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Lives Lived: Michael Augustino Ciccia, 76

Husband, great-grandfather, nature TV watcher, lover of fresh figs. Born Aug. 15, 1936, in Cinquefrondi, Italy, died Nov. 24, 2012, in Guelph, Ont., of kidney failure, aged 76.

Michael Augustino Ciccia was born on a small farm in Cinquefrondi (Five Leaves) in the agrarian south of Italy in 1936.

It was there, when he was 7, that he met the love of his life. One day, while Angelina Paonne was fetching water, Mike saw her through the long reeds and knew she was the only one for him.

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They played and worked with all the other kids from neighbouring farms until Mike's family decided to sell their plot of land and leave for Canada, hoping for a better life.

Only 12, Mike was heartbroken that he would have to leave Angelina, his compagni di anima. He vowed he would send for her from the new country when he was 18, giving her a promise ring made of grass as a reminder.

Then, a week before they were to leave, tragedy struck the family. Mike's father, Salvatore, who was travelling to Sicily to finalize the paperwork, developed appendicitis and died on the train.

With no father and no farm, his widow Annunziata and their seven children had no choice but to leave for Canada.

They settled in Guelph, Ont., and Annunziata worked at a foundry. Being the eldest boy, Mike stayed in school for only a brief time before he quit to help put food on the table.

He collected coal from the trains that passed along the tracks to the foundry, then worked as a casket maker and an electrician's assistant before becoming a long-time employee of home insulation firm Owens Corning.

Six years later, Mike fulfilled his promise and sent a letter to Angelina asking for her hand in marriage. She had had many suitors courting her and her family, including one with property who was well off. But she would not give the offers the slightest consideration, and embarked alone, at 18 and not speaking a word of English, to a far-off land to be with her compagni di anima.

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They married in Canada and had five children, their own cinque frondi.

Mike taught his children to laugh and love, and that family comes before all else. Always. That a person should be judged by their actions, not by their words. That no person was better than we were, and that we were no better than anyone else.

He believed that friends, colleagues, casual acquaintances and strangers, regardless of title or wealth, should all be treated with dignity and respect.

After a long illness, Mike chose to die with his own sense of dignity at home, surrounded by his loving family.

On the day of his funeral, his granddaughter had two grass rings made: one to place in his coffin, and the other to give to Angelina to hold until they meet again.

Tony Ciccia is Mike's son.

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