GENERATIONS of South Fremantle folk will remember Carmela Noto’s diminutive figure at the till of the IGA minimarket on South Terrace.
Just a week into a visit to her birthplace Sicily, aged 81, Mrs Noto suffered a fatal heart attack on June 26 this year.
“She died in our father’s arms and in his words, ‘she was as beautiful as she was during her wedding night’,” son Sergio Noto says.
Born in 1935, schooling was brief for Carmela Scarvaci and her seven brothers and sisters; her classes lasted only from the age of 7 to 10.
“After which time she was taught the art of sewing, which assisted with supporting the family,” Sergio says.
He says his mother loved to pass on her skills to others and carried a love of making colourful clothing and blankets throughout her life.
The future Mrs Noto arrived in Fremantle in 1961, aged 26, and worked in her brother Basil’s Hilton deli.
It was love at first sight when Nino Noto saw her at mass at Hamilton Hill’s Holy Cross Church in 1968: “He told his friends she was ‘bedditta ma pirchirita’ – Sicilian for beautiful but short,” Sergio says.
She rejected his advances, but he persisted: [He] saw mum working in the garden, got out of the car took her hand and kissed it and said ‘will you invite me inside’.”
Inside he was grilled by his future mother-in-law while her daughter remained silent.
“[Nonna] advised dad she would get back to him in one month with her decision – after she did some checks in Sicily.”
A month later, Nino returned: [And] as the saying goes the rest is history,” Sergio Noto says.
The newlyweds operated a continental deli on the corner of Lefroy and Hampton Road, before purchasing the South Terrace store which they ran for 40 years.
Sons Carlo, Sergio, Frank and Mario came in quick succession between 1970 and 1974.
With four tearaways to deal with and a business to run life was hectic, but the family matriarch was fearless.
“[Mum] would put her little body between us to stop her loves killing each other. She was a hard women, but a good women,” Sergio Noto says.
And she wasn’t afraid to use the wooden spoon on her errant offspring, even waiting “armed” in the darkened hall when they were late.
“[Late] was only around 2am – and we were in our 20s,” Mr Noto says with a fond smile.
Carmela Noto is survived by her husband of of 47 years Nino, four sons and four grandchildren.
by JENNY D’ANGER