Waiting in Sicily
My paternal grandfather, Vincenzo, was born in 1888 in Siciliana, Sicily. The first time he came to America was in June of 1913 on the ship Luisiana. He was 25 years old. When he first came to America, he left behind his wife, Mariantonia, and his son Melchiorre who was my father. He went back to Sicily in 1916 and 1919 and this is when his daughters, my aunts, were born 3 years apart. He returned to America and worked so he could send money back to his wife, his son, and his daughters, Vincenza and Francesca. They were waiting in Sicily for my grandfather to send for them.
My grandfather started out in Kokomo, Indiana and worked in a glass factory until it closed. He had to find work and with some of his cousins, who had also come to the United States, traveled to different cities to look for work. He ended up in Auburn, NY and he and his cousins lived there together. My grandfather opened a butcher shop in Auburn, NY.
During this time in Sicily my grandmother, her sister Mariassunta, and their mother, Francesca, lived and each of their husbands were in the United States. These women were business women who owned stores. Even though their husbands were sending them money, it was not enough to live on. They had to work. The years were from around 1913 to the 1930s.
My aunt, Francesca, remembers things now, at the age of 96, that she never mentioned before. She told me that Scalo Marina was a fishing port where the boats came in with their catch of fish. My grandmother bought sardines and anchovies from the fishermen to sell in her store. The women also made wine to sell and sold many grocery items.
At the time, my grandmother was raising my father Melchiorre, and my aunts, Francesca and Vincenza, in Sicily. My father had worked on a fishing boat but work was scarce so when at 16 years old, in 1929, and not going to school anymore he came to America to be with his father and find work. He came on the ship Saturnia. One of my brothers remembers my father telling him that he had a billiard hall in Auburn, NY where my grandfather ran his butcher shop.
My grandfather, Vincenzo, had become a United States citizen when he lived in Kokomo, Indiana. By virtue of his father being a citizen, my father Melchiorre automatically became a US citizen when he turned 20 years old.
In 1938 my grandfather sent for his wife and daughters. Vincenza was married so she remained in Sicily with her husband. My grandmother and aunt, Francesca, came to America on the ship Saturnia from Palermo, Sicily in 1938. My aunt was 19 years old at the time. When they arrived in Auburn, my aunt did not find work for a couple years. Eventually she got a job as a seamstress, making pockets for men’s vests, in a factory in Auburn. It was hard work as it was piece-work and the seamstresses were paid for how many pieces they could make each day. She worked there for 20 years until it closed. She then got a job working at Learbury’s in Syracuse, NY. She made sleeves for men’s suit jackets. She worked there until she had to stop working to care for my grandmother who could not be left alone in old age. My grandmother lived to the age of 92. Her sister who worked in the store with her in Sicily, and later came to the US to live in Kokomo, Indiana with her husband, lived to be 98 years old. My aunt Vincenza lived to the age of 94. She and her husband lived in the US for many years, in Cleveland, Ohio, later returning to Sicily where my uncle died and later, my aunt.
There are so many stories about my family and how when they came to Auburn, NY they lived among the people who lived in the same areas in Sicily. They were their “paisans.” They brought all of their customs and beliefs with them to their new country. I remember our “paisans” coming to our house and we had big get-togethers in our backyard. They included Sicilian foods, lots of laughter, and one of the men even played his guitar and sang. These were happy times!
A thought goes through my mind at this time that makes me sad. I think of my father, Melchiorre, and my grandmother, Mariantonia, who after coming to America, never went back to Sicily. They never again saw their family members that they left behind which included my father’s grandmother who also was my grandmother’s mother. After my grandfather sent for his wife and daughters, he also never went back to Sicily. He left behind, and never saw again, his parents and his seven brothers and their families. I can’t even imagine what that had to be like. I could never have lived without my mother in my life. I could also never live without my children in my life.
My aunt, Francesca, went back to Sicily two times after moving to the US. She went back to attend her niece Pietra’s wedding. The second and last time she went to Sicily was for Pietra’s funeral. She was 42 years old when she died.
When I write for my blog, I sometimes laugh and I sometimes cry.
If there are stories or questions you have about your family, talk to them now before they leave this earth. When I started writing this blog, I never imagined what I would learn about my family. It has been amazing! I know that there are still very many things I will learn about them and I am looking forward to it.