Linda Massaro (b. 1937) became and orphan at 10 years old, learned dressmaking at 11 and married at 15 years old. In 1966, she started a new life in Canada with her family.
I remember a few things from the War… My grandpa had a big porch, and two German soldiers slept there. One of them would bring me candy and chocolate because he had a daughter who was also four years old.
My mom died when I was 10 years old, and my dad remarried a woman who wasn’t such a good person. When I received a bit of affection, I felt like Cinderella, so I married my husband who was five years older. At 11, my dad and my stepmother sent me to learn the trade as a dressmaker. So I became a dressmaker, and later I used to dress my daughters the same, even if they weren’t twins.
I was very young when I got married, only 15, and, at 16-and-a-half, I had my first daughter. When my daughters were playing with dolls, I felt like playing with them!
We are from Rossetto degli Abruzzi, near Pescara. I came to Canada from Italy with my husband and two of my daughters in February 1966, and I remember everything was covered in snow. In Italy I had everything: a big house, a car, and color TV, because my husband had a good job with an oil research company, Montecatini. When we arrived in Vancouver, we moved into a basement suite in my sister-in-law’s house. The black-and-white TV was all lines, and we had to punch it get it to work. At the beginning, we were like fish out of water. I look at my grandchildren now, who were born here, how easy it is for them.
I found work after a week in Vancouver, even though I didn’t speak English at all. I started making 81 cents per hour in a Jimmy Chambers clothing factory, then in the cutting room of a leather factory in Gastown. My husband started a job in constructions that some paesani helped him find. It was stressful, because he wanted to go back to Italy, and we went back and forth several times. I counted the other day, and realized we moved house 28 times over a few years!
In 1975, I put my foot down and told my husband that I wasn’t going to move back and forth with him anymore. I said “That’s enough. If you want to go, go, but I’m not going anymore.”
In the late ’80s he went back to Italy and remarried a younger woman there. I was 59 years old, and I didn’t want to get remarried, even though there were Italian men here who were looking for a good Italian woman. No, thank you!
I worked for nine years at Margaret Rose Boutique between 1st and 2nd Avenue, so I’ve seen all the changes on the Drive. I’ve also worked at Jennifer Fashion at Nanaimo and Hastings, and I used to sew at home as well. Later, I ran a dry-cleaner’s called Coast Cleaners.
I was an extra in movies and met celebrities like John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Ricky Schroder from My Son Johnny, John Ritter from Three’s Company, and I made an appearance in Wiseguy with Steven Bauer. When my granddaughter (who is 27 now) was a baby and we were supposed to walk in front of the camera for filming at Lougheed Mall, but she decided she didn’t want to walk…
My eldest daughter Yolanda won beauty contests; she was Miss Abruzzo, Miss Contessa and Miss Italy in the Italian community here. I remember when she was going to school at Britannia one day she came home crying because other kids were bullying her, and because she didn’t speak like them, didn’t have a boyfriend like them, and didn’t do drugs like them, so she didn’t belong with them. She now lives in Italy, because her husband is Italian. My other two daughters live here; my third daughter Sonia was born here. My youngest daughter is 44, and I still call her “baby.” She says: “Mom, I’m not a baby, I am a woman.” But, for the parents, you’re always a baby.
I’m a breast cancer survivor, and, when I was in hospital, I had a vision of Jesus. I am not religious, but I am spiritual… I had to stop working due to kidney failure and I had to have one of my kidneys removed.
I have very many photos and I keep a memory book. My social life is very active, and I visit Britannia Centre often—I volunteered at the school and seniors’ centre. I was even nominated for the British Columbia Achievement Award.
Watch Linda’s cooking video, An Italian Family Dinner, HERE.