Born Mary Barbara Gargonia on December 16, 1872 in a tiny village in the Province of Popenza, it may be said that Mary was one of Italy’s gifts to Naugatuck.
Arriving in America in 1883, she settled with her parents near Hazelton, Pa., where her father worked the mines.
In 1889, she married William Mariano and in 1892, the couple moved to Naugatuck where William got a job at the G.I.R. Rubber Company as a machine oiler, making them the fourth Italian family to make Naugatuck their home.
Their first home was on Water Street, a bustling place along the Naugatuck River made up of a variety of business and small homes, many factory owned. Shortly after giving birth to her fifth child in 1902, their home along with many others in the area was flooded. The family was forced to sleep on slabs of rubber at the Rubber Shop for about a week.
Around 1907, and now a family of ten, the Mariano’s moved to 1 Pond St. Between 1910 and 1916, they completed their family with four more children. Sadly, two children were lost at birth and two, Lena and Joseph died in the flu epidemic of 1918.This epidemic killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, leaving almost no area in the world untouched.
In an effort to bring in extra income, Mary worked 12 hours a day doing other peoples wash and ironing. A big cooper washtub stood at the ready with water boiling on the wood burning stove next to the spare irons kept hot.
As hard as she worked to help provide for her own family, no one ever walked by her home hungry. All the children of the neighborhood knew Mrs. Mariano’s cookie jar was always brimming with a homemade treat.
Once Mary noticed caulk marks on her front steps. The children were scolded and kept busy removing it. Later she realized the hobos and tramps passing by Pond Street marked her step with caulk as a sign to other men of the road that a free meal could be had there.
In 1921, when William Mariano passed away, the family pulled together to help with the financial burden.
The children went to Risdon Manufacturing every day and brought home large boxes of pins. They would stay up late in the night putting the pins on a paper backing and then returning them to Risdon the next day.
After the flood of 1955, Mary had her daughters carry hot coffee to the National Guard stationed close by and invited them all to the Pond Street home for a spaghetti dinner. At one point, the old homestead as they called it, was filled with 22 of the workers!
With Mary’s generous heart, times were never too hard for a gaily-decorated Christmas tree and a special gift for each of the children. Mary’s grandson Edward recalled coming home in February of 1946 from a long tour overseas to find Christmas waiting for him at the Pond street home complete with the tree, presents and a big sign saying “Welcome Home!”
Mary was a devout Catholic and a devoted member of St. Francis Church. She took special pride in her shrine of the Virgin Mary and her beautiful back yard filled with flowers.
In 1957, at age 85, Mary was elected to be the Mother of the Year by the local Fraternal Order of Eagles, an honor so well deserved.
On April 5, 1968, it was reported in the Naugatuck Daily News that Mrs. Mary Gargonia Mariano had passed away at the age of 95. Her legacy lived on in the 10 living children she left behind at the time of her death, Katherine, Jake, Anthony, Dom, Rose, Mary, William, Angeline, Helen and Madeline. It is interesting to note that Anthony was the first Italian student to graduate from Naugatuck High School, where he maintained honor roll status all four years.
Mary never went to school other than the two years of training she received as a girl in Italy. She taught herself to read and write English. Her amazing sense of humor, giving heart and deep faith gave her the courage to rise above the worst of times.
She often told her children “When you do good, forget it and when you do bad remember it.”
Until next week when we find another place in Naugatuck history, may you find the same courage Mary did in the trying time we face today.
Credits: Naugatuck Daily News archives.