Famiglia: It’s All About Family


A family thanksgiving gathering about 15 years ago, before Owen was born. The second row starts with Fred’s Aunt Jackie, Fred, Winn, Dad, Dad’s sister-in-law Aunt Frederica, and my mother. I’m standing behind my mother holding Sophia. Connor, Alex and Jake are sitting in front of Winn and Dad. Tom’s mother, Dee, Tom, and Julie begin the third row. Robyn and Matt are behind Dee and Tom.

“It’s all about famiglia.” ~ Anthony Raffa Jr.

This post is dedicated to my family and families everywhere.

Anthony Raffa Sr. emigrated from Sicily to New York in the early 1900’s in search of freedom from what he considered the oppressive reigns of the mafia and Catholic church. He was 16 years old with nine dollars in his pocket. He knew one person in America, his cousin Phil, who had emigrated to New York some years earlier. Two years later Anthony Sr. was joined by Giovanini Ianelli, a young woman cousin Phil chose for him when he made a trip back home to Sicily. The day she arrived on the boat she and Anthony met for the first time. They spent the night at cousin Phil’s home and were married in a civil ceremony the next day.

“You leave home to seek your fortune and, when you get it, you go home and share it with your family.” ~ Anita Baker

Fred’s Father, Anthony Jr., was the third of their four sons. When their mother contracted tuberculosis, the family moved to the fresh mountain air of Liberty, New York, a small town in the Catskills where Anthony Sr. supported his family as a barber. Anthony Jr. became a successful osteopath and married Julia Vera Segar, a lovely nurse of Scotch-Irish descent. They had two sons, my husband Fred, and his younger brother Rick. Some years after Julia’s unexpected death,  Anthony Jr. remarried Helen Louise Scobell, a home economics agent and artist. They moved to Tampa, Florida and had three more children, Janet, George, and Tony. Helen died many years later. Fred’s father, whom I called Dad, died at 103 with his devoted third wife, Winn, at his bedside.

“Being a family means you are a part of something very wonderful. It means you will love and be loved for the rest of your life.” ~Unknown

My parents were born in Michigan. My mother, Verna Lois Borst Meengs, was a descendant of Dutch Calvinist separatists who left the Netherlands to escape religious persecution. They founded Holland, Michigan in 1847. The ancestors of my father, Ernest Raymond Benedict, emigrated from England to Michigan. Little is known of their history. My mother and father both had one sister and one brother.  My mother became a nurse and died four days before her 94th birthday. My father, a policeman, died when I was 11 after we had moved to Tampa. Then my family consisted of only my mother, my big brother Jimmy, (James Raymond Benedict), and our parents’ relatives in Michigan. My mother corresponded with them regularly for the rest of her life between occasional reunions.

“Family faces are magic mirrors.  Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present, and future.” ~Gail Lumet Buckley

Fred and I attended the same high school, dated at FSU, married, and continued to live in Tallahassee where Fred earned his doctorate in economics and I taught school and completed my master’s degree in education. We have two children, Juliette Louise Raffa Lamar and Matthew Benedict Raffa, and five grandchildren. In order of birth they are Connor (who preceded the birth of his twin by one minute), Jake, Alexandra, Sophia, and Owen. The girls are the daughters of Julie and Thomas Reynolds Lamar II. The boys are the sons of Matt and Robyn Miller Raffa.

“The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works, is the family.” ~Lee Iacocca

Fred and I are at our family home in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.  Last week Matt’s family came for their annual visit. My only regret was that Julie’s family was unable to join us for this year’s gathering of our immediate family in our favorite place. Here are some photos from our time together.

Owen took this on the way to white water rafting on the Chatuga River.

“You go through life wondering what is it all about but at the end of the day it’s all about family.” ~ Rod Stewart

Connor and his girlfriend Heather completed a monster 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle of Santorini that’s been sitting on this table for two years!

“The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.” ~George Santayana


Heather repainted the faded sign on the main road next to our driveway. The other side is in her favorite color pink, with flowers.

“Being part of a family means smiling for photos.” ~Harry Morgan


Matt’s selfie of us at Wolfgang’s, our favorite restaurant in Highlands.

“Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.”  ~Michael J. Fox


Robyn and Jake completed a puzzle of the Grand Canyon that we’ve struggled with for a year.

“Our most basic instinct is not for survival but for family.” ~ Paul Pearsall


Matt and Robyn after celebrating their 22nd wedding anniversary with a special dinner out.

“What can you do to promote world peace?  Go home and love your family.” ~ Mother Teresa




Matt and Jake lighting the candlier over the screened porch table.

“I sustain myself with the love of family.” ~Maya Angelou


We used Grandma Raffa’s original recipes for Sicilian spaghetti sauce, bracciole, and meatballs for this dinner we made together.

“Nothing is better than going home to family and eating good food and relaxing.”  Irina Shay


Owen decided to fly home in his borrowed pig suit.

“In our family, normal is so overrated.” ~ Gabrielle Applebury

May you receive sustenance from your family.

Paper and E-book versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. The Wilbur Award-winning Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications.com. Jean’s new Nautilus Award-winning The Soul’s Twins, is at Amazon and Schiffer’s Red Feather Mind, Body, Spirit. Subscribe to her newsletter at www.jeanbenedictraffa.com.

Join 5,851 other subscribers


12 Responses

    1. Awww, thank you for commenting, Karen. Having Matt’s family here inspired me to share a bit of their ancestral history with them. They’ve heard some of these stories about Fred’s father before, but very little about my side of the family. I find it much easier to write about these things than speak about them so I think of my books and blog posts as my legacy to them. Much love to you and Dick and your beautiful family, Jeanie

    1. Oh Rainey, what a delight it is to hear from you. Thank you for writing. I’d sure love to see you again and have a nice long talk about college days and what we did after we left FSU. I hope you and your husband and family are all well. Love, Jeanie

  1. Loved your post Jennie,
    I enjoyed learning about your family and viewing the family photos. Throughout the years I have learned so much more about my immediate family and ancestors that came here from Russia. From their hardships after settling here to their success, and strong family ties which continue to this day………… I am blessed. “Having a place to go is home. Having someone to love is family. Having both is a blessing”.

    1. Thank you, Fern. I didn’t know your family was from Russia. I guess I should have guessed from your last name, though I was never sure if it was yours or a former husband’s. I love your quote! Having both a place to go and someone to love surely is a blessing. I’m feeling very blessed today. Love, Jeanie

  2. Wow! This is probably a comprehensive, almost complete family CV! I wished I also could have such worthy information about my origin. Then the roots are coming from Sicily? An old original freedom fighter. Thank you, dear Jeane. I would like to have the story of my family’s source. Unfortunately, I do have not any pleasant memories from those days in my youth in Tehran. After my father’s death, most uncles and aunts were not so helpful to my “lonely and left by herself” mother, who had to master all problems alone. Anyway, Ima glad to see you have left the rabbit hole and not have been afraid of the bear on your way.😉 Have a lovely day. 🤗💖

  3. Thank you dear Aladin. I’m so sorry you do not have pleasant memories of your youth and family of origin. And I’m sorry your mother had little family to support her after your father’s death. What a terrible tragedy for her and all of you. Was your father a freedom fighter? I know you and your brother left Tehran because of the terrible situation there. You are most lucky to have a wife and children now…a place to call home and people who love you. Yes, Sicily has quite a long history of conquerers and freedom fighters. Grandpa Raffa would be your counterpart from over 100 years ago: leaving his turmoil-ridden home for greater freedom from oppression. I guess some things never change no matter where you’re from or where you are. Yes, I do seem to be emerging from the rabbit hole! Blessings on you and your family, dear friend. Jeanie

    1. Yes, it’s good to be reminded that we’re part of something. And that its essence is love.

  4. Love it, Jeanie. “The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.” ~ George Santayana It’s also one of our greatest teachers. My Italian mother-in-law taught me persistence when I had to find a way to love her beneath her resentment of me. I succeeded when was almost 100. My family is visiting now, one son who owns a home and land a few miles away, but also my North Carolina son with his sweet Irish lover. I’d met her before in NC, but we’re getting to know each other better and releasing Monarch butterflies together and taking hikes. Famiglia! I learned that word well from Vic’s Italian roots, aunts, uncles, and mother. We are familiglia, whether we like it or not–and a half brother of Vic’s found us recently through AncestoryDNA. I’m sorry Vic’s not here to meet his British half-brother. We didn’t know Kel Mansfield existed, but now we do and I just read the book he wrote about dogs. Life is full of surprises.

    1. Yes, family is a masterful teacher. I’m not sure if I’m teaching my children much any more except the changes that come with aging — but they and their children are certainly teaching me. How very cool that you and Vic’s half-brother have found each other. I can’t imagine my life without family. I had a taste of it when we moved to the Orlando area after college. We didn’t know a soul until Fred’s brother moved there too. He was there if we needed him but not all the time. He worked too so there was no one to help me or take me anywhere during the day. We had one car that Fred drove to work so I was home all day alone with no one to call on for help. No one to babysit Julie after she was born…. Luckily that didn’t last overlong. Fred’s cousin and nephews moved nearby after a while and we began to make friends with the neighbors. So by the time Matt was born we had the beginnings of a support system. That was a most valuable life lesson.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Posts