After my grandmother, Luisa Bertolo (née Mattioli), died in 2009, I helped my family clean out the seniors apartment she had been living in for over twenty years. It was a compact little apartment, but Ma (as we all called her) kept a lot in there. With her increasing dementia, she had been hiding valuables for some time. We were all told to check every pocket, every box, even the sugar bowl, in case she may have hidden something there.
In the end, one of the treasures we found wasn’t hidden away at all. It was lying on the floor and could easily have been discarded.
This is the story of Oro alla Patria.
Once we had removed almost everything from the apartment, we started cleaning. Dad was vacuuming near the kitchen when he heard the vacuum knock something metallic. He bent over and picked up what seemed to be some sort of steel band. He put it on the stove and continued vacuuming. I came by a while later and saw this thing on the stove. I picked it up and gave it a good “what the heck is this” look. Hmm. It appeared to be made of steel. It was two centimetres in diameter and a half-centimetre thick. It was rounded over, like a ring for your finger. I looked inside and was surprised to see engraving: ORO ALLA PATRIA 18.11.35.XIV.[another digit or three I can't make out].
What the heck?!? Oro alla Patria?!?
That evening, I showed the ring to Aunty Mary. She said that Ma had been wearing that ring for a few months before she died, but Aunty Mary hadn’t seen the ring before that.
When I googled Oro alla Patria at Aunty Mary’s, I found that back in the mid-1930s, Italy was suffering from the economic recession and and Mussolini asked Italians to give their gold to the government. The campaign was called “Oro alla patria” or gold for the fatherland. Apparently his wife donated her wedding rings and Marconi gave his Senatorial medal. In return, some people were given steel armbands or rings engraved Oro alla Patria.
How had this ring come to be in Ma's home? Mom remembered a story about Ma’s mother having given up her wedding band. But Nona Filomena had come to Canada in 1929, with Ma and Aunty Lina. Her husband Augusto had been here for over fifteen years at that point.
But, in 1938, Nona Filomena returned to Italy to sell the house there before the Second World War – good thing, because when Mom and I were in Fano in 2000, the house could no longer be found. (One day I’ll try to find out if it was bombed in the war or the city just decided to tear it down.) It could be that she decided, while she was in Italy, to give up her wedding ring and received the steel ring in its place.
Why would she give up the ring? Was she so loyal to Mussolini, even after a decade in Canada? Was she pressured to give it up while she was there, perhaps to facilitate the sale of the house? Or did it reflect her feelings about her marriage? In another post, I’ll tell you more about Augusto, but in short, he doesn’t appear to have been an ideal husband.
We don’t even know for sure that it was Nona who received the steel ring or what she gave up for it. I may be able to get a record from Italian archives to confirm if it was Nona. Even so, we would never know why she would have given up her ring.
I imagine that Nona’s gold wedding band would have greater monetary value than this steel ring. But money isn’t everything.
What do you have from your grandmother or greatgrandmother? Does it have monetary value or sentimental value?