By Jill Gugino
St. Joseph’s Day is a big day for Sicilians and Italians alike. When we immigrated to the new country from the old we brought with us some very beautiful and sacred traditions. Some were steeped in faith and some in superstition, but all were brought forth from the foundation of giving and helping those in need.
As the legend goes, Sicily was suffering a tremendous drought and the people were starving: no water, no crops and no food. Prayers were abundant and promises made to St Joseph. Please bring forth rain and when the crops are harvested a feast will be shared and all will be welcome. We will feed the poor, the rich, the lonely, the young and old alike. There will never be a fee for it is meal of thanksgiving for blessings bestowed.
St. Joseph was a unique man in that he adopted a child who was not born of his blood. He loved and cared for a child who was owned by the world. His wife was the mother to all humanity and the awesome responsibility of cultivating a blended family and keeping secure the gift of salvation sat on his shoulders alone. St. Joseph became the patron saint of families and because he died with Jesus and the blessed mother at his side, he is also the patron saint of a happy and peaceful death.
My father was born 86 years ago to Sicilian immigrants older than most, given the time frame. At 30 years old, my grandmother, Rose, prayed to St. Anne, patron saint of pregnancy and mothers in hopes of having a child. On July 26, 1930 – ironically the feast of St. Anne – she had what was to be her only child, John Joseph Gugino. They blended into American culture but kept their traditions from the old country.
Our St. Joseph table was bigger than Christmas! No gifts were expected or exchanged no promises made and no losing the true meaning to commercialism. It was a meal extended to all, strangers and friends alike. The doors on Italian households were open and if you happened to be hungry we fed you. What a simple concept, kindness.
Last year as we anticipated our feast, my father's health was failing. The Parkinson’s that he was fighting was rapidly advancing and we were losing hope that he would make it to his special day. I will never forget whispering in his ear on March 17, "Daddy you better not die on me on St. Patrick’s Day, don’t you dare leave me on St. Patrick’s Day, we are so close." He looked up at me and told me to pack his clothes. I was somewhat confused and asked him if he was planning on going someplace? And he told me to take them out of the house so my mom didn’t have to see them.
On St. Patrick’s Day, I packed all of my dad's clothes and put them in the trunk of my car as he asked me to do. On March 18, my mother and two siblings listened to Glen Miller songs, talked of days gone by and kept vigil next to Dad. I told him that it was just the five of us all under the same roof, as it had not been in some 25 years. We were there and it was OK. We were OK. He slipped away in the wee hours of the morning of March 19, St. Joseph’s Day, with all of us at his side praying for his journey.
I like to think that at the moment the door on this side closed, he opened the kitchen door of his mother's house and she was busy making food for the St. Joseph's table. He was welcomed in, on his favorite holiday, to his favorite food, no expectations just a hearty appetite and a thankful smile.
This year in keeping with our heritage and rooted in tradition, we will set a table of thanksgiving for a life well lived and a peaceful and beautiful passing. All are welcome at our St. Joseph's table. We will live to be thankful for the blessing and honor of our father and St Joseph. From immigrants in a new world to Italian-Americans, with pride in both lands we open our doors with humble but most thankful hearts. Viva San Giuseppe!
Jill Gugino understands something special about St. Joseph's Day.