Norma (Del Canto) Sofre
June 8, 1932 – February 29, 2020
When Norma Del Canto entered the world on June 8, 1932, much activity had already taken place in Norma’s household before her arrival. Several years before, her father, Pilar Del Canto, a well-to-do rancher, had become a widower, and later married her mother, Berena Mejia (18), a woman less than half his age. By the time Norma arrived, she had two older sisters, Ysolina and Gloria. Later, Teresa would join them. The ranch was a busy place, full of activity both in the field and domestically, since the ranch hands ate and slept on the property. Norma and her sisters had a comfortable, easy childhood, often enjoying the fresh air and playing along the neighboring riverbank.
Then life abruptly changed when her father died suddenly when Norma was eight years old. There was an old-fashioned shootout as outsiders attempted to take over the property and drive the grieving family from their home. After some resistance, Berena and her four young daughters headed in to the large, bustling nearby city of Cordoba and took sanctuary with a cloister of nuns from the catholic church. After sequestering her children in safety, Berena temporarily stayed with her mother as she contested the probate challenge coming from her brother-in-law (and two of Pilar’s surviving half-children from his first marriage) in court, which took several years. Safe within the walls of the nunnery, Norma and her sisters were given shelter, raised, and educated while her mother took in sewing and assisted the nuns to earn their keep. Eventually, a legal settlement was granted and they were able to move in to their own living quarters in Buenos Aires, and the threat on their lives passed.
Once resettled, the girls were allowed to go to outside for social functions in pairs as they became young ladies, and it was at a local dance that Norma was introduced to a tall, athletic young man, Blas Sofre. Blas lied when they met and said that he was 21 and had already served his military stint with the Argentine army. After dating for a while, with Gloria as an escort, the truth came out when Blas received his draft notice for real and had to report for duty at the age of 19. Following four years of courtship, they were married twice—once in a civil ceremony at the courthouse and again in the catholic church two days later, at the ages of 24 and 23. This past February 12 they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary, two weeks before Norma’s passing on February 29.
It is fairly common knowledge that many Argentines come from Italian ancestors, and such was the case for both Norma and Blas. In Norma’s case, rumor has it that her family originated from the Florence or northern region of Italy before emigrating to Chile, and then later on to Cordoba, Argentina. Blas’s father was born in Reggio Calabria, or “the tip of the boot” of Italy. To avoid a mandatory 10-year Italian military deployment on the cusp of World War I, Blas’s father, Jose Sofre, left family and Italy as he headed across the Atlantic Ocean. The ocean liner made a stop at New York City, but Jose refused to relocate there, unlike other family and friends that had made the voyage. He traveled on alone to Brazil, but disliked it there, before ultimately landing in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Blas’s grandmother was from “the ankle of the boot” of Italy, from a town called Potenza. Apollonia, Blas’s mother, aka “Grandma Baloney”, was along for the journey but was actually born in Argentina, once they arrived.
Like Norma, who was one of four sisters, Blas was the youngest of four brothers. Something that is fairly common in Hispanic culture is that often people do not go by their legal first name, but instead go by their middle name or a family “pet” name. Norma’s oldest sister’s name was Ysolina, but went by “Blackie” or “Tia Negra”; Gloria was just Gloria; Norma was called “Moon Girl” because she correctly predicted, from an early age, that one day man would walk on the moon; and Teresa was simply “Teresita”. By the same token, Blas’s oldest brother, Pasqual, was called “Chollo” or “Good-looking Man”; his second brother, Domingo, “Niato”; Salvador was known as “Tio Poroto” or “Uncle Bean” because he had a tendency to pass gas; and Blas was either called “Luis”, his middle name, or “Machito” or “Little Man”—mocking Blas’s large physical frame. Others also contend that Blas earned the name of “Machito” because, despite his younger age, he was very good at bossing his older brothers around.
As a youth, when Blas was not actively engaged in basketball, soccer, or boxing at the neighborhood boys’ athletic club, Blas joined his brothers in a family trade of making leather shoes. After their honeymoon, the newlyweds moved in with his parents while they scrimped and saved for their own residence. After 18 months, Norma Susanna or “Susi” was born in 1956. Eventually, the young Sofre family was able to have a place of their own. Blas was frugal and had a good eye for potential properties, that, with some hard work, could be turned around for a profit. Unfortunately, despite Blas’s financial successes, family-wise, Norma had a difficult time with her pregnancies, and she had two miscarriages following Susi’s arrival.
By this time the Argentine economy was in a tailspin, with inflation running rampant. At the same time, in 1960 both Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy opened the door for South American immigration, provided that the candidate was a responsible citizen and could financially support oneself after arriving in the United States. After meeting the necessary criteria over a period of months, Blas was accepted for immigration—except Norma was now pregnant again. Because she was on bedrest due to her pregnancy risk status, Blas was allowed several years’ extension to actually make the move abroad, allowing the baby to be born and thrive, while keeping his place in the planned trek to America. Luis “Cesar” Sofre had a healthy Argentine birth in 1960 and, when “Cesar” was three, Blas sold the house and family shoe business, relocating the whole family to the San Gabriel, California area in 1964. After landing a job as a machinist by day and a part-time janitor by night, they eventually bought a home in Rosemead, California. Norma also worked in an aluminum window factory until little Robert Sofre joined the family in 1970.
Understandably, the Sofres missed their culture after their move to the United States, so they sought out and became extremely active in the Los Angeles chapter of the Argentine Club (Clu Argentino). It was there that they bonded over the love of food, soccer games, holiday traditions, anniversaries, and parties with mutual acquaintances from “the old country”. Many of the families in this “society” of sorts tried to nudge their children into potential marriages, but often that did not happen.
After continuing to buy and sell small investment parcels in America, and young Robert was about 14 years old, Blas returned to Argentina. His intent was to secure a permanent Argentine vacation home when they came to visit relatives in the future. He found a combination 3-story business/apartment building in need of some tender loving care. Slowly, the building was renovated: a business moved into the ground floor, and a second tenant took the other apartment. It was arranged to have a family relative manage the property from the third floor apartment in their absence as a new pattern emerged: Blas’s family would return regularly, almost annually, to visit the Buenos Aires family.
About this same time, Susi had a serious relationship Don Vrooman, who had recently signed up in the U.S. Marine Corp. After marriage, Susi began to travel to Don’s various base assignments, including Okinawa, Georgia, and Camp Pendelton, in Oceanside, California. However, when the Vrooman family moved to North Carolina while Don was stationed overseas, Norma traveled with them and remained with the family for several months, since Susi was left alone with two young children, Joshua and Danica. This was also the period when Lou/”Cesar” had graduated from high school and entered the job market, following his father’s steps as a machinist worker in the Los Angeles area. Lou married his childhood sweetheart, Rebecca, a few years later and, within a decade he and Rebecca expanded their family to six with the addition of four children: Katherine, Sarah, Jacob, and Nicolas. A job relocation forced the family to uproot and resettle in the Phoenix, Arizona area, with Blas and Norma making frequent turnabout road trips to Phoenix to visit Lou’s young family as they grew up. Eventually, both Blas and Norma retired from their jobs , sold their house in Rosemead, California, and purchased a home near their Lou’s family in Chandler, Arizona. However, since their medical benefits were tied to a California health system which was non-transferrable, they still kept ties in California. By this time Robert was also married, and in Rancho Cucamonga, California. As time moved on Blas and Norma triangulated visits between the three children during eight months of the year, and then they took extended vacations in Buenos Aires for four months of the year in their second home, from January through April, the summer season of the southern hemisphere. Eventually, Bob divorced and remarried his second wife, Eileen. Together they now have two children: Mia and Gianna.
Over time, life started slowly changing for Blas and Norma as it became increasingly evident that independence was a challenge for them. In the fall of 2018 a family decision determined that they would be permanent Arizona residents, near Lou’s family, and all necessary changes would be made to have them remain stateside, without international travel. The Buenos Aires house was sold, and after several months it was determined that they would need more direct supervision as doctors confirmed that both of them had chronic Alzheimer’s Disease. It was at this point that Blas and Norma joined Lou and his second wife, Cheryl, at their house in Chandler. Two years before, in 2017, both of Cheryl’s parents had joined them at their house after Cheryl’s parents, Dan and Rae, moved in after her father’s stroke. Now both sets of parents were living with Lou and Cheryl. What is more, three months after switching households, in March 2019, Norma was found to have stage 3 lymphoma cancer, and chemotherapy treatments were begun. Unfortunately, the treatments were not as successful as were expected. Treatment was discontinued at the end of May, and the family was told that Norma had approximately six months to live. Gratefully, we had more time than they told us, and we were able to celebrate one last Christmas and their 65th anniversary before Norma went to heaven to be with Jesus.
Norma was a sweet lady that was very generous to those she loved. She often showed her love and appreciation through her cooking. She was a talented cook and was always filling a plate of food for you if you happened to call for a visit. Some of her specialties were homemade flan, millanesa (a type of thinly fried steak), gnocchi (homemade potato dumplings), casseroles, and frittatas. At the center of it all was a strong love of family. In fact, every time we came to visit them her greeting would be, “Ah! La Familia! La Familia!” as she opened the door to give the obligatory kiss on the cheek. Norma took great pride in her appearance, and would often request visits to the hairdresser and to go to the nail salon. Sometimes I would come to visit her and she would have plastic baggies tied around her ankles, with moisturizer inside to soften her feet. She enjoyed wearing bright colors, stylish, modern clothes, and pretty shoes to go with various outfits. She enjoyed listening to authentic Argentine music and watching tango dance videos with Susi as she came to visit. She enjoyed the Spanish novelas, or soap operas, and later switched over to Hallmark movie reruns while she was at Lou’s house. She could be firm in her convictions if something upset her, but did not complain of pain at all during her long cancer journey, even to the end. For the last two months or so she seldom spoke and often closed her eyes much of the time. People often made the mistake of thinking that she was unaware of what going on or being said around her, but I knew she was almost always cognitively listening. Although it was a very difficult and arduous challenge to watch her decline, it gave me the opportunity to bond with her on another plane, one that I unlikely would have had otherwise. She was a lady of grace and poise, despite her circumstances.
Goodbye, Sweet Norma. May you rest in peace with Jesus.