Inez Tigna Purdom was born in the Little Italy section of Hartford, Connecticut on December 20, 1910. She was the daughter of Italian immigrants who had arrived just two years before. Her father had been a career sergeant in the Italian army. He left the army because he wanted to marry my grandmother. My great-grandmother wouldn't let her daughter marry a soldier, so my grandfather resigned from the army and took the other opportunity life offered him: he emigrated to the United States.
Joseph Tigna had lived near a monastery when he was a child. The monks had taught him shoemaking, reading, and writing. In America he earned his living making shoes and writing letters for the illiterate members of the Italian American community. He learned English by taking long Sunday walks with a friend who pointed out objects and told him the English words. My mother liked to tell how she had visited the art museum with them and listened while they discussed the pictures in English. He died when my mother was twelve and she worked her way through high school by working in a department store.
In 1934, Inez Tigna married Orlando Jackson Purdom, who was serving as an enlisted man on submarines. New London, Connecticut, was the East Coast home of the submarine fleet, and she and some of her friends had gone to New London "to see what sailors looked like." For the next twenty years, she coped with the familiar difficulties of the military wife's existence: she moved a lot and she maintained a family during her husband's extended absences.
She moved every year or two, and there were years when she apparently moved two or three times. In the 1950's, I applied for a job that required a security clearance. I was born in 1936 and I was supposed to list all the places I had lived since 1938. When I called my mother for help, we spent an hour on the phone while she said things like, "When we got to Savannah, I think we lived on Tenth Street for two months, and then we moved to…" Her main ports of call were New London, New Haven, San Diego, Tampa, Savannah, Norfolk, Annapolis, and the Bainbridge Naval Training Station in Maryland.
Her husband was absent during most of the period from December 7, 1941 to the spring of 1946. He spent some time at sea during the 1930's and he was separated from his family during the first year of the Korean War.
I have a vivid memory of my mother struggling with the family automobile as she drove her two children to her husband's next duty station. That would have been during World War II, in an era when women didn't drive much. The Navy had decided that Lieutenant Purdom was urgently needed at a new post, and my mother had done what Navy wives always do. She had packed up the house and moved her family on her own. I don't speak Italian so I don't know what she was saying to herself when she vented her anxieties in her parents' native language. But I can guess.
When Ben Bova was the editor of Analog, I mentioned that my mother was Italian and he immediately noted that that's the best side-- "the side that does the cooking." In my childhood, I had the best of two worlds. When we lived with our Italian relatives in Connecticut, I ate a big spaghetti dinner on Sunday. When we lived in rural Florida, my mother filled the Sunday table with things like roast chicken, corn on the cob, and the other pleasures of American country cooking.
When my sister and I were children, my mother liked to read us an essay called "The Flag Makers". At the beginning of the essay, a man is walking into his office building and the flag greets him by saying "Good morning, Mr. Flag Maker." The man claims he's an office worker, not a flag maker, and the flag tells him he's wrong. We're all flag makers, the flag says. We make the flag when we work at our jobs. We make the flag when we raise our families.
Inez Tigna Purdom was born near the beginning of one of the great epics of American history. Her parents were part of the tremendous wave of immigrants who came here from Southern Europe and Central Europe near the turn of the century and gradually worked their way into the fabric of American life. When she died on December 27, 1998, she left behind three children, six grandchildren, and three great grandchildren. Her descendants include successful businessmen, a nurse, a fire safety specialist, an emergency paramedic, and a software developer. Her children and her grandchildren have all established stable families in which children receive food, clothing, education, and all the other things children should receive if they're going to become the kind of adults the world needs.
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