O’Hara man finds joy after long search for biological mother, siblings
At age 70, Don Gallo will share the joy of new Christmas beginnings with sisters and brothers he met recently for the first time.
“I’m trying to grab as much time as I can and learn as much as I can,” Gallo said.
It was only a year ago that the O’Hara resident met his biological mother. He made many five-hour trips to Dunmore, PA, to spend time with Rose Marie Cuirlio Castrogiovanni, who said she was forced by her husband to give Gallo up at birth. Describing his feelings, he repeated the word “wonderful” multiple times.
Gallo had six months to pack in his seven missed decades before his mother died at age 97 on June 15.
“I think she waited for me,” Gallo said.
Though he lost his mother, he has developed a bond with half-sister Paulette Castrogiovanni Szydlowski. They phone daily.
“We talk and try to go back in time. There’s a lot to make up,” he said.
There are a number of pictures he’s acquired of both mother and sister which make the connection obvious.
Gallo, who was raised as an only child, also has five nieces and nephews on his mother’s side. He’s developed a connection, which he said is wonderful and comfortable with them, too.
Expanding his heart has been life-changing not only for Gallo, but his sister as well.
“It’s brought purpose to her life,” Gallo said.
On many levels, Gallo is joyous about finding familial connections. But it was a long and difficult road, especially how it was triggered.
Gallo grew up in a small town near Scranton. He worked in his adoptive father’s deli and has great memories of working hard and living among his many Italian relatives. His parents Anne and Salvatore were wonderful. When he was 16, however, an aunt made a unguarded comment about his adoption, accidentally spilling the beans.
He felt out of place, like he never belonged. Soon he left eastern Pennsylvania and bounced around to St. Louis, San Antonio, Dallas and finally Pittsburgh, working in medical sales. As diligent in business as in his search for his origins, Gallo got his first break in 1983.
He got his first birth certificate. All the names were close — but incorrectly spelled.
He “searched and searched.” With the help of wife Karen Miller Gallo and her cousin, he hit gold. In 2017, a second birth certificate had the names of his mother and father, Peter Shahum. By then continuous internet and Facebook searches found his mother’s name in an obituary of her son-in-law.
“Finding it was nothing less than miraculous. I was just looking for a little closure in my life,” Gallo said.
He wrote 20 drafts of the letter to his sister before sending it. His niece Tammy Arnold became his connection which led to his brightest Christmas.
This year, he has memories of his mother and friendships with his siblings. His pink folder is packed with pictures of his birth parents and siblings. There are copies of handwritten letters documenting almost six decades of searching.
Karen said, “It’s overwhelming. It’s something he’s wanted ever since I met him.”
His son Don Gallo said they will carry on both the Lebanese and Italian ancestries.
The older gentleman carries no animosity, instead radiating understanding and acceptance.
Gallo sums up, “Everything is in a whole new light.”
Sharon Drake is a contributing writer.