Tag Archives: immigration

A Love Story and a Wedding

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Once my dad decided that the USA was a nice place to settle down, he sent word home that he was coming back to get married! Since my mom had lost her mother when she was 9 years old, my father’s mother took over that role for her. She took her shopping for everything – mainly the favors and the fabric for her wedding dress. The wedding was going to take place the day after Christmas and the dress had to be designed to fit the season. They decided that it was going to be made of pizzo di lana or wool lace. They chose the fabric and a tea length design to go with the fashions of the times. The seamstress made an incredible gown, that even today, is still in wonderful condition. This dress is definitely an heirloom and a treasure. My mother told me that before sewing the hem, the dress needed to be hung for several days so that the weight of it would settle and the hem could be made straight. One of my mom’s friends was a professional model in Milan, and her wedding gift to my mom was the veil! They went to a very exquisite boutique on the infamous Via Montenapoleone in Milan for the headpiece. Sadly, the veil did not made it through the years. The stays became rusted and ruined the fabric covering the corona.

A few weeks before the wedding, as was the custom, the bride and the groom would make the rounds of their guests and bring the confetti or favors. Because my dad was coming home only two days before the wedding, he wouldn’t be able to go with my mom to make these visits. My uncle ended up going with her instead. Even though she appreciated that he was escorting her, she wished that it had been her fiancé.

The day my father was expected to arrive home was a very foggy and gloomy December day. He would be arriving from Milan by train to their little town of Ispra. My mom wanted to surprise my dad by meeting him at the train station, but it was so foggy that she had a hard time seeing anything. Every person she passed, she stared at them hoping that it would be my father. None of them were, and she went back home forlorn and sad.

That afternoon, my father’s sister came running to her house announcing that my dad had finally arrived!  Why he didn’t go down to her home himself, I don’t know, but maybe that’s just the way things were done back them!

They spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day together and all the final preparations for the wedding were made. My father had brought back some vacuum sealed cold cuts from America that were given to him by some friends that owned a salami factory in San Francisco. Vacuum sealing was a new concept at that time, and everyone was so impressed that these cold cuts had come all the way from America. (It’s funny how, at that time, anything that came from America was the best – and now we know that when it comes to cold cuts, Italian products are so much better!). Little finger sandwiches were made with these American delicacies for the wedding feast!

On the day of the wedding, my dad went to my mom’s house with the wedding bouquet. He and my mom walked to the church with their entire entourage of family and friends following behind them. The walk was not far, but the path was all cobblestoned. That didn’t seem to bother my mom as she wore her silk high heeled shoes. She said it was a good thing it wasn’t raining that day, or her shoes would have been ruined!

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During the wedding ceremony, my mom took off her engagement ring and presented it to the Madonna as she had promised when my dad had gone off to America. He had come back, they had gotten married, and now she was going to keep her promise. To this day, on the feast of the Madonna, when they parade the statue through the town, her ring is still there. My mom’s best friend looks for it every year and reports back to my mom!

The reception took place at the villa where my grandmother lived. They had finger foods, champagne, and a beautiful wedding cake (a gift from the town baker, a good friend of my dad’s). They posed for some gorgeous wedding photos and this album has become a beautiful (and rare) treasure to have.

After the reception, the newlyweds took off to begin their honeymoon. The first night was spent in Milan at the Hotel Principe di Savoia.When I went to Milan a few years ago, I was surprised to find out that my hotel was across the street from this very hotel that my parents had stayed at so many years ago. I had to go in to see it and it was still as beautiful and stately as I’m sure it was back in 1955. Before retiring for the night, they had made arrangements to go see a show – Walter Chiari at the Teatro Nuovo . They took the metro and stayed out enjoying their special night. The next morning, they were woken up by the maid because they were still sleeping at 11 am! They were probably so exhausted from all the preparations and excitement of the days before.

They boarded a train that would take them to their honeymoon destination: San Remo on the Italian Coast. I haven’t heard too many stories of this part of the trip only that they visited the famous casino there and dined in the vagone ristorante on the way to San Remo.

Once home from their honeymoon, my dad had to prepare for his trip back to San Francisco. In the meantime, my mom settled her dad with her sister while she moved into the villa with my dad’s mom and younger sister. She didn’t know when she would get the Visa to come to the USA and therefore felt it would be better if she got all her ducks in a row. Little did she know it would take almost three years before she would get that Visa to come to America.

During her time in Italy, while my dad was in the USA, she continued to work. When she got home, she would help my grandmother with her sewing jobs. She shared a room with my father’s youngest sister and they became close friends. They spent time with the custodian’s sisters who were from Sardegna. Young men would pass on the road, looking at these beautiful young girls, and they would refer to my mom as the frutto proibito or the forbidden fruit! My mom missed my dad and the wait was becoming harder and harder to bear.

My dad would come home when he could, and the last time he came home before my mom was allowed to immigrate was going to be the last time. If she wasn’t granted a Visa, he wasn’t going to return to San Francisco. But in a last ditch effort, he asked a priest whom he had known his whole life for assistance. This priest knew the cardinal of Milan, Cardinal Montini. He and my dad went to Milan where they met with the Cardinal’s secretary. They came back very hopeful and were assured that things would work out shortly. Within days, my mom was summoned to the American Consulate in Genova. She was given a physical, and asked some questions as to her intent to emigrate. She was sent home and within a week, she received the notice that the Visa she desired was approved with the help of Cardinal Montini. She was on her way at last. Little did she realize that this same Cardinal Montini would become Pope Paul VI! She still has the letter from the Cardinal granting her the wish she so desired!

She packed a giant trunk and filled it with her dowry. She had linens, tea sets, clothes, and a Madonna that used to be in her bedroom. The mirror on the back of the Madonna was the only thing that broke on the long voyage to San Francisco. Seven years of bad luck definitely did not follow her, though!

My Dad and America!

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The story of how my family came to the USA is a bit convoluted – but which immigration saga isn’t? The twists and turns of how things turned out are what makes these stories so fascinating. The crazy, and sometimes funny adventures that occurred during the actual immigration, are truly gems in my eyes. They are treasures that I want to remember forever and to pass on to my children. So here goes my story:

It all started out with my paternal grandfather and his brother. These two young boys from the early 1900’s had dreams of coming to America! My uncle came first (around 1905) and somehow found his way to San Francisco. The story goes that he made the voyage in a crate, but who knows how much of that is really true! Perhaps he was a stowaway? Again, who knows! All we know is that he settled in San Francisco and ended up owning a very prosperous restaurant. This SF uncle would eventually become our connection to the USA. My grandfather, on the other hand, came a bit later to enlist in World War I as an American! He probably saw that as his ticket to residency. Here’s a picture of my grandfather in his uniform.

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Even though my grandfather enlisted in World War I in 1917, he never saw battle. At the end of the war, he went back to Italy and got married to my grandmother. It’s not clear if they were already sweethearts or not but that’s why, perhaps, he went back. They married in 1920 and had their first child, my aunt, in 1922. In July of 1926, my dad came along. When my dad was 4 months old, my grandfather decided to bring his family to the USA. They sailed from Genova aboard the Conte Rosso – my grandmother, my grandfather, my aunt and my dad. Here they are posing for their portrait!

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They settled in Milford, NH. My grandfather ran a granite yard there. They stayed for 4 years, during which time my uncle was born (automatically making him an American citizen – this will become important later in the story!). My grandmother tried to endure life in America for her husband’s sake, but she really didn’t like it here. To please her, my grandfather decided to return to Italy with his family in tow. Here they are on their return to Italy (this time there are 3 children):

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They settled in Ispra where my dad stayed until he immigrated in 1955. According to records I discovered on Ancestry, my grandfather returned one more time to the USA in 1930. No one knows why and I guess we never will. I don’t know how long he stayed, but he was back before my aunt was born in 1933! My grandfather died at the young age of 51 from meningitis, leaving behind his family during the height of World War II. Because he died during the War, during a time when everyone was concentrating on the pure act of survival, many of his stories died along with him. Even my dad, who was 15 at the time of his father’s death, didn’t know much of his father’s life. I’ve found, that sadly, the old folks didn’t talk much about their lives and the younger generation didn’t feel it was important to ask. Nowadays, these stories would be so precious to have and to be able to pass down to future generations.

When my dad’s younger brother (the one born in America) turned 18, he was asked to come back to the USA to serve his military duty. I think he did his military duty  up in Alaska, but unfortunately, I’m not really sure of the details. I believe this was during the Korean War. After his military stint, he decided to try his luck in San Francisco (remember, they had an uncle there who owned a restaurant). My dad’s brother met his future wife and settled in SF, never returning to Italy.

Now back to Italy and my dad! My dad was a successful soccer player but he was getting older, and knowing that he couldn’t play soccer forever, he was searching for a change in his life. Italy was still depressed and trying to recover from the devastations of war. There wasn’t much in the way of jobs, and things were not looking too prosperous. He was already engaged to my mom and asked her, if he were to go to America, would she follow? Being young and in love, my mom told him that she would follow him wherever he went! He presented her with an engagement ring and told her he would go to America to scope things out. He promised he’d come back to marry her. And if things were good, he’d bring her back with him to the USA. My mom made a promise to the Virgin Mary that if he truly came back for her, she would give her ring to the Madonna! But she also gave him a one year ultimatum – she wouldn’t wait longer than one year! Back then, men came to America and never went back! My dad decided that he wanted to go to San Francisco, since he had a brother and an uncle already there. My dad left Genoa aboard the Andrea Doria in March of 1955.  My mom, my father’s aunt, and two of his best friends went to see him off. One of his friends was so upset to see him go, that he ran after the ship as far as he could go.

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Upon boarding the ship, my dad felt great! He said the ship was so much fun – he played cards and ate and drank to his heart’s content. As soon as it exited the Straits of Gibralter, though, things took a turn for the worse. My dad ended up getting so sea sick that he wasn’t able to get out of his bunk for the entire 2 weeks of voyage to New York. During this time, he wrote letters to my mom telling her that he wished he could die.

Upon setting foot on shore in New York, he immediately felt better – and hungry! I’m sure he ate something right away, but he also shared a fellow passengers’ yummy Italian treats! I’m not sure how long he spent in New York, but he needed to take a cross-country train to Oakland/San Francisco. He was under the impression that the train he boarded in New York would take him all the way – whoops! No one told him that he would have to change trains in Chicago. When the train stopped in Chicago, he had to scramble to find out where he needed to go for his connection. Not speaking English, he was definitely quite confused. Luckily for him, a member of the Armed Services came to his aid and directed him to where he needed to go. He made the connection and continued his journey to Oakland/San Francisco, where he was united with his brother.

Upon arriving, he lived in a small basement apartment in the same building as his brother. He wrote at least three letters a week to my mom telling her how much he missed her and loved her. They would occasionally make dates for a phone call, a complicated and, often times, frustrating experience. There were very few telephones in their little home town in Italy, and whenever my mom knew that my dad would try to call her because he had made a date with her in his letters, she had to find herself at that location. The place that she chose was the new “supermarket” in town. The owners of this market were probably just as excited as she was whenever she went over to receive the call from America! They quickly became close to this young woman who’s boyfriend was so far away. The calls themselves were difficult because most of the time the connection was so poor that all they could really say to each other was how much they loved and missed each other. When my mom sees the communication nowadays, and sees how I chat to my cousins in Italy via Skype, Face Time, etc. she just shakes her head and says how nice it would have been if she would have been able to have that during those years that her and my dad were apart.

My father went to work as a dishwasher in his uncle’s restaurant and slowly learned the workings of the restaurant business. My dad went from the pampered life of an athlete to being a dishwasher! He never complained and took the blisters and sores as a badge of honor. He realized that the USA presented a lot of opportunities, and so he decided that he liked it and would bring his future wife here. Vowing never to set foot on a ship again, he saved fervently for a flight back home. Air travel was super expensive in those days and he had to work and save for months in order to afford the trip. But after only 3 months of being here, he sent word that he was coming home to marry his sweetheart. Plans were made and a wedding was planned for the day after Christmas 1955.

Bianca’s Vineyard – A Book Review

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When Italy Book Tours asked me to review this new book by Teresa Neumann, I volunteered right away.  It had all the attributes of a GREAT book!  Bianca’s Vineyard did not disappoint!  And what makes it even more interesting is that it is based on a true story.  Taking place at the beginning of the 20th century and spanning through World War II and a bit beyond, it described the hardships of life in Italy during the difficult war years as well the difficulties of immigrating to a whole new world!  This book hit close to home because my parents and grandparents immigrated here as well, and I am always enthralled by these stories.

Egisto Bertozzi, the youngest of 3 brothers, was expected to immigrate to the United States so that he could earn money and send it back to Italy.  Moving he did, but before he did, he was expected to marry and bring an Italian wife with him.  He was in love with Marietta and she was to be his wife.  But, Egisto wasn’t religious and refused to marry in church.  Marietta’s family forbade their daughter to marry outside the Church and therefore broke up the loving couple.  Heartbroken, but desperate to find a wife, he married a beautiful poor girl, Arilda, from his town whom he didn’t know at all.  Arilda was looking for an escape from her miserable life and thought that this would be just the perfect opportunity to make a change for the better. At first they were happy in their new home, but soon, things started to become difficult for Arilda and she became depressed.  Egisto suffered for his wife and tried to make things work out for their sake as well as their children’s.  Arilda ended up leaving them and moving back to Italy right before the start of World War II.

The story goes on to describe how difficult life became in Italy during this time.  Hunger and fear swept the country, and the citizens of Italy were desperate.  Egisto tried his hardest to help his family in Italy, but even that was hard.  There were times when he didn’t even know the fate of his family.  My parents, who lived along the shores of Lago Maggiore, have described to me what life was like during World War II in Italy, but their tales were nothing compared to the hardships endured in other parts of Italy, especially Tuscany.  The Nazi’s, Fascists and Partisans waged war against each other and anyone else who didn’t support their cause. Many innocent people lost their lives and fear was rampant.  It must have been such a horrible time in this idyllic country.  It’s hard to believe that such beautiful places endured such atrocities, but I know they did from this book as well as lots of other movies and stories I’ve read about life in Italy during the war.

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The story starts off in the present when Egisto’s grandchildren visit Italy to learn about their history and see the family homestead. There they meet Bianca, Egisto’s niece, who is now an elderly woman and who inherited the family vineyard.  She tells them their family’s story so that they may know the strong and proud lineage that they come from.

Egisto Bertozzi, sculptor

Egisto Bertozzi, sculptor

Connections to the homeland are so important to really understand one’s self and realize the sacrifices that were made to improve dire situations.  I’ve always said that it takes a very strong person to leave everything they’ve known all their lives, move to a country where they don’t know the language nor have any family, and forge a new life.  My parents did it and I am so proud of their inner strength.

Interview with Teresa Neumann:

Did you ever know Egisto Bertozzi personally?
Yes. He was amazing; suave but simple, smart but humble. Oliver Towne of the St. Paul Pioneer Press once wrote that “Egisto Bertozzi was part of the creativity of our civilization.” It was truly an honor to have known him.

What inspired you to write Bianca’s Vineyard?
First my husband. One of the things I found fascinating about David, when I met him was that he was half-Italian, which meant he possessed an unusual amount self-confidence along with generous amounts of artistic creativity and scientific savvy. Throw in a unique zest for life, and I realized I’d discovered a “Renaissance man” much like my husband’s grandfather, highly acclaimed sculptor Egisto Bertozzi, the co-main character in my book. My love-affair with Italy had begun.
My mother-in-law, Violenza (Babe)Bertozzi Neumann, was an incredible blessing. So when I learned that after immigrating to the U.S., Egisto’s wife Armida had a mental breakdown, abandoned her family, moved back to Italy, found a job as a domestic to a “high-level fascist leader” and then disappeared during WWII – only to be found years later, her death a mega-mystery – well, who could resist that challenge?!

Your book is set primarily Italy. Have you been there?
In the last 15 years, many times. Egisto was a sculptor, born and raised in Tuscany, near Lucca. He studied at the famous art school in nearby Pietrasanta. Just before WWI broke out, he and Armida secretly married and immigrated to St. Paul, Minnesota, where their two children were born. Later, after WWII, Egisto took Violenza (my mother-in-law) to meet his family and spend the summer in Italy. Until his death decades later, Egisto’s family corresponded with him. Then all letters from Italy abruptly stopped. It wasn’t until much later, after years of research, that we found out why.
Fast forward to 2001: I received a response to a query letter from Egisto’s niece, Bianca Corrotti inviting us Tuscany to meet her and the other Bertozzi cousins. By then, my mother-in-law was in her 80’s and couldn’t travel, so we reluctantly went without her. Our hearts immediately bonded with my husband’s relatives and birthed the passion and motivation to research and write Bianca’s Vineyard.

What about Minnesota, where Egisto and Armida lived after immigrating to the U.S.?
Being as my husband and I were raised in Iowa, Minnesota was in our “back yard” so to speak. Many Bertozzi and Neumann relatives live in the “Land of Lakes,” so we’ve made numerous pilgrimages there over the years. The area is home to many of Egisto’s sculptures. We’ve particularly loved studying his sculptures at St. Paul Cathedral.

What is your next project?
In 2013, Domenico’s Table, the sequel to Bianca’s Vineyard was published. My third book, not a sequel, but with an Italian-American protagonist, is called A Year in the Company of Freaks and should be out this summer. You can read more about it, and my other books, on my website: http://www.teresaneumann.com

The Shoemaker’s Wife – A Book Review

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I just finished one of the best books I’ve read in a long time!  It was over 400 pages and I read it in a jiffy!  It kept my attention the entire way through 🙂

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The story starts off in that gorgeous part of Italy right below the Swiss border, high in the mountains, and ends up on the East Coast of the USA.  This story takes place in the early 1900’s when so many Italians immigrated to the United States to make a living for their families.  It chronicles the story of Enza, a beautiful and kind girl and Ciro, a strong boy raised in a convent, from their early days in Italy to their new lives in America.  It’s a poignant and warm story that is told with such description that you feel like you are living her heartaches as well as her joys.  What I really enjoyed about this book was that the story was REAL (and I don’t mean it was non-fiction but that the story depicted real life and not some sensationalized story!) It was about  the ups and the downs of a normally led life.   It was a happy story and, actually a breath of  fresh air because, like so many other novels that only embellish the bad things, this one was about a life gone well.  By working hard, these people succeeded in creating a good life for themselves and their families.  It spoke of togetherness and a strong sense of family.  They all worked together for the good of the whole.  This is what it was all about during these times.  Sure, life was tough, but people appreciated what they had and if they wanted more, they worked for it!  They sacrificed the material things, but never the love they felt for each other.

This story hit home with me because my family were also immigrants and from this part of the Italy.  My grandfather originally immigrated to the USA back in 1916 and settled on the East Coast.  He fought during WWI for the Americans and was probably granted citizenship.  For reasons unknown, he went back to Italy and married.  Meanwhile his brother came out to San Francisco and permanently settled here (thus setting up a connection which would become useful in the future!)  When my father was 4 months old, in 1926, the family decided to immigrate once more to America.  They sailed out and settled in New Hampshire for 4 years.

My grandparents, my dad (the baby) and my aunt taken on their voyage to the USA in 1926.

My grandparents, my dad (the baby) and my aunt taken on their voyage to the USA in 1926.

My grandfather was a foreman for a granite yard there.  They had another child (the only one born in the USA).  But, alas, my grandmother did not like it here, so once again, they went back to Italy.  The family remained in Italy except for my uncle and eventually my father.  Since my uncle was born here, he got drafted during the Korean War and was sent to Alaska.  From there, he went to San Francisco because of the uncle connection.  And then, when my dad decided he wanted to immigrate as well, he had the connections of his brother and his uncle here in SF.  And that is how I came to be!  I wish that I knew so many more details of my grandparents and their immigration and lives in America, but sadly I don’t have much.  These stories always fascinate me and the author of this book, Adriana Trigiani, was lucky because she had lots of facts about her family’s immigration to the USA and used it as a basis for this great story.