WESTERLY — With the dawning of spring it was time to remove the protective plastic wrapped around the fig trees, in the Turanos' backyard, to blunt winter's harsh power. But Angelo Turano, who planted the trees and cared for them, was gone.
Grace Turano, Angelo's wife, turned to the help of a neighbor to untie the trees. It's the kind of help she has accepted countless times as she and her children adjust to the void thrust upon them since Angelo's sudden death on Dec. 18 in a workplace accident. He was 53.
"It's a whole new normal now and we're all adjusting. It's not easy when the man of the house is not there any more because we relied on him so much," Grace said during an interview in her kitchen last week.
Grace discussed how she and her three children, Angelo Jr., 19, Adriana, 18, and Jonathan,14, are adjusting and coping since losing their husband and father.
Neighbors have helped with the garden and the yard, and when the septic system had to be pumped out, a family living nearby offered to have theirs done at the same time to lower the cost.
"It's very comforting to know that you are not alone and I always keep that inside to keep me going. I may feel that way sometimes but I know if I needed something there is somebody I can call and Angelo was the same way — no questions asked," Grace said.
Friends, neighbors, and family members have helped organize a memorial fundraiser in Angelo's name to help Grace and her children with the financial burden associated with his death. The event is scheduled for Wednesday in two sessions, from 4 to 6 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. at Westerly Yacht Club. Tickets are $30 and will be available at the door and in advance.
Angelo, a senior mechanic, worked for the town for more than 20 years and was the family's primary earner. Grace works two days a week as a registered dental hygienist in Dr. Dante Guilino's Groton office. Grace said she hopes to use proceeds from the fundraising event to help pay for her children's education. Angelo Jr. just completed his freshman year at the University of Rhode Island on Friday and Adriana will start there in September, when Jonathan starts his freshman year at Westerly High School.
Angelo was working at the municipal Public Works Department when the brakes on a tractor-trailer he was inspecting for possible problems were released, causing a tire to roll over his chest. While the family is in line to receive workers compensation and life insurance benefits, Grace said a potential lawsuit is precluded by state law.
"I'd like to make people aware of something that the community may not realize — the legalities of this tragedy that happened in the town, there's a state statute where you cannot sue the town," Turano said.
Angelo came to the United States from Italy at the age of 7 with his mother and three sisters. Old World Italian customs, many involving food, suffused his life and that of his family. "Angelo loved the Italian traditions," Grace said.
A few days before he died, Angelo spent the day at his mother's on one of his favorite pastimes — making fried dough. He was also an expert fried eggplant chef, made soupy two or three times a year with his mother, regularly roasted chestnuts, and made his own wine. There was always enough eggplant to get through the winter, Grace said.
Angelo, Grace said, loved Westerly and its people. He was well known as a youth recreation league coach and for other work in the community. If a neighbor needed something, they did not have to ask twice, Grace said.
"If I needed to find him I knew that all I had to do was to look in a two-mile radius," Grace said. "It was hard even to get him to leave for a vacation."
Faith in God has always played a critical role in the family's life, Grace said. She thanked the parishioners of the family's church, Immaculate Conception, and the church's pastor, Rev. Giacomo Capoverdi, with gathering together to help. More than 700 people attended Angelo's funeral and a Mass was celebrated in his memory at a church his extended family members attended in Italy on the same day.
"That was very heartwarming. Angelo touched many lives. He was a very easy man to talk to because he didn't judge. He was just a really easygoing guy and he really cared about people in is community," Grace said. "That's what I loved about him, his willingness to help."
In these initial months following Angelo's death, his children are forced to celebrate milestones without their dad, such as Jonathan's recent confirmation. And Angelo will not be present for Jonathan's celebration of completing middle school or Adriana's upcoming high school graduation.
Some might call the story of Grace and Angelo a classic Westerly tale. The two met one summer at the Andrea in Misquamicut. After chatting for a while Angelo asked Grace for her phone number. She initially declined. "I told him if I gave my number to everyone who asked my father would kill me," Grace said.
Angelo persisted and asked whether Grace would like to attend his softball game the next day. Preferring to go the beach as planned, Grace passed again. Coffee? "I didn't drink coffee," Grace said.
Undeterred, Angelo continued. Ice cream? "How could I say no to ice cream. We met at Dairy Queen and that was it," Grace said.
The Turanos would have celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary on April 4.
Tickets can be purchased at the door or by calling Grace Turano at 401-499-9066; Rose Serluca, 401-741-4738; Anna Powelzyk, 860-705-9840; Silvia Souder, 401-7418426; Maria Allen, 401-212-6392; Joe Degiacomo, 401-7420557; Anja Kolb, 401-661-4768; Dr. Dante Guilino, 401741-3224; Norma Stracener, 978-729-6810; and Charlie Turano 401-741-8617.
Donations of food and raffle items from businesses and individuals are also being sought.