Monday, September 3, 2007

My Grandpa

My maternal grandfather would have turned 110 the other day, however he passed away shortly after his 86th birthday.

Grandpa arrived in the U.S. from Italy on July 3, 1905 when he was 7 years old. He and his family came through Ellis Island. They left Rivisondoli and traveled to Naples where they boarded a ship that held 12oo passengers. I have no idea how long the trip to America took and I wish I had taken the time to talk to him about this when he was still with us. All he ever told me was that he was a young boy and could speak and understand NO English when he arrived.

His family settled in northeast Ohio, and I'm not really sure why. I don't know if they already had family there or not. Again, I regret not finding out from him. There were many Italian families that settled there for some reason, and many of them "hung out" together, possibly discussing their transition from Italian life to American life.

Ironically, when they lived their "every day life" no one else in the community spoke in Italian to them, nor did they have signs printed in Italian. My grandfather, his siblings, and my great grandparents had no choice but to learn the English language and learn it quickly since interpreters were not provided for them either.

And they did.

They never complained about it either. They knew that if they wanted to live here in the good old U. S. of A. then they had to learn and understand the language and laws as quickly as possible.

This is not to say that they let their heritage fall by the wayside....they kept up their traditions and customs, but they still were able to adapt to the culture of the United States.

Hmmm...imagine that.

After Grandpa married Grandma (whose family also came from Italy right before she was born), they continued with Italian customs. Grandma was one of the founding members of a group called the "Liberty Club" in their community. This club was made up of women who came to America from Italy and celebrated both their Italian heritage and their good fortune to be living in the United States. The group was very active in the community and raised funds for many causes. It wasn't hard since they usually just had to make and sell Italian cookies, elephant ears, or other Italian dishes. I really don't need to mention that they were all FABULOUS cooks and their recipes were passed down through generations and were not written down.

I remember my mother telling me many, many years ago that one day my Grandpa decided that my Grandma should teach their three children the Italian language. Grandma spent all day teaching them some Italian words and was so proud when Grandpa walked in the door and the kids were able to say something to him in Italian. Imagine her surprise when Grandpa said that she had NOT taught them Italian! She insisted that she did and he continued to tell her that she DIDN'T. It turns out that since Grandpa was from southern Italy and Grandma's family was from northern Italy, they spoke different dialects of the language. Shortly thereafter Grandma told Grandpa that if he wanted the kids to learn Italian then HE would have to teach them. Unfortunately they never really learned the language, but they were able to master a few words here and there.

I can recall spending a good bit of time at my grandparents' house while we lived in the same community. I always had a great time there. My grandpa would come into the kitchen at 8:00 every morning and sit down at the table. He never said "good morning" or anything else. He just sat down and waited for his coffee and breakfast to be served, and of course Grandma served it to him. At exactly 12:00 noon, it was a repeat performance for lunch, and then again at 5:00 pm.

With every meal, Grandpa would pour himself a shot of whiskey and have a glass of wine, without fail.

Grandpa also rolled his own cigarettes. I remember watching him, just being mesmerized with the process of seeing him lay out the thin paper, put the tobacco in, roll it up, lick the long edge like an envelope to get it to stick together, then wet the ends and twist them. Then he would put it in his mouth and light it and smoke it. Of course this was all before the bad stuff about smoking all came out. He eventually gave up "rolling his own" and moved on to smoking Camels.

He was bull headed. There was his way...and his way. I was their first grandchild, so I pretty much could get away with just about anything HOWEVER, I was also a good kid and really never got into any trouble. I NEVER took advantage of that first grandchild privilege. Really. I didn't. Not at all.

My Grandpa died on a Monday. He was upstairs in the bathroom getting ready to come down to dinner. Grandma called for him when he didn't show up at the table on time, and when he didn't answer, she went upstairs to tell him, and found him already gone on the bathroom floor.

The ironic thing was that Ted and I had just bought our first house and we had been working on it before we moved in. Grandma had sent me a cashier's check as a housewarming gift and wrote in a note to use the money for whatever we needed for the new house. In capital letters AND underlined, she had written NO THANK YOU NOTE. I chuckled at that because I knew that meant that Grandpa didn't know about it and was NOT to know about it. I had had a class right after school, so it was after 5:30 pm by the time I had gotten the mail and read this note from her. I called my mom to tell her about it and that was when she told me what had happened to Grandpa. She and Dad were just getting ready to leave to go Grandma's (which was a little over an hour away).

I'm so thankful that I got to know my Grandpa. I wasn't that fortunate with my paternal Grandpa as he was killed in an industrial accident before my parents got married.

I'm sure that both of my Grandpas are keeping an eye on all of us from heaven, and I'm really thankful for that.