Coming to America

Coming to America!  In 1920 my maternal grandfather, Rosario, came by himself to America to make a better life for himself and his family. He was born in Pozzalo, Sicily. When he married my grandmother, they lived in Modica, in the Province of Ragusa in Sicily, where my mother was born. When he left Sicily, his wife, my grandmother Maria, was pregnant for their first child, my mother, Lucia.

This photograph was taken in Sicily, around 1924, when my mother was about 4 years old and my grandmother about 24 years old. My grandfather was only able to see them in pictures during the almost 7 years they were apart.

In 1927, he was finally able to send for his wife and daughter.  My mother was only 6 years old and my grandmother was 27.  At the port in Palermo, they hugged and kissed their family good-bye, my grandmother knowing that she would never see them again.  She was on her way to be with the husband she hadn’t seen in 7 years.

I can see my grandmother holding the hand of her young daughter, my mother Lucia, as they walked up the ramp to board the Martha Washington, bringing with them all of their worldly possessions. The Martha Washington left Palermo on August 12, 1927.  They traveled “Biglietto di Seconda Classe Economica,” which was Second Class Economy, and were assigned to Cabin #233. They arrived at Ellis Island on August 27, 1927.  It was a 15 day trip across the ocean to a new life!

The trip was not without turmoil. On August 24, a hurricane struck that reached the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.  It was reported to be the worst storm in many years.  As the ship rocked from the gigantic waves that hit it, people held on to tables and chairs, crying and screaming from fear, and praying.  The only memory my mother has of the trip is that people got very sea sick. One of my aunts told me that her mother, my grandmother, laughed!  She thought it was funny that people were getting sick! But they were sick and scared for good reason! (I wonder if my grandmother laughed so my mother wouldn’t be scared?)  The passengers and crew alike were relieved when they reached the port at Ellis Island in Brooklyn, NY and  stood on solid ground in their new country.

Life in America proved to be different from the life they had previously lived. In Sicily, everyone drank wine, even the children, because the drinking water was not safe.  My mother told me a story about a time, soon after arriving in America, that she drank too much wine and her father found her in a ditch by the road!  He just thought she was “his little drunk!”  She was only 6 years old!

After the family was together, more children started coming. They were all born at home on the farm.  One of my grandfather’s brothers’ wives, Angie, was the midwife and delivered all my grandmother’s babies at home, all of my 6 aunts and uncles.  It was a different time for sure!

My mother told me that when she was growing up, she didn’t have any dolls.  Her “dolls” were her baby brothers and sisters.  She dressed them and took care of them and played with them.

My grandfather had 2 brothers who had also come to America.  My grandfather lived on the farm but his two brothers lived in the city on the same street next door to each other their entire lives. It was many years later, when my grandfather and grandmother got older that they wanted to move to the city. My grandfather was afraid that if something happened to either of them, no one would be able to get to them in the snow of winter.  They found a house on the same street as his brothers and lived there until they died.

In March of 1974, my grandmother woke up to find that my grandfather had died in his sleep.  She called my mother first.  My mother had to call the city to get a snowplow to clear the road so an emergency vehicle could get to their house.  It happened during a really bad snow storm with 5 feet of snow!  My mother followed the plow to her parents’ home. The irony is that even though they had moved to the city, the thing that my grandfather feared the most happened anyway.

I was working the night before my grandfather died. Because of the snowstorm I couldn’t get home until the next day even if I tried to walk.  I was only ¾ of a mile from home.  It was a hotel /restaurant and all of us who worked the night before had to stay there overnight.  No one was allowed on the streets driving cars or even walking. That is what the winters were like when I was young and living in Auburn, NY.  I think it has changed somewhat but the most recent winters there have been very cold with a lot of snow. ********************************************************************************************************* Four and a half years ago, I moved to Fort Myers, Florida.  I couldn’t live up North again.  It is way too cold for me.

Here where I live it is warm year round.  It is very hot and humid in the summer months and the sun shines almost every day of the year!  I love it here for those reasons!

I also love that I live 3 miles away from the Sanibel Island Causeway, Sanibel Island being my favorite place in the whole world!  I was in Sanibel in 1990 for the first time and fell in love with it. I never thought I would ever live here.  It still seems like a dream.  But, it is my dream and I am living it!  All that I need is the warmth of sunshine, the sand that is made up of finely crushed seashells, the bountiful seashells that I search for endlessly, and the Gulf of Mexico to swim in year round!

As long as I can see my kids a few times a year, it’s ok that I live here.  I miss them, but when they visit me we have a wonderful beach vacation together, swimming, fishing, shelling, eating a lot of sea food, and whatever else we want to do.  We make memories!

When I visit them in upstate NY we also have wonderful times together.  We go fishing, we eat out, we hang out, we celebrate Christmas together, and they do the cooking!  I love that!

Texting has also kept us in close touch and that is great!  In the 1920s and even later, there were no computers, text messaging, cell phones, or other modern conveniences we now have.  I remember calling relatives in Sicily for Christmas in the 1960s.  My parents would call the international operator to place the call.  Then we had to wait for our relatives to get to the city center in Sicily.  The operator would  call us back to let us know we could now speak with them.

When my grandparents came to America in the 1920s they left their parents in Sicily.  They never saw them again.  They couldn’t talk on the phone with them and letters took a couple weeks to find their way to each other.  People came to America for a better life but left so much that was dear to them behind.


Comments

Coming to America — 3 Comments

  1. What an interesting story,even though we come from very different backgrounds our Grandparents
    Shared very similar stories.We ha e so much to. Be thankful for the sacrifices they made paved the way for us to live the rich and happy lives that we live today.

    • Joan,

      Thanks you so much for writing to me. Yes we do have very different backgrounds and so many different foods. It is so interesting to me how different the foods are from people of different areas, even if they are located close to each other. Italian and Sicilian foods are so different.

      It is amazing what our families when through coming to the US for a better life. They went through so so much!!! I am learning more every day about my family. My 96 year old aunt has been telling me some interesting stories that she never told me before! I am so glad that she is sharing these with me or they too would be lost forever just like some of my families’ recipes.

      Thanks so much for writing!

      Mary

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