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Zia Mary Passed the Torch

“I came as my fathers representative,” I mentioned to an extended family member at a wake honoring the life of our 100-year-old Italian matriarch.

My fathers representative.

Zia Mary age 100

Zia Mary, age 100

Interesting choice of words. My aged dad at 85 is too unstable in his gait to navigate a 2,000 mile journey by air. Fortunately his legs were stronger just five months ago when he made the trip from Florida to Michigan. It gave him much joy to attend his sister’s 100 birthday celebration, and catch up with his huge extended family. I reveled in his excitement as he recounted his adventures there.

God’s timing is always perfect, even when it doesn’t appear so. My Aunt Mary lived to mark a milestone and then her time ended. As is the case with many centenarians who outlive their siblings and friends, often there are few living souls to attest to their influence.

In Zia Mary’s case, however, the room was filled with younger descendants. Three different family friends (paesano’s) came to share stories of her influence in the lives of their immigrant parents. It seems each of these families immigrated from her town, Pignataro Interamna, Italy in the 1950’s and settled on her street in Detroit. Each person recounted how she helped them navigate American culture, provided advice on where to shop and graciously offered her friendship. She had been in America for 30 years by that time, so had much advice for the Ventramini and Tescio families. One shared how she helped his family through a very difficult time. My cousins and I cherished hearing how she so readily gave of her friendship and assistance.

At the funeral mass the following morning, her octogenarian brother Mike and his wife, Theresa occupied the first pew. The only other surviving Merlino sibling is my dad, Frank, who  would have joined them there but couldn’t make it. As the time for mass approached, family began taking their seats. I sat in the third row back, waiting for cousins Theresa or Mary Rose to join me. But Aunt Theresa turned around, beckoning me to sit beside her. Kinda hard to say no to my elderly relatives, so I did.

Victor and Mary Veil wed, 1935

Victor and Mary Veil wed, 1935

Note to self: Sitting in the front when one has not attended mass in a while is not the best idea …. let’s just say my plan for following others cues as to when to sit down, stand up or kneel was foiled. That’s where peripheral vision comes in handy!

In reflection, I realized that by joining my beloved uncle and aunt in pew one, I was again sitting in for dad. While their bonds belong to their generation, it was as if the torch was being passed to their children now.

Just as I represented the Frank Merlino family in this brown-eyed sea of faces, aren’t we as Christians always an envoy for our heavenly Father wherever we go?

Sometimes I forget that in my daily grind. Somehow it is easier for me  to hear God as I travel. Not sure why. But I took every opportunity to speak of Him in daily conversation. It was challenging, but fun.

Remember that wherever you go today, you are your Father’s representative who goes in His stead.

Joshua 5 gives account of the Israelite men of war who died on their 40 year wilderness journey after coming out of Egypt. Though all the people who came out had been circumcised, the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. Joshua tells us that these men of war perished because they did not hearken to the voice of the Lord; to them the Lord swore that he would not let them see the land which He had sworn to their fathers to give them – a land flowing with milk and honey. Verse 7 says, So it was their children, whom he raised up in their stead, that Joshua circumcised; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way.”

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine … let it shine, shine, shine!

Isaiah 60: Arise and shine for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

Categories: Devotionals Italian heritage

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Christian author and inspirational speaker of truth that makes the darkness tremble. Author of two non-fiction books at

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