Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM A mother's love is eternal, or so the storybooks say. Bedtime stories characterize mothers as angelic beings women of undeniable strength, perseverance and dedication to family above all else.
But what if there was a real-life woman who embodied all of these qualities? What if there was a woman who loved her children unconditionally and unrelentingly beyond time and space beyond death?
Annette Liquori is a real-life mother taken straight from the pages of fairy tales. But unlike the happy endings told to children before they are whisked away into a world of dreams, she yearns for her happy ending.
Last week, Annette sat quietly at a table in her pizza shop on Main Street. Nicky's Pizza has all the makings of a classic Italian pizza shop no frills, no linens, just made to order pizza from a traditional Italian family.
But there is something different about this pizza shop while the walls are covered with colorful scenes of their homeland, the walls also serve as a memorial to a lost love. Photos of a young, dark-haired man with the classic look of handsome Italian heritage envelop the walls of the shop. He was 24 years old when he died.
Annette's son, Franco, was killed earlier this year when he fell asleep at the wheel while driving home. He crashed his car just three houses down the street from home, where he was living with his parents and his brother Anthony.
Franco was one of four Liquori children who grew up in Agawam. He began his academic career at Benjamin J. Phelps Elementary School, just down the street from his parents' pizza shop, and graduated from Agawam High School in 2002. Like many teens, he took a few years off from school to work at the family business before enrolling as a commuter student at Westfield State College. He was studying biology with the goal of becoming a pharmacist.
Franco began working at the family business long before he was able to see over the counter, Annette explained. She said his joyful personality made him the prime candidate for working the cash register when he was 8 years old he would have to stand on crates or boxes to see over the counter.
Annette described her son as a shy young man who was well liked by everyone. She said he had a great smile and large dimples, which became prevalent every time he smiled.
Anthony said Franco's shy personality sometimes prevented him from playing it cool with the ladies. He recalled that Franco was too shy to call a girl to ask her out on a date so he'd do it for him. The girls would actually believe it was Franco, Anthony said with a smile.
"I miss him so much," he said before returning to work behind the counter.
He explained that of the four children, he and Franco were the closest. They would do everything together, he said, from watching movies, to going out, to playing Nintendo Wii, to buying the same clothes or their favorite pastime, bowling.
Annette said they would go bowling every Tuesday night and Franco would always be the "top bowler."
"He would say, 'Mom I'm going to quit school and become a professional bowler,'" Annette recalled, adding that sometimes she was unsure whether he was joking or not.
She explained that Franco was always there to make everyone smile, whether it was during his yearly Fourth of July fireworks display or joking around, saying he was "never movin' out" of the family house.
Annette recalled him saying that this year's fireworks display was going to be "bigger and better."
"It was always an incredible sight to see," she recalled as tears welled up in her eyes, knowing that next month there would be no fireworks in her backyard.
The pain suffered by the tragic loss of her son has not waned in the months since his death. Annette carries herself with dignity and continues to pay tribute to Franco daily. She wears a yellow gold chain with his photo around her neck as well as a silver print of his thumb. On her thumb is her son's name air brushed in black over her French manicure.
"He's on my mind 24-7," she said as she began to cry. "I take it day by day. I do a lot of crying. It's been hard. He was too young [to die] and too nice of a kid."
In order to pay tribute to Franco, the Liquori family has made a $10,000 donation to the Community Preservation Act Committee to rebuild the Benjamin J. Phelps Elementary School playscape. In March the playscape was allegedly vandalized by three teens and has since been closed off to student and public use.
A placard memorializing Franco will be placed on the new playscape scheduled to open by Sept. 1.
Annette said the family chose this spot to memorialize Franco not only because he went to elementary school at Phelps but also because she has many happy memories of watching Franco play there while Anthony was at the adjacent fields for football practice or games.
Anthony recalled that he and Franco would ride their bikes to Phelps and play there with friends when they were kids.
Annette said she hopes this memorial will provide her with some "closure," however small. She hopes that when people go to the playscape and read the placard they will remember her son. Annette added that she hopes the new playscape will bring amusement to all children, as this place brought so much joy to Franco.