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A Tribute To My Aunt Jennie

A Tribute To My Aunt Jennie

Stephanie Longo (December 10, 2008)
Family Photo
My Aunt Jennie and me when I received my Master's Degree in 2006.

Jennie Longo Moeller came from Guardia dei Lombardi, Italy to Scranton, Pa. when she was 6 years old and built a life that most people can only dream of.


There’s a special place in Heaven for Italian mothers… but what about Italian aunts?

If you ever met my Aunt Jennie, you couldn’t help but be drawn to her. She had some kind of force field around her that just drew you to her and, like any good magnet, once she grabbed hold of you, you couldn’t let go.
I didn’t meet my Aunt Jennie until I was 22 years old; mainly because of a random loss of contact between her and my mother after my grandfather died in the 1970s. From what my mother told me, she ran into Aunt Jennie in the mall when I was a baby, they said they would get together, but then they never did.
Until I got the idea in my head that I was going to figure out my family’s history.
In late 2002 while working on my Bachelor’s thesis in Italian, I began asking my mother a litany of questions about our family’s background including, “Where was my grandfather born?”, “What were my grandparents like?” and “Who is this Aunt Jennie you keep telling me about?”
It was a Sunday morning, around 11 o’clock when I asked that last question to which my mother responded, “Your Aunt Jennie is your grandfather’s sister. You know, it’s funny. I haven’t seen her in 30 years but I still remember her phone number, 347-8102.”
A few minutes later I was on the phone…
“Hi. Is this Jennie Moeller?”
“Yes it is. Can I help you?”
“I think so. My name is Stephanie. I’m your brother Joe’s granddaughter. I’m Ann Marie’s daughter.”
“Oh my God. Honey, the last time I saw you, you were just a baby.” I could hear the crack in Aunt Jennie’s voice.
I met Aunt Jennie and her husband, Uncle John, for the first time that Christmas. My memories of that day include Aunt Jennie placing a gigantic tray of cookies in front of me. I ate 4—I didn’t want to overeat and I didn’t want to undereat. Apparently, in Aunt Jennieland, 4 cookies weren’t even enough to feed a fly.
“Honey! You’re not eating!”
“Yes I am, Aunt Jennie. I had 4 cookies.”
“Oh that’s not enough, have some more!”
If you left Aunt Jennie’s house hungry, it was your own fault. I learned that at our first meeting. Later, when we talked about the first meeting she told me that I was her “Christmas miracle”, but what she didn’t know was that she was mine, too.
Aunt Jennie made my family come to life and, through her stories about the “good old days”, she helped bring me to life. There are two heirlooms that she passed down to me that one day I will pass down to my children. One is the family’s last portrait before they left Italy.
Aunt Jennie had just finished cleaning out a closet in her apartment and she found a big oval portrait that she had to show me. When I walked in her apartment, there was my great-grandmother, my grandfather, my great uncle, and, of course, Aunt Jennie all staring back at me. Aunt Jennie looked to have been about 4, my grandfather about 9. This was the final portrait taken of our family before they left Italy to join my great-grandfather in Scranton. When I went to hand it back to her, she put her hand on mine and said, “No, honey, this is yours now. I want you to have it.”
That portrait hangs in the place of honor in my house.
Another time, while hanging around at Aunt Jennie’s apartment, she showed me a table scarf her mother, my great-grandmother Nicoletta, had made. She gave me that scarf. When I told her I wanted to frame it, she took another similar scarf from her mother and cut pieces of it and sewed them in to fix where this one had dry-rotted. Where she couldn’t fix it with another original, she hand-crocheted new pieces to repair it with.
When I showed her the framed scarf, she said, “Hey! We’re in style now!”
Aunt Jennie was always in style. I have an old photo of her dressed in a hula skirt. I have an audiocassette of her singing the Tarantella with my great-grandmother. She knew how to have fun and, more importantly, get others to join in no matter how they were feeling.
When my engagement ended, I was more than devastated. When I cried on the phone to Aunt Jennie, though, she knew that this man wasn’t the one for me—even though she was the first person to guess that I was in love.
A true man, to Aunt Jennie, was like Uncle John. Always willing to give of himself for his family, always there when you needed him. While I was sobbing, Aunt Jennie stopped me, “Honey, when you talk about marriage, you don’t want a man like this. You want a man like your Uncle John. We’ve been married for over 60 years. Why? Because we love each other and we let each other know it. That’s what I want for you. I don’t want you married and then divorced. I want you to have a forever love like I have.”
You couldn’t picture Aunt Jennie without Uncle John. It was impossible.
Then one summer day Uncle John fell in their apartment and hit his head. He was never the same again. Nor was Aunt Jennie. Her life became one filled with running to the nursing home to see him, she always went twice a day, sometimes three times. She knew the meaning of her marriage vows and lived them.
Because Aunt Jennie was so busy, we saw less and less of her. The last time I saw her was when she was visiting my grandfather’s and great-grandparents’ graves at Cathedral Cemetery in Scranton. I can still see her dressed to the nines, as usual. I didn’t know that our final “I love you” would be our last.
My Aunt Jennie died on November 20. It was a shock to us all and I don’t think I will get over that pain for a long, long time. She was the grandmother I never had, a good friend, and an all-around amazing person to know. If you had my Aunt Jennie in your corner, you were guaranteed a hell of a good time.
I put a copy of the family portrait she gave me, along with a stone from near the house she was born in in Guardia dei Lombardi, in her casket. I also put a medal of St. Ann in with her. I didn’t want her to be alone. I wanted something of myself with her because she will always be a part of me. I have a twin to that St. Ann medal on my rosary and when I pray with it, I know that I am linked with my Aunt Jennie. And I know she is with me.
Shortly after she died, she came to me in a dream. First she told me how much of a good time she was having in Heaven (naturally—she’s Aunt Jennie!!). Then she told me not to cry anymore because she is in my heart and she will always love me. I know, without a doubt, that was my Aunt Jennie—not some figment of my imagination or something I made up to comfort myself. That was her saying goodbye to me. But it’s not really goodbye because if she’s truly in my heart, she will never leave me.
And on the note I left on the back of that family portrait I promised her that I would keep her memory alive and my future children will know her one day… I will even show them the picture of her in the hula skirt. She’d like that. She’s probably up in Heaven laughing already at what their reaction might be.
If I ever have a girl her name will be Anna Giovannina. Anna was my grandmother’s name. Giovannina was Aunt Jennie’s name in Italian.
When I walked away from her casket for the final time, I was overcome with emotion. I sobbed so much that I thought I would faint. But then I realized that my life, and the life of everyone who knew her, is a better place because of Aunt Jennie. I may have known her only five years but those five years shaped the course of the rest of my life. She brought all of us sunshine in our darkest days. She made me smile even when my heart was breaking. She was, simply put, a class act.

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