Haeleigh Bayle, Editor

Sicily, Italy 1919

“Gianna, darling, we mustn’t waste time.” Stefano looked at Gianna pleadingly, hinting that their daughter’s departure was unbearable for him as well, but time was of the essence. Gianna looked into the eyes of her five year old daughter and saw fear, yet a determination. It brought a sad smile to the young mother’s face.

“You will be safe in America my dearest Stella,” Gi paused, bending down to eye-level with Stella. “Please remember your papá and I. If nothing else, remember the love we will always have for you. I promise we will come for you,” her voice broke and she began to cry. “This does not make much sense to you now, but when you are older, you will come to understand.” Gianna reached into the pocket of her dress and pinned a small notecard written in both Italian and English onto Stella’s warm wool coat and held her daughter’s hand. Gianna noticed one word on the small slip of paper, “orphan.” She felt hot tears roll down her cheeks and her heart sink into the deepest pit of her stomach.

“Mami, why do you cry?” She asked in broken English.

“Oh no reason, my dear. I am just happy we are together,” Gi forced a smile to her face and kissed Stella’s soft cheek.

The ship’s fog horn sounded, rattling the thin bones in their bodies. Stefano reached down and scooped Stella into his weak, yet strong arms. “My angioletto, you are the sun and the stars of our universe. Whenever you miss us, look into the night sky and see the many stars that are above you. That, my sole, is how much your mami and I love you.” The three embraced for as long as they could. But the young couple had to say goodbye to their light and world. Their little Stella.

New Jersey 1919

Young Stella stood alone on the street. Tears streaming down her face, yearning for her mother’s warm embrace and her babbo’s silly jokes about chickens. Snow fluttered down, and trees with lights hung around the small town square.

An older couple appeared, wearing soft yet reserved expressions. “Are you alone?” The woman asked. Stella sniffled and nodded her head, pointing to the paper pinned on her coat. The woman, who’s deep brown eyes looked caringly at Stella’s black hair and hazel eyes, unpinned the paper and read it to her husband.

“Stella Russo, what a pretty name. I am Mildred. And this is my husband George.” George gave a curt nod.

“We will take care of you until your mother and father get here, okay?” Mammi and papá will be here soon? Stella nodded. George looked utterly suprised at what Mildred had just said, but chose not to reply.

Mildred reached down and tucked Stella’s small hand into her own and walked down the street, babbling about the store names and what dinner they would have when they returned home. Stella’s lip quivered at the mentioning of the word “home,” but said nothing. Instead, she looked into the dusk sky, searching for the stars and her mother and father’s faces.

New Jersey 1941 (Present Day)

Christmas music rang out from the record player on my desk. I swayed to the music as a I styled my shoulder-length black hair. My tan skin had more color than my mother and father had in the summer, and my hazel eyes held deep secrets no one knew.

“Italian,” that’s what my piano teacher referred to me as. I have always known I am different, there’s no doubt. Besides, I faintly remember what my birth mother and father looked like. My mother had beautifully contored cheeks that were pale yet full of life. Her hair was just like mine, and her eyes were a deep green, full of determination and love. I remember her soft words she sang to me on a warm day as we walked down a dirt path. And I remember her pain as she gave me a kiss goodbye the day I was put onto the boat. I remember my papá and his quick smile, or when he would tease mammi about her cooking. His hair was a deep black, yet his eyes were a bright blue, ready to liven up any room that needed it.

The weeks surrounding Christmas were most hard for me during the first few years of coming here to America. But over time, I realized that my place is here with my adoptive parents (the O’Connells). I read stories, cook with Mildred, and occasionally help in George’s publishing company. The smell of new paper and ink brings utter peace to my heart.

I got over the empty feeling in my heart of being different a while ago, but it wasn’t until I heard Milly and George talking in hushed tones in his office.

I went to walk into his office but heard Mildred sniffle and George say rather blandly, “Dear, it is time the girl knows. We cannot protect her forever. My company is losing workers because they are joining the war. We are losing money every day. I cannot keep us afloat much longer.” He paused before adding, “And I may be needed in the war.”

“No George, I cannot lose you.”

I couldn’t handle it anymore, so I knocked on the door. I heard them wiping away tears and George croak, “Come in.” I cautiously walked through the door with my eyes low. “Can I help you with anything?”

“No. I think you deserve a day off. Go home and enjoy today. Mildred will be home in just a little bit.”

I couldn’t meet their eyes as I walked out of his office. Snow floated down from the grey sky in soft twirls and landed on the bleak ground. Some snowflakes fluttered onto my eyelashes, but quickly melted. My breath came out in short fog-like clouds. When I finally reached the house, I let myself in and stood by the wood stove, pondering what I had just heard.

 2 weeks later

I awoke to the sweet smell of cinnamon buns cooling out on the table. My bedroom curtain was open, so I could see the snow heavily falling.


Even though I am 26 years old, I still threw off the covers, slipped on warm slippers and hastily walked downstairs. I saw Mildred and George enjoying their cinnamon buns at the table and quickly joined them.

“Good morning,” I said, eye-balling the gooey sticky buns.

“Good morning, dear.”

I was halfway through my sweet breakfast when George cleared his throat. “Stella…there’s something your mother–I mean Mildred– and I need to tell you.” He paused, and I noticed how shiny his eyes were, along with Milly’s. Mildred reached across the table and held George’s hand. From his lap, he set on the table a small wooden box, and slid it across the table to me. “Mildred and I should have showed you this a long time ago. But, we were too scared you’d realize things about yourself and…well, leave us.”

“We never meant anything to hurt you, please know that Stella,” Mildred looked as if she’d throw up at any second.

Shaking, I opened the wooden box, and pulled out a tattered piece of paper. My breath was coming out in quick, short bursts, and I started to read.

Our angioletto,

Stella. Oh how we long to hold you close.

I know you have many questions, and your papá and I wish we could answer them for you. I hope we will…someday, when we are all together again.

Do you remember when we told you to look into the sky whenever you miss us? The truth is, we told you that to make ourselves believe that somewhere far away, our beloved daughter will be looking at the same stars as us.  We will miss you, more than you will ever know.

I am scribbling this note quickly before you board the boat because I cannot bear to send you away without knowing why we chose to send you to a foreign country…

You may not remember, but here in our Sicily, famine and war rip apart communities. Many nights we have gone to bed hungry, worried about our safety, and cold. Your papá was recently drafted to the war. I refuse to keep you in a dangerous environment, starving with hunger all because of my selfishness. If I could, I would go with you, but it took everything to buy you that ticket.

My heart breaks a little more every time you ask me, “Mammi, why do you cry?” in your mixed English-Italian voice. Darling, you are our world, never forget that. I hope when you finally read this you understand that we didn’t send you away out of spite, we sent you away to give you something we will not have in our lifetime: opportunity. America is the land of the free. Enjoy it. 

Please know we love you. I hope that this note is one we read together someday. I wish you the best. It is Christmas time here. I hope American Christmas captivates you. I would write more if I could, but the captain just called for last-minute-boarding. That is you, Stella. And this concludes the letter. If only I had two more minutes to explain more

Buon Natale,

Mammi and papá

By the end of the note, I was crying. Crying for believing that I was sent here to America because my parents didn’t care. I was crying because I never got to see my parents again. I cried because though they aren’t my biological parents, Mildred and George are my parents. They dried my tears, they sang bedtime stories to me, and they loved me through it all. I now appreciate something I wouldn’t have before: family. Whether blood family or not, family is family and we can’t ever let them go.

“Merry Christmas, mother and father.” I hugged them both tightly. And for the first time, I felt whole.