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After 5 decades, 6 sisters in 1 room

The Sicilian siblings sing, giggle, cry and reminisce at the reunion of a lifetime in Spring Hill.

By ROBERT KING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 1, 2002


SPRING HILL -- It had been nearly a lifetime since their voices had filled the same room; nearly a lifetime since they were able to dance together.

But dance and sing they did Friday at a home on Coronado Avenue in Spring Hill where six Sicilian sisters celebrated their first reunion in 55 years.

Until Friday, the Manca girls -- Priama, Maria, Pina, Quintina, Mafalda and Elvira -- hadn't been together in one room since the day in 1947 when Maria left with her GI husband, Joe Piazza, for a new life in America.

For more than five decades, the daughters of Emelia and Antioco Manca of Agrigento, Sicily, made do with piecemeal visits, where just one or two sisters would make the trans-Atlantic journey at a time.

Appropriately enough, it was Maria -- the first of the three Manca sisters who relocated to America -- who hosted Friday's initial gathering. "We saw each other, but we have never been all together," Maria said.

As grown sisters are apt to do, the Manca girls laughed almost continuously and often when everyone else in the room was clueless as to what was so funny.

They told stories. They talked about their mother and father. They shed a tear or two thinking about how long it had been.

"We have lots of fun talking about when we used to be together," said Mafalda, who arrived Friday to complete the set.

Perhaps the first of what promises to be a week of magical moments was when the ladies -- now ranging in age from 61 to 77 -- sang a song about Sicily they hadn't sung since they were between the ages of 6 and 22.

First, one voice rose and then another -- all in Italian. Almost immediately, they found the right key and the right time. It was a harmony that hadn't come together in 55 years, yet they sang it as if they had parted only yesterday. Of the six sisters, three still live in Italy, and three live in America.

Four are widows. And they made jokes Friday about how the curse of the Manca girls might consume the other two husbands if the men didn't behave themselves. The men didn't enjoy the joke nearly as much as their wives. But they were helpless to cope with the giggling females around them.

Like any set of sisters, each brings something unique to the family table.

Priama, 77, is the oldest and most easygoing. Because she took care of some of her younger siblings, she is generally held in the highest regard. She left Sicily shortly after Maria and now lives in Seaside Park, N.J.

Maria, 75, is considered the bossy one. She blazed the trail for the others who came to America. And because of her take-charge nature, she is lovingly referred to as the general. Her Joe is one of the surviving husbands.

Pina, 73, is the one with the voice of an angel. She is recognized as the best singer in a family of singers. She lives in Genoa, Italy, with her husband, Tullio, who made the trip, too.

Quintina, 71, still lives in Tedesco, Italy. When you add in the family's two living brothers, who arrive to join the fun next week, she is the middle child -- fifth of nine. Mafalda, 68, lived in Spring Hill and watched her two children graduate from Springstead High. She moved to New Jersey after her husband died. She is the smallest of the lot and the most easily embarrassed.

Elvira, 61, is the baby of the family and the life of the party. Her older sisters say she is spoiled. Owner of a farm back in Sicily that produces olive oil, almonds and assorted fruits, she is the quickest to laugh, make a joke or cause mayhem.

The sisters had planned to reunite last year. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, nobody felt much like flying vast distances. Together again until Thursday, when they start breaking off to go their separate ways, the Manca girls recognize that this will likely be the last hurrah for the six Sicilian sisters.

Still, Maria calls it a dream come true.

"Family comes first," said Maria. "It's okay with strangers. But family comes first."

Priama, the eldest, said this reunion is important for one reason -- love.

"Family is the best thing in the world. That's what I believe," she said. "My father and mother taught us to be close."

-- Robert King covers Spring Hill and can be reached at 848-1432. Send e-mail to rking@sptimes.com .

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