I loved Aunt Syl and Uncle John for being so kind and supportive of my parents. My dad left home at 15 and lived with them. They were newlyweds but they took him in. I will always be grateful for that.”
Upon hearing all these stories, it’s very clear Sylvia and John understood the real meaning of community, the elemental value of family and primacy of children. With many friends, numerous travels and varied social activity, Sylvia and John, and those around them, had a rich and colorful life. A good home, good food, good family and friends, good times…theirs was rich in the most nonmaterialistic sense, in spirit, true wealth.
For me, those last few days I spent with her are just as instructive, and special, as the rest. In an effort to ease the process along, for both of us, and even though she was basically comatose, I read to her a number of lines on what it means to “let go.” Two of these lines say:
To “let go” is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future.
To “let go” is to fear less, and to love more.
I also read to her what is known as the serenity prayer: Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Then, at her bedside, I read from a number of books. Reading was after all once of her favorite pastimes, as is mine. So I read a short poem on going home by T.S. Elliot. I flipped through a book on Pueblo history, paying special attention to old pictures of Goat Hill taken around the time she lived there, reading captions about the steel mill and trains, the State Fair, Mineral Palace, City Park and the great flood of 1921. Then I read from some books I inherited from Eugene Pullara after he passed last year. From a book of Italian Folktales, I read the story of a young prince and his frustrating journey to find and marry his Queen. It had a happy ending. Then, hard-working as Silvia was, I read her a story on the virtues of laziness, figuring she’d get a kick out of that. I read from a book about Italian-Americans and the traditions they carried into the New World. Finally I read the final chapter of a book called Papa, My Father, by that great Italian philosopher of Love, Leo Buscaglia. The chapter tells how Leo’s father enjoyed life to his final day. In the end Leo says, “I have long believed that the only immortality we know lies in the love we have left behind in other’s memories.” Now, given the incalculable amount of love Sylvia has obviously left in our collective memories, I figure that should grant her a fair measure of immortality. Love and Memory…it’s impossible to overestimate the power and significance of Love and Memory. So in the end, what would Sylvia have us remember? I would like all my children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to remember all the good times we had together, all the birthday parties at my house. Mind your mom and dad. No back talk. Mom and dad know what is good for you. Do your school work! When you get older don’t hang around bad kids. Don’t smoke, don’t take any dope! And don’t say any bad words. When you have your own kids, treat them right. Don’t forget Nanny’s doogies. Now, in all honesty, after writing these words I heard this little voice in the back of my head. It said, “Remember Syl, if I had always minded my mom and dad, I could not have married you.” So Nanny, all things considered here, it only makes sense we give Gramps the last word, which might be interpreted as, “Take it from me kids, if you want Nanny’s doogies, you have to follow your heart.” At last, my grandmother always did something that I will never forget, and it’s a tradition I now carry-on. That is, whenever we would leave her house, she would always stand in the doorway and wave a long goodbye to us, and she would keep waving goodbye until we drove away and were out of sight. Well Nanny…a long wave goodbye to you…we love you so much…see ya down the road. We didn’t have a living room. Our kitchen was our living room. We had a kitchen and 2 bedrooms, and an extra room that we called the ice box because we would close that door to keep the heat in the other rooms. At night when we went to bed we would put a brick in the oven to heat it up, then wrap it in a towel and put it by our feet to keep them warm. We had 2 beds. We slept 3 in a bed. If we had company they would sleep at the bottom of the bed, 4 in all. The view from our bedroom window was a backyard with an outhouse, chickens, rabbits, and railroad tracks…and a yard full of railroad ties that we sawed and used for cooking and heat in the coal stoves.
The eight "Marco" sisters standing oldest to youngest from left to right: Jane, Mildred, Ester, Sylvia, Rosie, Nellie, Leona and Sadie. Father and mother, Mike Marcovecchio and Frances DeNiro-Marcovecchio sit in front.
The DeNiro family with papa Rocco front and center while mama Maria Orlando stands left. Their daughter Frances stands on right with her husband Michele Marcovecchio. Three sons and daughter Frances round out the bunch. When it rained or snowed our streets would get muddy and we had to walk in it. We had to walk in the winter to school in all that cold weather. When we went to grade school we had to walk where the railroad tracks were. It was the same for high school. That was about 2 miles, 4 both ways. Did that for 4 years in all kinds of weather. Had to get our education. Obviously, young Sylvia and her sisters had a very hard life. Her journal recollections rarely mention good times or laughter or any great affection shared amongst her family. Yet neither does she mention much ugliness. Regarding her childhood, she was simply direct. When I was a child, I didn’t know what Christmas was. Just another day for us. We didn’t get any gifts. We didn’t know anything about Santa Claus. Just another day. (What did we do for birthdays?) Nothing, just had a birthday. We didn’t get any gifts or a birthday cake. (What did we do on weekends?) Nothing. All we did was clean house or wash clothes.
I didn’t have a favorite teacher. In those days you were afraid of them. The principal was a woman, Miss Taylor. If anyone was sent to her she would use the rubber hose on their legs, or the ruler on their hands.
Sylvia on far left with sisters clockwise from top: Jane, Mildred, Ester and Rosie
John and Sylvia Greco beginning a marriage that would last 71 years.
One of the many parties, costume and otherwise, held in John and Sylvia's basement. Here Sylvia sits as squaw with daughter Shirley front and center while John sits as chief second from left second row back.
John and Sylvia sit front and center enjoying a favorite regular pastime, the family picnic.
When asked what she would do differently in life, Sylvia said simply and directly, “Nothing! My life was ok.” She said, “My best friend was my husband. I had a long happy marriage.” Sylvia kept the first Valentine John gave her, and her favorite gift was the diamond she received from him on their 70th wedding anniversary. A few years after his passing she noted how much she missed him, how she would cry by herself when no one was around. Not mistaking tough exteriors for lack of feeling and emotion, true and strong, theirs is a love beyond. And yet, even after John was gone, and most everyone else she knew had passed-on too, Sylvia kept the hearth burning, even if only for the occasional family gathering. After all, Nanny still had her kids to attend too. My most treasured possession is my family, children, grandkids and great grandkids. I would like to see all my grandchildren and great grandchildren have a very successful happy life. Both my grandparents lived good long lives. Out of the 93 years my grandfather lived, only the last 3 months were spent bedridden, and up until that time, he was still driving, making his daily rounds about town, having his glass of beer. But strong as he was, my grandmother went a good step further, making it to 98. Impressively, she remained mostly independent throughout and---with regular help from her daughter Shirley and sister Sadie---Nanny remained in her cherished home up until the last 3 weeks of her life. Those last 3 weeks, difficult as they were, helped us to let go and say our farewells. After all, Sylvia was a fighter and survivor, a protector and nurturer of life. Death? That was someone else’s business. But, as my mother points out, she knew she was going soon. Just before Christmas on a visit to the cemetery, she knocked on John’s headstone and said, “I’ll see ya soon.”
The Life and Love of Sylvia Marcovecchio-Greco