Immigrant mother saved by the bell
Giovanni Casorso's family
For Whom The Bell Tolls
The 66-year-old woman spruced up her christmas tree. She had adorned herself with her finest jewelry, much like the splendid tree.
It wasn't her character to dawn all her finest, for she was not a vain woman. However, on the way to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve of 1921, she may have felt a reason to place the finest things upon her frame.
She was born Rosa Bevi Lacqua in Piedmont, Italy. She was married, in 1872, to a versatile, adventuresome Italian man. In 1882, ten years later, he went off to the New World to find a life for them, as peace in Europe had brought no wealth and little happiness for their now growing family.
She waited for news from her travelling man as he landed in New York as Edison was installing the first electricity plant in New York. He then went to San Francisco, on to Nanaimo, British Columbia, and finally a place called the Okanagan Mission. Here, her man pre-empted land, spending the next two years building up his land and stock in life.
He sent for Rosa and their three children. He had never laid eyes on his youngest son.
In mid-1884, Rosa and the children--aged 5, 4, and 3--set off from Genoa, Italy. Their ship would round the southern end of the horn of South America and arrive in San Francisco. Rosa would never recall the ocean journey of six weeks. Family reminiscences allude to the horror of a young mother shutting down her mind until arriving back on land in San Francisco.
Her problematic journey was not over, however, as she now had no idea how to find her Okanagan Mission home from the bustling dockyards of the busy port in San Francisco.
She must have looked forlorn, unable to speak English, trying to keep her three small children in tow; as she waved a small piece of paper that read, "Father Pandosy, Okanagan Mission."
Finally, one of the workers on the docks showed the little Italian mother a crate that bore a similar address to the one in Rosa's waving palm. It read, Joseph Christian, Okanagan Mission, British Columbia. Joe Christian was a dedicated parishioner who had spent $500 to order a bell for the new Mission from a foundry in France. The serendipity of Rosa and the bell arriving in San Fran at the same time was not lost on the 29-year-old mother.
Telling her story years later, with eyes blazing, Rosa would say, "I never took my eyes off that bell for the entire trip to Okanagan Mission."
She followed the bell to the Canadian port of New Westminster, where a cowboy of some fame named Joe Greaves asked if he could escort the family to the Okanagan Mission. Her husband had asked the cowboy to keep an eye open for his travelling family.
Rosa would not budge--she clung to the Mission bell. Greaves set the family up as well as he could along the river bank with blankets and fishing line. For two days, Rosa washed, fished to feed her family and tried to keep her children clean--with her eyes ever on the location of the bell.
From Yale, the bell was to travel to Kamloops, a two-week trek. The family rode every bump along the dusty trail with the wagon party of kind teamsters.
A young pairing of Casorsos
Two month Trek Ends...
Rosa cooked meals for her children till her stocks were exhausted--and then miraculously replenished by generous trail partners. At the rugged, western town of Kamloops, the bell was placed onto the stagecoach, along with the tired family, to complete the journey to the Okanagan Mission. It was October 1884 when the missionaries welcomed the sojourning family to their home.
The wandering was over.
As luck would have it, her husband was in the hills taking care of his business. Giovanni (his name anglicized to John by the brothers of the Mission) rode in that night and saw the candle burning in his home. He thought it was one of the brothers looking for something. As was his nature, he rubbed down his horse, fed it and then entered the cabin to be surprised by the four members of his family he hadn't seen in two years--laying his eyes upon his youngest son for the very first time.
Rosa pulled out a bottle of Casorso Estate wine from Piedmont; Giovanni and his bride drank a toast as the first Italian immigrants to settle in the Okanagan Valley. Eventually Calowna wines would be a business owned and operated by descendants of this pioneering familia.
Rosa Casorso had many more children and adventures during her life, but none as daunting as her journey to the new settlement that became her home for the duration of her life. The mission bell ultimately hung in Pandosy's Mission church tower, and presently, hangs at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Kelowna--the present-day name of Okanagan Mission.
But back to her last car ride.
Rosa suddenly fell ill as Felix, her son, drove his car over Casorso Bridge that crossed Mission Creek. Felix turned the car around and rushed her back home. Rosa passed away quietly in her home as her heart gave out and simply stopped beating.
At the funeral ceremony, many were in attendance, and the family's proud Percheron stud horses, polished and powerful, pulled the cart carrying Rosa to her final resting place in the family plot.
The bell, that had been her guide 37 years earlier, tolled gently, guiding her home one last time.
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