By Jane Heil Usyk
Just got out of Perazzo’s, where Mrs. Raffetto was lying in state. It was the center of Village life today; half the Village came in while we were there on Monday.
We all said she was lucky to have died the way she did; as her son Andrew said, she was sick for five days. “We were all going to Arturo’s for my daughter’s birthday; I asked my mother if she wanted to come with us. She said no, she didn’t feel so well. She was sick for three days—she had little strokes, and her tumor got twice the size—we started talking about hospice on the third day, and the fourth day we stopped talking about hospice because she was declining so fast. Then, on the fifth day, she died. It’s good in one way because she didn’t hang around a long time, sick. And, of course, I didn’t have to worry a lot; there was no time. But we were all shocked.”
Even people like me, who just shopped at Raffetto’s, were shocked. I’d seen her sitting in her appointed spot a week before. It was at the front of the store, across from the cash register. I didn’t wave; I merely noted that she was sitting there in her white pharmacist’s outfit, and all was right on Houston Street. But that must have been the last time she sat there; a week later, I saw the announcement of her death in the window. Everyone was shocked. All the people around me on the street were shocked.
So on Monday, June 4th, we went to Perazzo’s when the viewing started. There were pictures of her life; she had a very nice, pleasant life, with trips to Italy, where her family was from in Asolo, outside of Venice. She married Mr. Raffetto, and seemed to be very much in love. They had two sons, who both work in the business.
The business, in case you live on Mars, is pasta. Very good, very tasty, very fresh, very delightful, very exceptional pasta. Very anti-Ronzoni. Also, pasta sauces; wonderful, unimaginably delicious pasta sauces like pesto, mushroom, and red sauce. So the whole neighborhood trooped in, causing a bit of a funereal traffic jam. Peter from the coffee shop next door came in with his wife. “If someone from the pork store or Ottomanelli’s comes in, there’ll be a food troika here,” my husband observed. Frances Illuzzi was there. A lot of the people there had deep roots in the community. Adriana, who works in Raffetto’s, came in, flustered. The recent events had thrown her for a loop. “Everyone came in to the store,” she said, when they saw the signs in the window.
Mrs. Raffetto lay in the coffin, very quiet. We will not go to the mass for her in Our Lady of Pompeii because we are Jewish, and a little superstitious about things like that. Raffetto’s will still be open beginning June 6th. The store will continue, as it has since 1906, thanks to careful planning, a cooperative family, and owning the building. But another pillar in the Village makeup is gone.
Someone else died on May 25th: our neighbor, Mary Ortini. But I didn’t hear about her death until recently, so I missed her viewing. Then, I found out she didn’t have one. Another instance of someone strong as a horse, working until almost her last day, helping her older neighbors, and going out quickly and quietly. Our super, Kole, told us Mary was 92—amazing. We saw her on Mother’s Day with another neighbor, all dressed up, although she was not a mother. Mary told a friend the day before she died that she had a few pains in her chest area. The friend said, “Well, we’ll wait until tomorrow. If it still hurts, maybe we’ll go to the doctor. But by “tomorrow,” she was dead. She was always working. When she “retired,” she started looking for jobs in the farmer’s markets, selling vegetables. And she volunteered to go shopping with ladies who needed help and were alone. She never stopped—until she stopped.
I sit on the same bench Mary occupied for years. She won’t need it anymore. It’s a good bench, on a corner, with an excellent view of everyone and everything.
The Raffetto family had buttons made. Michael took a photo of the button with her smiling likeness on it and put it up on Facebook, with a message: “Romana Raffetto, R.I.P.” I think she will. Mary, too.
Jane Heil Usyk has written over a hundred magazine articles in magazines such as Vogue, Cosmo, Glamour, Family Circle, Playgirl and Fitness. She also wrote a book, “Silence, Storytelling, and Madness: Strategies of Resistance in Nuyorican and Other Latina Women’s Coming-of-Age Stories,” which was published in 2013. She was an editor of Fitness Magazine and an editorial assistant at Vogue.