Aurora Sienkiewicz was born on April 5, 1911 to Giovanni and Rosa Corvi, both of whom were immigrants from the same small village in Italy. Giovanni and Rosa knew each other from the time they were little, and, in fact, one day when Giovanni was passing by, Rosa pointed to him and told her mother that someday she was going to marry Giovanni. Giovanni and Rosa did indeed get married and had a son, Marco.
When Marco was just five years old, Giovanni decided to go to America and look for work and a new life. He soon found a job in New York, so he sent for Rosa and Marco to join him. They came by ship with many people from their village, so they were not alone on the journey. Once is New York, Rosa got pregnant several times, but always miscarried. They were all girls, and Rosa named them all Aurora after Giovanni’s mother, as was the custom.
From New York, the family moved to Louisiana, where another son, Frank, was born. The Corvi’s did not stay long in Louisiana, however, before moving to Chicago. Chicago was supposed to be a temporary stop, as their final destination was California, which was Giovanni’s dream place to settle. Once in Chicago, however, Giovanni got a good job in a cigar factory and Rosa found work sewing buttons on trousers at home, so they decided to stay. After that, Rosa was finally able to conceive and carry a girl, Aurora, and then had another boy, Vincent.
Aurora went to school through the 8th grade and then got a job in a paper box factory at age fourteen. She worked in various factories during her teen years, but she especially liked working at a stencil factory because they got to use chemicals. She found chemistry very interesting, and she became friends with one of the factory chemists, John Petronka. Aurora says that she is pretty sure John had a crush on her, but he was already engaged to someone. Thus, he introduced her to his good friend, Thaddeus Sienkiewica. Though Thaddeus was of Polish descent, not the Italian Giovanni hoped she would find, he and Aurora hit it off right away and soon married.
Thaddeus worked at Western Oil for over forty-five years, and Aurora cared for their four children: Gloria, Phyllis and the twins, Roman and Roy. Like her mother before her, Aurora had many miscarriages over the years, and finally, after the twins were born, her doctor advised her to have a hysterectomy, to which Aurora agreed. When all of the children were in school, Aurora decided to go back to work and got a job as a kitchen aide in various hospitals until she was sixty years old.
Sadly, Aurora’s marriage was not a happy one, as Thaddeus turned out to be an alcoholic. Aurora says that this is why she was always a loner and had no friends or hobbies. “I had too many problems at home to worry about,” she says of that time. Having no one else to turn to, Aurora would sometimes confide in her mother, Rosa, regarding her marital woes, but Rosa, and Giovanni, for that matter, refused to ever talk badly about Thaddeus and stood by the marriage.
Finally, however, Aurora could no longer stand how Thaddeus’s behavior was effecting the children, so she separated from him. It was an extremely difficult thing to do, especially as her parents disapproved and would not support her, financially or emotionally. Thaddeus moved into his own apartment, and though she had some contact with him over the years, she pretty much raised the family on her own.
After her divorce, Aurora still stayed home much of the time in the evenings, but felt freer to make friends and invite them over. Occasionally, she would venture out to a movie or bingo at St. Philips, where she was a faithful parishioner. Only once did she take a trip, which was to go to California to see her brother, Vincent.
Tragically, when Aurora was in her mid-seventies, she had to endure the death of her son, Roman, who was forty-five at the time. He died of complications due to his colitis condition. Aurora says that he was not married and didn’t take care of himself as he should have. “He lost the will to live,” she says. After his death, Aurora refused to ever talk about Roman, though she says that she still mourns his loss.
Up until very recently, Aurora was living alone and was still active and able to care for herself. About a year ago, however, she had a small stroke and fell. As Phyllis is the only one of Aurora’s children still living in the area, much of the burden of caring for Aurora fell to her. The staff at the hospital suggested that Aurora be discharged to a nursing home, and Aurora reluctantly agreed with this decision.
While Aurora seems resigned to her fate, Phyllis does not. Because of her own health problems, she cannot care for Aurora at home and seems to feel very guilty about this. In just the last year, Phyllis has changed nursing homes for Aurora three times, as Phyllis—not necessarily Aurora—has been very unhappy with each placement, including the current one. Phyllis frequently lashes out at the staff, accusing them of a variety of things and can even be verbally abusive at times. Already she has threatened to remove Aurora yet again.
Meanwhile, Aurora seems not aware of Phyllis’s distress. She appears to be content, her favorite activity being bingo. At times she is confused and believes that her clothes are missing, which causes her to complain repeatedly to the staff. Once she becomes upset, she then tends to bring up Thaddeus and the anger she still feels towards him. “He’s living alone, free and easy, and here I am!” she will say, over and over. Normally, however, she is a pleasant woman who enjoys having conversations with the other residents or watching TV with them. It is not yet known if Phyllis will leave Aurora to finally settle into a place or if she will move her again, as she has warned she intends to do.
(Originally written August 1996)