Anita Delegram was born with the name Anita Corona in 1933 in Casentino of the Abruzzo region of Italy, east of Rome near the L’Aquila. Casentino is a small village with a church located at the base of the picturesque mountains that surround the valley.
Anita’s mother, Annamaria Felice, was from a small city nearby, Sant’Eusanio Forconese. Annamaria’s brothers were shepherds to their large flock of sheep, and the family was in the business of producing wheels of cheese from the milk. Instead of working in the fields, Anita’s mother was trained by tailors and became a diligent seamstress, sewing clothing items for the people of the town.
Annamaria was originally betrothed to an Italian American who returned to Italy to present her with her dress and shoes for the wedding. However, to her displeasure, her father gave her away to another man, Usanio Corona, a local man with more material assets who subsequently asked for her hand in marriage. Annamaria and Usanio married, but they would spend many years separated because Annamaria remained in Italy while Usanio travelled back and forth from America, where he worked in the coal mines of Pennsylvania, sending money back the family. The couple had two children, the youngest being Anita Corona.
Due to her father’s absence, Anita’s mother had to take charge of the wheat fields of the family’s property. Being a seamstress, Anita’s mother had never been forced to work in the fields like many of the locals, but her husband’s absence demanded it.
Given her mother’s responsibilities, Anita was forced to learn how to cook and run the house from a very young age.
She recalls that at the age of six or seven her mother taught her how to make and prepare pasta and meals for the field hands during wheat harvesting season. Anita’s mother would leave early and instruct Anita to have the meal prepared by noon when she would return home to collect the pasta in a basket and deliver it to the workers in the fields. The family milled the harvested wheat into flour, which they produced solely for their own use given that it had to last them the whole year.
In addition to wheat, Anita’s father also installed bee boxes on their property where the family would make and sell honey to provide some income.
Anita recalls that they had all different types of fruit trees and a large fig tree where you could pluck the fruit in season. She collected chestnuts with her grandmother and loved to eat the almonds from the almond trees.
In addition, the family kept some animals, including chickens and a small lamb. She remembers fighting with her brother to decide who would take the lamb to graze on the mountain behind their house. Many other kids in town would likewise bring their animals to graze during the nice-weather months, and this became a time to play and socialize with friends.
In the mountains, the kids could eat the wild blueberries and drink water from the pure streams that sprung fresh right from the belly of the mountain.
Despite the seemingly beautiful surroundings, life was in fact quite harsh, and the family was very poor. Anita either walked around barefoot or wore wooden shoes, and she had few articles of clothing. A bath was a rare occasion because her mother had to fetch water from the well and heat a tub in the house, and bathrooms were outside.
To complicate things, Anita was afflicted with rheumatic fever from which she nearly died and was bed-ridden for an entire year. During the winter months, the fireplace could not stay lit all day to heat the house; therefore, Anita’s mother carried her to the barn where the animals generated some heat, and Anita would sit alone with the animals all day until her mother could collect her at day’s end for supper, when the hearth could be lit again. After her recovery from the illness, Anita was able to return to school.
Mussolini was responsible for instituting that all schooling for children be mandated, according to Anita, and “he did many good things for the Italian people before aligning himself with Hitler.” She went to school before the outbreak of WWII, and she enjoyed the small school and her teachers.
She particularly remembers one male teacher who would deliver a dramatic rendition of “Pinocchio” if the students behaved all day, and she exclaimed how popular it was as she reminisced.
Anita and her family tried to escape Italy before the war, but their papers were denied in 1939 due to a missing document, and the borders of America closed. This was a tragic event for the family because not only were they forced to stay in Italy during the war, but Anita’s father was stuck in America, and he could rarely if ever send financial support to his family.
The Germans invaded Italy and eventually occupied Anita’s town of Casentino. It was a terrifying time for the people of the town, and everyone had to scramble into underground holes and shelters when the bombs would go off. Anita, however, said that she wouldn’t hide; she would just run outside and scream until the explosions ended. Anita describes the destitute conditions that they were forced to live in and how the Germans destroyed everything and took anything that they wanted for themselves.
The Germans confiscated all produce, and they forced the citizens to wait in a daily ration line to receive a piece of bread; her mother’s ration often went to her children as they were living in starving conditions. Anita remembers the German soldiers throwing their cigarette butts in the faces of the children in town when they looked at them.
During the war, a man came to the city to announce that five families from Rome were coming to Casentino and were ready to pay rent to whomever would house them. Looking to help and given her family’s financial straits, Anita’s mother offered to provide room and board for one of the families: the Di Segni family. The people of the town weren’t initially aware that all five families were Jewish, fleeing Rome. It was at great risk of danger and certain death upon discovery if someone harbored a Jew, but Anita’s family made room and cared for them despite the dangerous conditions. In fact, the whole town protected the five families in order to ensure their safety and also the safety of their fellow citizens who harbored them.
Anita’s family grew close to the Di Segni family, and the two daughters, Emma and Rena, became like Anita’s sisters; in fact, all three girls slept in the same bed. Anita’s mother would cook and clean for the family during their stay. As her mother did the wash at one point, Anita recalls her mother asking why there was money sewn into the underwear of their children; they replied that it was there in case their family was separated.
The family had to remain hidden, but on one certain occasion, the father, Angolino, wanted to accompany Annamaria on a visit to her mother’s house in the nearby town. Annamaria warned that it wasn’t safe; however, Angolino dismissed the danger. As they started their trip, they were stopped by a German soldier who interrogated them. Despite the lack of resemblance, Annamaria exclaimed that Angolino was her brother and that they were on a trip to see their mother. To reinforce the story, Annamaria’s actual brother happened to see them and came to embrace them both as if they were all a family. Everyone remained safe, and Angolino’s family stayed at Anita’s house for over a year before the war ended.
In addition to harboring a kind Jewish family, Anita’s mother also hid three American prisoners of war for a few weeks in an underground shelter. Since the American army was bombing many of the moving trains and vehicles, the Germans hid the American POWs in the train cars so that the American bombs would kill them. However, managing to escape, these Americans were protected and saved.
Finally, the German army retreated from Italy, and Italy was left a broken and destroyed nation. Much needed financial assistance finally arrived from Anita’s father in America, and the family prepared to move to America in 1947 in the dead of winter. Anita and her family packed up their few belongings, and her mother sewed her a coat out of wool for the journey.
They left Italy from Naples, and Anita was seasick for two weeks until they landed in New York.
It had been so many years that Anita couldn’t even recognize her father when they got to New York, but the family finally reunited with her father, and after staying a few days in the city, their friend drove them to Cokeburg, PA, where her father worked in the Bethlehem mine. Anita was initially very disappointed with her new life America. By her opinion, not much had changed—she had built it up so much in her imagination that she didn’t find her conditions much improved; for instance, the family still had an outhouse.
The language barrier also presented difficulties.
For example, even though Anita was 14 years old at the time, she was placed in first grade at school. Her father had arranged for evening English lessons for Anita and her brother; however, the language barrier remained a difficult obstacle to overcome. Anita decided to quit school when she was 17, and she lied about her age to get a job in 1950.
In addition, despite the dismal and tense conditions in wartime Italy, Anita had total freedom to live her life, whereas she found herself under the strict rule of her Italian father in the United States. It was difficult to obtain his permission to go out with her friends, and it was strictly forbidden to date anyone that wasn’t Italian. In fact, she dated a non-Italian once behind her father’s back; however, the relationship ended because as it became more series, she was tentative to introduce him to her father fearing the repercussions.
In the end, Anita met John Delegram, an Italian American, and they married in 1955. The couple settled in Ellesworth, the town where John was from, and they had two children. John went to school to become an accountant, and he was a very dedicated worker, husband, and father his whole life.
He passed away in 2015 after the couple celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.
After Anita’s children were in school, she worked for 8 years as a professional baker at the local Bentworth school where she would make all of the bread, rolls, pies, and cakes for the school in large quantities everyday. She loved the job because she could be home when her children would come home from school.
Anita’s entrepreneurial spirit and passion for food and cooking sparked a desire to open up a restaurant with her friend as a partner in 1975. The restaurant was called D’Anita, located in Ellesworth, PA. Anita was the business owner and head chef. Her delicious recipes and ironclad work ethic made the business a success in no time. She would serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Her restaurant became a favorite spot of all of the locals, including the many people who worked in the mines nearby. She would even sell prepared foods and biscotti in the restaurant.
Anita worked around the clock to make the restaurant a success, and the demand of wearing so many hats for the business stretched her thin. When the proprietor raised her rent after her first year of business, Anita decided that she had proved to herself that she could open a restaurant, the fruits of her labor had been well appreciated, and it had become a great success.
Therefore, Anita decided to sell the business because she had achieved a personal sense of accomplishment and because the effort was not worth continuing.
It is clear that Anita’s love for cooking has been constant throughout her life. She is an assiduous gardener and a fantastic cook. She makes homemade pasta, famous homemade pizza, and most of her food comes from her own garden. Her passion for cooking and gardening is abundant, and it is very clearly appreciated by her family.
Anita suffered through much hardship, but she insists that “today’s kids have everything, and they aren’t any better.” This goes to show you that challenges, however difficult, can mold us into greater humans.
Anita’s experiences provided her with strength, perseverance, and a work ethic and energy that few people can maintain.
To this day, Anita keeps up an extremely active and healthy lifestyle, and most impressively, she has always made exercise a priority in her life and continues to go to the gym and yoga regularly.
Anita’s hard-working mentality and zest for life has left her little care for rest, and she throws her energy into what she enjoys most. It is clear that family tops that list.