A Woman Called Nanny

A Woman Called Nanny

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anna-and-nannyAs I remember Nanny, she was a sweet old woman (probably only 60 at the time!) Nanny was my Great Aunt, Maria (Pacheco) Correia. I had no idea at the time what a life Nanny lead. Now that I know, I have so much more appreciation for the wonderful person she was.

Maria was born to Portuguese immigrants in Kilauea, Kauai, HI, in 1898. When she was just 8 years old, her father, Theodoro Pacheco, found out he had leprosy. His diagnosis would mean deportation to the leper colony on Molokai. The family soon devised a plan to smuggle themselves from Hawaii to California. In 1906-1907, they made the journey under the assumed name of Smith.

In Maria’s early years, she had a crush on Anthony Correia. It is said that they were school age sweethearts. The move to California separated them. Maria spent most of her childhood in Oakland and Anthony in Kilauea.

Maria married at the age of 16 to Anton Souza. He was another Kilauea product and was 8 years her senior. Maria and Anton settled in Oakland on the same street that Maria grew up on. Maria soon found herself away from her family. After her brother, Willie, died in 1913 and her father died in 1914, her mother, Maria (de Braga) Pacheco Smith picked up roots to live with her brother, Jose de Braga, in Spreckels, California. During this period, she also suffered a series of strokes which left behind some physical problems.

Maria gave birth to her first child, Theodore, in 1915. He only lived for two months. She gave birth to another son in 1916. Then, she gave birth to a daughter. The daughter died at three weeks old due to “milk fever” which was caused by infected milk. She then gave birth to her last child in 1924.

Anton worked the ferry boats between San Francisco and Oakland. Their sons went to school in Oakland. Around this time, Maria and Anton earned their nicknames “Nanny and Dean”. This came from their nephew who couldn’t say the Portuguese words for godparents–Madrinha and Padrinho. Maria’s nickname stuck through life. She was Nanny to all.

During the depression, they were able to stay afloat and held on to their home. Sometimes other family members who were down on their luck lived with them–including brothers with drinking problems. When her mother could no longer take care of herself, she lived with Maria and Anton. She also took special care of her niece whom she saw quite a bit of. According to her niece and her son, Maria had a place in her heart for everyone.

In 1938, Maria had to dedicate herself to her ailing mother. She passed away at the age of 61 that same year. In 1939, her oldest son got married. A couple of years later, her other son set off for the army. Her daughter in law often remarked that Maria was a typical “Portuguese Mama”. She did everything around the house and it was mandatory that everyone be present for Sunday dinner. She was often amazed at how close Maria was to her family. She seemed to be related to everyone they passed on the street and could tell you which degree of cousin they were and by which side of the family.

In 1945, tragedy hit. Anton found out he had cancer. On the 25th of October 1945, Anton passed away, leaving Maria a widow. She and her youngest son lived together for awhile and the Sunday dinner continued.

Maria was no quitter though! She carried on and made it through each day. Sometime around 1950, Maria met up with Anthony Correia. Anthony was divorced and living alone. Both were about 50 at the time. They began to see each other, but without making much of a fuss about it. After some time, they could be seen walking around the neighborhood holding hands. Sometime around 1956, Maria and Anthony were married. In the 1960s, they moved to Greenfield, CA. Anthony had begun his life in California not too far from there. It was a quiet, rural area where small farms and ranches could be found. Maria passed away in 1979 while Anthony passed away in 1984. All told, Maria spent 31 years with her first husband and then about 25 more with her second.

We visited them a few times. I was very young but I still remember how they welcomed us and how only my brother got to go to their friend’s house to ride the horses! To me, Nanny was a kindly soul, always smiling and happy. Thinking back, if anyone should have been bitter, it was Nanny. Between the early deaths of her father and brother, her strokes, the loss of two babies, taking care of her ailing mother, sending a son off to war, her husband’s cancer, living through the depression, and whatever other tribulations life sent her way, she had many opportunities to just throw her hands up. But that wasn’t Nanny! She remained solid through it all. Nanny was a woman of strength and a survivor.

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