My great aunt, Edith DiBagno (married surname Holden), was nothing short of a character. I knew her as a tough lady, hardy, and no bulls**t, but also warm. However, I never got to see the quirky, fun-loving side of her until later, through the memories of those who knew her best, and one story in particular.
My mom told me the infamous story of the rent when I first began asking for information about my grandfather, Tony DiBagno’s, sisters and brothers and Edith’s daughter Jorglynn would later add more details. Edith was Tony’s twin sister and together they were the babies of the 7 DiBagno siblings. While oldest sister Mary was straightforward and blunt and middle sister Agnes was quiet and gentle (at least in comparison- all of the DiBagnos had a streak of fire in their make-up), Edith was sly.
It was about 1943 and she was 16 years old. Her parents were traveling out of state (I have heard both Italy and California as the destination) and needed someone levelheaded to collect the rent on their properties. Father Giulio owned at least 2 homes in addition to the one that the family lived in and rented these properties out. Of the 7 children, only about 4 lived at home at this point: Agnes, Edith, Tony, and maybe Geno, though he joined the Navy around this time and may have already been gone from the home. Parents Giulio and Atela put Edith in charge of collecting the rent in their absence and went on their way.
One day, after they had gone, Agnes and Edith were in downtown Jeannette and happened to walk past Royer’s department store when something in the window caught Edith’s eye. It was a gorgeous fur coat, an item considered a luxury in any time period, but especially at this point in the middle of World War 2. The rent money must have been burning a hole in Edith’s pocket because she bought the coat along with a matching hat and purse. Older sister Agnes was terribly upset, worried that they would get in trouble, but daring Edith was not phased…at least not enough to return the items.
Giulio and Atela returned from their trip and, as expected, asked for the rent. Edith responded, “Oh, you want the rent? I’ll be right back.” She went upstairs, put on her beautiful coat and hat, grabbed her new purse, sauntered downstairs and struck a pose.
As you can imagine, her parents blew a fuse. Both Giulio and Atela were known for their frugality. Family lore says that Atela never once bought anything luxurious for herself, even though they had enough money to do so.
However, Giulio, perhaps impressed by his youngest daughter’s brass, ended up liking her “new look” so much that he went back and bought poor Agnes a sable!
Edith would forever love telling the story about the time she was the best dressed 16 year old in town.