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To soldiers: peace, love

Mamie Cincotta feels she must send wounded veterans her painstakingly painted Christmas cards, just to let them know someone is thinking of them.

Published December 23, 2005

[Times photos: Keri Wiginton]
Domenica "Mamie" Cincotta, 86, paints one of nearly 60 Christmas cards she has created for military people recovering at James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa. The cards read, in her careful script: "Just a little note with gratitude to say: "Thank You' for all you've done."

Cincotta spent the better part of 10 months painting her Christmas cards.

BROOKSVILLE - Whether she's painting snowmen or winter idylls, Domenica "Mamie" Cincotta has in the back of her mind the constellations of her youth: blue, silver and gold stars peeking out from the windows of her Brooklyn neighborhood.

She recalls a neighbor with three blue stars in her window for her three sons fighting in World War II. Some, less fortunate, hung silver stars for wounded sons and husbands, or gold for those who had been killed.

Cincotta also remembers her own husband, after he was drafted, wearing his uniform and holding their 2-year-old son; and later, that son returning, quiet and withdrawn, from Vietnam.

It's these memories, along with the restlessness of old age, that wake her up at night and sit her down where her daughter often finds her, paintbrush in hand, painstakingly dabbing away at the hand painted Christmas cards she sends to wounded soldiers at Tampa's James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

In Cincotta's long memory - she's 86 - the wars are much the same. "I don't care what it's all about. It's still war. It is killing people."

It took Cincotta the better part of 10 months to paint nearly 60 Christmas cards for patients in the hospital's center for brain and spinal injuries. It's the second year she's done it, and she still finds it hard to explain why.

"For family, I was doing it, and for my friends. Where it came from, I don't know. It was like something from up there hitting me in the head, "Why don't I do this for the boys?' " Cincotta said, quickly adding, "and for the girls."

Cincotta remains determinedly old-fashioned. She does not like the way girls dress and behave today. "No pride," she said with disdain. She does not begrudge all the years she had no time to paint while she raised four children. And she consistently has to remind herself that women are soldiers now, too.

Born on Manhattan's Lower East Side, she moved to Brooklyn when she was 7. She had three daughters and one son. She divorced long ago, and has seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Cincotta moved to Florida 30 years ago. After a series of health problems two years ago, she moved from St. Petersburg to live with her daughter and son-in-law on a pretty piece of property that sits under the pines off a Limerock Road near Brooksville - "God's country," she calls it.

Every evening, she sits on the back porch and watches the sunset over the neighboring tree farm. She never misses one, her daughter said.

To modern eyes, Cincotta seems impossibly sweet. But several hours in her company and it appears to be her entire character. She retains a girlish sensitivity, her eyes tearing when she remembers the blue stars in her neighbor's window.

Her philosophy is simple, she said, paraphrasing a hymn: "Let there be peace in this world, and let it begin with me."

On a recent visit, she obliged a guest by taking a break from her painting desk, pulling herself up on her walker and joining her visitors at the kitchen table for iced tea.

"It feels like I'm showing off," she said, discomfitted by a photographer over her shoulder.

Her daughter, Jo Ann Willis, brought over a yellowed portfolio of Cincotta's childhood sketches. Willis, also a painter, paged through the faded drawings of family members or movie stars Cincotta saw pictured in the Brooklyn Eagle, like Olivia de Haviland and Grace Moore.

Willis had the Christmas cards arranged neatly in a box. Each card is different. In one, a cat helps bluebirds dress up a snowman. In another, Santa carries a bag of toys. Others show a distant church fronted by an icy stream, or a house with warmly lit windows at the end of a snowy path.

The cards read, in Cincotta's careful script: "Just a little note with gratitude to say: "Thank You' for all you've done." She signs each card, "Love and Peace, A friend."

"When I get a card or a letter from somebody, I feel good, because I know someone is thinking of me," Cincotta said. Wounded soldiers, she figures, must feel the same way.

Hospital volunteers distributed the cards Monday and Tuesday.

"The young man I just gave one to, he said, "Oh, this is nice. Will you thank her for me?' They've just been very touched," said Capt. Rosanne DeFelippo, a nurse at the VA center and an Iraq War veteran.

Cincotta blushes at compliments and gratitude, saying, "I just wanted to let them know we're strangers but we're thinking about them."

Asjylyn Loder can be reached at or 352 754-6127.

[Last modified December 23, 2005, 01:12:07]

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