Emma Covelli supported her family by making things that roll off the tongue like music: rigatoni, cavatelli, pastina, tortellini, capellini, ziti, linguine, rotini, farfalle and mostaccioli.
A longtime employee at Cicero Macaroni Company, she died Dec. 26 at 100.
Asked for the key to her longevity, her son Luigi said, “Her secret was olive oil.”
She was already over 50 when she came to America in 1968, a widow whose husband had died in an accident while hunting the wild boar and rabbits of the province of Cosenza in the southern Italian region of Calabria.
“My dad was in World War II – nothing happened,” said Luigi, 72. “And two months after he came home [in] peace time, two months later, he died from a hunting accident. He was carrying his rifle like a cane, and all of a sudden the trigger got hooked up to some bushes and the gun went off.”
Wartime had been hard on their town of Bucita. “Everything was taken by the ‘Big Guys.’ Whatever you grow, they’ll take them, Mussolini and Germans,” their son said. “They stripped everything, whatever they had….they even took the pots and pans, the Nazis.”
Born Emma Fallico, she got married at 22 to his father, also named Luigi Covelli. When her husband died roughly five years later, she had two young daughters and was pregnant with her son.
Her siblings had already left for America, so eventually she followed. She joined St. Attracta Church and settled in Cicero, where she could get around with little English.
“Living in Cicero at the time, there were tons of Italians,” said her granddaughter Carla Cousineau. “The grocery stores were Italian, the bank was Italian.”
Mrs. Covelli would take a bus from 14th and Laramie to 23rd and Laramie to work at Cicero Macaroni Company, said her grandson Adriano Mazzulla. Wearing hair nets and covered in flour, she and the other Italian-American women pasta-makers crafted all kinds of noodles for restaurants and stores.
“She would get bonuses with pasta,” her son said. “She’d get a pack or two every week or two.”
Mrs. Covelli already was a citizen when she arrived in the U.S., thanks to her father, who’d made several journeys from Italy to America for work in the early 1900s, according to her son.
“She was very independent. Never remarried. Worked full-time, did it all on her own,” said her granddaughter. “How do you come to this country with nothing and do so well? She was really strong. She was really tough.”
“We’re losing what they brought to the U.S., people that could come to America with nothing, with zero in their pocket,” said her grandson. “They saved every penny. There was no such thing as credit cards. If you can’t get it with cash, you can’t get it at all. [She] taught me, ‘Don’t go out for lunch and dinnertime – you’re not a big shot.’ ”
“She did everything from scratch,” her grandson said. “A lot of it has to do with homegrown tomatoes from the garden.” She’d team up with other families to grow and pick tomatoes from a community plot in Mokena.
Mrs. Covelli made heavenly Italian treats, including zeppole, struffoli, and pesche dolci – sweet peaches – a biscuit cookie that resembles peach halves sandwiched around a creamy filling. Her family misses them. “My grandmother was the only one who made them,” said her granddaughter.
She also was skilled at knitting blankets. “I have them all wrapped up. I’m going to save them for my kids,” Carla Cousineau said.
“A strong, strong, lady, loving, caring, funny,” her grandson said. When he’d call her in Morgan Hill, California, where she moved 20 years ago to live with her son Luigi, “I would go ‘Nonna!’ She would go, ‘Bello!’ Bello is ‘beautiful’ for a guy – ‘bella’ for a girl.”
“She loved it because California had the same weather as [where] we come from” in Italy, her son said.
In addition to her son, Mrs. Covelli is survived by her daughter Rosetta Mazzulla, her sister Amelia Stella and brother Aldo Fallico, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Her daughter Flavia Mazzulla died before her, as did her sisters Filomena Panaro, Dorina Vallera, Ida Gentile and brother Rosarino. Services have been held.
Her relatives say they will treasure her rolling pin and the wooden spoons she used to make pasta.