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"The Unknowing Co-Conspirator" posted November 1, 2010 at 11:49 PM

In August of 2010, my dear sister Palma died after a long and courageous fight with diabetes. Attending, as she had requested, her very simple funeral, my mind wandered back to two events that took place many years ago.

In July of 1949, I was just eleven years old. Palma, who was eighteen, invited a young man to our house, so that he could ask my father’s permission to marry her. This came as a complete surprise to Mama and Papa, who strictly forbid my sisters to date at that age. Also, Martha, our oldest sister, was engaged to be married the very next September, and according to an old Italian tradition, daughters must be married off in chronological order, eldest to youngest. So, being the epitome of the Italian father, Papa quickly dismissed the young man, asking him to never darken the doorway of his home again! And so Joseph Frank, the would-be suitor, left, and a weeping Palma was sent to her room. The crisis had been met and dealt with.

The very next week, while the family and some friends celebrated Papa’s birthday, Palma called me up to her room, and asked me to carry some paper bags of old clothing to the basement. I made two such trips, and anxiously went back to birthday party, for fear I’d miss out on cake. Meanwhile, my sister Martha and her fiancée returned home from a matinee movie, and joined in the party. Mama, missing Palma’s presence, asked Martha to go upstairs and bring her down to join in singing Happy Birthday. What Martha found when she went to their bedroom, was a note from Palma, saying how she could not live without “her Joe,” and so they were eloping that day. The bags of old clothes I had carried to the basement were actually Palma’s clothes. She could not risk using a suitcase, for fear of being caught. She used me and the cellar exit to make her escape! The celebration was over.

The newly weds, fearful of Papa’s anger and possibly some other real or imagined retribution, made a home in Kane, Pennsylvania, a good three to four hours away from our home in Ohio. I missed my sister, who was always ready to give me treats (she liked to make fudge, which never set, so we ate it with a spoon), or help me entertain myself.

By autumn, I had not seen Palma for several months, and then one day I looked up from my desk at school, and there she was, peeking in the window of my classroom door. I was so excited to see her, and I jumped out of my seat. The teacher asked me to sit down, and I remember saying, ”but that’s my sister, and I want to see her." Mrs. Schrader went out to the hall, heard Palma’s story, and allowed me to go out and see my sister. What a happy reunion. But once again, Palma asked me to keep a secret and not tell the family that she was in town. Once again we were co-conspirators!

Months later, on December 24, Mama received a phone call from Palma from Kane, Pennsylvania. In tears, Palma told Mama that there had been a fire in their apartment, and although they managed to save most of their furniture, they were basically homeless. When Papa heard this, he told them to hold tight, that he would be there as soon as possible. So on Christmas Eve, in a snowstorm, Papa drove his truck into the hills of Pennsylvania, and brought Palma, Joe, and their belongings home to Youngstown. Mama got the gift of a lifetime -- her family was together again!

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