Albina (“Alba”) Perri: Wife. Mother. Singer. Cook. Born Feb. 20, 1932, in Decollatura, Italy; died May 5, 2022, in Oakville, Ont., of cancer; aged 90.
Albina Falvo was the youngest of seven children, born to Antonio and Rachelina Falvo. She grew up in an Italian town in the mountains of Calabria. The baby of the family, she was 16 years younger than her oldest sibling.
Albina was a child during the Great Depression and was eight years old when Italy joined the war. Times were tough, but Albina never spoke much about the hardships her family endured.
Albina loved to sing. The music of Italian singers Enrico Caruso and Claudio Villa filled the Falvo home. She was smart, but in those days, few young women studied beyond Grade 5. So, Albina learned the ancient skills of hand weaving, embroidery and crocheting creating fabulous linens for her bridal dowry chest.
By 1952, Albina was a beauty. A family relative introduced her to Angelo Perri, a young man from her hometown, who had recently immigrated to Canada. Although they had never met in person, the young couple exchanged photos and corresponded regularly by mail. Their long-distance romance quickly blossomed until Angelo proposed. The engagement was short-lived, but Angelo never forgot Albina.
Seven years later, Angelo took a last-minute holiday to Italy with his cousin. Angelo made one final attempt to rekindle with Albina and asked her father for her hand in marriage. Albina’s father declined. His daughter was already spoken for. Angelo was crushed, but Albina was feisty and determined. She had taken one look at Angelo and was smitten. She called off her engagement and this time she married Angelo.
After a whirlwind honeymoon in Italy, the new bride left her entire family to start a new life in Northern Ontario, where Angelo worked at Algoma Steel. Soon after daughters Rose, Mirella, and Francesca were born. Sault Ste. Marie would be home for the next 54 years. Initially, it was daunting. Albina didn’t know a soul except for her new husband’s aunt.
Albina treasured being a mom, and both had an enormous sense of fun. There was a lot of laughter in their home but Albina was clearly the family disciplinarian.
Albina believed in making a good impression, “fare bella figura.” She was a bit obsessed. Her kids were always well-groomed and well-dressed. She kept an immaculate home and garden. But bella figura to Albina was also about behaving with grace and treating people with kindness. She always remembered when someone was kind to her.
Albina took pride in making homemade meals for her family. Her daughters still remember the delicious aroma of fresh pizza when they came home from school for lunch. Her gnocchi and lasagna were legendary.
In her later years, she was glued to her favourite Italian cable TV shows. Her daughters knew better than to call her during those broadcasts. Albina even mastered the iPad at 83 and discovered a whole new world. Of deep faith, when she could no longer attend church regularly, she listened to religious broadcasts online with the Radio Maria app.
When Angelo’s health started to decline, the couple moved to Oakville to be closer to their daughters and beloved grandchildren. That was another big move for her, and while she adjusted to her new home, she sometimes missed the Soo.
Albina and Angelo were happily married for 55 years. They were a great love match, Albina always said it was destiny – il destino. Angelo was larger than life and he always took care of her. So, when his memory started to fade in his final years, it was difficult for Albina. Their roles were now reversed, and Albina took care of Angelo until he died in 2014.
Albina laughed easily and though she became weary in her final days, she was sharp of mind and maintained la bella figura. It made her day when a doctor was kind, and she would giggle and flirt, especially if he was handsome. Albina always wanted to look her best – that never changed. Her smile lit up a room.
Rose Perri is Albina’s daughter.
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