On ancestry, anniversaries and celebrations gone awry
I don’t know if it’s the same for all members of the Berenato family, but—at least in my particular branch of the family tree—no day is your own. Births, weddings, deaths, funerals—no day completely belongs to you. Such occurrences, I suppose, are to be expected when dealing with large families, but they seem to be especially prevalent in mine.
Some moments aren’t happy and joyous. There have been birthdays celebrated graveside, and remembrance candles lit during receptions. Birthdays and death days, in particular, seem to go hand-in-hand (my grandfather died on his grandmother’s birthday, my maternal grandmother died on my paternal grandmother’s birthday, my mom died on my eldest son’s birthday, and so forth), but there’s a special comfort in knowing that whatever you are facing, you’re not facing it alone. The spirit and memory of our ancestors are omnipresent to guide and encourage us, no matter what the occasion.
Not all shared days are tinged with sadness, either.
For instance, my youngest son, Jackson, was born 12 years to the day after his older sister, my goddaughter Taylor. (Best birthday present ever, right?)
An even better example: last month, on January 17, my wife and I celebrated four years at Mohawk Corner. About three months after we moved in, we learned that January 17 was also my great-grandfather Tony “Mohawk” Berenato’s birthday.
A fun aside: while researching the family tree, we discovered from his baptismal record that he was originally named Domenico—after his paternal grandfather, as is tradition—but was renamed Antonio in honor of Sant’Antonio Abate (St. Anthony the Abbot), the patron saint of Gesso, Sicily, whose day is January 17.
Even in 1894, no Berenato had his or her own special day.
Five weeks after we moved in, Robyn and I got married. It was an arbitrary day chosen after one of our kids—Carter—balked at the idea of us eloping. So, on a 70-degree day in February, surrounded by our immediate family, we got married at the college where we met. Shortly after our second anniversary, we learned that our wedding anniversary—February 24—was the actual birthday of my great-great-grandfather, Giuseppe Berenato, and his twin brother Andrea (from whom came the Atlantic City Berenato family, along with locals Andrew Berenato, Andy Berenato and all of their family, as well as Brian Howell and others).
Speaking of Giuseppe, last May I wrote in my column that I wanted to host a Joe Berenato Day on February 24 of this year, collecting as many Joe Berenatos as possible in one place to take “the most Hammontonly photo ever taken in the history of Hammonton.”
Unfortunately, with all this going on—as they say—it’s not going to happen anytime soon.
So, if this is the first you’re hearing about it, congratulations! You’ve been given an extension.
(Though I feel obligated to point out that May was nine months ago, and somebody could have made at least one more Joe Berenato from scratch during that timeframe.)
Sure, we probably could have cobbled something together, but with a gathering such as this has the potential to be, it’s important to be able to hug, shake hands and kiss without undue worry, and it’s vital to be able to stand close enough to take a picture that doesn’t require extensive amounts of Photoshop mastery.
But when to reschedule? We could try for three months from now—May 24—which is the aforementioned Domenico’s 184th birthday, or even July 26, which is the 100th anniversary of his death.
Perhaps that’s too morbid.
We could also try for my birthday—June 27—so that it will still be on a Joe Berenato’s birthday, but that feels a tad too self-aggrandizing. Also, that’s blueberry season, and at least four Joe Berenatos are blueberry farmers, so that definitely won’t work.
Also, we’re only talking about a few months from now, and, insufferably optimistic though I may be, even I don’t think that things will be cleared up enough to have the kind of close-knit celebration I’m hoping for.
So, let’s shoot for a year from now. Let’s make February 24, 2022 Hammonton’s First Official Unofficial Joe Berenato Day. That gives everyone plenty of notice—and plenty of time to make a few more Joe Berenatos.
Joseph F. Berenato began as a mild-mannered reporter for The Hammonton Gazette in 1997, and returned to that position in 2019 after an 18-year sabbatical, during which he farmed, taught, became a grandfather, dug graves and wrote, but never so prolifically as he has since his return. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on social media at @JFBerenato and at www.jfberenato.com.