It’s hard to think that I have seen almost as many days on this earth as my grandmother did. But I have. Flossie Irene (Dow) Damato passed away from this life on 1 April 1954 at the age of 62 in Jacksonville, Florida.
She knew me – at least as much as anyone can know a child until the age of 2½. But I know her only from stories told to me by my parents and other relatives.
I think of her as a strong woman. Widowed at age 46 after 22 years of marriage, she experienced several tragedies and hardships in a few short years. In 1935 her youngest son drowned in an accident at the age of 2½. Less than three years later, she was widowed and left with a seven-year-old son to raise. She honored her husband’s promise to care for his own widowed mother who lived with them. Her two oldest sons joined the US Navy in January 1940. In September 1941, her mother, who had been ill, passed away while living with her. Her son, Joe, was on Pearl Harbor when the island was attacked on 7 December 1941. My daddy said his mother didn’t sleep for three days until she got word from the Red Cross that Joe was safe. Surely that must have been the most brutal six year period of her entire life.
For all her strength, there are other sides to this lady that I’d like to share.
She was an avid reader. I think the accompanying photo is characteristic of her. This is my daddy’s recollection of his first year of school: “Every afternoon my mother would walk to the school and meet me when school was out. Riverside Park was across the street from the school and many times she would let me play in the park before we walked home[;] she did much of her reading during this time.”
I discovered she played the piano in a newspaper article I found online. My cousin Joan Sendling, who called Grandma Damato “Mama,” wrote, “I remember Mama playing the piano and we would all sit around and sing songs. She taught me to play Chop Sticks. I would play one part and she would play the other part.”
Grandma Damato enjoyed working crossword puzzles. I suppose she had a great vocabulary because of all the reading she did. I don’t know that she ever won any, but she entered all kinds of contests. On the back of a letter from her son dated 18 January 1941, I found written in her handwriting, “I like Ivory soap because Ivory soap Cincinnati, Ohio.” I wonder if she entered that contest. I wonder what her answer would have been.
In the kitchen, spaghetti and homemade bread must have been her signature dishes. Having married into an Italian family, she learned to cook spaghetti sauce from her mother-in-law, and she served it every Sunday at lunch for her entire family. I grew up eating my mother’s variation of my grandmother’s recipe, but recently my mother wrote from memory the way my grandmother cooked spaghetti sauce; she said she had watched her make it often and remembered how she did it. I plan to try the original recipe one day when I have a lot of time because it looks like a lot of work. Apparently, her sons really liked her recipe because they mentioned more than once in letters to her how much they wished they could eat some.
The aroma of homemade bread brought back memories for my cousin and my daddy. Joan wrote, “I remember Mama baking bread and sometimes I got to help. A few times the bread would raise so high that it would run over the pan and we would have to kne[a]d it back down and wait for it to rise again. The house always smelled so good.” One time my parents arrived for a visit, and I had just taken some bread out of the bread machine and cut off a couple of slices. My daddy asked if he could have a piece and put some butter on it while it was still warm. My mother told me later the reason he was so excited about the homemade bread was because his mother used to make it.
Although her husband was the tailor in the family, she could sew as well. She stitched together wool swatches from his samples and made blankets for the family.
My grandmother apparently could get wrapped up in something she was watching on the silver screen. My daddy told me of a scene in My Son, My Son (a 1940 film) in which the actor shaving was shaking the straight razor at another actor. My grandmother’s father never let his children around him when he shaved because he thought the straight razor was too dangerous. Apparently, Grandma Damato had a great reverence for straight razors because of that. My daddy said that when they went to see the movie, she got so upset watching the actor waving the razor around that she stood up in the theater and shouted, “If you don’t watch out, you’re going to cut him!”
Flossie Damato also had some spunk about her. My daddy had lots of jobs growing up and “selling corsages for a local florist at the George Washington and Roosevelt Hotels [in Jacksonville, Florida] to people going to big band dances” was one of them. “It was doing this job that the police arrested me and took me to jail for being out at night. Mom came down to the jail, and when she got through telling the police how wrong they were and what she thought, they let me go and had no charges against me.”
My grandmother could also laugh at herself – a trait I think is healthy. She experienced an event that, undoubtedly, would have been on my top ten list of most embarrassing moments; however, she took it in stride and kept going. In the words again of my cousin Joan: “Mama, Ann and I would go to town to do some shopping and one day when we were leaving the store Mama’s panty fell down to her ankles, she stepped out of them, put them in her purse and we all walked on as if nothing happ[ened]. Laughing all the way.”
I’m so glad my family shared stories with me of this lady I never really knew but wish I had.
 Ray Robert Damato, September 2007; copy of audio and notes privately held by Margaret (Damato) Chatraw, [Address for private use,] Milton, Florida, 2007. This was a recorded conversation between the three sons (John, Joe, and Ray Damato) of John and Flossie Damato.
 Ray Robert Damato, “My Story,” (MS, Martinez, Georgia, 2006); copy supplied by author and privately held by Margaret (Damato) Chatraw, [Address for private use,] Milton, Florida, 2006.
 [John Anthony Damato] (U.S.S. Tarbell 142, c/o Navy Yard, Charleston, S.C.) to “Dear Mother” [Flossie Irene (Dow) Damato], letter, 18 January 1941; box of letters from WWII, privately held by Margaret Damato Chatraw, [Address for private use] Milton, Florida, 2012. This collection of letters was loaned to Margaret Chatraw by cousin Nancy Damato. Only the first page of the letter is available, the remainder being missing, so there is no signature. The authorship of the letter is surmised by the place of duty (U.S.S. Tarbell), the handwriting compared with other letters in the collection that are signed by John, and the fact that his brother Joe is mentioned in the text. The reference to “Ivory soap” is written in pencil on the reverse side of the letter.
 Joan (Barry) Sendling, “Childhood Memories: Flossie Irene Damato (Grandmother),” (MS, Clarksburg, WV, 2002); copy supplied by author and privately held by Margaret (Damato) Chatraw, [Address for private use,] Milton, Florida, 2002.
 Joan (Barry) Sendling, “Childhood Memories.”
 Ray Robert Damato, “My Story.”
 Joan (Barry) Sendling, “Childhood Memories.”