Updated: Apr 21
My maternal grandmother, Maria Caspani Bolchini, was born in 1907 in Gorgonzola, Italy as the youngest of three children in well-to-do family. He father owned a cheese factory and the family lived in a beautiful palace. However, my great grandfather died suddenly and my grandmother’s brother, who was only eighteen at the time, was put in charge of the factory. He quickly ran it to the ground and the family had to give up the estate to pay his depts.
Before the catastrophe, Maria she had been attending a boarding school in Milan, and at the age of seventeen, she suddenly found herself in a completely new situation. Since she was educated and, on top of that, very pretty, she survived. Maria married a man who had a transportation company and eventually had four children from him. Only two of them lived: my uncle and my mother.
Unfortunately for Maria, history repeated itself, and my grandfather died when the youngest of her children was only 8-months old. Once again, she had to get a job in order to support herself. She found a position in a small factory making sweaters. However, despite her efforts, she often struggled financially. This made her a very practical, goal-oriented person. She never remarried and worked very hard. She sent both her children to school, and my mother went to university.
I perceive Maria as a very balanced person. She was religious, but never embraced the mystic part of her faith like many other women her age in Italy did. She had a tough life, but it failed to make her into a stingy, bitter person. Quite the opposite—she was always selfless and took care of others. While she worked hard to raise and educate her children, she never managed to save for her own retirement. As a result, she was left with almost nothing in her old age and my mother and uncle had to support her in return. She never took this help for granted and still worked, this time taking care of her grandchildren. Grandma Maria always picked me up from school and fed me in her apartment. With both my parents working, this was a great help and comfort for our family. In the same way, she selflessly supported both her sister and sister-in-law, when they had major health problems.
Despite her constant financial struggle, Maria always paid attention to her looks and liked pretty things. When I was a child I loved going through her closet, which was full of unusual dresses, elegant shoes, and fancy bags. She loved being elegant, especially when she was going on her annual vacation to Inverigo in Lombardy. She was also very organized and constantly worried her that my mom was, as she put it, “losing her keys three times a year”. Before she died, she told me that I should take care of my mother. Maria was very strong and apparently never had any health issues in her life. She died in 1993, when she was almost 87, after a brief heart disease.