Below you will find several links. The first five are to the letters that myself, my brother and sister, and my two cousins wrote for him. The next two links are my Uncle's and Mother's Eulogies. I think reading these letters and Euoligies will give you a good idea who my Grandfather was.
However, the main purpose of this page comes further down the page. My Grandfather began several years ago to write his memoirs. He had hoped to share his experiences, with other people. He talks in his book about the many things he has done in his life. Leone means "lion" in Italian, and it could not be more appropriate. My Grandfather was military govenor of Scicily during WWII, and accepted the surrender of the General of the West Sicilian Army. He worked for ?? years for Filenes Department Store, and during the 70's when computers were not yet widely used, designed a program to computerize Filenes Accounts Payable department. Their is much more. Even though it was unifinshed, we printed his story and distributed at the wake. It is kind of long, but I have been told by many people that once they started reading it, they could not put it down. If you have the time to read it, please sign the guestbook. The link to the guest book is located at the end of this page.
The Book is divided into four sections. The first is a Preface by my Uncle, the second is my Grandfather's story, in his own words. The third is my mother's conclusion to the story, and the fourth is some words from my Aunt. You may find it difficult to print out the book, due to the colors I have used. Their are two links down below just before the book. The first will take you to a text version of the book. The second is a zip file. If you want to download the book, and open it in a word processor, you should download the zip file, and unzip it. It is formatted as text in a way that will be reable by any word processor, and should come out correctly regaurdless of of the marguns, font size, etc.
Please, if you read through the story, please sign the guest book. No comments are neccessary, just your name will do.
My Brother Jeffrey's letter. My Sister Laura's letter. My Cousin Mellissa's poem. My Cousin Andrew's letter.
My Uncle Bob's Euology for my Grandfather.
My Mother's Euology for my Grandfather.
He was not able to finish this opus by himself but with the help of a ghostwriter, Lillian, the story has been completed. We hope that you will share the literary work with us as it details Tata's life's travels and his accounts of thoes who loved him.
What a difficult, exhausting and incredible journey... The Lion Sleeps Tonite.......
As the centuries continued to roll, Semitic tribes moved into northern Syria, and the Phoenicians settled along the Eastern Mediterranean coast. Human waves moved north along the Danubian Plain towards Central Europe, and moved South along the Euphraties River. Originally these were hunters and gatherers, but with the passing of centuries they domesticated animals, began maintaining crops, and lived in settlements. Humankind had adapted from Nomadic cave dwellers to a social life, living in groups. It domesticated animals for it's needs, and to exchange with neighbors. The same ends were attained by growing crops and fruits.
With this change to community living, needs became evident, which took thousands of years to develop - writing, medicine, law, animal husbandry, farming, astronomy, government, music, art, religion, wheeled vehicles, the pulley. It took some 4 to 5 thousand years for these developments to bring us to the civilization level of Greece and then Rome.
Some 750 years B.C. it is recorded that the Tribes living on the hills near the Tiber river organized into a commune, establishing Rome. The Greeks, then at the height of their power, had invaded the South and Central Italy for raw materials. They also sent in settlers to exploit the Appenannine Forest and the making of charcoal for export to Greece. The Romans were good organizers, in military force, and it was not long before they started pushing and kicking their neighbors around. They were very successful and, in a couple of hundred years, succeeded in ruling the entire known world. Many were the reasons for their success, but of particular note was that they did not enslave their enemies. They simply overcame them and then made them citizens of Rome. This policy was very successful. However, not everyone wanted to be a Roman citizen.
San Donato is a small village stuck to the base of Mount Pozzuoli, which is on the western edge of the Appenannine Mountains, at the border between Abruzzi and Lazio Provinces, or 35 to 40 miles East of Rome.
The Mountain is in the form of a Pyramid, rising from a base which is almost perpendicular.. The Sandonatese placed their solid stone houses at the base, which protected the rear of the settlement. Around the periphery a massive wall was built with 2 protected entrances. In the morning the residents would take their jackasses out to work the fields in the valley. The most fertile was Camperrano (Campo di Grano), there the olive groves, vineyards, fruit trees, etc. were cultivated.
At night these poor people would retire to their little fortress, and close the gates. This also protected them against the marauding groups of thieves who infested the mountains. Some armed family members remained in shacks on the farm to protect the crops. No, the Romans never quite got to San Donato. It was not worth the effort, or did they try and fail? It is also well known that the town was a Greek colony. It's dialect is almost a separate language by itself, and not easily understood by it's neighboring cities and towns. It is so expressive, so precise, so shaded in meaning that it became a superior mode of expression. The Greeks contributed much to it as the dialect today still contains many words of Greek origin. "Pescaia", Pescallo", (meaning "day after tomorrow" and "day after day after tomorrow"). These continue to be used to this day 2200 years after the Romans visit. Words such as pescrofolu and perscrudfulu and many many many others have gone out of usage.
It is well known that each city, town, or region in Italy had it's own dialect. Italy was not and had never been a nation until the wars of unification waged by Mazzini, Cavour, and Garibaldi in the 1870's. The varying dialects and customs added much to the beauty and variety of the land. In the Valley of Comino, there are several villages a few miles from each other around the circumference of the valley. As an example the Italian word for dog is "cane", pronounced "Kaine". If in these neighboring villages the pronunciation varied: San Donato - cuane, Atina - Carn, Settefrati - cuene; Alvito-kene. It is interesting to note that a few years ago Elda was visiting a friend at St. Elizabeth's hospital in Brighton. In her young years she had been a teacher. Someone at the hospital knew her well and asked her if she would act as an interpreter, Of course she did. Two Italians, one from Northern Italy, the other from the South, who only spoke his own dialect and they could not understand each other. My pet peeve is that an idiot named Mussolini passed a law in the mid 30's outlawing dialects even in private conversation. To his eternal shame I guess he succeeded.
San Donato is more than a geographic location, an almost invisible dot on a map. Over its many centuries it has never varied much.
In the 1930's, the total population was about 5200, but at present it is between 2500 to 3000. The reason is simple. It has no industry, and no agriculture to speak of. The soil is notchy and exhausted by centuries of cultivation. Public education ends with 6th grade and to pursue studies the children had to go to larger neighboring towns, or to the Monte Cassino Abbey, about 19 miles away, on the other side of the next mountain range. The young grow up and move out.
Today there are at least 50000 first, second, and third generation Sandonateste living and spread all over the world. Major colonies are found in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Canada, South America, Australia, North Africa, France and Germany. They are also found in innumerable other cities and villages. In a relatively short time, the genes originating in this poor undistinguished mountain town have spread all over the world. Within it have risen doctors, lawyers, political leaders, engineers, artists, philosophers, scientists, and writers. Among the ex-patriots there were innumerable beings who escaped from the mountains in search of means to earn a living. These were the men of brawn and muscle who toiled in the bowels of the earth, digging and building the roads, the cities, the skyscrapers that now adorn America. For instance, there isn't a building in Manhattan on which a Sandonatese did not work. A whole Area of the West Side of New York was taken over by them, It stretched from Amsterdam Ave (10th Ave) and the Hudson River along the West 67th, West 60th, and West 69th street. The tenements were teeming with Sandonatese, and their dialect was heard along the streets from adults as well as children.
Many of the men had their families come over, and would educate their children into the professions. Many others were simply boarders who would return to San Donato every two or three years, have another child, and return to America to earn a living. Some of the men lived together. In addition to the hard exhausting physical labor, they would return home in the evening to do their own cleaning, and cooking. This colony along Amsterdam Ave was shattered by a single blow when the whole area was ravaged to the ground for the building of Lincoln Center. The Sandanatese scattered to the Bronx, Queens, Astoria, and Brooklyn where they continue to thrive and propagate.
So over the centuries, the town of San Donato was the breeding ground, the nursery, the procreation of new generations which had to escape to all parts of the earth in an effort to improve their destiny.
Some centuries ago, a dispute arose between San Donato and the nearby town of Alvito. The regional government determined that one of the towns would take a water supply while the other would take the Lion statue previously taken from Egypt by the Romans. The Sandonatese maneuvered and finagled to make it appear that the Lion was the greater status symbol. They then allowed the Alvitans to win the contest, and San Donato won the water rights. Over a period of time they built an aqueduct along the side of the mountains. It takes the melting ice glaciers water from Mount Meta and carries it to a reservoir at the edge of the town. The reservoir holds hundreds of thousands of gallons, and is cut into solid rock at the base of Mt Calvary. The water was then carried to central fountains in various parts of San Donato, and in more recent times it was piped into residential areas. Of course it can not be proved, but it is believed that these water fountains spout probably the purest and coldest water of Europe. It was a very smart deal for the Sandonatese. While they enjoy the cold, pure water, the Lions statue in the main square of Alvito collects pigeon shit.
The following year, Tata Gaetano, my father, came to the conclusion that he too should go to America to improve his situation and later to move the rest of the family to the U.S.. It took some 7 years for him to save enough money to transfer us to the U.S. World War I ended in 1918, conditions in Italy were bad and getting worse, and Mussolini and his fascist thugs were already starting revolution.
Tata Gaetano was not political, and could barely sign his name, but he knew he wanted the best possible for his family. I can say unreservedly that I would have forgiven him any savagery he might have committed against me, because he had given me the greatest gift possible. He had made it possible for me to come to the U.S. After 1922 at home were left Grandfather Giovanni Pellegrini, born in 1840, Mamma Antonia, born in 1878, brother Dan born 1909, and Sister Lucy born 1915, I was the youngest, born April fool's day of 1918.
As the darkness eclipsed the little town, we gathered around the fire place. Grandpa would get in his chair, Mother would light the oil lamp (electricity was yet to come) and we would sit by and listen to her stories. There was no other means of distraction - no radio, no television, and no light to read by. Just us five and the flickering flames by the fire place. Mother was a born actress; she could mimic the actions and voices of 3 or more characters in each story. This is how we learned of our ancestry - around the fireplace from the older generation to the new.
(The Red Giant)
He was among the dispossessed, the landless but that did not stop him from raising six sons and two daughters. He was effectively a share cropper and caretaker to the big land owners. His family was well fed and housed. He did have a little trouble with the "town fathers" on education, Around 1848 my grandfather Giovanni, being the oldest son, walked into the town to start school. He returned to the farm hours later, crying because they would not let him stay in school.
Catablaffe swore "by the horns of the devil, they will remember this day". He took young Giovanni and an hour later they confronted the town fathers: "why did you not accept Giovanni as a pupil"? He asked the chief magistrate. "The signori (the upper class) have instructed me not to teach the children of the Contadini (the farm workers)". He replied in his defense. "besides" the magistrate continued, "if they learn to read and write they might get uppity ideas and rebel. The Signorie do not want that." Remember the 1800's was the period of revolutions in Europe as well. Catablaffe had heard enough. He had no personal animosity against the poor teacher who was trying to earn a living. But he was seething against the signori. It is reported that with one arm he raised the magistrate off the ground, and told him "Go tell the signori to change the rules now, this moment to allow all children into school who wish to do so. No exceptions or there will be no school for anybody- rich or poor." The word spread through the town and people gathered in support. Within a short time one of the signori appeared to reassure the people that public education was truly public- no exceptions. And thus my grandfather Giovanni learned to read and write.
He was well informed and in his early eighties he was still reading clearly the "Giornale D'Italia newspaper with it's very small print on tissue paper. Each morning I would go pick up the newspaper, because he would always add in a few pennies for candy.
The townspeople already knew of the redheaded gentle giant known as Rusci Catablaffe. Now they had an additional reason to know him. He had become a celebrity, a spokesperson for the down trodden, the poor people against the landowners. Remember that this was in the late 1700's. It was still the age of serfdom, and Napoleon had just overrun Italy to the borders of Naples. It was the age of the writers, Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, and Sir Walter Scott and Musicians Beethoven, Puccini, and Hayden. Politically, the 13 colonies were just getting organized as a nation.
This was all a long time ago, but as we used to sit by the fireplace, Mamma Antonia used to tell us of our ancestors, sometimes mimicking of their actions, sometime the voices. And so she told us of our ancestors and of events of long ago, carried down by family recounting. It seemed to be happening before our eyes.
At that time, the well to do who found it necessary traveled from city to city on horseback, with servants and private guards. There were no passable roads to cross the mountains. But there was a good trail and mountain pass at Forca Dacero which connected San Donato, Rome to Opi, Abruzzi for the gentry traveling from the Rome area to Abruzzi.
This was also well known by brigands who were established in the mountain forest. A few were truly hardened criminals, and the others for the most part were simple men who had no work, had no land to till, and had bambino's to feed.
As such wealthy travelers approached they stopped and turned to the signori, the well to do, for advice. Unbeknown to them, these signori were in cahoots with the brigands, and shared in the booty. This did not go unnoticed as the towns people saw the rich get richer. But nothing could be proven. Finally the agitated townspeople formed a posse, a volunteer force, a security detail to fight the brigands. Rusci Catablaffe, known as a hunter and an expert marksman was convinced into joining the group. So did the lackeys of the wealthy signori. He became involved in many escapades. One night they received word that the brigands were at a certain location. They advanced through the forest in the dark, in an attempt to sweep the area. At a certain point, there was a confrontation and there was an exchange of fire. The guns were the earliest flintlocks, front loaded with powder, wadding, and lead pellets. Catablaffe squared his rifle at the ready, and bided his time. There was a flash and he aimed at it immediately, and squeezed his shot. The next day they found the brigand shot right through the head. Good marksmanship!
As his fame spread, the signori became more concerned with him. They did not want their associates, the brigands, killed off. Efforts were made to get rid of Catabalaffe, some subtle, some quite direct.
One day he was at the main piazza with some friends, and following the usual custom they retired to the local cantina for a drink. One of the signori approached him. "Come Rusci, I offer you a drink", and with that extended a drink in a small glass towards him. Rusci thanked him profusely but refused. It continued this way until Rusci struck his arm in protest, and accidently hit the glass, which spilled to the floor. It started smoking and burned spots on the floor. The liquid was some violent acid or poison, but it could not be proven as an attempted murder. The signori controlled the police, judiciary, and everything else.
On another occasion, as they moved along the dark trail, he overheard a couple of his associates whispering that they had come to some agreement and that at a certain point they would take care of him and blame it on brigands. Catablaffe slowed his steps, and started falling back. When this was noticed they yelled at him, "Come, catch up with us, let's stay together." "No I have some stomach pains, and don't feel good at all. I'm going home tonight." With that he returned home and safety.
By this time Catablaffe was share cropping one of the biggest and best farms in the area. It had livestock, vineyards, vegetables, grains, and fruit trees. They had all the necessities for a good life. It did not take long to build up a big family of six boys and two girls. The oldest boy (my grandfather Giovanni) was reported to be a truly beautiful boy. One of the local nobility who had no children, offered to buy him or adopt him from Catbablaffe. He told them that there was no condition under which I would part with my son! He now needed the large farm house for his large family.
Late one night the dogs started barking loudly, and then he heard some voices calling under the window. "Catablaffe, come quickly, the brigands are reported at the Red Rock (Rave Rascia) near the pass." The voice was too strident and the words too precise, he thought. How could they know where the brigands were? Suspicion arose. He reached back, took one of his hats, put it at the end of a broomstick, and shoved it out the window. Boooom! Flashes in the dark and an unknown number of shots shattered the hat. Catablaffe reached for his gun, always loaded and blasted away. Enough was enough. He had a large family on his back, and did not want to create a private orphanage. The next morning he went into town and resigned from the protective posse. By this time the populace knew what was happening, and supported the Rusci Catablaffe. Most unusual, the town rewarded this good man for what he had done. He was given a good size tract of town land towards the bottom of Mt. Pozzuoli. We called it Cesa Pacione. It was mountain forest land. One year my mother tried to grow potatoes on it, but it was useless. She put in about 30 Kilograms of seed Potatoes, but only got back some few pounds of tiny spuds. It was not worth it.
Catablaffe divided that section of the mountainside to his six boys (the 2 girls did not count). These remained separate and distinct. Our section was given to Grandfather Giovanni Pelligrini. To divide and subdivide to subsequent generations would become near impossible. Second, third and fourth generations are scattered all over the world. But let me say to all of my children, and grandchildren, and the children of my brothers, that there is a spot on that mountainside that belongs to you. How big, how small, who knows.
It is interesting to note one of the few direct descendants of Rusci Catablaffe my cousin Cesidio still resides in San Donato. He is now a young 70. In 1987 my wife and I visited him in Italy. I asked him about that piece of forest. "Yes", he said, "occasionally I get a mule and go up there to get the firewood we need." Catablaffe's good deeds are still bearing fruit.
On Sunday he would take me and sister Lucy to church with him. We always went gladly, for we knew the rewards. On the way home he would always pass through the Sunday open market, Here he would stop and buy us the first cherries or the first figs, or the first grapes or the first anything to come to market. He was now already in his late 70's, but he was still strong and healthy, and straight as an arrow.
On one of the returns from church in the spring of 1922, something happened which remained indelible on my mind. At the main piazza, there is a street which leads down towards la Portella. Just as you leave the Piazza on the left is a semicircular low wall, which people used to sit on. On this particular morning, an old old man was sitting there, occasionally drawing on his pipe. A ragged greasy middle aged thug approached the old man. "Giu il cappello", he overheard him. "Huh? What did he say?", asked the puzzled old man. By now he was screeching, "Giu il cappello, Giu il cappello" (take your hat off, take your hat off). Still the old man looked mystified. He could not hear. All of a sudden the bully took his club and crashed it on the old man's skull. Blood splattered down the old man's face. The other man ran away as the people gathered around the incident. It was a shameful revolting exhibition of the new Fascism.
You see, the criminals, the scum, and the thugs were among the first to join the fascist- short on brain long on brawn. They had established that in the presence of fascism, people had to take their hats off, Failing to do so invited the use of the manganello (night stick) or a good dose of caster oil. Some were given so much caster oil to cause cramps and shit for weeks. On people such as these, the great fascist, Musolini, came to power.
In 1987 when I returned to Italy, I stood at the same place where I had been as a child, and I could see the scene repeated again, and the blood dripping on the old man's face. It was a very sad moment. Grandfather Giovanni was still with us in 1923, when we were finally connected to the electricity network. One lamp was put on a long arm at the corner of the house as a street light. We had a bare lamp in each room. As the sun went down we went into the kitchen, turned on the light and danced like mad to see our shadows on the wall - and another step forward for civilization.
The Stage was now set for brother Danny to take over. He was very bright and 9 years older than I. We did not understand much of it, but sat beside him as he read from the "Devine Comedy" or "Jerusalem Delivered". Books were much beyond our understanding, but nevertheless beautiful to listen to.
Fascism was the scourge which brought Italy disaster, millions of people to death, and undescribable suffering and misery. I was there at it's creation, and I was there at it's end April 30, 1945 when they hung Mussolini and his whore like pigs on a meat hook at Milan. But for a short period of time, I also had to live with it.
In 1924 my mother took me up to register at school. A few days later I was given a note which specified that I must buy a uniform of a young fascist (a Balilla) or I could not go to school. My mother made herself heard, but to no avail. There was no alternative and I became a little fascist.
The next year was to be a very sad one for me. On January 1st, 1925, Grandfather Giovanni came down with a cold. It was not a cold. We called the Doctor who confirmed that it was pneumonia. There were no sulfas, no penicillin, no drugs that were effective on an 81 year old. And so he left us, who had been both grandfather and father. He expired calm and content in his Daughter's arms. To me, I thought my heart would break, but in a child the recovery is quick. Giovanni Pelligrini, Catablaffe's first son, had come to his end on January 9th 1925 at age 81.
In the early years, her life was quite difficult. As she neared her twenties her hormones started to act up and she found herself a boyfriend. No privacy, no touching, no being alone, always in the company of others. That's the way it was. She was a very pretty young woman. The only time they could see the boyfriend was when she put the big copper container on her head and went to the spring at La Fonte for fresh water. They would meet with the boyfriends on the way and talk. Except that the young Man's hormones also were in an uproar and out of control. She said one day he helped her place the heavy containers on her head, but as his hands came down they paused and cupped over her breasts. Suddenly there was a flood of ice cold water drenching him as she dumped it on him. She would not take such ungentlemanly acts, and that was the end of that romance. It cooled him off quickly. At this time around 1900 they were working at a farm, 3 or 4 miles outside of town, On a Sunday afternoon, a beautiful spring day, a blond young man in his early twenties came and knocked at the door. He asked if her brother Gerardo was home, and Mamma Antonia told him that he had gone to town and had not returned. So he asked if he might sit it out and wait for him. She had seen him a few times in town and knew him buy sight. Of course, he sat in a corner of the room and watched her as she went about the house chores. Time kept ticking away, and she started getting a bit nervous. A half hour, then an hour, then one and a half hours. Finally she could stand it no longer. It was getting irritating so she told him she had no idea about her brother's return. Could he tell her what he wanted and she would inform Gerardo.
"No. Gerardo and your father are at the cantina after I had a long talk with them. You see, I explained my intentions to them and asked permission to come and talk to you. I have watched and admired you from a distance for a long time. I think I would like to know you better, if you agree. And if all is well on both sides we can think of matrimony."
It was a long speech, and seemed to have been rehearsed several times.
He was shorter than she was, but seemed to be a nice young man, of good reputation. She recovered from the shock and was quick to respond, "father and Gerardo gave you permission to come. I have no objection to your coming again to visit but you check with them as to whether you visit again for Sunday dinner , or Monday leftovers." Both chuckled a little bit at the levity. This was the beginning of two very dissimilar personalities who remained in deep love and respect for each other until their end. Gaetano at 87 and Mamma Antonia at 92.
In 1901 Gaetano and Antonia married. Life was difficult. The big landowners had split their holdings up and sold off the land. Share cropping was at an end, but these people had no other work. Gaetano became a day laborer and that at many jobs - as a woodsman cutting lumber in the forest, building roads and various structures, harvesting crops in summer and fall. But none of these had continuity to sustain a family.
After a few years of this struggle he decided to go into indentured farming, In some ways it was much like the migrant workers of the west today.
Some one person in the town would contract with the large landowners, the nobility, around Rome. This "Capo" would agree to provide a certain number of workers from March to November, at a set weekly rate per person - so much for men, so much for women, and so much for children. The duties and responsibilities of each were spelled out. Barely enough was saved during the summer months to carry them through the winter. Somehow they made it.
These treks were organized much like the homesteaders moved to the American West. Wagons would be loaded with the essentials, some bits of furniture, materials, clothing, some flour, dried beans and other foodstuffs. They would also take some seeds to plow their own gardens and plant potatoes. The children would be loaded, and a line of wagons would head for the Roman plains.
Each group of families would occupy a big barn like building, all using common facilities. Their only privacy was a separation by hanging large sheets between families. With the break of dawn they would be out in the fields, or tending the animals. Men, women, and children earning their sustenance. A lunch break was a brief rest period, and if they were in luck, each would have some minestrone, not the glorified minestrone we buy today, but a super boiled meal of various boiled country greens with a few drops of oil spread over a base of stale dried bread. In early afternoon, one or two of the women would leave early and return to the barn to start the fires for all the families. This was necessary as the frequent evening meal was polenta, which had to boil for an hour or more, being continuously stirred. It consists of cornmeal with some vegetables thrown in when available, with some garlic or potato. When it was boiled and condensed to a semi solid it was spread over a "Tavolozzo" (Like a table top) to about 1/2" to 1" in thickness, It was topped with a sprinkle of olive oil, cheese and pepper. This was the poor peoples repetitive supper. Nothing fancy, but certainly healthy and nourishing. But "Polenta" is as you wish it. Occasionally we have it now. My grandson Jeffrey calls it "The Good Stuff", unable to remember the name. A tomato sauce can be made to cover it, like a pizza. With chopped up sausage, pork, cheese, and whatever else pleases you. I occasionally prepare it and enjoy it, The finest restaurants in Italy will prepare it for the gourmets, the Conoscenti.
The most literate in the group of workers would be assigned an additional duty, to teach the children how to read and write.
It was a rough difficult life these migrant workers lived. My oldest brother Larry was already caught in this trap. At age 7 he was already employed 10-12 hours a day banging pot covers together through the grain fields to shoo away the birds which were eating the seeds and crops. No, this was not to be for his family. Brother Dan came along in 1909, then Lucy in 1915, and I arrived in 1918. No, Tata Gaetano did not want his family to grow up in primitive conditions. In 1921, as Fascism arrived in Italy, he emigrated to the Sandonatesse Colony in Brighton (Boston) Mass to search for a better life. It was a 7 year proposition to accumulate some cash so we could join him in the new land.
In 1918 March 31st was Easter Sunday. I missed it as a birthday for had I been born that day they would have named me "Pasquale" for the Pascal Easter. See I lucked out and was born on Monday, April 1st. But this forever tagged me as being born on April Fool's Day. It had it's redeeming features. How was I to be named? Both sides of the family debated, but Grandpa Pelligrini settled it. You see Monday April 1st was the feast of the Patron Saint Gerard at the nearby settlement of Gallinarum. Born on his day, I would also take his name, and that was that. Gallinarum is a little Hamlet just outside San Donato. It's place in history is established by the fact that around the year 200-300 AD St. Gerard had been to England converting the heathens to Christianity. He had now travelled a couple of thousand miles and was approaching Rome to report the journey he had made and progress to the Pope. He did not succeed. He took sick and died at Gallinarum a section of San Donato some 36 miles from Rome.
What happened to me next? Another little dispute. Having lost the first battle now both sides of the family wanted to baptize me. Again the reasoned voice of my grandfather prevailed. He convinced Mamma Antonia that it would be best to simply hide me in a basket and place me behind just inside the church door. The first person to come through the door after the ringing of the bells would be the one to baptize me. And so it was done, and my godfather turned out to be one of the nicest and most humorous men in town, Antonio Chichietta, a town comedian.
World War I continued to November 11, 1918 when Armistice was declared, Russia turned to Communism. The Austrian Hungarian Empire broke up into several nations, Czar Nicholas and family were executed, Woodrow Wilson presents his 14 points to reorganize the world.
First air mail between NY and Washington, 8-hour workday by law in Germany, Millions die in World Wide influenza. World War I assessment - 8 1/2 million dead, 21 million wounded. God knows how many buildings, bridges, and roads destroyed, ships sunk, hopes and dreams destroyed. And do you know that 1918 the Boston Red Sox defeated Chicago for the World Series?
Mt. Wilson telescope was built. Max Plank of Germany introduced the quantum theory. Excavation of Babylon were started.
Carl Sandburg, Frans Werfel, Upton Sinclair, HL Menken, Ring Lardner, and Joseph Conrad all had major works published.
The above were a few of the events of 1918. Of course I knew nothing about it at that time. The airplane and the Automobile were also new.
As a little tyke, I remember the rumbling trucks driven by big chains connected to the wheels and acetylene torches for headlights - no batteries. As they thundered along they raised a long trail of impenetrable dust. The roads were covered with pea stones which soon were ground into fine dust.
Early in childhood, I saw my first airplane, at around age 3 or 4. One bright morning, on a beautiful clear day, we heard a distant rumble. High over the mountain top we saw a speck which circled and continued to circle around. The word spread like wildfire, and in no time at all the people were out on the street looking skyward. It was beyond understanding how that object, with people in it, managed to stay up in the air.
Not much to remember of the earliest years. I do recall that I used to run around at about 2 years old then go to my mother, plop on her lap, and suckled her breasts. Children were breast fed for a long time then, and there was nothing better than mother's milk. Later on as the town goat had came by evenings mother would have the handler squeeze out a container of milk, about a quart. This was the only way we could have fresh milk, as refrigeration did not exist.
Finally the time arrived, in the Fall of 1924, when I was to head for my school days. Again great strides in Science. Robert Goddard at Worcester, the father of rocketry who wrote in a method to reach extreme heights. Einstein's theory of relatively was confirmed. Rutherford of England established that the atom could be split in finer components. The first experiments were made of sound on a film. And Tata Gerry was about to learn ABC's.
I had already been registered, so on the first day my sister Lucy took me by the hand and walked me to school. Another grand adventure had started. Clearly I remember my very first book. How beautiful with the bright colors of flowers. It was called, La Chirlanda. (The wreath flowers). I clutched it to my chest, gave Lucy my right hand and returned home.
Shortly after school started, the message was received that I had to become a little fascist, or I would not be able to attend school. So I became one of Benito's Balilla's dressed in a military uniform, and with a fez and a tassel on my head. In those days, the teachers rotated. They taught the first grade, then the second, then the third, etc. I was promoted each year, I had the same teacher each year. He was Domenico Gerardo Cautilli. He had been a great hero of World War I, had been wounded several times and decorated with the highest medals of honor. He also wrote poetry and had a couple of books published. Much of it was about the miseries of War. When the man could not stand any more squabbles with the children in class, he would take us out and to the open fields for exercise, while he sat in the shade and refreshed himself with the bottle. We searched the trees to identify trees and birds nests and explored the countryside.
But we learned. In the third grade we had fractions, and geometry. In the fourth we had drafting and design, plus history, geography, composition, literature into those five years. Also much consisted of learning facts and figures, and not in developing a thinking process. I did quite well as I still have my school records showing the marks as buono or lodevole, that is good or excellent, at age 8.
It was in the spring of 1926 that I remember committing my first misbehavior, and learned that crime is punishable. It was a beautiful morning in May and a few of us decided to go up the mountain - Mount Calvary, which started right behind the school. Up and up we went. No one wanted to back off and we finally reached the peak. But it was cold up there. We watched the wildlife, the birds and some rabbits. Then in some spots there were patches of violets and wild flowers. Before going down again, we decided to pick some flowers for mother. In the meantime the town was in an uproar wondering what had happened to their children. As I proudly approached my mother with the bunch of droopy flowers in my hand, I saw a mother I had not seen before, a mixture of worry and anger covered her face.
"Just where have you been since this morning? I know you did not go to school. Where did you go?" She interrogated at a few decibels higher than usual. "Mamma, see we picked flowers. We went up to the mountain top", and I pointed up to Mt. Calvary. She stood aghast now, with horror of her face. "Thanks to God you are back. Don't you know there are wolves up there who eat people?" It was true and the spanking I received was administered with force and authority and the I was sent to bed without supper. She was right, and the lesson was learned.
We learned other things which are not in books. My mother's aunt (Catablaffe's daughter) Zia Maria lived next door to us. She was in her eighties, and like a surrogate mother. When mother worked out in the fields, as she sometimes did, or if she had errands to do, she would leave us with this dear old woman who seemed to have the magic touch. She had remedies for everything it seemed. One day we gathered around her and watched in fascination. One of her chickens had been going around in a sickly fashion. It has stopped laying eggs, and each day moved slower and slower. Aunt Mary thought she had diagnosed the problem. At her request we cornered the chicken which did not take much effort and brought it to her. She sat on the bottom front step of the house, tied the chicken up and placed her belly up between her legs in the big "sargiotta" she wore. Her only surgical instruments were a pair of scissors and a threaded needle.
She proceeded to open up the chicken's belly, as the latter squawked madly. Then she went into an inside tube and extricated a very large rotting egg. We watched in awe. "Here, this was the trouble" she said calmly. "Now watch me." She proceeded to sew that inner tube together very carefully, then the outside belly, and then the chicken was untied. Cradling the chicken in her arms she struggled to the top of the stairs. The she set the chicken down and rolled it down the stairs.
"Why did you do that", we asked almost in chorus. "It was so that its insides would go back in place." The chicken struggled up and waddled away into the flock. In a few days it recovered some of it's energy, and in a couple of weeks it started laying eggs again. The illiterate aunt was quite a surgeon.
But this was not her only claim to fame. She was also our religion instructor. All the children in the neighborhood went to Zia Maria to learn their prayers and catechism. We would sit on the ground around her under a big Mulberry tree. You see she could not read or write, but from memory she could quote a good part of the bible, as well as many prayers of the Catholic liturgy. The truly unusual part was that all of this she knew in Latin and she taught us to repeat it. That is how I got my Confirmation. But many many, years were to pass, and I was in the U.S. when I finally learned the meaning of Ave Maria - or the Hail Mary - Ave Maria Gratia Plena Dominus teca Benedicta tu mulienbus etc. Or "Hail Mary full of grace blessed art thou and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus." Do you suppose I would have been destined for hell or at best purgatory if I had not learned the meaning of that prayer?
The years continued to roll along. Brother Dan was now the father image for me. He was also the big brother who played with me, helped me in my education, and irritated me just enough to keep me competitive.
An occasional letter would arrive from father. He told a bit about himself, asked about the children, and always expressed the hope of seeing each other again. No emotion, just matter of fact always starting the letter Cora Consorta, Dear Consort.
Lucy had always been a rather sick child. Dan too had pneumonia two years in succession. It was well known that the U.S. immigration laws were getting more and more restrictive, especially for those from the Mediterranean area. Northern Europe was wide open.
Finally Tata Gaetano told Mamma to take us kids to the beach for the summer, about 30 miles away. They felt a summer by the sea would re-invigorate our health.
At the end of June, horse and wagons were rented, and loaded. Each family had a few kitchen utensils, some linen, a few changes of clothes, and that was it. In the evening we nestled on the wagons, and as the excitement wore off, we fell asleep. We rode all night and into the next day. The following afternoon, we pulled up at the houses. A scruffy old fisherman, with one arm cut off at the elbow came to meet us and led us in. He became a dear friend.
Rooms were assigned, one to a family. Also common kitchens were set up, and women took turns doing the cooking. The beach was Pristine, unspoiled, with only an occasional fishing boat resting on it's side in the sand.
The old man had no family, and sort of took us over. We sat by him as he held us spellbound with his many many stories of the distant lands he had seen, and of pirates along the North African coast. He never did tell us how he lost his arm, and we never asked him. The garden behind his house grew some of the best fruit anywhere. Beautiful oranges, large succulent figs with nectar drops at the tips, and the most beautiful and gigantic peaches I have ever seen. The temptation was too great, and boys will be boys, as they say. While a few of the older boys kept him telling his stories by the fire on the beach, the others went into the garden to steal fresh fruit. It was a rotten thing to do to the old Manimuzza. When the mothers learned of it, the bad boys were punished and they offered to pay him for his loss. No, he would not hear of it.
Occasionally I would go off by myself. There was a long long wooden wharf not far from us. Some of the boards had rotted off, others were rotting. But that is where I cautiously walked to get close to the large three masted schooner that had docked. It was an old old sailboat which showed it's usage-had been used to transport sand, cement, lumber, and other commodities. I lay on my back and watched the tall mast dance up towards the clouds. This was the time to dream of it as a great battleship in a naval battle. As I shouted commands from the bridge, enemy ships were shattered and sunk.
The families got along well together, and the summer was idyllic, with long walks of exploration along the shoreline, and trips in the boat with Manimuzza. But August came around again, and the horses and wagons took us home.
Dan was now a young man of 18, a definite anti-fascist, and about to be drafted into the Italian army. If drafted, he would be over 21 when released, and no longer qualified to come into the United States under my father's citizenship. But luck was with us. He was given a health rejection, and deferred to be examined the following year. That's when Tata Gaetano speeded up the pace, bought himself a citizenship paper, and we got ready to move to the new land.
A final incident took place which had us worried. We were brought outdoors with a great hullabaloo up and down the streets of the town. The cause was evident to all. It was May 1st, and during the night some anti-fascist (believe to be Centolini) had placed the red flag with sickle and hammer on the steeple of the church of San Donato, the highest point in town. There was a large container at the bottom of the flag with the legend "Chitoccamurone" (He who touches dies). The provincial headquarter and Rome were informed. By early afternoon the little town was teeming with officials, the fascist bullies, police and special technicians of all sorts.
Gingerly, the bomb squad climbed the steeple, as the populace was held back to a safe distance. First the flag came down, then very very carefully they lowered the container. It was addressed "TO BENITO". Two men were left to open it, and as they proceeded, one could smell the stench. There was no Dynamite. The container was full of human shit and artichokes. In spite of severe interrogation, no one was caught, and we knew brother Dan was safe.
During June, I graduated from the elementary school, and documents and inoculations for all followed in July. We were scheduled to leave San Donato on the night of August 6-7, 1929. August 7th was the feast of the patron Saint Donato. People from many miles away came to the feast, slept wherever they could. All of the Piazzas were covered with goodies. Foods, fruits, toys, everything. As was the custom, us boys were out for adventure. A group got the owners attention at one end, while the others at the other end and in the dark stole a watermelon. Off we went under a street light to eat the watermelon. It was after midnight, and young voices were heard, looking for me, I headed home and all my little buddies trailed behind. We hugged a little, cried a little, and then I climbed aboard the horse drawn wagon, and headed for Cassino and Naples. This time things were a little better organized. We had a little hand luggage, and most of it was in steamer trunks. At Naples we went aboard the SS Vulcanio, a new ship of the Cosulich Line of about 24000 tons. What splendor, what beauty, what clean lines. We were not traveling first class as the cost was prohibitive. We traveled 2nd class luxury. This was done as it was reported that health inspectors were more lenient than with the 3rd class or steerage people. Can you imagine they would ring chimes for refreshments in the morning, and tea and biscuits in the afternoon. Who could believe it? The trip was truly impressive-the infinite ocean, the great waves, the glitter of the ship. Once in a while we would walk up to the 1st class upper decks, but were chased away. At night, in awe and mystified we stood at the fan tail and watched the phosphorescent flicker of the wake fading behind in the distance.
After some 12 days of sailing we approached New York. On a lovely morning the voice spoke "There, there is the Statue of Liberty, there on the right", and everybody went to the right (starboard side?) of the ship to watch. The shrill whistles of ships, the tugs going to and fro, the overwhelming skyline were like magic land. The ship pulled into a dock around 37th street, and we watched as the First class people deboarded. Mother strained for some sign of recognition. Finally late in the evening she spotted my father at dockside semi-darkness and they started shouting to each other. He asked her about Dan and Lucy, but not of me. I was hurt, I felt neglected. "Ma doesn't he know that I am here too?"
"Of course, but he still thinks of you as a little baby, who should now be asleep. Call down to him", she suggested.
I called down to him from the railing, and waved and thus I became acquainted with my father. It was now getting late, the dock was cleared, and we would get out the next day. But the next day found us at Ellis Island. We were in a large hall with vaulted ceilings and big rounded topped windows with steel bars on them. The word spread that many were being sent back. It was a time of terror, yet we knew we were healthy. We found out later that after we left Naples the U.S. Immigration passed a new regulation. It was probably the one about not admitting people with conjunctivitis. We passed all tests, and waited and waited. It was getting late. Finally Uncle Gerry Pellegrini (My Mother's Brother) came down a long brick corridor. He asked if mother had the passport, which was affirmative. Then he said, "These people are crazy, follow me". This we did, to the long boat and back to Manhattan. From there we went by cab to West 69th St. where my two aunts and their families were. We stayed with them for 3 or 4 days. My cousins took me to Columbus Circle to see my first movie- and it was overpowering. It was called "Birth of a Nation."
Uncle Gerry was my favorite. I admired him greatly. He was truly a self made man. A self educated man, he worked the tracks of the transit, the NY subway system. He was bright, and his "Americanization" proceeded at a fast pace. Before long he was yardmaster for the I.R.T. at 242nd street and Van Cortland Park. He was quite a man. In the late 30's and early 40's he was talking about pulling each car's service record on a computer so they could schedule maintenance. A computer? What in the hell is that? He was well ahead of his time, and he was right. That is the way maintenance is scheduled now.
It late August, we arrived in Brighton, Mass. My father had rented a four room flat and bought some furniture. We were comfortable. But not for long. That black Monday in October the stock market crashed, and from then on it was a downward spiral.
I had started school all over again, and come to know discrimination and derision from my classmates. You see in Italy the boys wore knickers which came together below the knees. When I went outside there was usually a chorus of "Hey Ginney look at the Ginney, look at the dago." My only answer was the only broken English I knew. My answer was "You sumnabitchia". The equivalent of "You son of a bitch". But my faculty with language improved very quickly and it was not long before I started giving it back to them in more clear and forceful language. Then they accepted me, in a manner of speaking. Baseball was unknown in Italy. It became known as a result of the U.S. invasion in World War II. So when they picked the team for stickball I was the last one picked. If we went down the Chandlers Pond in winter to skate they would be gliding arm in arm, while I spent most of the time flat on my ass. School-wise I was much more advanced than they. But I lacked the language. To remedy this, the school put me in what was known as the special class. It was the place for the retarded, the feeble minded. Unable to really compete in the sports field, more and more of my time was spent in the public library. I simply devoured books. The subject matter was not important. They ranged from all of the Zane Gray Westerns, to the Greek plays, poetry, novels, science, everything.
I did not understand it all. Some were much to advanced for me. One book which left a lasting impression was "The Mysterious Universe", by the British astronomer Sir James Jeans. It was overwhelming and for the first time made me think of the insignificance of mankind, and the mystery of the universe.
As I was growing up, I had very strong and firm beliefs in the story of creation, of the omnipotence of the one God, of a heaven, of a purgatory, and a hell in the after life. On the high arch over the entrance to our cemetery in San Donato there was a statue of God holding up the world globe. His face was stern and vengeful to wrong doers. Frankly it scared the hell out of this little boy and I avoided looking up at him. The statue is still there. I regularly went to confession, and after Communion I returned home elated, floating on air. Just think, I had God's spirit in me.
In Brighton, we settled on Winship Street which was predominantly Irish, and Italian. Actually it still is but now there is more than a smattering of Orientals and Hispanics.
By the house was a large open field. Once a year a traveling troupe would come in. There would be medicine men selling their wares, fortune tellers, cowboys, and various con artists. This was the early thirties. Motor cars and trucks were few and horses still exclusively used. Many flower gardens owed their healthy beauty to the horses.
In the winter particularly, there were no snow plows, so milk companies such as Hood, Whiting, and White Creamery used gigantic sleds drawn by 4 horses to make their deliveries of milk. In those days they delivered daily to every residence as well as stores.
Finally I could see that the session was at an end. He walked me out to the front of the church, walked about a bit, looked over Middlemass farm and toward the Boston skyline, out to Boston bay. We could see the coast on that clear day.
As we said goodbye, he invited me back anytime I wanted, and parted with these words. "What I have said has not resolved anything. That I know. Words cannot accomplish it. You see it is a matter of faith. One must believe. One must aspire to live the everlasting life." He stopped a while, a long silence, and then, "Yes, you must have faith and believe. If not, humankind is born, struggles, works, ages and deteriorates and dies. In that case life is nothing more than a lie, with a whimpering, sniffling, gurgling sigh at the end. Not much to look forward to, unless you have faith to give you hope for a better life.
I have thought about this many times over the years. And this is also the first time my family hears of it. I've tried to live within the framework of Christian doctrine. The children have taken the Sacraments, as have the grandchildren. Mother Elda has been the guiding light, Lillian has remained steadfast, while Dr. Bob and Lory have strayed a bit. On the other hand, we have gained Son in Law, Lewis Jr, who converted to Catholicism and is an exemplary member. But I can't say that I am a good Catholic.
As for me, I am approaching the end of the road without fears, and without regrets. I tried to live my life with the best of intentions. Be good here, and not slanted to some distant unknown future. Yes, there is an eternal life. It is in our actions, and in our genes. By our behavior, we can influence our children and others to a better course. They in turn can influence others, and thus perpetuate ourselves in others for all eternity. The other resets on pure gene transfer. As long as there is a procreation, parts of us are transmitted to others. Remember the red hair of Ruscio Catablaffe which skipped two generations, and popped up again in my cousins, Dina and Elenore Pellegrini.
Some friends of ours had a bar (prohibition had been repealed) and they needed fire wood for their pizza oven. They bought a piece of land out near Littleton. Some months after the purchase they started receiving monthly government checks. They were puzzled, but eventually they found out that years before their prior owner had raised pigs in that forest. As the new owner, our friends started receiving government payment for not raising pigs. I kept thinking that there was something wrong here. They had no intention of raising pigs, but gladly accepted the money.
Communism had it's appeal. What could be a more Christian appeal that the cry "from each according to his ability to each according to his needs?" The Communist international was active, and Willian Z. Foster's Communist party in the U.S. could count on half a million votes. The local communist group had rented a storefront at the corner of Washington Street and Academy Hill Road in Brighton. It was heated and had card tables upstairs with a beat up pool table and some checker boards in the cellar. It attempted to recruit the young. If nothing else it was a warm place to gather. I joined them and became a card carrying member of the Young Communist League. They made the mistake of sending a semi-literate man as the recruiter. He knew little or nothing about government of economics, or anything else, but kept insisting that capital had no function in economics, that it was to be based solely on the raw materials and labor. No mention of production development, machinery, competition, entrepenership, etc., etc. After a while I felt this was not the answer either, and dropped out.
We had a fatherly and progressive headmaster in the Edison Junior High School. He was George W. Gannion, a fine patient man. He allowed the students to run a student government under the general guidelines (but not interference) of a teacher.
The learning process was quick. I wanted to be mayor of the Junior High School. I was adept at doing advertising on card boards. In addition I picked a team of the more respected (or toughest) students to campaign for me. Promises were made for appointments, to judges, or police commissioner, attorney general, etc. Some of these positions were promised 2 or 3 times over. What the hell, the more the merrier, and it was politics. I campaigned and with the help of my henchmen and women, won an overwhelming victory. I was mayor of Edison Junior High School. Frances Perkins had been appointed secretary of labor under President Roosevelt. She was the first women to be named to a presidential cabinet. I repeated the move by nominating a young lady as our Secretary of Education and Welfare. Among other things, she ran a small contribution fund and paid the three cents per cup of milk for the kids who did not have the pennies. The health commission inspected the cleanliness of the kitchen, but also inspected the cleanliness of the toilet facilities. Others were assigned to other functions.
Of course, as judges I had to find the most respected student, but also physically the toughest. I did not want him to get beat up after school. He did well. One fellow was caught stealing a piece of cake. Cases were prepared by prosecuting and defence attorney and presented to the court. He was found guilty by a jury of classmates, and a lenient judge gave him 3 weeks of extra duty cleaning the tables while the classmates enjoyed the outdoors during recess.
Being mayor, I could and did call meetings, inspections, reviews, without restrictions. It turned out to be an experience in both privilege and responsibility. My mastery of the English language advanced rapidly, and I also became editor of the school magazine, the Imp, and it's chief contributor.
In the fall of 1934, the junior High graduates headed for the Castle of the Hill, Brighton High School. It was newly built, of large blocks of sandstone, and of Gothic architecture. The school had clearly defined sections - The College courses, the commercial courses, and the trade (automotive) courses. This was my first real clash of hope and reality. My hope was to take the college courses, to go to college, and study for a profession. The reality was that we had no means to send me to college. Loans and Scholarships etc. simply did not exist. I swallowed my hopes, and signed up for commercial courses.
Again I did quite well, and consistently hit the honor roll. In the Spring of 1935 I was given a note to deliver home. It simply stated that Harvard was giving a course in creative writing to a few selected students. I was one of them, and they recommended that I go. I was not overly enthused. A summer course was not what I wanted. Besides, it would cost car fare, money. We had none to spend, and besides, I needed the summer to go to work on the farm. My literary career was forfeited.
Malone's work dried out, and father joined the unemployed.
By this time the WPA (Works Programs Administration) was in place. Father, and each head of household was given a job which brought in $18-per week. This was considered enough for a family of five. Brother Dan picked up an occasional day work. We managed. My contribution was to work on a farm in the summer months.
The Peter Valenti family did extensive truck farming of 200-300 acres in Newton Center. Most of it was child labor. On Saturday and Sunday Morning, at 6 AM, a truck would be waiting at Newton Corner, to take the 20-30 kids to the farm, ranging from 12 to 16 years old. Saturday at 7 AM we would get down to the business of hand cultivating celery, radishes, broccoli, tomatoes. We moved between the rows on our hands and knees (and no knee pads) weeding, cultivating, fertilizing, and other functions including the picking, washing, and packing. We had a half hour lunch break, then back to work. The wages were $1.00 to $1.50 per day. Those $2.00 to $3.00 dollars went a long way to help pay for the groceries. And as school closed it became a full time job at $7 to $10 a week. It was like slave labor, but in it's small way bought a lot of groceries, and some clothes. I could no longer wear the hand-me-down as I had outgrown my brother. We made the best of it.
It was a little better in 1934-35 when instead of going to the farm Saturdays and Summer I went to work for Gerry Cetrone, doing gardening work around the house of the wealthy in Brookline. I was now getting $4 and $5 a day, and every cent was brought in to mother. We were not getting rich but life became a little easier.
The return to school each fall was an embarrassment. The friends saw me all bronzed and muscular but lean. Naturally they asked what beach I had stayed at. I was ashamed to tell them I had worked every day at the farm. I had to lie, and I hated it.
Shrimpy Ciccone had an old Model A Ford touring with the top down. We sat up front and dared the ladies to sit on the roof cover in the back, and show their wares, and they took everything off to their belly buttons, and off we went up and down South Huntington Ave near Northeastern University. You can never imagine the screeching of brakes as the cabbies and others turned and chased us, people were yelling, horns were blowing. It was truly a miracle nothing happened. We told them to duck down and dress before disaster struck.
But there was also the other side. This was the time of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Sinatra, etc, at Totem Poll. As I leaned against the wall and listened, a pretty (a little chubby) young blond girl was a few feet away, leaning on the wall, and enjoying the music. We struck up a conversation and found a lot of mutual interests. She was from a farming area in Western Massachusetts, and a resident at the Franklin square house, while attending the Boston Art School. In those days Franklin Square House was a Hotel reserved for single young ladies only. The receiving rooms for socializing were all on the first floor, and each had a chaperon. We dated a couple of times, and once I had saved enough money to take her for a horse and carriage ride around the park.
I was very pleased when she asked me if I would return home with her for a weekend visit. It was an idyllic trip. I explained it all to mother, and she gave approval, with strong admonitions about my behavior. We met at the bus station, and had a beautiful trip for hours reaching beyond Worcester.
Her mother was a real dear, very concerned about my needs. She set me up in her son's room, as he was away at College. We rode the horses around the countryside, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We talked long into the night. Early the next morning she was at the door with pancakes, sausages, and ice cold milk. There was more riding, more walking, more exploring, and I joined in on some of the farm chores. Towards the end of the day we packed up and headed back to Boston. We saw each other a few more times. Then her course ended and she returned home. She spoke of going to an art school in New York, and we never saw each other again. Her name was Dee Shepard. Thank you Dee, for two of the most beautiful days I have ever known.
High school graduation was a bit frightening. What was to come? Could I get a job? People with a lot of experience were unemployed. What was I to do? My poor parents had no idea. Finally I sought the advice of a Miss Hastings, a teacher, and fine mother image at the school. She understood as she was struggling with it every day.
She gave me a copy of my report card which showed all A and B, and a letter of recommendation and told me to be at Filene's 7th floor employment office at 9:00 AM Monday.
At 9 AM at Filene's there was a long line which extended from the employment office to all around the 7th floor. To say that I was discouraged would be a gross understatement, But I waited. Then a young man came out and started pointing out with an occasional "you", "you", "you", a half a dozen times. He was Charlie Barry the employment selector. Then he closed with, "all of you come with me, the rest of you go home. There's no more work." I happened to be one of the "you" without referral to report card or recommendation. They could not believe it at home, when I got there around 6 o'clock. We had no phone, and no way to get in touch with them. The next morning at around 8 AM, I went down to go to work. I greeted my father who was out on the sidewalk sucking his pipe, and started off, when he called me back.
"Hey - where are you going? Where is your lunch pail? And what are you doing in that necktie? You should get yourself am overall." He had no idea of where I was going. He and all his ancestors had worked outdoors exposed to the elements. I was the first to have an inside job. The job lasted until 1982 when I retired from Filenes 43 1/2 years later.
I had now become a member of the salaried class, doing routine clerical functions at $15 per week. But remember next door to my office was the store chemist, an honors graduate from M.I.T. working for $32 per week. Just as revealing was my first anniversary. The assistant controller, a fairly high position, called me in. He looked over my record, and talked at length about my work, and what I might do in the future. In substance he made it clear he was raising me from $15 to $16 a week, not because I was really worth it, but because he seemed to see some promise for the future.
The world then started to go up in flames, and the U.S. awakened to it's dangers. The selective service act was approved in 1940 by 1 vote. All young men over 18 had to register for service and a number was assigned. Then there was a drawing of numbers, and that was the sequence in which we would be called up for the one year of training.
On a cold snowy day in January, 1940 I with thousands of others reported to the Boston Army Base for a physical examination. I entered one long line of little rooms and stripped down naked. We advanced from doctor to doctor in the little rooms, each checking his specialty. I started out by hoping that they would find some reason to reject me. But by the time I got to the end, I wished I would not get rejected, and I wasn't.
They slated me to report for Duty on Feb 15, 1941. My coworkers gave me a little going away party, and on the 15th I hugged my family, goodbye and with others reported to the local court house and then to the army base, and by evening we were at Ft. Devens. Hell, a year would go by fast. It was a new adventure. "I'll be back in a year little darling", was the song of the time. Little did I know that 1 year would stretch to 5 years 7 months, and 11 days, or to September 26, 1946, and it would completely change my future life.
A nucleus of troop, a Cadre, had arrived there in the fall of 1940 to activate the 9th Infantry division. Then the following February and March a flood of drafted troops fleshed out the division. Most of those troops were of the original Cadre and had many semi-literate farm types, from the South and young mountaineers of Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. These were good regular army soldiers sent to teach us rookies, and they did.
We went through the usual close order drills. I was assigned to the 26th Field Artillery Batallion. Plenty of drilling, but little practice. We had no 105 MM Artillery pieces. We had wooden sawhorses with labels "this is a 105". We would use Enfield riles from World War I, canned food from the same war, and wool leggings wrapped around our legs. The first firearm I tried in practice was an old wild west revolver with the long barrel and 6 shots, but then they organized the war production board and the national production effort was directed to arms, tanks, ships, guns, and trucks, and all sorts of equipment. Rationing also went into effect. Not only was the U.S. preparing for war, but it was also to supply much of the food and arms to England and Russia. It is barbarous to think that a person can move blindly against another to put him to death. Usually the "courage" comes from three points. 1) A conviction that those against you are evil, and will enslave you, or do you in. 2) That if you don't advance with the others you are failing those on your right and left with whom you have formed a fraternal bondage. 3) That the sooner you can return to freedom of civilian life. We just kept on doing the cannoneers hop. We just wanted to do our one year of training and then go on home.
It did not take long for the old Cadre to resent us. They were good soldiers, but generally limited in education. The draftees were high school graduates with some college men. My military IQ was 132, well above the 120 needed for officers candidates.
Within a couple of months, I was appointed corporal, then sergeant, Personal Clerk Battery "B". I had become a privileged character. I took good care of the Battery and the Captain, who relied on me, and took good care of me. I was to become one of the few in a select group of soldiers who was never to do guard duty, or K.P. (Kitchen Police)
The promotion continued to Staff Sergeant, Tech. Sergeant, and Master Sergeant, 3 stripes down - 3 up. By the fall of 1941 I was at the top of the enlisted men - as Batallion Personnel Sergeant Major. I was efficient, but also tried to be compassionate. I appointed as clerks some of the older men who could not take much of the physical stuff. By early Fall of 1941 I had a nice little group of five battery clerks, plus a driver and serviceman working with me. No, they did not work for me. We were working together in the same endeavor and I would not flaunt the stripes I wore. We were friends. And that is the way it remained for the duration.
In the Fall of 1941 we moved out to the Carolina Maneuvers. Hundreds of Thousands of soldiers doing military exercises up and on the Carolinas. For the first time we lived outdoors in pup tents, or under the moonlight wrapped in a blanket.
Many were the stories of poisonous snakes and spiders to frighten the city slickers, but in fact we were being eaten alive by chiggers. They itched so badly that we could not resist scratching and had no medicine for it. I hoped the men with stars on there shoulders learned something from the maneuvers. Probably not.
The eager beavers in Washington had overshot the mark with the draft institution and decided to prepare discharge papers for draftees over 38 years of age which we did with great dispatch, and had them all ready by the time we returned to Fort Bragg the first week in December. During that Fall, as we planned playing at War, the Japanese were preparing for it. Did we push them into it? Who knows. It is still being debated. The U.S. did apply sanctions and economic strangleholds. The Japanese war continued with their aggression and exploitation of Manchuria, Mongolia, Korea and other places. On the morning of Sunday December 7th, I was sitting on one of the sixteen toilets lined up in the wash room, doing what occasionally has to be done, with the New York times magazine across my knees. Word spread quickly that the Japs had bombed Pearl Harbor. We were at War. A friend of mine, a camera buff, said he wanted to immortalize the moment. So he took a picture of me sitting on the toilet. I still have it among my memorabilia. But on the back of it I wrote that in case of my death it be mailed to my friend Frank L Cetrone, Shepard Street Brighton. The message on it reads "Remember Frank, F1A" As we reported for military service we had made each other a promise to roll with the punches, take things in stride, and F___ it all. I did not think it was an appropriate personal effect to be sent home, and fortunately it was not necessary.
In any case, we tore up the discharges we prepared for our over 38 and continued with the training.
The 9th division had by now become a Show division. It's commanders rose to collect many 3 and 4 stars each, and distinguished themselves as Division Corps and Army Commanders in Europe and the Pacific, and one Westmoreland became Chief of Staff to President Lyndon Johnson, and Commander in Vietnam. He was perhaps the least fortunate, as he was given direction to fight a war under the most difficult conditions. He could not do this or that, he could not bomb this or that, the nation did not support the War. Given a No-Win-War, it simply meant bleeding. He should have resigned but that was a later war. Being a true soldier, Westy did what he had to do.
With war with Japan, Germany and Italy also declared war on the United States. While we had no troops engaged in Europe, we were supporting England, France, and Russia with all the food and war material that could be moved. In the meantime, the U.S. continued to create new army divisions. Because of it's High State of readiness and excellent reputation the 9th Division was called upon to provide many Cadres, and our Battalion Commander a regular army Colonel Walter D'Marigan, placed on my tender shoulders the selection of the miliary specialists to go. I knew most of them, and I had the personnell files, civilian and military. This was probably the most onerous assignment I received during the 5 1/2 years of war service.
Going out on Cadre meant having quick promotions and the perks that went with it. It also meant going to new and perhaps more desirable locations near major population centers. Fayetville North Carolina, did not have much to offer, and it was soon swallowed up by Fort Bragg. The flood of young men (and some few women) soon choked the camp with 150,000 trainees. The camp had become a crowded city. Another reason why our troops wanted to go action order. The cadres were well publicized and featured such unit as "Tank destroyers", "Rangers", "Zappers". To the young and uninformed these seemed to be glory units and my friends begged me to transfer them. I resisted as much as I could. The tank destroyer title seemed glamorous but in fact it usually represented a death sentence. Their main warfare gun in the early part of the war was a 37 MM gun. We called it a pea shooter. It would rattle around but not penetrate the German Tank armor. As best I could I tried to keep my friends from becoming tank destroyers. There was a high rate of fatality associated with it.
It was about mid 1944 that new and powerful American Tanks were introduced. About the same time, true tank destroyer units went into operation. These were mobile 75 or 105 MM rifles mounted on armored vehicles.
During the Spring of 1942 we continued with the training and providing cadres. The Division was frequently on review by the army leaders. One such review was attended by a fellow named Patton. He soon became well known. The Division passed in review and assembled on the parade grounds, which were the size of two football fields. The dignitaries were all in their position, as Patton with his high pitched voice strode up to the loud speaker, much in the same movement as is show in the movie "Patton".
Along one side of the parade grounds was a line of bungalows which housed nurses, and the first members of the Women's Army Corps. They filled every open window to watch the proceedings. Patton started his speech severely criticizing the striking labor unions jeopardizing the strength and national interest. Then in a crescendo of voice he went into a loud and gross vituperation of our European enemies using a cadre and descriptive collection of epithets at Hitler, Benito, finishing out with the words, "I'll be glad to lead such a fine group of young men but remember many of us will not be coming back, but those who do will be coming back by way of Japan after we knock the shit out of those bastards." As the language became rougher and rougher the nurses began to shut their windows with a slam. We started to understand who Patton was. We began to feel we had a leader.
During the Spring of 1942, more and more time was devoted to soldiering and I fired my revolver, an old fashioned six shooter. We were now learning to use the tools to kill the enemy. This included communications. Motor vehicle engineering, supplies, and all other knowledge and facility required to fight a war. My 132 IQ kept haunting me. I was being asked again to go to the officer candidate school. The second lieutenants still had no interest in it. I know they were expendable, and I did not desire the death of a hero.
One day while he was in the countryside he caught two Italian soldiers. They immediately surrendered and he could see how frightened they were. They then told him they were trying to make their way back to their families. Tata took away their weapons and told them to go home. He put compassion above military rules. Because I know my Dad, I don't doubt that he excelled in fulfilling his responsibilities.
Tata had another strange experience during the war. While in Africa he took an Italian soldier prisioner. He then realized it was his childhood friend Annino. Annino fought for the Italians while Tata fought for the Americans. As Tata said, once they realized who they were, they embraced as brothers.
Dad had a tough role to play in Sicily. He was told not to let the civilians know he was Italian and that he spoke Italian fluently. When he saw a beautiful girl in his office one day, he naturally smiled at her. He had to pretend not to understand when she turned to her friend and asked "perche ridŠ questo cretino?!!", which translates to "why is this idiot smiling?"
This was an inauspicious beginning to a courtship and marriage that was to last over fifty years. Tata got to know this beautiful girl and her family. When he was invited to dinner, he had to pretend not to know how to twirl spaghetti. This did not come easy to a man who was twirling spaghetti since the day he started walking. However there were benefits. It meant that the girl had to put her arms around him to teach him the technique of twirling spaghetti. Their courtship continued.
Sometime during his stay in Africa, Tata contracted malaria. He had a major attack in Sicily and for a time it looked as though he would die. One day when Elda the beautiful girl he was courting was caring for him, Tata had such a high fever that he was delirious. He decided this was the time to ask her to marry him and he preceded to do just that. She, being an honorable person, told him he would have to ask again when he was not delirious. During his convalescence, he asked again. Tata's brother, Uncle Dan, was a soldier in Africa. He took a leave to go to Sicily and check out the situation. I guess all was well because Tata's family sent their blessing from America. Nana and Tata's wedding was the first between an American Soldier and a civilian to take place in Sicily. Half of Palermo turned out to see this wedding. They were married in the Chapel of the Royal Palace in Palermo. Looking at their wedding pictures,one can see that they were a very handsome couple. I have no doubt that Tata's love for Nana never diminished throughout their marriage. He may not have demonstrated it well, but from his talks with me, I know he never wavered in his love and devotion.
The military sent Tata to Rome where he again worked for the military government. With the end of the war, he returned to the United States and waited for Nana's arrival. With her arrival they started their life together in America surrounded by Tata's family.
Dad went back to work for Filene's and supported five people on twenty dollars a week. He worked his way up from stockboy to Manager of the Accounts Payable Department. He was very proud of the fact that he worked for Filene's for forty-two years. One of his great accomplishments at work involved computers. Here was a man who as a child had done his homework by the light of a fire. In the mid 70's, this man taught himself about computers, when computers were still an unknown for most people. He recognized their potential and wrote a program to computerize the Accounts Payable Department. That program was copied by department stores across the United States. For the next few years, he and Nana took a number of trips across the United States while he taught others to use his program.
Tata is a very intelligent man. When he returned from the War, he attempted to attend BU at night. However, his other responsibilities interfered and he dropped out of the program. His great regret has always been that he was not able to continue his education. That is probably why it has always been important to him that his children and grandchildren excel in school. Tata as a youngster showed great talent for writing and art. He had a great business sense and organizational skills. Tata is so proud of all of us. In his children and grandchildren one can see the talents and the intelligence he has passed down to us.
His family, both his birth family and the family he and Nana had together, was the most important thing in his life. Tata's intelligence, talents, and love of family are for us his greatest legacy.
In 1949, Tata had another relapse of his malaria and almost died. The doctors misdiagnosed him. If it wasn't for Nana's persistence in getting another doctor, then Tata's Story would have ended there. However, he recovered to stay with us for another fifty years.
After five years, Nana and Tata bought a house in Arlington. During those five years, Robert and I were born. Tata's family was growing and his responsibilities at Filene's were increasing. He had between thirty and fifty women working for him in his department. They used to be called Gerry's Harem by the other men at Filene's. He was always fair in his interactions with his employees and inspired loyalty in them.
In 1958, Lory was born to complete that part of his family. One of Tata's greatest pleasures was to tease people. I remember how he enjoyed doing that at Lory's birth. We had a house full of relatives waiting to hear about the baby. In those days, the father stayed home and waited for the doctor to call. When the call came, Tata listened to what the doctor had to say. He got off the phone with a big grin, poured a glass of wine and refused to tell anyone if it was a boy or a girl. For over an hour we pleaded, begged, and threatened and he enjoyed every minute of it. The relatives started making bets on the sex of the baby. As I remember, he finally told us when I burst into tears.
An important event that occurred each year was the Ninth Infantry reunion which took place in November. At the beginning, Nana and Tata would go alone. As we got older, the entire family would attend. By the time we attended the last reunion, Tata was able to bring his oldest grandchild, Lewis. It was wonderful to see the comraderie that these men still had for one another. I suppose it is not surprising when one thinks of what they shared during the war years. They came together to honor those who did not return from the war. There was always such a combination of laughter and tears. It was an event we eagerly awaited each year.
Tata was always there for me when I was growing up. Sometimes I felt that he expected too much from me especially in school, but he would say that we could do anything if we set our mind to it. One of his favorite sayings was if you are going to do a job, then do it right. He was the one I would go to with the serious philosophical questions about life. Without him, I would not have made it through school. So many times, we would pull an all nighter before a paper was due. As I wrote my paper, Tata would correct it and type it. I would always promise that the next time I would have the paper done ahead of time, but it never happened.
In 1981, Tata retired from Filene's with regret on the part of the store and eagerness on his part. He started a new career as an independent auditor and finally received the financial success he deserved. During these years, he enjoyed traveling for his job, but he was always happy to return home.
In 1983, Tata returned to Italy after an absence of almost 40 years. Lory and Nana went with him. He so enjoyed seeing the house and town where he grew up. He found his Godfather, still alive and going strong although he was in his 90's. As he said, much about San Donato had changed but much was still the same.
As we got older and married and had children, Tata always welcomed with love the new members into the family. Sometimes you had to get through the crustiness to see the love, but it was always there. He has shared our joys and sorrows. When Lewis had his first leg amputated, I know Tata would gladly have given both of his instead. He was always telling me to take care of people - my husband, Lory, the children and mom. In the last conversation I had with him, his concern was for Jeff who was going through a difficult time. His last words to me were to "take care of Jeff". That is what Tata has done all his life. He took care of us.
Tata has always been a man who enjoyed the simple pleasures. These consist of growing plants, reading, watching TV and eating his favorite foods. He was interested in current affairs, and always eager to have a discussion with one of his grandchildren.
Tata told me before his surgery that he was ready to die. He didn't want to because he wanted to see his grandchildren grow up, but if it happened he was ready. I wish we could have kept him longer. I wish he could have finished his story because he would have finished it with humor and wisdom. However, as I think about it, Tata's story isn't finished. It will live on with the accomplishments of his children and grandchildren. He will always be a part of us. His story will continue as long as he is remembered. Tata will be remembered for a very very long time.
When Brianna and Jared ask me to tell me about Tata, there are two things that I will tell them. First, I will explain to them that Tata is the reason that they are here. Tata loved to watch sports and war movies. One of my fondest memories of dad is of him watching football, hockey, basketball, baseball, or any game on TV. He would sit cross legged on the floor, leaning against the couch, with a cup of coffee, and me sitting on his lap. While he was trying to enjoy the game on TV, I would be asking him to explain what a first down was or what icing the puck meant. Not once did he tell me to be quiet. Instead, not only did he answer my questions, but he would explain the strategy behind the play, sometimes missing the next play entirely. Instant replay in those days wasn't what it is today. Not once did he complain. Not only did these times become special for us, but ultimately led to my marriage to Ralph. If dad hadn't taught me to enjoy and understand sports, Ralph would never have married me. I used to tell Dad that was the best thing he had ever did for me because without my knowledge of sports I would not be married to Ralph or have my wonderful Brianna and Jared who's devilish personality is the most like Tata's.
The other thing I will tell my children is about a man who found pleasure in the simple things, in the beauty of nature. He would get such joy and satisfaction when he would plant seedlings and they would root, or the first tomato of the year would appear. He would say, "Lory, look at God's handiwork". Unfortunately Dad, I did not get your green thumb, either because anybody that's been to my house has seen a definite lack of greenery.
Dad would always have a look of wonderment and amazement at the beauty of his roses growing on the trellis at Mott Street. I remember seeing Dad on Saturday mornings out in the yard with his garden tools "puttering" around as he would call it. Well, that puttering was really tending to his roses and tulips, and the peach tree he grew from a peach pit, or the apple tree he and I planted together.
I vividly remember how Dad would stand in front of the open front door at Mott Street during a blizzard, just watching the snow fall and saying look how beautiful. Or sitting on the porch at Onset, during a Thunderstorm, sipping a cup of coffee. I'd say, "Dad, why don't you come in, it's dangerous out there". Dad would say "Dangerouos?, this is beautiful. This is God's work", and of course I couldn't understand it. I couldn't appreciate the pleasure he got from the simple things, the beauty of nature, the wonderment from God's creations.
Well Dad, now that I have Brianna and Jared, I do appreciate the simple things, and so will they. The next time Brianna and Jared see a rose bloom on her rose bush which you helped to plant, or pick a tomato from the tomato plants Laura is going to plant, I'll make sure they stop to appreciate God's handiwork, only now it's not just God's handiwork, it's Tata's handiwork as well.
The next blizzard we get, we'll look at the snowflakes, and think of you Tata. The next time we're at Onset during a thunderstorm, Brianna, Jared, Ralph and I will be sitting on that porch enjoying that, that same peace and simplicity you enjoyed. When Brianna asks, "Mommy, why does it thunder?", I'll finally have an answer for her. It's Tata telling her he loves her.
|After an exhausting, incredible journey, The Lion Sleeps Tonight...|
Always the Greatest!!!