CARROLLWOOD — She never married, never had children of her own. Still, family was always the most important element of Tessie Lazzara's life.
Throughout her life, Miss Lazzara doted on her parents, with whom she lived until she was in her 50s, and three generations of her siblings' offspring.
Her death on Dec. 27 wasn't unexpected. She had been in declining health in recent months, having fallen in October and been in a rehabilitation center ever since.
Still, her death was especially difficult for her nieces and nephews and other members of her extended family. Miss Lazzara's sister Mamie Buscemi also had recently passed away.
"It's devastating," said Miss Lazzara's nephew, Frank Buscemi. "All the children in the family, her six nieces and nephews, 16 great-nieces and great-nephews, and nine from the generation after that, were all very close to her."
She was born in Ybor City and lived in the Tampa area throughout her life. Her mother worked in a cigar factory, and her father delivered ice and fuel. She and her sister Mamie took public transportation to and from Hillsborough High School every day.
After they graduated, Mamie helped Miss Lazzara get a job at First National Bank. Miss Lazzara worked there, in the accounting department, until she retired 47 years later.
Her parents moved from Ybor to Temple Terrace in the late 1970s, and Miss Lazzara went with them.
When her parents — first her father and then her mother — got older and started to decline in health, Miss Lazzara took time off work to care for them. She was gone for a year and half while she took care of her mother. The bank valued her work so much that her bosses granted her an extended leave of absence, but they were eager for her return.
"They adored her," her nephew said. "They couldn't wait for her to come back."
She could have married if she had chosen, Lazzara said. She had a longtime boyfriend, and they discussed marriage. But her parents, siblings, nieces and nephews were all the family Miss Lazzara needed.
"My Aunt Tessie never married and never had children of her own and this was by choice," said her great-niece, Joanna Buscemi. " 'I just never found the right person,' she'd say. And I never thought she had any regrets about that. In my mind, she dedicated her life to being the very best daughter, sister, aunt and great-aunt."
She was a fixture at every family function, and invariably remembered everyone in four generations of her family with gifts on birthdays and Christmas. For special occasions, she'd bake Italian pastries with difficult and time-consuming recipes. No one else in the family could be bothered to spend that much time in the kitchen, Frank Buscemi said, and besides no one could make them as well as Aunt Tessie.
Her other trademark was the "Tessie kiss," a long kiss on the cheek to each family member. Each kiss would last an extraordinarily long time, maybe 60 seconds, her nephew said.
After her parents died, she stayed in their Temple Terrace home for about 10 years. She was in her 60s and 70s, and living on her own for the first time. About a decade later, she moved to Carrollwood to be near her sister. In October, both Miss Lazzara and her sister fell, in separate incidents. They ended up sharing a room in a rehabilitation center. Mamie Buscemi went home but soon passed away. Miss Lazzara never left rehab and died just 10 days later. She was 84.
Marty Clear writes life stories about area residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.