Bellingham Library Author’s Night Features Milford Native Catherine MarenghiJan 28, 2021 06:00AM ● By Pamela Johnson
One of the differences between a traditional author's evening hosted by the Bellingham Public Library and their most recent such event, featuring Catherine Marenghi, is that attendees were unable to get their books signed. While it's true that in-person events offer this, we have learned because of the pandemic that virtual interactions are “real” in every sense of the word—we are heard, we see each other, and we can learn. Marenghi, a Milford native, was actually at her home in Mexico when the program took place via Zoom.
Catherine began with a selection from her first book, Glad Farm. Why reinvent the wheel when Google Books says it best:
"... ‘Glad Farm’ is a stunning new memoir that readers can't put down. Raised in a primitive one-room farmhouse with no indoor plumbing, the fourth of five children, Catherine Marenghi begins her life in poverty and isolation, but is propelled forward by the love and support of her family. A decade after leaving home at the age of seventeen, she is a successful journalist with the means to buy her family their first decent house. But the past will not be put to rest so easily. Catherine unravels a web of long-buried family secrets, and a terrible betrayal that robbed her family of the home that was rightfully theirs. And she finally learns the story her parents never shared: the gladiolus farm that was once their dream. At once lyrical and raw, unflinching in its detail, ‘Glad Farm’ is an iconic American story of renewal and reinvention, and the mythic power of a house to define our destiny.” (https://books.google.com/books/about/Glad_Farm.html?id=Ch23tAEACAAJ&source=kp_author_description)
President Jimmy Carter called the book “inspiring,” and according to her website, Catherine believes in the power of house and habitat and is donating half of the proceeds from Glad Farm to Habitat for Humanity, which President Carter founded.
Local residents will enjoy reading Marenghi's recollections of Milford and Hopedale in her early years and may recognize many of the landmarks and businesses mentioned that still exist. “People feel a sense of ownership when the story is about their community," Catherine reflected.
Marenghi is also the author of a book of poems called Breaking Bread. She read one of the poems, “The Elm Tree’s Final Testament,” written from the unique perspective of the tree.
Her last reading was a piece from her upcoming book, the working title of which is Our Good Name, which Catherine describes as a prequel to Glad Farm. The book, historical fiction, features a series of first-person stories based on her grandparents that depict both life in Northern Italy, a part of the country seldom seen, and also the plight of immigrants such as her grandparents, who are “not welcomed or greeted kindly,” she says. Catherine has done extensive research; the historical facts are accurate; the fiction comes in the form of stories she has imagined, within the framework of the facts.
For example, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian immigrant anarchists who were controversially convicted of murdering a guard and a paymaster during the April 15, 1920, armed robbery of the Slater and Morrill Shoe Company in Braintree. Anti-Italianism, anti-immigrant, and anti-Anarchist bias were suspected as having heavily influenced the verdict. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacco_and_Vanzetti)
Nicola Sacco lived just a few houses away from Catherine's grandparents in Milford, and in one of her stories, she imagines a friendship between her grandfather and Sacco. Along with the plight of immigrants in the area, she writes of the violent labor strikes at Draper Corporation, and the rich history in Milford at that time.
She read a short poem called “Now That I Am Dead,” about an immigrant explaining why he left his home to come to this country. Following is a brief excerpt: “I wouldn't have left my home if there was enough food...with only enough food for half, half must go.”
Catherine then answered questions from the audience. She was asked if the fact that some of the people in her memoir are still alive affected her writing and did she hesitate when putting pen to paper. She said that her brother, her only remaining sibling, was horrified when he saw a headline in the local newspaper, "Catherine Marenghi Grew Up in Milford with No Indoor Plumbing." Glad Farm was published in 2017, so he has since had time to adjust to the notoriety of having the family story told.
When asked how important school was to her story, Catherine said, “School was everything. It made for a level playing field. Teachers encouraged me to go to college.” (She was valedictorian of her graduating class at Milford High School and was accepted to Harvard University, but chose instead to go to Tufts, graduating with an M.A., B.A., summa cum laude from Tufts University.) “Education is the highest form of wealth that you can have,” she reflected. “It makes you a citizen of the world.”
The Library book club chose Glad Farm for their February selection, and the author will participate in the discussion on Feb. 1, at 6:30 pm. (Marenghi’s books are available at https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Catherine+Marenghi&ref=nb_sb_noss_2.)
For more on Catherine Marenghi, visit her website, www.marenghi.com; you may also “message” her with any questions through her Facebook page.