AA’s Memories, Part Six
“Mama awaited news that he had arrived safely to the United States, the usual period being 5 to 6 weeks. Not having received word for nearly three months, she became apprehensive that he might have abandoned her. (In some instances men deserted their wives once they reached foreign lands.) A sense of guilt also surfaced in her mind due to the fact that from the very origin of their life together, Papa had wanted her to be with him. Having experienced the 4 years in Pittsburgh, she still was hesitant and reluctant to venture. Imagine Mama, not knowing how to read, receiving a postal card with a woman’s picture on it! She was sure her fears were real until the message on the other side was read to her. The explanation of his being in Buenos Aires calmed her. Subsequent letters assured her that he was well, that the climate was good, and that she and the children would be happy there with him.
The country was agricultural and many Italians resided in Buenos Aires. She could not bring herself to cross the ocean again. Therefore Papa returned to Italy in 1915.
He remained in Italy during World War I. He was past the age to be called to arms. My sister Marie was born on April 6, 1916 and I appeared on January 1, 1919. Papa was very much upset that a girl had been born. He was 49 years old and concerned he might not be able to provide for me until I would reach marrying age. In those days, a boy could fend for himself by working in fields, shepherding, or learning a trade. Girls stayed home and needed a dowry and other financial assets before young men could marry her. To add to his discomfort, I cried more than most babies, especially at night. When Mama rocked the cradle I would quiet. On occasions when Papa wanted to alleviate Mama, he would rock me and I would cry louder, giving neither of them much sleep.
Once again, Papa returned to the United States. His concern was always and foremost for the children, so before Sue reached her 18th birthday, he made arrangements for her to come to America to marry. There was such a great number of single men here, she received nine proposals in the first month after her arrival. She married Carmine Rocci in May, 1921. (I remember waving good-bye to her, and others crying when she left for the States. I was scarcely two years old.)
Papa made another voyage in 1924. I was five years old. It was the first time I had seen him, not remembering him as a baby. It is one of my fond memories. He brought me a large and beautiful doll – the only one I ever owned. Mama had made us pupas (rag dolls) but the was real! Papa stayed with us about a year or so and departed for Pittsburgh again to work. The next year he sent Marie and me each a black velvet dress. (You may come across a photograph of Mama, Louie, Marie and me wearing the dresses [amid’s assuming Louie wore a suit! ahahaha]. Mine had red embroidered flowers on it. It was most beautiful to me! It was store-bought, whereas all my other dresses were homemade from homespun wool from our sheep for winter wear, and cotton for summer. Silks and velvets were for rich girls. I felt I was a princess in my velvet dress. It was several sizes too large but I wore it with pride nevertheless – and got longer wear out of it as such.
Louie was nearing conscription age for the Italian army in the mid-twenties. Papa hurriedly applied for American citizenship in order that we, his minor children, could be citizens with him and Louie would not be subject to army duty in Italy. Papa was issued a Naturalized Citizen Certificate in Pittsburgh on November 28, 1927. (I have my own certificate of derivative citizenship issued 9/3/1971.)
By January 9th, 1928, 20 days before his 18th birthday, Louie was in America. Papa continued his employment with Shullo Brothers between trips to Italy. The company expanded their operations with contracts in Ohio. Papa was living with Zio Domenic and Zia Carmela Capotosto at [somewhere], Akron, when Louie arrived. Louie went to work at least once with Papa, building sewers and paving streets in Akron. The largest project was Canton Road.
After Louie left Castel, Mama realized that for Papa’s, her children’s, and her own sake, she must come with Marie and me to be united with Papa and Louie. Sue already had a family of her own.
It was the happiest and greatest Christmas present she could have given Papa! We were reunited in Akron on December 22, 1928. We had sailed on the newest steamship of the Italian Navigation Lines – a luxury liner with elevator, dance pavilion, smoking lounges, library, a closed and two open decks for games and recreation, a chapel, and many other amenities. Our berths were second class deluxe. The service and dining were superb. Its name was “Augustus” and it was its second voyage across the Atlantic. (I have a folder of it in my keepsakes box.) I saw it in the bay of Naples, retired after it had been in service during the war years of the 40’s, when Ralph and I visited Italy in 1975.
The Christmas 1928 was truly a family reunion as Sue joined us with her family from Pittsburgh. Zio and Zia had six children and we had a wonderful time together. Following holiday dinners and cleaning up the kitchen, we children would join the adults in games such as Lotto (similar to bingo), and Sette e Mezzo, the Italian version of blackjack. Our stakes were with pennies.
Papa gave much credit and praise to Mama for our upbringing, yet his sacrifice and devotion for and to family was immeasurable and unsurpassed. He had an indomitable spirit dedicated to work, family, and God. He donated to the building fund of St. Thomas Hospital even though he had no family there and his donation was unsolicited. His advanced age and the Great Depression of the thirties kept him from regular employment. That did not impede on him from giving his time and talents to mixing all the mortar for the building of of St. Anthony Church. We had attended St. Martha Church and I received my first Holy Communion there in 1930. When Rev. Father Salvatore Marino came to Akron. to form an Italian congregation later that year, we joined him for Masses and devotions at St. Hedwig Church until in 1933 we were able to move into our own church building. Papa also was one of the major contributors to building the Italian Center. His name is cut in marble in the foyer of the building.
[There’s another dateline for the last paragraph: 1990]
Mama’s health was not the best when we came to Ohio, but the air was cleaner than Pittsburgh’s in early 1900. She had Louie, 19; Marie, 13; and me, 10, to assist her when necessary. She lived to be 83 years old going to heaven on St. Ann’s feast day, Sunday, July 26, 1959. Being the oldest of 6 children, she wasn’t permitted by her parents to continue school after attending for three days. She used to joke that she went for three years, one for each day. Her mother needed help at home with chores and younger siblings. However, Mama surpassed us all with her talents and intelligence. She would knit sweaters and stockings for family and friends without use of printed patterns; she crocheted countless scarves, doilies, and tablecloths. All her grandchildren have sets of sheets and pillowcases she enhanced with her crafts. Even while ill, in bed, six weeks before she died, she completed a crocheted baby blanket for Carmel’s sister, (Lulu) Cappabianco Brown. She was a friendly person and was loved by everyone who met her. She studied for her citizenship which she received on August 16, 1944 at age 68.”