Italian Home gave her a bed and pajamas, taught her to swim, bike -- and live a normal life
Diana Dorci never had a bed of her own, pajamas, or knew what Christmas and Easter were until she was 7 years old and her mother dropped her and three of her brothers off at Italian Home for Children.
Now 56 years old and a grandmother herself, Diana says she has only fond memories of the four years she spent at Italian Home before she and her brother Louis were adopted by a couple in Dedham.
“I learned to bike and roller skate here,” she said recently when she was back at the Home and walking through the building. “I learned how to swim. Lots of good, good memories of those days.”
Diana was one of six children – and the only girl. She and three of her brothers were brought to Italian Home by her alcoholic mother after a short stint living in a women’s homeless shelter. “My dad and mom realized they couldn’t care for us, I guess. My oldest brother was too old for Italian Home, and my youngest brother was a baby and too young – so they both went into foster care,” she says.
A tough memory
“That day is a tough memory that I always carry with me,” says Dorci, who now does volunteer work for Italian Home and works at Boston Children’s Hospital where she coordinates nursing students and nursing schools as part of the training programs at the hospital.
She remembers being given a bath that first day and being asked by Sister Leopold “if I had cooties. “
“I had no idea what she was talking about,” says Diana, “but obviously those were head lice, which I definitely had.”
It was comforting to know that three of her brothers were also at Italian Home, and although the boys lived in one dorm and the girls in another, she would see her siblings often on the playground and at meals.
The comfort of routine
Settling into a routine, and the ability to rely on people and a schedule was also extremely comforting, she recalls. So different from the chaotic life with her parents.
“I got a better understanding of what it was like to be in a home,” she says of her time at Italian Home. “I learned what it was like to be nurtured, what it was like to get up every morning, get clothes on…you got dressed every day and you functioned. The notion of a regimen -- I had no idea about that. It felt like even though the nuns were very strict and we had to follow these rules, it felt right, it felt good.
“You knew to come in at end of the day after playing on the playground. You knew that you would watch Sesame Street. You knew that when Mr. Rogers would start to come on that Sister would ring the bell and you were going to eat dinner. You all did it together. There were all nationalities, all backgrounds, but we were all the same. You didn’t feel like you were different.”
“There were people here who really cared about you, and, as an adult, I now realize how important that was,” Diana says
Adopted after four years
Diana’s parents visited her – and she did daydream for a time that her biological mom would finally find an apartment and one day come back so she and her brothers could all live together. But eventually two of her brothers were adopted and then, after four years, she and one of her older brothers, Louis, were adopted together by a couple with no children.
“When I first left here I felt like I was different,” Diana admits. Explaining why two adults all of a sudden had two teenage kids was awkward. “The parents of the first friend I made outside of the Italian Home asked ‘where did you come from?’ because we were calling our adoptive parents Aunt Elaine and Uncle Bob because we didn’t really know what was happening.
“My friend said to me: ‘My dad said you lived at the Home for Italian Children. ’ I was like: ‘Why does that matter?’ I didn’t care, even if other people did.”
Despite being part of a new family, Diana admits that sometimes she missed Italian Home after being adopted. “Suddenly you are with two adults who live their lives and now you are a part of their lives, but you don’t really know what your place is. I probably acted out more than I should have. And I was a teenager. And then my adopted mom--she’s my mom. She died.”
Adoptive mother dies
Sadly, Diana’s adoptive mother died three years after she joined her new family. Diana was 14 and her brother was 16. “I guess I just wasn’t meant to have parents,” says Diana ruefully. Her biological dad died of lung cancer when she was 12. Her biological mother died when she was 19.
Happily, Diana kept in touch with all of her siblings over the years, and they have regular reunions. “Even my brothers who were adopted by other families – their families have been wonderful and I’m grateful that they have been a part of my life.”
The feeling of being loved as a child
“I think of where I am today and how fortunate I am that I was brought to Italian Home,” says Diana, who has a daughter and two grandchildren. Diana was married for 28 years to Rick, and although they are no longer together, they are still best friends. Thankful for everything that Italian Home gave to Diana, he is a generous supporter of Italian Home's programs.
“It’s too bad that there needs to be a place like the Home. But as long as there’s a child out there who has the need and Italian Home is able to provide these services, that’s what’s important. Whether a child is not with their family or something is happening and their family can’t take care of then…to know that there’s a place that’s nurturing, that provides children with the feeling that they belong, that’s what’s important. That’s the feeling of being loved as a child.”