Finding Tino: After decades of searching, a sister pays tribute to the brother she never met
|Toronto Star 11 Feb 2019 at 13:15|
The year is 1980 and Tino Berlingieri is 21 years old. He looks relaxed and happy, grinning through a neatly trimmed beard. It’s how Joanne Crivellaro likes to remember the brother she never met.
For most of the three decades on his trail, she’s felt like she was chasing a whisper. And although the journey hasn’t taken her where she expected, she’s finally managed to bring Tino home — all while finding a new family on top of her own loving one and a deeper connection with her past.
Tino’s bracelet, which he gave to his birth family for safe keeping in 1995. The family later gave it to his long-lost sister. Joanne Crivellaro (Courtesy Joanne Crivellaro)
“I was right behind him all the time,” she says. “But I could never grasp onto him.”
Crivellaro was just a few months old when she was adopted in 1959, growing up in a large and loving Italian family in Toronto. Her mother ran the household while her father, who spoke little English, held a steady if gruelling job at the Southam printing press on Weston Rd.
“When he was breathing at night, mom could smell the ink,” Crivellaro recalls. “We got the fruits of his labour. He was a wonderful, quiet, gentle man.” He died in 1997.
Crivellaro says the only thing driving her search for her birth family was innate curiosity. At 19, she secretly drove herself to the Catholic Children’s Aid Society on Maitland St.
She remembers feeling excited to learn more about her background, but not anxious: whatever happened, she already had an adoring family. She listened politely to the case worker rattle off nonidentifying information about her birth mother — that she had been Catholic, of Irish and Ukrainian heritage, and liked dancing.
As she got up to leave, the case worker stopped her.
“One more thing,” she said. “You have a brother.”
“I just sat back down,” Crivellaro says. “That was the biggest shocker.”
Tino, she would later learn from their birth mother, found out about her existence at almost exactly the same time.
“I want to find her really bad,” he wrote in a 1979 letter to their birth mother. “And I won’t stop until I do.”
But it wasn’t until 1995 that the children’s aid society connected Crivellaro to her birth mother, Janet, who had given birth to Tino at 17 and to Crivellaro 16 months later. By then, a tumultuous relationship with Tino and Crivellaro’s father was collapsing. While pregnant, she decided to give Crivellaro up for adoption.
Before she did, she named her Tina — hoping it might provide her daughter a clue to one day find her brother. Crivellaro’s family later named her Joanne.
Tino remained with his birth family, first with his uncle and later with his father, who declined to speak to the Star when reached by phone. Tino’s childhood, according to family and an ex-wife tracked down by Crivellaro, was an unhappy and difficult one.
“He had always said, why did I get this life,” Crivellaro says they told her.
At 21, Crivellaro learned, Tino left home for the United States and from there, his life moved increasingly off grid. The only trail Crivellaro could follow was a sprinkling of arrest warrants for minor offences. A search of U.S. public records places Tino in Texas and Florida; in a homeless shelter in Utah; a trailer park in Las Vegas; of no fixed address in North Carolina.
That knowledge changed nothing for Crivellaro.
“So what if he was a drifter,” she says. “He was a human being.”
As she searched, she pieced together a picture of a “wonderful, kind” person who went to church regularly and loved helping the elderly.
One of the few traces of Tino is a 2005 USA Today article that describes him as a “thin but muscular man with a bushy moustache and calloused palms” who hitchhiked for nine days to do construction work in storm-swept Louisiana, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Crivellaro tracked down the contractor who hired him.
“He came, he helped, and he left,” the contractor told her. “Let me tell you, he was a hell of a guy. He was honest, he just wanted to get work.”