Maria Francesca

Posted: June 7, 2013 in Art, journal, Women
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

-“I keep turning over new leaves, and spoiling them, as I used to spoil my copy books; and I make so many beginnings there never will be an end. (Jo March)”― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Clothed Horse, c 2003, graphite, 22x30 cm (9x12)

Clothed Horse, c 2003, graphite, 22×30 cm (9×12)

-The Story continues…..

She was born the third and last child of a Sicilian mother who spent her life in the servitude of her 10 elder siblings because her parents did not feel she was intelligent enough to attend school. Her father was a Capitan in the Merchant Marines, born in North Carolina, whose British heritage dated back to the first colonist in America.  Her parents met and married while her father was on shore leave in Palermo in the early 20’s.  Upon their return to the US, they established residence in Galveston, Texas where the Sicilian family had already grown roots in the early 1800’s.  This was ideal, since her father would be away at sea, her mother would have the comfort of her family. However, once a servant in your own family, always a servant, and coming to America changed nothing; she was badly treated to say the least.

My mother carried the nickname “Francie” for many years. She was a strawberry-blond beauty that, in her youth, sat for many a famous artist. Very different from her dark-haired, olive-skinned cousins.  She dearly loved her father, but saw him rarely. Her mother followed in the footsteps of her own parents, no kind words were offered, just a cruel verbal abuse leaving my mother with little or no self-esteem, internally fragile. My grandmother favored her sons and ignored the fact that her eldest would repeatedly rape her daughter over several years.  Francie buried her anger and bitterness deep inside of herself, she became the bravest of them all, showing only a surface reflection filled with joyous laughter and a pragmatic but positive attitude. The anger, the bitterness, the pain she carried would emerge much later in life.

One fateful summer on her nineteenth birthday, finishing her sophomore year in college, she joined her father on one of the Lloyd vessels for a sea voyage to Cuba. On board she met a young, dashing first-mate, who promised her the sun, the moon, and swept her off her feet.  They were married two weeks after the return voyage.  I was born 8 months later.

They must have been happy for a while, he was at sea, becoming a Capitan of his own vessel, and she was raising a child.  For a brief period she lived with his parents in New Orleans; but Capitán’s’ siblings were quite domineering and judgmental. The conflicts and jealousies that transpired in those early days with Capitán’s’ family would never be forgiven. When he retired from the sea a full Capitan they moved to an apartment in the French Quarter (I have small swatches of dark memories with loud angry voices, dark stairwells, her crying, she is pregnant with my sister, and she is holding my hand.). Later when the second child was born they bought a small house in the suburbs near the lake.

Upon his retirement he went into a marine insurance business with his brother in-law. It was at this point that the spousal abuse began in force. From then on she was only happiest when pregnant, the physical joy created during that state allowed her to escape his wrath. However, when her child began to talk and show independence, she lost interest and began to think only about the next pregnancy. I was three when my first sister was born. From then on the other sisters and brother were born in close intervals over the next nine years. She had 7 children, one she lost in a miscarriage the other at 6 months due to viral pneumonia.

Smoking and drinking were common in those days but I think she began the heavy drinking when we moved to South America. She did not adjust well to the culture, learning only enough Spanish to get by in social circles. She carried on in a country where revolutions occurred every couple of years, crying and cringing at the sound of gunfire and bombs exploding. After a while the alcohol removed the fear of the country and Capitán enabling her to create an illusion of happiness. But she was falling deeper and deeper into herself and by the time I was in my early teens, she was a full-blown alcoholic.

As a mother she never neglected the basics. We never went without food, simple fare of beans and rice, eggs and potatoes, pasta and sauce. Capitán always had steak, shrimp or lobster ever night. We enjoyed meat only at Sunday dinners which always degraded into both parents drinking too much leading to intense screaming and yelling. One of the children always the main target for something we did, didn’t do or might have done, and my mother getting the sole blame.  We always had clothes on our backs, shoes on our feet, medical care when required. She managed the house and kept it clean, she catered the parties that would also inevitably end in drunken brawls, beatings, broken glass and blood.  Living in a country where as a woman she had absolutely no power, in a home where she had no control, no say, she was quite lost.

Everyone she met loved her; but only a few friends knew the truth and they consoled her as best they could.  It would take many years for her to build up the courage to escape.





  1. Nancy Tanner says:

    so sad, so powerful


  2. Cassandra, I admit that I just don’t have the time to read everything written, but I just adore your drawings. They hold so much in such a small space. Wonderful.


  3. Veronica Day says:

    Hi, thanks for sharing. I’m wondering if it’s OK to copy some of the text in my site?


  4. Emmy says:

    What a sad story, Cassandra, and what a beautiful way of sharing it with others in this blog.


    • In reply to both comments, yes it is sad, but the outcome though tragic is quite real and in the end it is good. People do not like sad stories, bury the truth, sweep it under the rug, hide in the shadows. But there are so many children out there like me, so many adults still dealing with it all, so much pain, so much lost. Perhaps here some good can be found, some hope. For only with awareness can there be change.


  5. Anonymous says:

    so sad cassie, so very sad


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