Tuesday, January 14, 2014


My sister-in-law Catherine passed today. I'd known her almost all of my life. My second oldest brother Jimmy, who we all called "Buddy," served in the Navy in WWII (on Okinawa) and when he got out after the war used the G.I. Bill to attend Catholic University in Washington DC, where he met her.

She grew up in DC, still a totally segregated city then. But her Italian-American parents had been alive when, in many areas of the South, Italians were considered "non-white" so they, and Catherine, were sensitive to the racism she grew up in the midst of. During the war, the shortage of men (particularly in DC) led to several all-girl bands. Catherine was the star of the best known DC one.

She was not only talented (as the photo shows, on accordion) but beautiful, and a force of nature. Unlike most Italian families where the boys ruled, Catherine was the star among her siblings, a brother and two sisters. Meanwhile my brother Buddy, who had entered the Navy and the war from high school, was also an amazingly talented musician.

His gig in the Navy was playing his sax and clarinet at flag raising ceremonies and for the officers and so on, even right behind the lines where people were killing and dying. He saw some brutal death and destruction at only seventeen to return to the states and DC where he fell in love with Catherine Audia. They married when I was seven, in 1949 (if I remember correctly—I was a ring bearer at the wedding).

I loved when they came to Jersey to visit, because they were both very funny, wise-cracking hip musicians. But after traveling Europe with a post-war troupe, they decided to settle down and start having kids while Buddy became a high school bandmaster (good enough that his Maryland high school band played the Macy's Thanksgiving parade and the New Year's Day Orange Bowl Parade in Florida) and played gigs at night (often behind stars like Sammy Davis Jr. et. al.) in between going to night school, eventually getting his Masters and then Doctorate in Education (it took him many many years) and becoming a high school principal.

I had a full on crush on Catherine when I was a little boy. I found her Italian-American beauty exotic and was impressed that her marriage to my brother was considered a "mixed marriage" and almost something forbidden in my Irish neighborhood (which had a spattering of Germans, the original inhabitants, African-Americans, there before anyone else, Jewish families and Eastern European immigrants, but as I grew up more and more Italians moved into).

After my brother passed, twenty years ago, I thought of Catherine as "The Godmother" with a brood of grown children and grandchildren and even some great grandchildren that she oversaw. She played the role well and was much appreciated by all her progeny, who will miss her presence in their lives as they've known it until now, but will continue to feel it in new ways they will be lucky to discover.


Annabel Lee said...

Love your family histories. Condolences on the death of one of those amazing women who've mattered so much for you in becoming who you are.

Karen Stevens Gura said...

Thank you so very much for writing this. Aunt Catherine was my godmother and aunt (though not by blood). I will miss her.

Lally said...

You're welcome Annabel and Karen.

tpw said...

That's a beautiful and evocative little biography. Sorry for your loss, brother.

Kathleen O'Connell Hartman said...

I'm a childhood friend of Catherine's son, Jimmy. I remember her coming downstairs to play the accordion when we had our first boy/girl parties at their house. I'm sure she was chaperoning as well, but she made it all so cool.
My deepest condolences to your family on your loss. - Kathleen "Tina" O'Connell Hartman