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lives lived

Angelina Ciccia.Courtesy of family

Angelina Ciccia: Wife. Grandmother. Selfless giver. Zeppole maker. Born Oct. 27, 1935, in Cinquefrondi, Italy; died April 21, 2022, in Guelph, Ont., of Alzheimer’s disease; aged 86.

Angelina Ciccia was born in a small farmhouse in Calabria where the family lived on the top floor of the stone structure and where the animals slept on the bottom floor. That was life in rural southern Italy in 1935. And it was where the eldest daughter would forego school because she was required to help out at home and on the farm.

It was there, when she was just 7, that Angelina met the love of her life. One day, while she was fetching water, little Michele, from the farm across the way, saw her through the long reeds and knew she was the only one for him. They played and worked with all the other kids from neighbouring farms until Michele’s family decided to leave for Canada, hoping for a better life. They were both heartbroken, so as 12 year olds they vowed to be together again one day and exchanged promise rings made of grass.

As a poor, young and attractive girl, Angelina had many suitors vying for her hand in marriage, including one who would have ensured wealth for her family. But Angelina would have none of it, as she was loyal to her anime gemelle, her soulmate. Alone, at 18, and not knowing a word of English, nor having the ability to read or write, she boarded the Saturnia in February of 1954 and crossed the Atlantic for Canada. She landed in Halifax and embarked on a train that would make several stops along the way for mounds of snow to be cleared from the tracks, and headed to Toronto to once again be with her one and only.

Angelina and Mike, as he was now known, settled in Guelph and started a family where she taught her children the meaning of loyalty, love of family, hard work and sacrifice. The family raised chickens and rabbits in the backyard. Her four children thought that her favourite part of a chicken was the neck, as she would always choose it when the family sat down for dinner, but years later they realized that she chose it only because it contains scarcely any meat. She wanted her children to have the best parts. Later, Angelina’s family would lovingly call any act of selfless love a “chicken neck.” Even without being able to read a recipe, Angelina became an incredible cook and was the unrivalled zeppole (Italian doughnut) maker of the entire extended family. It was not even a contest.

Angelina was generous to a fault but she was also a ridiculous stickler for being on time. She would encourage her family to muoviti! (get moving!) an hour before anyone needed to be ready for the most casual event close to home. Ma, as she was called, not only by her children but by their friends and even her husband, would also lose it if dishes were left in the sink: “You never know who’s gonna come over.”

Later in life, Ma became Nonna to 17 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She beamed with pride at every one of them and would say to their parents, “One thing for sure, we don’t make ugly kids!”

After a long illness, Angelina died surrounded by family, where Mike’s eldest sister held her hand and told stories about when they were children in Italy. Angelina’s favourite song, Calabrisella Mia, played in the background taking her back to when she met Michele as she transitioned peacefully back to his arms in heaven.

Two days after her funeral, one of her grandchildren graduated from university and is going on to earn a master’s in library studies, a beautiful fulfilment of a life well-lived for the little girl who didn’t get a chance to go to school.

Tony Ciccia is Angelina’s youngest son.

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