While going through the civic and church files in Pescia in recent years, I learned that my grandfather Michele once had a little sister Zelinda, who had died at age seven. I had asked cousins Enrico and Grazia if they knew anything about her, but they knew nothing. The files showed that she had died in 1887, when Michele was ten and his brother Enrico—the grandfather of my Italian cousins—seventeen. I had assumed it had been from an illness, since the area suffered from frequent cholera epidemics in the late 1800s.
Thanks to a conversation Lucy and I had with Franca Spadoni yesterday, I have learned the sad but true story of Zelinda. Parents Pietro and Maria and the older children were out working in the fields, and Zelinda had been left home with her nonna. A fire broke out around the wood stove downstairs, and Zelinda ran upstairs to tell her nonna, who was nearly ninety years old and confined to bed.
“The nonna was very, very old,” Franca said. “The girl’s clothing was on fire, but the nonna couldn’t do anything to help. She told her to go get someone else to put out the fire, so the little girl ran back downstairs, but she never made it out. She was in the middle of the fire, and she pleaded with her nonna to pull her out, but she couldn’t do it.” By the time the rest of the family arrived, Zelinda had perished in the flames.
When Enrico married and had his first daughter, he named her Zelinda. This Zelinda had a long life, dying at age eight-six in 1986.