One half-century later, the catastrophic ramming of the MS Stockholm into the Italian luxury liner the SS Andrea Doria in 1956 is relived in this candid, heartrending account. Author Pierette Domenica Simpson, who, with her grandparents, survived the tragedy off the shoals of Nantucket, shares the human and technical aspects of what has become known as the greatest sea rescue in history. As only an eyewitness can do, the author presents survivors' recollections in dramatic vignettes that meticulously re-create a horrific event-one that could have been another Titanic. Both poor immigrants and wealthy travelers give their accounts of ultimate despair and infinite elation after staring at their own reflections in the black ocean that night and seeing death stare back. Equally dramatic are the revelations of new facts exposed by nautical experts from two continents facts that solve the "mystery" of who was to blame for this most improbable collision between two ships on the open seas.
|Publisher:||Morgan James Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Pierette Domenica Simpson was born in northern Italy, near Torino, and immigrated to the United States as a young girl. Fluent in French, Italian, and Spanish, she retired from teaching foreign languages to become an author and speaker. Moreover, Ms. Simpson collaborates with naval architects, shipwreck divers and survivors for the advancement of maritime safety. She is also the gatekeeper of Andrea Doria survivor stories. Her short story of inspiration for transcending tragedies is published in the book series, Thank God I...
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Autobiography of a Survivor
It is my conviction that it is the intuitive, spiritual aspects of us humans — the inner voice — that gives us the knowing, the peace, and the direction to go through the windstorms of life, not shattered but whole, joining in love and understanding.
— Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
... I tried to tell you this so many times, but instead I always broke down and cried.
The day I had to leave for America, I did not want to leave. I had to be pushed into the car. Your godmother, Isa Bonacini, came to take me to the port of Genova. Everyone in Pranzalito came to say good-bye. Everyone cried. When I returned to Italy decades later, everyone asked me, "Why did you leave? We all loved you, and Piera too." How I wish that I could go back to then! I would not have come to America for the American Dream. I would have stayed there and gone to work in the field alongside my parents. But at that time, raising a child alone was considered a disgrace. I felt guilty, worthless, and restless ...
May 1948 Pranzalito, Italy
I WAS FIFTEEN MONTHS OLD when my mother immigrated to the Promised Land, with feelings of doubt and guilt. Vivina realized that postwar Italy offered little in education and job opportunities for a young woman raising a toddler. She didn't see this as a courageous journey — although it was — but as one of necessity. Vivina consoled herself by telling everyone, including herself, that it was part of the short-term plan to establish her roots in the United States and then send for me. But as the best-made plans are meant to change by destiny's will, the strategy became a long-term affair.
My grandparents would often explain to me about my mother — what she was doing and how she wanted me to come to America. This always frightened me, for I knew that there would be an upheaval in my life one day. I expected the move to be imminent.
When I was about five years old, my great-aunt and uncle came for a visit from Detroit. Uncle Tony had made it big working as a truck driver for Ford Motor Company and had invested his money well. Aunt Theresa worked in a dry-cleaning store owned by Italians. Life was good. They had purchased a new black Ford sedan and had it shipped to Italy so they could travel in luxury — and perhaps in vanity. Being the only car in town, beside Dr. Rovano's, it had an imposing presence. The townspeople liked to prod me for a reaction by asking me if I wanted to go to America with my aunt and uncle. I understood this to mean that my mother had sent the black car to drive me to America. They had come to take me away. And so one day, I hid in a most unlikely place, in a carpenter's cupboard across the village from where I lived. Meanwhile, all the villagers were on a frantic hunt to find me. By evening, Giuseppe, a family friend, had coaxed me out of the cupboard and promised that Aunt Theresa and Uncle Tony would not take me away from my friends Domenica and Gianni — and definitely not from Nonno and Nonna.
All five of the town's children — Domenica, Gianni, Roberto, Assunta, and I — went to a one-room schoolhouse and learned mostly together, although we were a few years apart in age. The room was sparsely furnished, with a teacher's desk, student benches, a brownish map of Italy, and a wood-burning stove. Each day, the teacher filled our inkwells so that we could write entries in our small ruled notebooks. One day, when I was in second grade, we were asked to answer the question "If you were to take a trip, where would you go, and what means of transportation would you take?" My entry read:
I would like to go to America, but I'm still here waiting. To go to America, first I have to take the train and then a ship. The trip is a little long but the trip on board is fun. There are musicians, movies and a lot of people to have fun with. With Nonna and Nonno on board, the trip will not seem long. In America, mymother is waiting for me and she'll be very happy to see me. On the ship, I'll enjoy the ocean for many days and after I'll be able to hug my mother.
Meanwhile, my grandparents continued to write progress reports to my mother about my childhood. This was no doubt an effort to appease her.
Piera is growing fast. She'll probably become tall and slender like her father. The fact that she has a small appetite and often acts cranky worries me, though. I wonder if she's sick or if she misses not having parents. She insists that she doesn't want to go to America alone and we can't leave our home, farmland and animals behind. You made foolish choices in your youth and now we must deal with them. On a lighter note, Piera's friend, Domenica, asked her if she wants to go to America and this is what she said: "I don't want to leave. My grandmother makes fresh apple fritters for me. My mother doesn't know how to make them!"
The organza skirt and nylon blouse you sent Piera look beautiful with the matching hat — especially over her beautiful brown locks. She'll wear these to the feast of San Maurizio.
Don't worry about your father working so hard in the fields. We have a new ox that pulls the plow. Father is still strong and can guide it through the furrows. We'll have good potatoes and corn. Piera keeps him company by sitting under a tree in the shade, occupying herself by playing with her doll or catching tiny frogs in the brook. In the vineyards, her Nonno makes a toy whistle by tying two vines together. Piera blows whistling sounds into it. She's a very creative child and this makes it easy to keep her occupied. Your mother
Then my mother would respond — and, of course, always insist that my grandparents make preparations to come to America. And so it went on until I was eight years old and recovering from a case of tuberculosis. I'm not sure which challenge was more exasperating to me, dealing with the high fever and malaise of tuberculosis or the idea having to leave everything I knew behind. And what if I didn't like America? What if I didn't like my new family? Would I have friends, pets, and a nurturing community as I had in Pranzalito? In my childlike way, I pondered all these mysteries to the point of frustration. Then, on October 21, 1955, the inevitable came; my mother sent a letter of ultimatum to my grandparents:
How are you? How is my dear Piera? Has she been happy and growing since my last letter? I enjoyed seeing the picture you took of her wearing the green corduroy pinafore I sent. You told me not to send any more clothes this year, but I can't help it — I left her eight years ago and didn't get to dress her myself.
Now it's time for me to take over my long due responsibility. Catholic Social Services has finished this long, complicated adoption process. What crazy laws we have — having to put my child in the custody of others, and then readopt her because she has your last name and her father is unavailable. It's been a heart-wrenching procedure that no one should have to bear.
But now you must make a difficult decision: whether to let Piera come alone or whether you want to accompany her. I'll tell you again: life is easier here. Why do you want to get up at sunrise every day to feed the animals, to continue plowing the fields, and going to the river to scrub clothes on a rock? I have lined up jobs for you in Detroit; Pa will work in a lumberyard owned by an Italian and Ma can work as a seamstress in Federals department store.
I know you'll be happier here. We can all live in the same house, as Lino is adding a room upstairs for you. You'll be able to give Piera the love and support she needs. Otherwise, she might hate me forever for taking her away from you. As it is, bonding will be difficult enough. I beg of you, start selling your livestock and your farm equipment! In America we have grocery stores that provide food — already in packages!
By the way, the Italian Line told me that they have a beautiful ship called the Andrea Doria. You can put our entire family trousseau on board and bring it to America.
Write to me soon with your answer. You've had Piera as your daughter for years. It's now time for me to enjoy her too.
I send you all my love, Vivina
P.S. Tell Piera she'll have a cat and a dog here — and who knows, maybe even a sibling!
"What's happened? What's wrong, China?" Nonna's upset; another letter from America. My Nonno let go of the rope that was hauling a heavy bale of hay into the loft. Nonna was waving a letter in the air; she was crying hysterically, as she often did when she faced the prospect of changing the family's status quo.
"Che pazzia!" Nonna yelled out, indicating that this was madness. "Our daughter insists on taking Cici away from us." Because I meant everything to her, she never ceased inventing sweet nicknames — "Cici" was one of them. "After all the sacrifices we made to raise this child! Who made sure she was safe from the cows while we crossed the river and went to pasture? Who carried her on their backs up the hills for her tonsil surgery? Who put wood in the stove all night long to keep her warm? This is the thanks we get?"
"Calm down, China. Accept it. The adoption is final!"
While listening to this frightening discussion between the only parents I ever knew and loved, I decided to dress up my cat, Carla — against her will, of course. I always liked to pretend she was my baby. Carla and I were very close, but she hated being smothered with this kind of love. I began wrapping fancy rags around her furry gray body. Besides, it gave me a reason to look and feel occupied during these regular outbursts from my grandmother. Even though my grandparents logically expected the inevitable, the idea of losing their surrogate child tormented them; the only way they could respond to it, especially Nonna, was to victimize my mother.
"Adoption, Cristo!" Nonna was beside herself, even taking the Lord's name in vain; being a devout Catholic, this was a grievous sin to commit against her Savior.
My poor baby Carla struggled to free herself from her unnatural bondage. She tried to push away from my grasp but had little power with her extremities buried in rags. I'm going to be adopted by my own mother. Maybe it'll be fun to be adopted. Carla doesn't like me anymore. She wants to leave me. And I dressed her up! Carla became more and more agitated. She sought freedom from the loving insanity I had forced upon her. She wiggled and pushed with all her might, instinctively knowing that she was a baby that belonged to another mother.
"I'm not leaving my home, my animals, and my fields to go to America. You do what you want, Pedrin, but Cici stays here with me." Nonno is going to America alone? He wouldn't leave me. Besides, my mother threatened to come get me if Nonno and Nonna don't bring me to America. He'd better stay here with us till we all go to America, together! I'm not going without them, no way! We'll bring Carla and Titti. Titti will bark and howl if I leave him.
It was Sunday, and Nonna had prepared an abundant holy day meal: one of our rabbits, cooked in a wine sauce and served on top of polenta, the cornmeal puree that is a specialty of the Piedmont. At the table, we ate in brooding silence, as none of us was happy about anything at that moment. Nonno poured me a little wine in a glass of water, saying, "Drink it, Cici, it's good for your blood." Nonno is drinking more today. It's good for his blood, too.
July 17, 1956 Pranzalito and Genova, Italy
I'D BETTER GO TELL NONNA APOLLONIA what time we're leaving tomorrow. I want her to come with us to the ship. Sadly, it would be my last visit with my great-grandmother, who had always greeted me with a piece of chocolate and other nurturing. She hugged me even more intensely during this visit, while giving me her words of wisdom about how to act in America. "Be a good girl, Pieretta. Study hard in school, do all your homework, and always help your mother. Your grandparents raised you well. Go forth and love them along with your new family." Nonna Apollonia had a reputation in Pranzalito for being very wise and well educated. In her youth, she had lived in Algeria with her parents, who were experts in the wine industry. I loved her dearly and admired her good judgment.
Nonna Apollonia showed up early for the big event in our small village. The large crowd was unsettling to me. So many people! Are they coming with us to the port? I wish Carla and Titti would come to Genova. Too much crying here ... it's making me sad. I want to be happy. Why are Nonno and Nonna crying so much? We're all going to America together! No one was excited about much of anything, except me, it seemed. It didn't appear to comfort my grandparents to be enveloped with so much goodwill by the townspeople. In fact, it seemed to sadden them even more, standing in their sterile, bleak courtyard, now empty of all the farm implements that had filled it before the auction. We're going in the shiny black car! Did I pack my doll? How will Nonna prepare my snack today?
"Don't cry, China. We'll write often. You'll come back to visit," my mother's girlfriend Kety said reassuringly. "Give my love and regards to Vivina. Tell her I miss her and to come visit."
Nonna cried even louder: "Our home, our land, our animals ... gone ... our security, gone! Our life is finished! We can't even speak English ... at our age going to America ... are we crazy?" Nonna was sobbing hysterically, while Nonno kept wiping his eyes with a clean white handkerchief. But the shiny sedan had all its doors open for us to enter, and Giuseppe was anxious to drive us to Genova.
WE'RE HERE! I MUST HAVE SLEPT. The band is playing for us. The ship, wow, it's beautiful, just like they said. It's as big as Pranzalito. The Andrea Doria awaited us and many other immigrants who were wishing to be sheltered from the ocean's perils — until we could fend for ourselves in the Promised Land. Where are our trunks? Hope my First Communion dress is on board. Our friend Giuseppe pointed to the band. "Listen to the music that's playing for you! You're like royalty." If this was supposed to make my family feel happy, it didn't seem to work. The music was loud, and Nonna Apollonia's cherished words of affection were nearly inaudible. "Ti voglio bene, Pieretta," she repeated so that I was certain to hear it: "I love you very much." I hope she lets go of me now. I want to get on that ship. It looks fun. Why is Nonna so worried about the water? Nothing will happen.
I ran up the gangplank, pulling on Nonna's hand. She was trembling from an unfounded fear she always had about water. Boarding a large ship that was heading across the Atlantic Ocean must have been the ultimate horror for her. We joined all the other Tourist Class passengers on the deck and waved white handkerchiefs with wide sweeps. This reassured us that our loved ones on shore would have a better chance of spotting us among the hundreds. "Arrivederci, arrivederci!" everyone shouted, with high hopes of seeing one another again. We clasped the railing and leaned way out as the sleek liner pulled away from firm ground. Tricolored streamers of red, white, and green stretched from ship to shore — symbolizing the last thread of connection. And tears of sadness, apprehension, and anticipation flowed freely, plunking and expanding into the salty water below.
Soon my grandparents took me to our cabin. I like this! Four beds. Life jackets. We'll be safe. Nonna's wrong ... she worries too much that bad things are going to happen. It seemed incomprehensible to me that Nonna would be afraid of this luxurious and welcoming "hotel." Everything seemed perfect, including the beautiful Genovese sun of the Italian Riviera.
When we entered the dining room for lunch, I was awestruck by the appetizing smells of various foods — like none I had ever known: meats, cheeses, fruits, wines, all creating a heady blend of flavorful aromas. There were huge flower arrangements and ice sculptures on the long buffet table. White linen and beautiful silverware were quite a contrast from the wood table and dull flatware we were used to. The crystal chandeliers sure looked different from the light bulb that hung from an electric cord above our table — like the one in Vincent van Gogh's Potato Eaters. We ate with strangers, something unheard of in Pranzalito. They're really fun and friendly, like my grandparents said the Doria passengers would be.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Alive on the Andrea Doria!"
Copyright © 2008 Pierette Domenica Simpson.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART ONE Stories of Survival,
CHAPTER 1 Autobiography of a Survivor,
CHAPTER 2 Officers and Gentlemen,
CHAPTER 3 Lost and Found,
CHAPTER 4 Prayers from Vieste,
CHAPTER 5 When Her Watch Stopped,
CHAPTER 6 Making Music and Memories,
CHAPTER 7 Sisters and Priests: Saving Spirits,
CHAPTER 8 The Rich and the Famous,
CHAPTER 9 History's Greatest Sea Rescue,
AN ANDREA DORIA PHOTO GALLERY,
PART TWO Stories of the Ship,
CHAPTER 10 Anatomy of a Collision,
CHAPTER 11 The Sinking of the Unsinkable,
CHAPTER 12 Diving the Doria,
APPENDIX 1 Passengers and Crew on the Andrea Doria,
APPENDIX 2 In Memoriam,
What People are Saying About This
It is difficult to constrain the fascinating and intricate story of the Andrea Doria tragedy within the pages of a book. But this has been done, thanks to Pierette Simpson. If you like mysteries, do not read this book, because she was there, and she'll tell you the untold truth, putting an end to the Andrea Doria mystery. A praiseworthy achievement. (Maurizio Eliseo Naval inspector, author, professor, historian)