Mama Mafiosa (Angelina Anna Maria Torricelli) was born in Messina on August 14, 1930. Her mother, Anna Maria Tropea, was the only survivor of her family from the Messina earthquake in 1906. When Angelina was 13, her father died of consumption. Two years later her mother was taken by the same affliction. Angelina was only 15 years old and orphaned. With no one left in Sicily and no opportunity, Angelina contacted her cousins in America who owned a grocery store in Brooklyn, NY. In the care of the ship’s Captain, Orazio Torricelli, Celestina bravely boarded the ship to America hoping for a new and better life.
Captain Orazio Torricelli had an 18 year old son, Franco Torricelli, who also worked on the ship. Angelina enjoyed his company, sitting at the captain’s table at dinner and playing on the decks with Franco. Franco was set to enter the Bersiglieri (the King’s Honor Guard) when he returned to Sicily. They promised to keep in touch, and wrote to each other. Captain Torricelli would carry the letters back and forth for five years. One day, as Angelina awaited another letter on the Brooklyn docks, the ship pulled in and she saw a young handsome young man exit the ship. It was Franco.
Franco had saved his money and came to settle in America to start a business and build the American dream. Angelina and Franco married three months later and opened a restaurant, Mama Angelina’s, in Brooklyn, NY. Angelina was the chef. Franco managed the restaurant and kept the books.
Angelina and Franco had three daughters and a son, Rosa, Veronica, Federica and Frank Jr. They were respectful to each other and kind. Of course they fought, they’re Sicilian! But they always made up and worked on their short comings. Angelina did not tolerate grudges. Franco would tease her, “How could a Sicilian not hold onto a grudge?” Angelina said, “Smart Sicilians only want to hold onto their families and their money, not grudges.”
The restaurant took a lot of their time because they also had a catering business on the side. Angelina would check the engagement announcements in the paper and look up the couple’s family to get their business at the restaurant or to cater it at another location. Franco somehow had all the inside information on the funerals. Angelina just assumed that he paid off the local funeral homes. Together, they created a successful business. They owned their home in Brooklyn Heights, the restaurant and its building and a home on the Jersey shore.
Angelina loved it. Her friends would come in during off hours for espresso and canoli and for a little chiaccherra (chat). Angelina was always giving advice. She became the neighborhood relationship consiglieri. Soon even her daughters’ friends were coming in to ask her advice. Angelina always gave sound but humorous advice. She had a wonderful sense of humor was well loved by the community.
The Mafia always came in to their restaurant to eat but never shook them down for protection money like so many other businesses in the Italian neighborhoods. They seemed to leave Franco and Angelina alone. Or so she thought. One late night, after the restaurant was closed, Franco was shot and killed. It was at his funeral that Angelina learned that her dear beloved Franco had been a hit man! No wonder he always knew about funerals moments after people died. He had killed them!
Angelina got the name Mama Mafiosa after a Mafia enforcer came to her restaurant to offer “the poor widow” protection…for a price. Mama Mafiosa got out Franco’s gun and shot a hole in the ceiling. “The next one is going in your head!” she screamed. The enforcer ran out of the restaurant screaming Mamma mia!!! Mafiosa!!!!!
Well, the name stuck.
Angelina, aka, Mama Mafiosa, has sold the restaurant and is retired. She now lives in Taormina, Sicily in a lovely apartment overlooking the Mediterranean. She still goes to the local bar to give out advice to anyone who asks.