“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.”
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.”
Around the same time, Crivellaro also found some Berlingieris on Facebook, leading her to Tino’s uncle Enzo, who had briefly taken care of him as a child. The family had strained relations with Crivellaro’s birth father, but had never given up looking for Tino — or their long-lost niece.
“He was at the end of the street in his scooter waiting for me to come around the corner,” says Crivellaro of the first time she met Enzo.
The family “just wanted crumbs, whatever we could have,” of Tino, Crivellaro says.
Enzo and his family saw Tino in 1995, when he had briefly returned to Canada to get dental work done. On the trip, he gave his Aunt Nina a gold bracelet with his name engraved on it and asked her to keep it for him until he came home again.
He never did.
In 2013, Tino’s arrest records suddenly vanished online and a scant obituary popped up on a website in Nevada.
Unsure the information was accurate, his uncle’s family went looking for his death certificate. The documents they found showed Tino died a ward of the state in Pittsfield, Mass., that year on May 27 of respiratory arrest and renal failure. He was 55.
Crivellaro called the funeral home, desperate for anything her brother may have left behind.
“They said, ‘he was just a street guy,’ ” she recalls. “I said, ‘you know what, he had a loving family in Canada.’”
“I just felt heartbroken because I never got to meet him.”
The family didn’t tell Enzo, who died in 2014, about Tino’s death.
“It would have just broke his heart,” says Crivellaro.
An adopted child’s search for their birth family can be a “can of worms,” Crivellaro says, a journey that can be many times diverted and cut short by dead ends. Her own journey has left her marvelling at her good fortune at being placed in a warm and stable home.
“I got really lucky. Tino not so much,” she says. “I had more guidance. I had a lot more love.”
She finds herself wondering what the scanty details she’s learned about Tino mean, like the barbed wire he had tattooed around his wrists.
“Was he in prison, or was he in prison,” she says. “Is that how he felt?”
But the ties forged with Tino’s family have also been a joyful novelty.
“I look at my husband and he has five sisters and a brother,” Crivellaro says. “I always say, ‘look at you guys, your feet are all the same.’ It’s so interesting to me because I’ve never had that.”
“When we get together and start talking, we start saying the same things,” she says of the Berlingieris. She keeps in regular contact with her “salt of the earth” four cousins and aunt, who gave her Tino’s gold bracelet to remember him by.
“Just the other night I was over and I’m staring at (my cousin) saying, ‘you have the same teeth as me!’ ”
Crivellaro also stays in touch with Janet, who she says has “always been wonderful” to her and supportive of her adoptive family.
“She’s always said, ‘your mother is your mother.’ ”
For years, Crivellaro kept this new layer of her life from her parents, not wanting them to feel that she loved them “any less by doing this.”
But when her mother died earlier this year, the time seemed right for a more public homage to Tino.
Crivellaro’s birth family called the funeral home in Pittsfield and found that, by chance, his ashes were still there — even though they are usually only kept for a year when unclaimed by loved ones.
This fall, the family repatriated them to Canada and buried them in the same plot as Tino’s uncle Enzo at Bathurst St. and Finch Ave.
“We got a beautiful urn,” Crivellaro says. “There’s a beautiful picture of him when he was 21, the year he started looking for me.”
It’s the same photo used in Tino’s full obituary, finally published this year to pay tribute to a “kind and spiritual man.”
“Tino, you talked about one day finding your sister Joanne and although you never got to meet her, she found us and so began a beautiful connection,” the obituary reads.
“Life came around full circle.”
Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter covering labour issues. Follow her on Twitter: @saramojtehedz