The Journey to 2715 and Beyond
Excerpts from the Memoirs of Eleanor Jean Defazio Hodgkins
[Why I Write]
A most rewarding aspect of my life as I become immersed in my senior years is the realization that I have lived long enough to appreciate the material gathered from living that is uniquely mine. I can now evaluate relationships with innumerable individual family members, close and distant, immediate and extended, and a myriad of circumstances and events that have determined the directions I have followed, dreams I have sought after, and values and goals I have tried to honor. I now have the confidence to relate to my grown children and their children a somewhat chronological account of a family history and what is worth carrying along on my continuing journey and what is best served left behind.
There are many family members. Whether they be living or have passed on, whether I had a personal relationship with them or knew them only through stories across the generations, I value them immeasurably and will treasure them for the rest of my life.
As a beginning to my narrative I would like to establish a background that started in the region of Calabria in Southern Italy, from which both sets of my grandparents emigrated. Since they journeyed before the turn of the twentieth century and shortly thereafter, I will present what was told to me and my siblings as we grew up in Sacramento, California in the 1930s, '40s and '50s.
The history of Southern Italy was often erratic and turbulent since the entire region was made vulnerable by its location in the narrowest part of Italy surrounded by bodies of water. Located in the Appenine Mountains, Calabria had been occupied and invaded by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Normans for centuries. The mix of invaders brought about numerous influences, uprisings and changes, and relocation from coastal villages to mountain villages of the region. Sadly, the riches of the past faded dramatically by the end of the nineteenth century, stripping the economy. The mills and foundries that had been active during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries collapsed under invaders' control and passed from public to private hands, and therefore the non-nobles grew more and more destitute. What followed were famines and earthquakes that eventually led to mass emigration. Another factor was the unification of Italy which took place about 1860 and was a large influence on the economic changes throughout Italy. Thus, by the end of the nineteenth century many families, including the Talerico and Defazio families, decided to begin new lives in America.
One memory often shared with us by our mother was a last-day experience in Castagna, the small village near Catanzaro located in the region of Calabria. From the memory of a five-year-old it was perhaps an idealized version but, nevertheless, this was how it was related to us. As her parents prepared to leave their small house, probably for the last time, they considered the possibility of having to return. My mother's words were, "My mother left everything as if we would be coming back, just in case things did not work out for the family in America. The beds were made, dishes were left in the cupboard, the sugar bowl was left on the table."
The Talerico journey to the pier to board the ship to America must have been one of uncertainty but hope, sadness yet joyful anticipation of the new lives that awaited them. They would be joining others who had visited America and had decided to stay. My mother, Christina Talarico (Talerico) was five years old, the third child of Giacinto and Antoinetta (Arcuri) Talerico. Salvatore and Rosina were the two older siblings, then after my mother was Maria Angela, Giuseppe, and Luigi. The youngest, Philipi, would be born later in New York. There were no photographs preserved of their lives in Castagna. Later, when Giacinto and Antoinetta Talerico settled and prospered in Utica there would be many formal group pictures taken at weddings or other special events as the family grew older.
[My Sources of Information]
The exact year is not known to me when the Defazio-Picolli journey began from Calabria. It was probably about 1894. I will cover a period of time that encompasses more than 80 years from the time that my maternal and paternal grandparents came to America. My paternal grandfather was from an area close by [the Talericos], as well as my grandmother on my paternal side. My father's mother had ties to Rome as I was told by one of my father's first cousins, Nellie Picolli Brocato, who was an enormous help especially in establishing facts about the decision by her father Joseph Picolli to travel to Sacramento. In fact she talked about her grandfather Picolli who had been a judge in Rome where there had been a statue erected in his memory. We know there remains in Castagna Concetta Talerico, daughter of one of my mother's cousins, and several second and third cousins as well. Concetta was born in Castagna in about 1933. She has a family there and as far as I know has never left the area except for a brief visit to America years ago. My niece Annie Defazio has told me about her visit with Concetta several years back when Annie was researching family history. Her information became a helpful resource for me. There was no problem following the Talerico-Arcuri side of the family but the Defazio-Picolli side has been a bit more difficult. I have family charts and histories in my family history materials for review for those who are interested. However, I feel that for the sake of accuracy I had better write about what I have either heard about from good sources: trusted older cousins, aunts, uncles, my mother, and my sister Marge, who continues to do an exceptional job of keeping up with family history. In July of 1998, Marge and her husband Raymond traveled to Italy and were fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Castagna and the cousins who remain there. Her impressions were very much like those of my niece Annie. Marge took video of the region and of Concetta's family. I am so grateful to Marge for taking the time to make the video. I know I will go to Calabria within the next two to three years, but I now have had a visual preview so will better appreciate my future experiences.
I consider my family history a story of courage, faith, risk, and adaptability and a love of family. It tells about the same journey traveled by many before and many since. But this is my family and I feel a strong sense of devotion to many individuals and cherish memories of very special people. As the custodian of my memory, I will share my own ideas and conclusions about these many people and their experiences.
[Coming to America: Defazios and Talericos at the "Brickyard"]
My father was born at the turn of the century in an area we always referred to as the "Brickyard," located along the Hudson River near Hudson, New York, not far from Coxsackie-Stockport. We initiated an effort to locate his birth records in Hudson at the church where he would have been baptized, but many years ago there was a devastating fire and the structure and his records were destroyed. We know that his parents had immigrated to New York likely through a Canadian route, which was an easier route to pass into the United States. Entrance from Canada was easier because immigration papers were not needed to cross the U.S.-Canadian border. Many Italians used this route as it was not watched as closely as other routes. This was not too many years before my father's birth. Although I have in my possession a copy of a document to support the fact that the Talerico Family came to New York through Ellis Island, I have never heard of a similar document for the Defazio family. The "Brickyard" was a beginning stop where families just arriving from Italy could have a place to live and have a job until they could relocate to an area with more opportunities.
One story of interest to me was that my Grandfather Giuseppi Defazio had hoped to travel to the Klondike region following the Gold Strike in 1896, but when he realized what kind of weather he would be battling there he opted to remain in the Hudson region. Coming from a Mediterranean climate and adjusting to New York weather was hostile enough for him, I would be sure. He and the other workers would spend hours in the freezing water cutting the ice for shipping around the eastern region. In his advancing years it was thought that working long hours in icy water was the cause of severe rheumatism and the reason he could not walk without canes.
One particularly poignant story told by my mother that I have never forgotten began in Castagna. As she had a memory of this it must have been in about 1904 when it was necessary for her father to travel to America to work to sustain his family. My grandfather [Giacinto] Talerico traveled in steerage with others seeking work in America. He did this at least twice without his family, returning or sending money back to Italy, but returning to America to find work again. There had been a long period during which my grandfather had made no contact with his family in Italy. My mother said that her mother was very worried and began to believe that something serious had happened to him. However he was of noble character and would never have abandoned his wife and six young children. Finally, after what might have been several months or perhaps a full year, a letter was received from a hospital in New York. The letter explained that he was hospitalized (the nature of the illness was never fully described to us children), but that he was being cared for by the sisters in the Order of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart that Mother Cabrini had been directed to organize. In the letter from the hospital, it was explained that my grandfather Giacinto was getting good care and would be returning home when he would be well enough to travel back to Italy.
The day did arrive. My mother said that she and the other children saw him one day as they were walking to the water fountain. They were all tearfully excited to be together again and he told his wife Antonetta and children that he was taking everyone back to America with him. It was not long before the family, carrying their personal bundles that would start them in their new lives in America, boarded the ship that carried them and hundreds and hundreds of others just like them. The year was 1907. The steerage section must have been so very crowded. However, my mother talked about the trip as if it were spacious and comfortable. They crowded into a galley for meals and slept on cots. From the shores of Southern Italy to Ellis Island on a ship called the "Montevideo," so far across the ocean they journeyed to what they prayed could be a better life. Upon arrival my mother recalled that a cousin of her parents, also on board, could not be allowed off the ship because it had been determined that he had tuberculosis. He had to return to Italy. Following the clearance of the Talerico family, they traveled up the Hudson to the Brickyard and settled in for several years.
[Bi-coastal Bigamist: Joe Picolli, Sacramento Pioneer]
Why Sacramento, California? What was the attraction? The Gold Rush had passed, but California was bursting with opportunity, especially for an unskilled immigrant who needed work. In about 1904 my Grandma Defazio's (Bernardina Picolli) brother Joe Picolli, arrived in Sacramento. How our Great Uncle Joe came to travel to Sacramento is a story of its own. Uncle Joe was the family pioneer. A brief background will be useful. He had come from Italy in about 1895 or earlier with his wife Eleanor Talerico Picolli (as far as we know, no close relation to my maternal grandfather) and three young children. I remember Great Uncle Joe Picolli well. When we were young children, my father would regularly take my sisters and I to visit him. Uncle Joe was not considered a gentle person. He was described by his own daughter as brusque and unloving. Years later (when I was old enough to hear such things) I would hear pieces of stories about how he left his young family in New York and fled off to California.
One story shed light on how he arrived home one day in Albany, New York, to find his wife with another man, and in his anger he attacked the man and left hastily, thinking he had killed him. As far as I could learn the victim did not die, but Joe Picolli did not stay around to find out. He had known of someone whose name I would never know who had traveled to Sacramento a few years before Joe's journey. Uncle Joe Picolli decided to travel to the California city to begin a new life. According to Nellie's calculations, the year was around 1905 or 1906. Arriving in Sacramento, her father located a place to live with a family. Whether or not it was the family of the person he had known in New York, I do not know. They were a husband and wife with three children. Joe Picolli went to work first for a short time with the Southern Pacific Railroad in Sacramento. Later he would find work for the City of Sacramento as a caretaker of parks. Thus he began to build a new life on the other side of the country. Years later in 1957, I began a relationship with Joe Picolli's fourth child, a daughter named Nellie Picolli Maida Brocato. She and my father had always stayed in touch as they were first cousins and close in age. During a trip east in July of 1957, I took my mother to visit her family in Utica, New York, with a three-day stop in Washington, D.C., where Nellie had been living and working for most of her adult life. Following retirement she moved to Rockville, Maryland with her husband Frank. Ever since that visit Nellie and I kept in touch by mail and a few visits. I hold dearly the time we had together, as she put me in touch with the many years before I was born and my young years before I knew our family circle. Of course, her perspective on individuals was fresh to me. She brought light and some ideas; I will be inserting her stories throughout parts of this narrative.
After Joe had lived with this Sacramento family for two or three years, the husband died and it was not long before Joe proposed marriage to Mary, the widow. She accepted. At no time did Joe mention either to the man or his wife that he already had a wife and seven children in New York. Nellie recalled the following bizarre story to me and permitted me to record it as she talked about what she remembered. In 1907 Joe decided it was time to take a trip to New York to visit his children. He announced to his California wife that he would like to go visit his brother Ralph in New York City. Upon his arrival his first place to visit was the house where his wife Eleanor lived with her seven young children. I cannot imagine what kind of reception he received from his abandoned wife but she did not order him to leave, obviously. Nellie had no previous memory of her father. Nellie had been born in 1897 and her father Joe had left the family in 1904 so within the intervening years she had forgotten him. Very likely after being with his New York family for a day or two, he told Eleanor that he wanted to take two of the children, Mary (who was about 10 or 12) and Sam (who was 8 or 9), to buy them some new clothes. Instead of taking the children shopping, Joe put the children on a train and together they went to New York City and appeared at the door of Joe's brother, Ralph.
Ralph had recently been married but Joe did not hesitate to ask boldly if he could leave the children with Ralph and his new wife until he could find a job. The new bride spoke up, saying she had no idea what to do with two children the ages Mary and Sam, as she herself was only 18 years old. So Joe had no choice but to take the children elsewhere. Walking down the street he stopped a police officer and asked him to take the children to an orphan asylum to be cared for as he could not look after them. I suppose in those days this was not unusual as orphanages were everywhere. Mother Cabrini by this time had opened and established orphanages throughout New York City (and eventually many other large cities) to house children of Italian immigrants, in particular, but all children who were not cared for adequately or had been abandoned. Perhaps Mary and Sam were taken to one such orphanage. Whatever Joe Picolli's motivation was for doing such a thing could not be explained. The children's mother had no idea what had happened to her two oldest children. Joe returned to Sacramento and continued to live there for many more years.
I do not know how long it was before the two children were adopted by two separate families. Sam was adopted by a minister and his wife who had wanted a son. Sam became Hobart Welch and continued to live in New York. Mary was taken by a family from Springfield, Missouri who ran a farm. They returned to Missouri with Mary. Mary's last name became Thompson. Nellie told me that Mary would write letters to her to let her know that she was fine and was treated well. She remained with the family in Missouri and did manage to visit her mother in New York. Nellie never mentioned why Mary did not choose to return to her mother. Mary and my father always kept in contact. I remember that she visited us in Sacramento in the 1940s with her wheel-chair-bound daughter, also named Mary. The visit was very brief, but it put a face in my mind of one of the children of Uncle Joe Picolli. Eventually, Sam would move from New York to California, first to Sacramento where he was employed, then in later years he moved to Berkeley and Galt. He would visit us rarely. He died at the age of 88 in Galt. He never married.
Over the years of my childhood and into young adulthood, there were always comments made about one person or another, and I do remember hearing how some of Joe Picolli's children had been put into an orphanage. My mother was never a repeater of gossip or stories, so she would not divulge what she had heard or knew. Years later, when I would see Nellie again (this would be the last time I would see her), she told us how this played out. Nellie was 90 years old when my sister Marge and I visited her in Maryland during a trip east in 1987. I was struck by Nellie's sharp memory and clarity with which she spoke, telling us of these past years. I found Nellie's history of her family to be vital in filling in some of the empty spaces of those early years in Sacramento when my grandparents and their children moved there.
[To Utica and Sacramento]
During those years in the Brickyard, life was difficult. Families lived in company housing and everyone worked. My mother and her sister Mary related stories to me about how, in the summer months, the children had to work in the fields gathering vegetables to be stored for the long winters. By 1910 my mother's sister Rosina had married Frank Defazio, my father's older brother. They moved with the Defazio family to California in 1910. In 1913 my grandfather Talerico moved his family to Utica, New York, where other Calebrese families had settled. There was an uncle there already and many cousins. Therefore, for the ten years prior to her marriage, my mother cooked, cleaned and cared for her brother Philip, the youngest member of the family who had been born in 1909 since the family moved to the Brickyard. As the oldest girl, often she was expected to run the house, as her mother was working to help support the family. Because of her home responsibilities, my mother was able to complete school only through the fifth grade. When her youngest brother was old enough to attend school, my mother went to work.
There were many clothing mills in Utica as there were throughout many cities in the northeast. The mills were a temporary workplace for young women until they married. When the immigrant women arrived in America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of them sought work in these mills. The women worked for small wages, but if they worked very fast they could bring home a larger check. This method was referred to as "piece work." My mother often told us how she was able to complete so many garments that she was frequently commended for her speed. This job was also a way to meet other young women and make friends. Her home life was busy and her parents were strict. There was only time on Sundays to go to a movie or go out on walks with her girlfriends and cousins. Of course, she was always with her sister Mary on these outings. Until her marriage to my father, and probably up to the birth of her first child, she continued to work at the mills.
One of the photographs my mother kept among so many, and would display when we enjoyed an evening going through her trunk, was one of a room full of young women. This picture was good for at least a half-hour of entertainment for my younger sister and I. This photo was taken the evening everyone got together to give my mother her baby shower when she was expecting her first baby. Some of the subjects in the photo required long looks just out of curiosity from Bernadine and me. The frizzy hairstyles, irregular facial features, unusual hats, and expressions were laughable. To end the unwanted response, my mother would comment to us how nice Lizzy and Fanny were. My mother and her sister Mary were very pretty young women, as were many of their cousins. We had many photos of my mother taken during those years. I have copies of some of them and treasure them.
[Young Louis, Young Christina: From Sacramento to Utica, and Back]
My father must have considered a lot of talk about things that could not be changed a waste of time. He was a pragmatic individual. If one of us made a groan or indicated hesitancy to respond to a task that he asked us to perform, he would often refer to his very young years living along the Hudson River, and to the inconveniences and hardships his family endured. He repeated the story about how his mother had always packed his lunch in an empty lard bucket as he set out to walk to school. Day after day, rain, sun or snow, he would walk a long distance to get to school. The next statement was always the same. On a particularly bad weather day, he picked up the wrong bucket! Of course, the moral to us was we have life so easy and have no solid reasons to complain. After hearing this the first few times, I would always visualize this young boy, with a determined attitude about the battles he endured to accomplish his goals.
As a young man in Sacramento, my father worked at the Southern Pacific Yards during his teen years. He had completed the eighth grade of formal education and began his long years of dedication to looking after family. My paternal grandparents grew vegetables to sell, and Grampa and Gramma made cheese from goat's and cow's milk, which was also sold to bring in money. Their quality of life was not unlike other immigrants who had met the challenges of moving a world apart from what they knew. They were a people of faith and integrity and thought nothing of working hard each day. Their surroundings were simple. Grandpa had a horse and wagon which he drove to sell his vegetables. Their piece of land included space for a cow, at least one goat, space for gardens and the house they occupied. This house had been previously owned by Uncle Joe Picolli and his wife Mary. In 1917 it was possible for Joseph and Bernardina to purchase the property. Thus, with the financial help from their children, they had become property owners.
My father was blessed with a restlessness to work at something other than being a boilermaker at the shops. But he stayed with his laboring job until he knew he was ready to strike out on his own. Because he had cousins, an aunt, and an uncle in Utica, he began to make regular visits to that city. He also called on my mother regularly during his visits, would take her and her younger sister to movies occasionally, and began to think of marriage. Louis had grown into a very handsome man. I can imagine that he would have had the pick of available women. In 1924, he and my mother married in Utica at the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church. My father had assured my maternal grandfather that he would not take his daughter to California and become separated from her family as his older daughter had done. My father found work in Utica and they moved into an upstairs apartment of my grandparents' house on Elizabeth Street.
[The "Casecella" on Second Avenue]
My parents, with their two small boys, moved into my grandparents' house for the duration. It was a very spacious house with two stories but no inside stairway. It was necessary to walk outside to get to the stairway. As I remember, the downstairs area of the house was mostly an enormous kitchen with a wood stove in the middle of the room. Eventually there would be changes made to the downstairs area, adding a bathroom. There were two small bedrooms also. From the outside, you could take the side stairway into the upstairs kitchen area. From the front door stairway, you would enter a small living room off a short central hallway that led past two small bedrooms, a dining room, and to the rear of the upstairs. Just past the side stairway downstairs to the rear of the house was a very small room we called the "casecella," where my great uncle Pete and my grandfather kept their primitive, surely homemade tools. They would sit just outside the door of the casecella and sharpen a hoe or whatever tool was being used that day, if it was a sunny day. I remember the wooden holder that would be used to chop wood into small enough sizes to fit into the wood stove. It was just beyond the casecella. There was a grape arbor surrounding the downstairs entry into the kitchen where Grandpa and Uncle Pete would sit at other times. There were dogs that were companions and also a source of amusement for them as the two men sat and watched the animals play together during the warm times of day. The yard was surrounded by trees. There were walnuts, figs, and a quince tree. In the side yard to the east of the house there were many grape vines. There were vegetable gardens in sunny locations of the yard. The side yard to the west of the house was a grazing area for the family goat, Nellie. This side of the property connected to the lots where eventually our new family house was to be built facing 59th Street.
To the rear of the two-story family house was an old decrepit barn. I suppose it was where my grandfather Ota (as we called him) kept his horse and buggy in the early years. It was a scary place to walk into from my point of view. It was totally dark when the doors were closed and I was frightened of the dark as a child. I was careful not to be inside the structure. There was a carport attached to the west of the building, also in unstable condition.
I particularly remember the space in the downstairs kitchen area of the house. Entering from the only downstairs door immediately to the right against the wall was an "icebox." I remember the ice man arriving on a regular basis to deliver a block of ice to preserve the few food items that were kept in the box. Most important would be milk, most often from the goat, which most of us did not like to drink. Then there was homemade cheese made from the goat's milk by my grandmother. My mother would also learn how to make cheese. I remember they would use a large colander to drain the excess liquid from the cheese. It would be placed over a tray to collect the dripping liquid. When it was time to remove the ball of cheese from the colander, it would be turned over onto a plate to continue the setting process. The pattern left by the colander was a fascination to me. I remember sometimes running my fingers gently across the curve and over the grooves and protuberances of the cheese. Perhaps this was one of my earliest interests in the preparation of food. I clearly also recall that there was no telephone in my grandparents' house. If someone had to be contacted during the day, it was necessary to walk wherever they were or wait to see them.
[The Family Grows]
At the time my mother left Utica for Sacramento she was pregnant. My sister Margaret was born in March of 1928. She was named after Aunt Margaret, our dad's sister Maggie. Her birth was followed by Louis Jr., in 1929, Richard in 1930, Anthony in 1931, and Marie in 1933. Marie was named after Aunt Mary, our mother's sister. Her middle name is Antoinette after our maternal grandmother. I was born in 1934. I was named for my Aunt Maggie's daughter Eleanor, who had died of typhoid a few months before my birth. She was sixteen. The youngest child, Bernadine (Bernardina on her birth certificate), was born in 1935 and named after our paternal grandmother.
["Gramma" Defazio and My First Memories]
I would like to have known my paternal grandmother longer. So many family members and friends who had known her spoke of her only in the highest praise. I remember a large photograph that hung in my Aunt Rosie and Uncle Frank's house of Gramma. Adults always commented to me that I looked like her. I could not see it then but now realize that our body builds might have resembled one another as she was considered tall for her generation (I was the tallest adult girl in all the Defazio families when we were growing up), and there was some facial resemblance. She had a marvelous disposition, was always cheerful, and had a good sense of humor. I have a sense of a strong bond to her because my mother would tell us how helpful she was with the children by holding them when my mother was busy with a meal or a new baby. I am sure I was held fondly by Gramma for many hours before I realized her place in my life.
I remember clearly on cold evenings after our evening meal, we younger children would huddle around the large wood stove, frequently falling asleep there, and have to be carried up the outside stairway by parents or older brothers to our beds. My sisters and I shared a double bed then. We slept in the room upstairs that was later used as the living room but was now needed as a bedroom. From that upstairs room with the double windows above the bed, I could hear the train on the tracks just blocks away. I remember the sound of the trains as a somewhat frightening experience, but always felt secure from any harm just because I was tucked into bed with my two sisters and rested well with the knowledge that my protective parents were in the room just across the hallway. I remember mornings around the very long kitchen table. My grandmother gave us a little warm coffee in our milk to warm us on cold mornings. My memories of living with my grandparents are contented memories. They lived sweet, courageous lives, loved their family deeply, were both faithful to God, and shared many years together until my grandmother's death in February 1939.
[Icons: Christina and Louis]
My mother was the icon of her time within her family. Of all her siblings, cousins, and in-laws, she was the one who had the largest family, managed the biggest house, and remained kind and caring for all and any who knew her or had the privilege of meeting her. She could be tough when she had to be, she was strict with her children, and she set an example that lives to this day in the hearts and minds of all her children.
I usually gauged my reactions by how my mother responded to most situations in our family. She was my model for behavior and [provided] a path to follow. The death of my paternal grandmother put additional responsibilities on my mother's shoulders. She accepted them with grace and devotion to spiritual commitment, as well as her commitment to her marriage. Perhaps it was too great a burden that my father expected her to become the caregiver to his father and that she would be also prepare meals and do laundry for her brother-in-law. I do not know. She accepted the changes with extraordinary calm. I do not have a memory of a complaint or whine from her. She was not capable of such behavior. I am grateful for her strong example.
My father was a marvel. I speak with such pride of what he was able to accomplish in his short life. Besides being a devoted father to his nine children, he created for himself and his family a legacy of hard work, tenacity, and the will to build a life from sheer determination. There were some people who were hard on him as he was direct in nature, brusque at times, and expected honesty above all. He had a gentle side that he often displayed to his young daughters; however, he was at times the object of criticism even among his own family members. He was willful, determined, but always mindful of his total responsibility to his entire family and was highly respected by all his employees. I knew him as "Daddy," and he holds a very special place in my heart.
When he wanted to go to a matinee on Sunday afternoon, he would usually take us three youngest girls. He would take us ice skating on Friday nights in the wintertime to the rink in North Sacramento. On rare occasions, he would take us along on business trips to San Francisco and make it a fun time for my sisters and I. These are the memories I carry in my heart.
[Family Business, Busy Family]
My father opened his first grocery store late in 1927 at 7th and P Streets in Sacramento. It was before I was born, so I have gathered information from others for this period. Following Marge's birth in March 1928, my parents moved from my grandparents' house. Louis Jr., Richard and Anthony were born while the family lived in a small but comfortable house on 52nd Street. My mother spoke often of those few years in that house and the peace of having her own place in which to raise her children with a degree of privacy. She respected my grandparents very much, but did savor those few years of running her own household. However, in order for my father to get into a larger store he would have to sell that house for funds to reinvest in the larger market. Knowing my mother, I am sure she accepted whatever he decided. My mother had a life insurance policy that she had before her marriage and signed it over to my dad to allow a greater capital outlay for the move to a larger store. She understood what she had to do to be a helpful wife. It was then necessary for them to move their family back to my grandparents' big house on Second Avenue. We last three children, all girls, were born when the family was with our grandparents.
[Dreams Fulfilled and Deferred: The House on 59th Street]
My father was a smart businessman surely ahead of his time. His businesses prospered and he was able to begin plans to build a big family house facing 59th Street at 2715, adjacent to the same property where our grandparents lived. It was a joyous time for my mother, but she had to accept so much of what my father decided to include in the house. His financial resources were limited since it was important that he continue to reinvest into his business. Our mother would have loved to have had a fireplace. This did not happen. She wanted a new modern stove to put into the spacious new kitchen, but had to settle instead for an enormous wood stove. The stove had four gas burners but it was not modern. An up-to-date stove was finally purchased and installed in about 1945. Also, she always wanted a piano. She thought it would be such a lovely addition and a refinement to a family. After having had a player piano in her family home in Utica, it was one of her dreams. In my father's mind, such luxuries would be slow to happen. The piano never came.
The completed house had two large bedrooms upstairs with the middle room left unfinished, which later was to become my father's home office. The house had a center stairway leading to the upstairs from the downstairs hallway. The stairway could be closed off with a door. The upstairs bedrooms were large enough to each accommodate four double beds. The room facing south did have four beds since this was the room where my brothers slept. The opposite room was for the little girls. In the planning stages the middle room off the downstairs hallway would be Marge's bedroom. This was next to the master bedroom which was at the end of the long hallway. This house seemed so very large to us, but when I see it today, compared to the open-designed houses of the present time, it does not seen so large. The house was designed for privacy as each room opened onto a hallway and each bedroom door had a lock. The large living room and dining room were separated from the kitchen by a swinging door which was usually kept closed. My mother had a hard, fast rule for us children: The living room was not for day-to-day use. However, the kitchen was spacious and therefore large enough for us to spend most of our time. And, it was the central gathering spot for the family and most visitors. . . .
I was just four years old [in 1938] when our family home was ready for our occupancy. It was a day of excitement as we carried boxes, bed frames and mattresses, chairs, and other assorted items of furniture across the vacant lot. There was nothing extravagant about any of the things that were moved. Nevertheless, my parents together created a home that spoke of love and caring.
["My Lu Chickens" and the Bunny Boycott]
A few years later, no later than 1943, my dad had a chicken house built toward the back of the yard. It was surrounded by high chicken wire and housed several chickens. My mother did not know whether to be happy about this addition because of the prospect of having fresh eggs so available, or upset that she would now have one more responsibility to tend to every day. We children did help feed the chickens sometimes, but as children will, we didn't always have the time, especially if the weather was unpleasant. I remember the trips to the feed store for chicken feed. There were times that the cost of feeding the chickens exceeded the low output of fresh eggs. Every so often our mother would kill one of the chickens for soup or roasting. Somehow, we always knew this chicken had happily roamed the chicken coop and we were sure we recognized it. We would not eat it. Our mother would be so exasperated with us. There was a period of time when we also had rabbits. They were more fun for us to help care for. It was a menu item that many in the family enjoyed, so when the rabbit was butchered and prepared some of the family ate it. I did not. Rabbits were to hold and play with, not to eat. I think Bernadine joined me in the no-rabbit-on-the-table-boycott. Soon there were no more rabbits, but the chickens were around for several years. Our mother began to enjoy them, saying "I have to go take care of my lu ('lu' was her word for 'little') chickens now." And she would go to the pen and talk to them as they scurried around her legs, giving vegetable peels of all sorts and chicken scratch feed to them.
Louie's Market was large for its time with a measurable butcher shop. My father hired Louis Stefani to run that shop. Louis was very successful and attracted a large butcher trade for the store. Uncle Tony worked in the store and managed the produce section. The store faced north onto J Street; the 48th Street side of the store was deep and had a storage area to the rear for empty carton boxes and trash. We entered the store through double swinging doors. Immediately upon stepping inside, the long counter became visible along the left wall. Directly overhead as we entered, the large fan was always turning. The light fixtures were round and were suspended from chains. To the immediate right was the produce section. Early on this was Uncle Tony's station, but after he opened the service station at the corner of 48th Street and Folsom Boulevard, Bill and or Jim would usually be in charge of keeping this section stocked. Along the right-hand wall was the butcher shop. It was well maintained and stocked with luscious cuts of steak, roasts, and chops. Louis Stefani displayed his talents well.
The food aisles were always well stocked with two or three brands of canned goods. As my dad was active in the United Grocer's Organization, there was always space given to U.G. products. He owned a liquor license. The distribution of these licenses was and still is tightly regulated by the state; therefore the license to sell alcohol was an enormous asset within this business. The possession of a license would expand the business by allowing the sale of whatever alcoholic beverages were permitted by the particular license. My father's license permitted the sales of wine, beer, and hard liquor. I remember this section of the store was along the left wall of the store within view of the counter area. Just beyond the butcher shop was the entry to the backroom, the only private area of the store. Just inside the entry to the backroom was a family supply of aprons hanging from hooks along the wall. We were expected, before beginning work, to put on an apron. Somehow, putting on the oversized garment seemed to make us more capable of performing our assigned duties. Of course, wearing the apron identified us as members of Louie's family. That in my mind was a privilege.
To the rear of the store among the variety of non-perishable items was Daddy's office. It was elevated somewhat. There were about six or seven stairs to ascend to reach the small space that held a large desk, a chair, and a small table or two. Two sides were open except for the half-wall that allowed my dad to be able to see nearly the entire interior of the store. Over the desk hanging on the south wall was a framed painting of Will Rogers. My father was a great fan of the columnist / follies performer / actor. We all learned to appreciate the virtues of Will Rogers. Hanging on the west wall were two different framed likenesses of Franklin Roosevelt, another person admired by my dad. One of them was a painting and the other was a clear photograph. Eventually, these three likenesses would hang in my mother's houses.
[St. Mary's Church: Old and New]
The original St. Mary's was downtown at 7th and T Streets. This is where my siblings and I all received our sacraments, baptism, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation. This original church was a simple, quite small wooden structure with a bell tower and a meeting hall to the rear. The interior of the church was drab, rather dark, and as I recall, uncomfortable. I cannot imagine a child not finding the interior of the church uncomfortable. The pews were of a dark hard wood and the kneelers were the same. Neither the pews nor the kneelers had any padding whatsoever. As young children it could be agonizing to sit through the long Latin mass, half of it on our knees. My mother's secret weapon to keep us in order was the "pinch." If we were out of line in church or anyplace, she would quietly reach over and give us the pinch on the side of the thigh. Her system worked.
In my memory, the only beautiful part of the older church was the wall behind the altar, as it was adorned with a most beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary gazing down lovingly at all the parishioners. She wore a softly draped blue gown and head covering trimmed in light blue. I know I spent many mind-wandering moments looking at Mary.
We were grateful that the new St. Mary's would be closer to our neighborhood as it was a lovely addition to the area and a great convenience to so many. The new St. Mary's was and is a large white stucco structure centered in a large landscaped area circled by lawns. The many surrounding trees have grown large and tall and provide shade in the long, hot summers. The entire church has ample parking and the surrounding streets are lined with parked cars during all masses and events. The interior of the church has marble floors, and the main altar and smaller side altars are also marble. I still enjoy attending functions at St. Mary's when possible, such as the annual festival held in August. When I am able to attend Mass, weddings, or other religious events there, I again fix my eyes on the beautiful statue of Mary. The statue was so carefully moved and placed on the back wall of the altar of the new church where the Blessed Lady continues to gaze lovingly at the parishioners. Only now she gazes on a greater number of people and into a structure designed with stained glass windows, wrought iron designs, and an upstairs choir loft. Next to this loft is a special room set aside for parents of young children and babies who can participate in the mass without disturbing the greater congregation. It is so comforting to visit St. Mary's Church and see that it has remained an unchanged entity throughout my entire life.
[Sunday Dinner in Christina's Kitchen]
As far back as I can remember, Sunday was the day my mother, after breakfast, would begin her tomato sauce for the macaroni that would be cooked later in the day in preparation for Sunday dinner. Sunday dinner always included macaroni. Meatballs were another regular item on the Sunday dinner menu. My mother always thought it was important to have the sauce ready when we arrived home from church because she knew everyone would be hungry following the long mornings after attending the downtown St. Mary's. Sometimes, she would cook the macaroni early in the afternoon or we would each take a small bowl of the luscious tomato meat sauce and dip small pieces of French bread into it. This is still something I like to do when I make a good meat sauce.
[The Old Neighborhood — When It Was New; The Eggerts]
The neighborhood surrounding us on 59th Street was still quite open. There were no houses on the west side of the street. To the south and north of us there were a few small, bungalow-style houses. To the south these houses continued nearly to Broadway. In about 1945 there would be a grocery store and drug store built on the southeast corner of Broadway, just across the street from Tahoe School. It was built by the Solski family. Bill Solski opened the grocery store and his brothers Al and Otto ran the drugstore to the east of the store. Otto was the pharmacist.
The corner of Second Avenue and 59th Street to the east side of our house was vacant. It was property that my family owned and it would be used for many different things. Early on, it was a grazing area for Nellie the goat and her babies (kids). However, it was always used as a play field for our growing family. Baseball and football would be frequent games. The neighboring children and teens would always join in a game. The corner section remained vacant for many years.
The street itself was a play area at times. As 59th Street was a busier thoroughfare, we would ride our homemade scooters down the middle of Second Avenue, only occasionally moving over for a passing car. Second Avenue was also where my brother Richard and Allen and Richard Fields put up the basketball hoop. There was a telephone pole on the south side just immediately in front of the Fields house. That is where the hoop was placed. They would spend hours upon hours playing there. As a matter of fact we all played there from time to time.
The Eggert family owned their house years before I was born. They were what seemed to be an older couple. Their two grown sons were Robert (Bobby) and Bendan (Benny). Benny would come to play an active part in our lives throughout our growing-up years. Mr. Eggert, Benny's dad, was small in stature, and always wore a tie and suit to work. I believe he was an engineer. For a while he commuted to Stockton to work. Mrs. Eggert, also small and seemingly frail, was not home much especially during the time her husband worked out of town. She was from England and still had a slight English accent. Mrs. Eggert and my mother were polarized in how to mother. Mrs. Eggert didn't cook unless out of necessity. She really did not like children around her very much and made this clear with her brusque manner in our presence. I do not recall a gentle word from her, ever. The family house was a two-story. The four members of the Eggert family lived in the upstairs and rented out the downstairs. We watched a series of families and individuals come and go from that lower apartment. The lower floor did not extend the entire floor space that the upstairs had, thus creating a covered area to the lower area. Like my grandparent's house, which was the next property to the west, there were two wooden outside stairways. A windmill occupied a space on the property.
Bobby was the older of the two boys. He was born in 1918. The story was that, as a young child, Bobby had somehow climbed to the top of the windmill and fallen, leaving him unable to function fully as a normal child. Interesting always was his remarkable memory, especially for everyone's birthday. He played the acoustic guitar very well and would entertain us often and sing many cowboy ballads. Any gathering in the neighborhood would include Bobby and his guitar. He would sing about the Hobo and his plight, Old Black Joe, Red River Valley, and other similar folk songs. He was always enthusiastically applauded.
Bobby never forgot a face or a birthday. As someone's birthday was approaching, he would remind that person or others around the neighborhood as well. On the actual birthday he would stop by and wish "happy returns of the day." He would routinely walk the neighborhood, stopping to talk along the way, sometimes to himself. He was always pleasant when he came to visit. However, when he was presented with too much confusion (and our household presented confusion regularly), Bobby would exit. During his visits he would pick up whatever was available and read it thoroughly. When he was finished he would thank us courteously and leave. I remember a series of hospitalizations that the family tried for Bobby. All were of short duration. One in particular was in Napa State Hospital. Years later, when we moved to Napa, I would often think about Bobby when I drove past the hospital entrance. Much later when I went to work for the Department of Mental Health at Napa State Hospital, I would imagine him being there. I remember that during his stay at Napa, he had been allowed to return home for a holiday. In order to return him to the hospital, a family member had to drive him. I remember my brother Bill or Jim, or perhaps both, offered to return him to the hospital. Benny came along. I believe my sisters were also in the car and it seemed to be such a long trip. I was probably about six or seven at the time. We were met at the entrance and Bobby was taken to his ward by attendants.
The hospitalizations did not seem to be of any help to Bobby so that he might be allowed to become independent. Eventually when Benny returned home Bobby was never hospitalized again. He lived his quiet life with his brother Benny in the family house.
[A Day in the Life — Circa 1940]
Our family routine, as I remember it in about 1940, started about 7:00. for my mother. My dad was up a little later as he did not open the store until 9:00 or 10:00. My grandfather Ota was up by 6:00 every morning. He would always be sitting in his padded chair in the left side corner of the kitchen, just in front of the drop-in mailbox. He would move to the spot in front of the windows later so that he could keep an eye on what was happening outside. Baths or showers were done at night so the morning scramble revolved around breakfast (usually cooked cereal with hot chocolate), putting lunches together, and my mother combing our hair (until we were old enough to manage to task ourselves). Often Marge would need a quick pressing of a garment on the pull-down ironing board in the middle of the kitchen. The clock hung over the ironing board and became a tyrant of sorts as time pressed in on us to leave. Bill and Jim would be off to high school, Marge to junior high, and the rest of us to Tahoe School. My mother would have much to do during the day: laundry, baking, and cleaning. It was endless to her. Ota started his day with coffee in a bowl-sized cup, adding lots of milk and broken-up bread to it. He favored his coffee sweetened as he added about two to three heaping spoons of sugar. He would sometimes eat cereal too. Except for bad weather he would go outside and survey the garden areas. He walked with two canes for balance, moving very slowly. In the late mornings he would find his warm spot in the sun against the fairly tall dog house and take a nap. Almost every day someone would come by to visit with him.
My father was seldom at home at 6:00 for dinner. More often than not, he would come home later, after closing the store, and have dinner. Arriving home tired, I remember, he would sit at the head of the table, extend his feet out, and whichever of us (Marie, Bernadine, or I) was close by, he would ask us to take his shoes off for him. A usual reaction was likely to be a wrinkling of my nose but never a sound uttered. His work shoes were always black high-tops with many work scars. We would unlace them, loosen them around his feet, and tug and pull until each shoe was removed. He wore a size 11 shoe. Then we were expected to pick them up and place them side-by-side by his bedroom door. Reflecting back on those days, I am so glad I performed such a simple task for my father to make him comfortable. I did not have many opportunities to comfort him in the entire overview of his life. Knowing what I know now, I would also have gladly washed his feet if he had asked.
After school, as my sisters and I got older, we had tasks to do. Often my mother did not have time to get upstairs to make up beds so this was our job. By the ages of 10 or 12 we were helping with the cooking. Marie and Marge liked to do things in the yard. I preferred to stay inside and bake a cake or help cook. When we were very young we would play things like beauty shop, school, and paper dolls. Paper dolls were my imaginary world. I had a complete family of characters and talked Marie into joining me some time. I remember having a Sears catalog from which I would cut out furniture and other household items for my family. Marie would do the same. It was not unusual for me to go upstairs, close my door, and play happily for two hours with my paper dolls. When it was time to put them away, I always arranged them carefully in cigar boxes that my dad had brought home for me from the store. I stacked the boxes neatly in my side of the closet I shared with Marie.
[Play Ball!...and Meeting the Great DiMaggio]
Richard, Anthony, and Junior would not always come home immediately after school. They would frequently stay later playing a ball game, especially Richard. His life was a ballgame, particularly if it was baseball. Nearly every day after school Richard would practice his hitting accuracy skills by using a stick about the length of a baseball bat and the circumference of two to three inches, just enough for his hands to have a solid grasp. He would stand in the backyard facing the vacant properties behind our house with a pile of small rocks on the ground close by and toss one up and hit it. He would evaluate each hit and decide if the hit was satisfactory. He would do this until he had used up the accumulated rocks. If one of us seemed available he would ask if we would "pitch" to him. This was risky since we would have to stand reasonably close to be able to reach his hitting radius. I did it several times and never was hurt seriously but, in time, I learned not to be too close by when he was hitting rocks. I understand this is excellent practice for perfecting eye-hand coordination. It must have worked because he became an excellent hitter.
Of course, Bill and Jim also played, but my dad kept them so busy at the store that they could not find lots of time for the game. This became an area of resentment later on for Bill, as he wanted to play so much. He was an excellent shortstop and managed to play American Legion ball on Sunday. Jim played less. He hesitated to defy our dad's desire to have him at the store most of the time, except when in school. Our dad loved the game for its entertainment value, but he believed that it was not something sensible young men should pursue seriously. He could never encourage his sons' interest in the game.
A regular conversation topic among family members, both at home around the table or around the store, was baseball and which player was doing what. Among the most popular was Joe DiMaggio. He had been raised in San Francisco by an Italian immigrant family. His life bore a likeness to our beginnings with which we all felt comfortable. I remember hearing about Pepper Martin, a favorite of our dad. Although Babe Ruth was no longer playing, he still attracted much attention; when the famous Yankee player died in 1948, we all grieved. There also was Lou Gehrig. Everyone admired Lou Gehrig. Nationwide grieving took place following his sad death as well.
Sacramento had a team in the Coast League, the Sacramento Solons. Their games were played in the ballpark on Broadway. Sometimes on Sunday we girls would go with our dad to a doubleheader. This was another dimension for us to learn the game of baseball. We would meet with friends of our dad in the covered bleachers section. The comments of the men who surrounded us were an education, and also entertaining for we three little girls. I remember a player who played for the Solons during those years — his name was Dario Lodigiani. I think the name fascinated me. I never forgot it.
Years later, after moving to Napa, I heard the name again. It was connected with publicity about supporting a sporting event. I could not resist checking the telephone book for a listing; I found his name and called the number. A sweet-voiced lady answered the phone, and when I mentioned why I was calling she assured me I had reached the person I had hoped to reach. Dario Lodigiani came to the phone and we had a grand time talking about the old Sacramento team.
Within about two years I had the opportunity to meet and talk with him. The featured fundraising speaker that evening was Joe DiMaggio. Sitting beside Joe at the head table was Dario Lodigiani. Each spoke about how they had grown up in the same neighborhood in San Francisco and about their shared experiences throughout life. I talked briefly to Mr. Lodigiani. But the magic of the evening for me was to be in the same room with Joe DiMaggio whose name, along with his brothers Dom and Vince, had been household words in our family.
I cannot leave this topic without a mention that this dinner event took place at Justin-Siena High School while Charles was a student there and, for the evening, a server. He had the privilege of serving Joe DiMaggio his dinner. Years before I had bought a book on the subject of baseball for Craig. His interest in the game was blossoming and I wanted to give him as much exposure to it as possible. Joe DiMaggio was shown as the author of the book, which was directed to children under 10 years old. After the speakers were finished with their speeches that evening and questions had been answered, a few brave souls asked Joe for his autograph. I approached his table and handed him the book. He looked at the cover, opened it to the cover page, and signed his name. I gave the signed book to Craig. Craig was joyous. In 1994, during a fundraising golf tournament at Silverado [Country Club], Joe DiMaggio participated. He was a draw as several of us followed him through his entire game. I took a photo of him but did not bother him again for an autograph.
[Our First Phone; Ice Cream and Soda Nights]
One major change in our lives when we moved into our new house was that we now had a telephone. This was a wall phone and it was hung in the middle of the downstairs hallway. Our first phone number was Capitol 415. Later on, as the population of Sacramento increased it would be changed to 66363. Eventually prefixes were added to all numbers and Gladstone would become ours. Early in the evening my mother would have us little girls telephone the store to tell Daddy, Bill, or Jim what was needed at home. We would dial 66415. If it was Bernadine calling she would list the things my mother asked for, and each time without fail, she would end the list with "...and bring home some ice cream and soda." This request would be honored about once or twice a month.
The "ice cream and soda nights" were somewhat festive. Ota would be at his usual spot. He would get the first serving always! My mother always saw to it the Grandpa was first to get whatever was being served. The conversation was usually playful, the older ones doing their best to tease the younger ones. I had a tendency to linger longer than others over my ice cream. The usual comment directed at me was that I wanted to be the last one to finish. It was true, I'm sure. After all, I was six or seven years old and did whatever was normal for most six- or seven-year-olds.
[My Broken Arm]
We were generally a healthy family. I do not remember having colds or other illnesses that kept us out of school. We did have our share of accidents, though. In the spring before I turned seven, I fell while on roller skates and broke my left arm. The accident took place on J Street not far from my father's store. It was a Sunday afternoon. My sisters and I had been to a movie and returned to the store to wait for our dad to take us home. A neighbor girl who lived near the store let me use her skates. The side walk had some large raised cracks and I tripped on one, and fell on my left arm. It was a pain I had never experienced. I do not remember who removed the skates but I was taken into the backroom of the store to the deep sink. The water was turned on, cool I think, and I was told to hold my arm under the running water hoping it would lessen the pain. It did not work. I remember crying throughout the experience. Various family members would come into the room to check on me. My cousin Bo even came in to see me. Bo was a kind boy. He also had a skill at telling jokes. Seeing me so distressed, Bo decided to cheer me up by telling me some of his silly jokes. It was not long before I was laughing but the jokes and laughter could not take away the pain.
My dad drove me home and I was put into bed. Marie who slept with me would remind me from time to time over the years that I cried all night. My mother tried all of her home remedies but nothing helped. After two days out of school and still in severe pain the decision was made to take me to a doctor.
Dr. Mullin must have been an orthopedic specialist. He was very gentle and caring. He scheduled a surgery to be done at Mercy Hospital the next morning. My mother was there the entire time. My father could not get away. Back then siblings were not permitted into hospital rooms, so they could not visit. I remember every moment of the surgery preparation. Dr. Mullin stood beside me as he told me what would be happening. I remember he was wearing a short-sleeved surgical gown and I could see freckles on his arms. He walked beside the gurney as I was wheeled into the sterile operating room. The room was surrounded by seemingly stainless steel walls. I was wrapped in warm sheets and warm, lightweight blankets. It was not long before the anesthetist placed the ether cup over my face and I was out.
When I awakened I was in a small private room. My mother was waiting just outside the room. A nurse was standing by because she knew what would happen. The effects of the ether caused me to vomit for what seemed like an endless length of time. Eventually I would be allowed to rest. I slept for awhile and awakened to eat. This was a different experience. I was propped up and a tray was placed in front of me. I do remember Jell-O, but nothing else.
That night, quite late, I heard voices close by. The night nurse was showing my dad where I was. He came into the room and leaned over close to me and asked how I was feeling. I'm sure my reply was "fine." He placed next to me one or two packages of chocolate kisses and told me not eat them all at once. He did not stay long. He had locked the store at the usual hour, 8:00, and came to the hospital before going home. I had my security restored. My dad had that effect on me. He was a comforting force in my life.
[Assimilating to the Local Community; Anti-Italian Prejudice]
There were so many values and ideas impressed upon us growing up in two cultures. I am so very grateful for them all. My father valued his heritage but did not want his children to grow up in an Italian-only neighborhood. We were the only Italian family in our immediate neighborhood for many years. As I described earlier, the Italian families lived between Folsom Boulevard and J Streets, from 48th Street to 58th Street. There were other Italian families who lived in the Oak Park area and scattered in downtown areas as well. Neither did he want us to speak Italian in the house. Thus, none of us perfected our Italian speaking skills, with the exception of Bill who had used the language as a toddler. We all did understand the language quite well as a result of Ota living with us, since it was his only language; also, there were many visitors who spoke the language with Grampa and our mother. I regret not being expected to use the language at home.
I believe that the way we lived enhanced our native heritage. Our moral standing in the community, which was based on our strong work ethic, received much respect.
I cannot overlook the fact that we did live with some anti-Italian prejudice both as an Italian family and individually. During the war, the blatant images of Mussolini and the newsreels and newspapers showing atrocities cast a shadow of suspicion upon all Italians. This condition seemed to heighten the feeling of existing prejudice.
I remember being aware of gestures, nicknames like "wop" or "dago," references to Italians being spaghetti-eaters as being hurtful, and subtle hints that we were not of the same caliber as Anglo-Saxon Americans. I remember when I was with the wonderful, sweet, kind Italian women we knew, such as Aunt Rosie, my siblings and godmothers, our adult cousins, and especially my mother, wondering how anyone could think themselves possibly better than these shining stars in my life. I felt the same for the men we knew.
We were taught to respect all people, to love the earth and appreciate nature and to persevere to always do our best. Our mother's efforts and her love of God was a very strong influence as well. However, the girls demonstrated this influence more readily than the boys. We all attended our weekly sessions of catechism and received our sacraments on time. My mother made it a ritual to have photos taken after each of us received First Holy Communion or Confirmation. I have copies of one or two of these photos.
Our mother's wise, moral, Victorian, presence was always evident. She surely reflected the [image of the] devoted Italian mother of her time. She ran her home very well and was a good cook, a devoted wife and mother; she was quiet and reserved, yet we did live in a matriarchal home. When my father was present she deferred to him but quietly remained the controlling figure of the home. He knew she was capable of keeping everything together in the home, allowing him to be away managing and growing a business for the benefit of his family and a secure future.
[August, 1941 — Junior's Death]
Junior had completed Tahoe School in June and would be starting Kit Carson in September. Junior was a fine husky boy and very outgoing and lovable. A particularly noticeable feature was his large neck. He was nicknamed Bullneck by his older brothers. Junior was also a strong and healthy boy. When he was not expected at the store, he and his friends would play ball or take part in another activity.
It was summer, and summers in Sacramento were hot. There were several public swimming pools in town but the one that was closest was McClatchy Pool, located in McClatchy Park in the Oak Park District. The boys were able to walk there. This was toward the end of July. By his 12th birthday, August 1, he became very ill. My parents thought it was an ordinary fever that would be better in a few days. By this time he was not able to get out of bed. I remember seeing him lying in my parents' bed, and I was being frightened by seeing the effects of a seizure. He was rushed off to Sutter Hospital that afternoon. He was tested and it was determined that he had spinal meningitis. In 1941 there was no way to treat this severe illness. Junior died on August 12. The days that followed were agonizing for both of my parents. My mother was inconsolable. Marie was eight years old, I was seven years and Bernadine was only five. Our parents did not allow us to attend the funeral thinking it would leave us frightened from the experience. We stayed at home with Grampa.
Following the well attended funeral, those who were there gathered at our house. I do remember this event. There was a pall that hung over our house for a very long time after Junior's death. I remember wanting to comfort my mother as she cried throughout the day. Never did she let down on her responsibilities to prepare a meal or tend to our physical needs during this long grieving period. In my mind she changed as a result of the loss. However, her faith was her constant companion.
[Daddy — His Tender Side]
My dad was a very private man with his feelings. He was socially adept and had an attractive personality. Daddy was about 5'10" tall. As a young man he probably weighed 175 pounds, but was considerably heavier in his 40s. He had curly dark hair and a pleasing smile. He was a very handsome man. We were always proud to be with him.
There was no doubt that he was inspired. He possessed a need to always try to master his environment. I continue to be in awe of how much this one person was able to accomplish within the time he was given to pursue his dreams. He was such a success in the business world.
Early in his life he had vigilantly sought fairness in his efforts to help organize a union for the common worker. When he began his business he was active in the United Grocer's Association of California. For a time in the 1930s he was president of the association. I have a copy of a pamphlet that was published for a food show. He is pictured in the articles about the expanding grocery business.
He showed tenderness and gentleness, especially to we three youngest girls. I do not know for sure, but by the time we arrived on the scene, perhaps he felt he had achieved some of his goals and was beginning to realize it was okay to show his vulnerable side. With his three little girls he was not hindered by criticism, nor were we judgmental of him. He trusted us not to demonize him. To us he was masterful without being controlling. He was our hero.
One particular example of this tender side of our dad followed one of Bernadine's discoveries. She and I liked chewing gum, especially bubble gum. It was not easily available to us. Our dad was a regular gum chewer, especially when he was driving. We had learned that Daddy would often leave opened packs of chewing gum in his nicer jacket and suit pockets. Once in a while, Bernadine or I would enter the privacy of our parents' closet and search through the numerous pockets. One day in her search Bernadine came across a roll of paper money fastened with a rubber band. She knew this was not usual so she took it to our mother in the kitchen and showed it to her as she explained where she had found it. Our mother took it and, that night, gave it to our dad. She told him what Bernadine had told her and he was relieved that the money had turned up. He remembered that he had put it into his pocket intending to take it to the bank in the next day or two, but in the interim had forgotten where he put it. The next day when Daddy came home for lunch, he had tucked under his arm a full display box of "Double Bubble Gum." It was an awesome sight to both of us. He gave the box to Bernadine. I don't remember if we continued our gum searches after that. There was no shortage of bubble gum for a long while.
How very much my sisters and I enjoyed our Friday night outings with him at the skating rink, Iceland. One activity he would talk about was how as a young person in New York, he liked to ice skate. He had his own pair of black skates. He was a smooth skater and he could glide around the rink with the best of them. My sisters and I used rental skates. He would help us lace them tightly. He was careful about this because he did not want us to take a fall on the rink caused by a loosened lace. Midway through our evening at Iceland, he would take us into the small cafe within the rink and buy us hot chocolate. During the group skating or couples skating, he would hold our hands as we circled together. This is a precious memory.
[At the Movies; Defending Daddy]
On Sundays Daddy would usually come home earlier than usual. The store was well managed by Bill, Jim, and Willie DaPrato. If there was a musical movie playing downtown at the Senator, Hippodrome, or Crest Theaters on K Street, he would take us with him. He would often mention his fondness for Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald films. He too loved the gaiety, music, and dancing portrayed in these films. They were fun and, to him, probably frivolous, but he enjoyed them with us. Through the years of the war, he would like to go to the newsreel showings. He would always invite us to go along with him to these on late Sunday afternoons. They were not children's fare but we would still go with him. As I reflect back, it was because we were with our dad. We loved being with him. He was protective and gentle with us. We must have brought out qualities in him when he was with us that no one else was allowed to see.
Sometimes my sisters and I were allowed to go to a movie by ourselves if it was early in the day. We would be dropped off in front of the theater and either take a bus home, be picked up, or if it was at the Alhambra Theater, we could walk to Daddy's store. One Sunday afternoon we did not leave the theater promptly after the movie. What had happened was that as we were sitting in the theater my brothers and a friend came in and sat in front of us. Though it was time for us to leave we thought nothing of staying through it again and going home with them. Before long we were summoned to leave. I do not remember who tapped us on the shoulder but I do remember what happened when we got into the car. Daddy was furious with us for not being home on time. Our mother sat quietly beside him as he gave us a good scolding and it was enough to get the message that he meant business.
When he wanted to make a point with his children, he accomplished it promptly and well. I do not remember bringing on such a reaction from him again.
I do become very protective of my father when I hear anything negative said about him by a family member, particularly if it is a family member who never saw him or had a relationship with him.
With most people, including immediate and extended family members, he was more inclined to show his dominant tendencies. He had a plan for his life and the lives of his family. At times it seemed that he knew his time would be limited. He could not waste any of it. I wish I had seen him show more tenderness to my mother. We will never know how their lives would have played out had he lived longer and had pursued a life with her not so cluttered with work and major responsibilities.
[To NABISCO and San Francisco]
Our dad would frequently travel to San Francisco to take care of business matters, attend a United Grocer's convention, or visit various suppliers of merchandise. Often he would make these two-day trips. One in particular was meaningful to us. He had surprised we three girls with the idea of taking us along with him on one of these outings. He was clear about where we would be stopping, and during some of these stops we would have to be patient because he would be busy part of the time. We agreed to be cooperative and not get in the way of business appointments. We left home early enough in the day to arrive in Oakland at the National Biscuit Company (NABISCO) by 1:00. While he was in an office taking care of his business, he left us with an individual who graciously took the three of us on a tour of the plant. We were fascinated by the way the baking, sorting, and packaging of their products was done. I do remember that there was a large display in the store of NABISCO products such as Uneeda biscuits (a favorite of Daddy's), saltine crackers, oyster crackers (favorite of my brother Richard), and the luscious assortment of cookies such as fig newtons and filled varieties. The tour probably lasted about one hour. At the end of the tour each of us was given our own box of the Nabisco Assortment. It was a treat to behold as we were not allowed to help ourselves to these treats in the store.
We moved along on this adventure, each of us in possession of our box of cookies as we drove into San Francisco. It was time to eat dinner. We went to Fisherman's Wharf and enjoyed the entire experience. We walked along the piers, watched others enjoy the day, and had a restaurant meal with our dad.
[Bill Goes to War]
In February 1944, Bill graduated from Sacramento High School. We were all present at the Memorial Auditorium on 15th and J Streets that evening to watch him walk across that stage to receive his diploma. By May he would be in the service in preparation to be sent to Europe.
It was hard for all of us to watch him walk away from us. Bill was the best brother anyone could be blessed to have. From the time of my earliest memory of him, he was a protector. This quality extended beyond those at home who respected him and loved him dearly.
My brother Jim would tell about how Bill, as a child, would be willing to battle anyone who made any unkind statements or ridicule him or Jim. Jim had a stammer and occasionally was teased by others, either while at school or walking to and from school. It was times like this that aroused Bill to be combative.
It was not long before Bill was writing letters home from Fort Hood in Texas. He would describe life in basic training. He described sleeping conditions. He especially described his duty: assigned work in the kitchen. He would learn a lot about cooking for masses of people.
Another experience we took pleasure in that Bill brought about during his basic training days was the friendship he developed with Hugh Martin. Hugh Martin was a songwriter and partner of Ralph Blane. In 1944 the Judy Garland movie "Meet Me In St. Louis" was filmed, and the music was written by these two talented writers. Hugh was called to service just at the completion of the filming. The most memorable song from the film was "The Trolley Song." Hugh and Bill shared KP duties and became companions. Bill would tell us later that Hugh was very small in stature and somewhat shy. This seemed to set him up for a certain amount of ridicule. Bill defended Hugh and the relationship blossomed. Hugh became interested in hearing about Bill's family. We girls would later receive an autographed copy of "The Trolley Song" sheet music. We were delighted.
A most profound reminder of the war was seeing service stars in the many windows of the neighborhood homes of the servicemen. We had one in our front window. Most people we knew had at least one also. Some families had two. The parents of the six Pane boys had four stars displayed in their front window. The other two sons would work as civilians in the war effort. It was a sobering sight to drive down the many neighborhood streets and see these symbols displayed.
Bill was 18 years old, and like so many his age would be faced with the horrors of war. He saw action in Germany, France, and Belgium. He was involved in the Battle of the Bulge, the final German counteroffensive. Bill would not be able to keep in contact with us during these times. We finally heard from him from a hospital in England. He was in a hospital just north of London being treated for frostbite, a condition that left him with problems the rest of his life.
By the middle of 1945 Jim had graduated from high school and would be free to work long days at the store. The war was over and Bill would be on his way home soon. He had earned a Purple Heart and had a lifetime of experience before he was 20. My mother kept the medal safely in her treasure trunk for many years. Bill's son, also named Bill, now has it. My brother seldom talked about his experiences in the war except to comment on how kind the British people were to the men in U.S. uniforms. Perhaps the experiences were too overwhelming or burdensome to discuss.
It was a spring or summer day in the mid 1940s (it was a no school day for sure) when my father asked my sisters and I to take a ride with him. We did not question him about where we would be going. We just wanted to be with him because there was always something surprising or fun that could come of an outing with Daddy. We knew he enjoyed our companionship, too. He was still driving his black La Salle that he'd had since about 1939 or 1940. I assume one of us sat in the front seat with him and the other two of us used the spacious back seat. We drove east on Folsom Boulevard until we were in Perkins. From Perkins we turned right onto State Highway 16. We rode for what seemed like a very long time, farther and farther into the countryside. There were barbed wire fences along the way. Occasionally we would see hanging on one of these fences the skin of an animal. When we asked Daddy what they were, he would tell us that they were coyote skins. The ranchers along the way would kill the intruding coyotes to protect their sheep or cattle. I knew I did not want to be confronted by a live coyote. This was also the first time I remember seeing Burma Shave signs. These were hung on poles in a series. The first line of a verse was posted, then a short distance up the road, the second line of the verse, then maybe a third verse. The last and final sign would say in bold print "BURMA SHAVE." Burma shave was a shave cream that if the guys used it, was supposed to get more girls and improve their lives.
Finally we reached our destination. We parked in front of quite an old structure. The sign across the porch overhang was "General Merchandise." Before walking up the stairs we looked around us and saw the Sloughhouse Saloon that we had passed on our way. It was surrounded by a wrap-around porch. It was the local watering hole. Daddy had given us orders to never go inside. We would obey him. Directly across the street was the creek created by the Consumnes River. In time we would learn that this was a low spot in the road and frequently, if there were heavy winter rains, the creek would overflow and the water would rise within a foot or two of the top of the front porch. Looking straight onto the building just to the left of the store was the post office. Gil was the postmaster. He had grown up in the area and had held the job for years. Gil had a club foot, so he was unable to walk very fast. He was a pleasant person. I remember he was a heavy smoker. He drove a Model-A Ford. It would be parked across the street under the shade of the forest of trees that surrounded the creek. We walked up the six or seven stairs, took notice of the gasoline tank to the left of the door into the store. The pump was an original. It was necessary to prime and pump the handle before dispensing gas.
We went inside the store and met the two proprietors. They were the Jones Brothers. They were expecting us. They had been running the store for, I believe, the entire history of the business. They were small men and looked very much alike. They lived on the premises. We would learn that neither one had ever married. The interior of the store was turn-of-the-century general merchandise decor. The doors were low hung with most unusual door knobs. The locks required a key that extended by opening it in the fashion of a pocket knife. The windows that were on the front of the store were small, making the interior rather dark. The main counter was along the left-side wall. Surrounding the main counter were many see-through bins that held various food items such as beans and rice. Behind the counter were shelves stocked with canned goods. The main shopping area of the store was quite small. However, the storage area was walled off and quite large. . . .
By this time we knew that our dad had been negotiating to purchase the lease on the store. The Jones brothers would be retiring. This plan soon became a reality. The store on 48th and J Streets would be leased out. It would become an income source for our dad. Also he still owned the house to the rear of the store.
Benny was never disrespectful to any of us. He was especially fond of my mother. She had become his mother figure. It was apparent that Benny was fond of all of us. He allowed us to tease him unmercifully at times but never scolded or confronted us. Eventually, he went to work as a guard on the graveyard shift at McClellan Field. Exactly what brought about his making a major change in his life, I do not know. I hope it was our constant suggestions to him and his seeing everyone around him holding down jobs. Benny became a uniformed employee. This really gave him a boost of confidence. His life was getting straightened out. Bobby came home to live with him in the upstairs unit of their house.
Before Saturday of each week Benny would give us a grocery order. At the end of our long workday one of us would walk the aisles of the Sloughhouse store collecting what was on the list. When we arrived home with the order sometimes Bobby was already there to collect the bags. If not we would call him to let him know. Without fail, Bobby would enter the house asking, "Where are my groooceries?" The emphasis was always on the first syllable and he would extend the "o" sound. He knew we found his statement amusing and expected a laugh. We never let him down.
I do not remember which birthday it was, but Benny wanted a birthday party. And of course we were willing to help him prepare for the event. There would be sandwiches, drinks, and cake served. He told us he would see to it that he would have ample food available for us to put the sandwiches together. My sisters and I were in charge of making the sandwiches. When we arrived the evening of the party and set out in the kitchen to perform our task we asked what kind of filling he had decided to include. He gave us a can of tuna, mayonnaise, and olives. We needed to know how many sandwiches to make. He said, "You should be able to get 40 sandwiches out of a can of tuna." We were not yet super experienced in the kitchen but we all knew this would be impossible. We ended up going home to supplement Benny's tuna sandwich menu. As usual, that evening gave us stories to tell and to embellish as we would see fit. We could always count on Benny to add to our repertoire of "amusing stories."
[The Big Sac-McClatchy Game and Governor Earl Warren]
Richard, Anthony, and Marie were students at Sacramento High in 1948. Richard was a senior, Anthony a junior and Marie a sophomore. Richard was a top athlete in both baseball and football. He had been the star quarterback since his junior year. He was now a senior. Every year the big game between the two cross-town rivals, McClatchy High and Sacramento High, took place on Thanksgiving Day. Anthony would also play in this game.
Early on Thanksgiving morning, our mother had put the turkey into the oven, prepared the sauce for the homemade ravioli which we had made earlier in the week, and my sisters and I had helped take care of other meal preliminaries. This was a most unusual holiday for us. We would all attend the game together. It was without question one of the most memorable days in our family life. Daddy, Mama, and the rest of us would go to Hughes Stadium and cheer for our team and watch Anthony and Richard. Richard was the talented quarterback for the Dragons (Sac High) and lived up to his nickname: The Boy with the Educated Toe. He was great that day, calling plays and kicking field goals. Anthony played on the defensive line and did well for a beginning player. The experience was euphoric and most meaningful to us all.
It was a tradition during halftime that our esteemed Governor Earl Warren, who was in attendance, would move from his place on one side of the stadium to the other to show no partiality to either team. I do not know how long this tradition continued, but it existed during those years in the late '40s and very early '50s. Several of his children had attended and graduated from McClatchy High School. It was not too long following the completion of his term as governor in 1951 that he became Chief Justice of the United States.
[Summer of '49]
As we approached the 1950s, the city of Sacramento was expanding. Sacramento State College would now become a separate entity from the junior college. Since the end of the war and with the availability of the GI Bill, enrollment grew enormously. Groundbreaking began about 1951. The property along Fair Oaks Boulevard where it would be constructed was still a hopfield in 1949 surrounded by small ranches and open spaces. It would not be long before this part of Sacramento would be developed. In the overall plan of this northeast part of the city would soon be its first outside mall. It would be called Town and Country Village. Churches were being added to this area, as well as schools and new homes. Roadways were being widened at a rapid rate. The new housing was not served by a public transportation service so there were more and more automobiles. Sacramento was growing and spreading.
Summer of 1949 was not much different than the previous summer. We reported to work at the store on a regular basis. If we were not needed there were many things to keep us busy at home. Our brothers continued to play American Legion baseball on weekends and even some games during the week in an evening league. These were fun for us to attend. As summer evenings in Sacramento were warm it was pleasant to go to Southside Park and watch a game under the lights. We would drive over with Bill or Richard and sometimes stop for an ice cream cone or root beer after the game. We would always meet with others who attended the games as regularly as we did. It was a gathering place for baseball families. On Sunday when Bill played, Marie, Bernadine, and I would ride along with him to the games. We would always pick up Alex Muirhead on the way to the park. Alex lived in the area of Sacramento called Colonial Heights. We girls thought Alex was handsome. We would sit quietly in the back seat and not speak a word while Bill drove us to the ballpark. I was probably 11 or 12 years old, Marie a little older and Bernadine was younger. It seldom happened, but if Alex did not need a ride we were disappointed.
During his senior year of high school Richard was one of the star players on the Sacramento High School baseball team. My sisters and I would walk to the games after school. They were played at McClatchy Park which was just a few blocks from our school. We sat with our school friends — some were family members of the players and some were girlfriends. I remember in particular sitting with Nadine Mast. She was Woody Held's girlfriend. Woody later signed and played professionally. They married shortly after high school. Woody's parents never missed a game. We would always visit with them during the games. Chris Christian, whose girlfriend was also a regular at the games, would also sit with us. Her name was Dodie Bader. They, too, married after graduation. Sometimes there would be interest created among the spectators that a scout from one of the professional teams was at a game to observe a certain player. The regular attendance of all of us drawn together by a common interest at these and other games created acquaintanceships and friendships. The common interest was a player on the baseball team. I have warm memories of those pleasant spring afternoons.
Jim began to bring up the idea of going to Utica during the summer. It was his plan to drive his Dodge across the country. He planned to do this in September. . .
On September 1, 1949, we were up early. Jim and Inez were getting ready and beginning to put things into the car for themselves and their baby, Billy, our first nephew who was adored by all of us. Bernadine and I would help with him during the trip. My mother could not let us leave without a lunch she prepared for us. Daddy lingered at the table that morning drinking coffee. He would leave for work after we left. Bernadine and I put our few things into the car trunk, too. Our wardrobe was simple. We wore jeans on the trip and brought only a few other articles of clothing. Daddy had recently purchased watches for us. Each watch was a little different, but both were Elgin and both were gold. We were wearing our watches that morning. Bernadine needed a coat for school so she asked Daddy for money to buy one in Utica. He gave her enough to cover the cost.
Leaving was difficult. We would be leaving Marie at home. Usually, she would be with us but Marie had started high school and did not want to miss any classes. Our mother knew we would be fine with Jim but still she still expressed a motherly concern for us. Leaving was not something we did easily. We said goodbye to Daddy inside. Not a demonstrative goodbye because he was not one to exhibit emotions. In fact he was more likely to be somewhat abrupt at such times. It was his way of keeping control of his emotions, I believe. Our mother and Marie walked to the car with us and hugged us as she bid us a safe trip. I began to cry. Marie frowned at me to not cry, I remember. We drove away.
It was a long trip. We stopped every early afternoon to locate a room and to give Billy time to crawl and stretch. We would make brief stops during the long days of driving. Jim did all the driving. It was hard on him but he did not complain. We arrived tired on the evening of September 8. Our first stop was at Uncle Joe's house where Inez and Jim would stay with the baby. Later that evening Uncle Louie, Aunt Evelyn, and their son Bob came to take Bernadine and me to their house. We would stay with them for the duration of our stay. It had been a long day, and after a brief visit while we ate a snack we went to bed. We used Bob's room. He slept upstairs in a spare room.
The next morning we heard Jim's voice out in the kitchen. He was talking to Uncle Louie in a quiet voice. When we let them know we were awake, Uncle Louie asked if he could come into our room to talk to us. Jim remained in the kitchen. Bernadine and I looked at each other somewhat confused. What could this be about?
Uncle Louie spoke. His words were, "We had a call late last night from Sacramento. It was bad news." I was expecting to hear something about Grampa. We fixed our gaze on his face. Uncle Louie continued: "Your father died." After a short pause, I said, "You mean our grandfather, don't you?" "No," he replied. Bernadine and I were stunned and paralyzed. My thoughts were, "How could this be? We left him sitting at the table drinking coffee the morning we left. He was fine and, we thought, healthy." Then Jim came into the room. There was no show of deep emotion from him. He was very collected and in control. I momentarily resented it. I think now I wanted to be angry, but could not. He told us that at about midnight a call was received to give us the news. He said Bill and Marge had called. Our dad has suffered a massive heart attack. He had arrived home from work about 7:00. He had recently purchased a new vehicle, a Lincoln. He parked it in the back driveway, left the car door open and rushed inside. He asked my mother and Marie to call a doctor because he was ill. He was holding his chest. He used the bathroom and went into his bedroom just next to the bathroom to lie down. Before long sirens could be heard. The emergency crew arrived, removed him from the bed onto a gurney, and sped away to the hospital for emergency attention. He was dead on arrival.
Eventually, we would get the rest of the story. Marge had gone to the State Fair with friends that evening. Richard was in the service in San Diego. Anthony was out for the evening with friends. Bill had gone out with Anna Rose. Grampa was at home and expressed over and over "e'morte, e'morte."
The funeral was September 13. It was attended by hundreds of mourners. It was an agonizing time for Bernadine and me. My thoughts kept returning to the morning we left Sacramento and seeing Daddy sitting at the kitchen table. It was too incredible to absorb. I know it must have been difficult for Jim too.
By the 16th or 17th of September we were on our way home. It was a long trip. When we finally arrived home Bernadine and I approached the house with apprehension. Jim and Inez had come inside but no one was there except Grampa. Jim and Inez left for Sloughhouse. Bernadine and I were uneasy at the prospect of seeing our mother because we did not know what to expect. She came home within a half hour of our arrival. She had been visiting a neighbor. . . . Shirley Fields came over a little later. Together we sat on the bed and listened as Marie poured out the overwhelming grief she was feeling and described the burdens of getting through the days that followed our father's death.
Our mother would relate the events of the dreadful night over and over for a while. She told us how Daddy had parked the car in the back driveway, rushed into the house clutching his chest, telling our mother and Marie to call for a doctor. After the madness of that night settled down, no one slept much, and the next morning when Mama stepped out the back door she saw the door to his car still open. She walked over to the new Lincoln and closed the door.
[Life Without Daddy...and What Might Have Been]
We would now have to adapt to the reality of living without Daddy. I was 15, Bernadine was only 13 and would be 14 the following November. This loss created a huge void. He had been an anchoring point in our lives. Never again would we hear his voice or see him come home. Gradually we would adjust to his being gone. Every so often there were painful reminders in the form of telephone calls from people who knew him and did not know of his passing. Wrinkles, his most recently acquired pet, grieved too. She would wait for him to come home. Eventually, she fully attached herself to Marie, Bernadine, and I. Our dog Shorty did not have an attachment to our dad as she was a family pet from the beginning. Wrinkles had been our dad's companion, however, the pet he brought back and forth to the store with him.
Being a father to daughters was a very different role from that of sons in our father's world. Women and daughters were expected to be helpmates; at home we were expected to master the realm of managing a house and do it well, but also, be capable of assisting in the store. The Betty Crocker image was one he respected for women. Although we were with him a lot of the time and worked with him, because of his premature death we would never know if he would have given us the responsibility of a store or a related business. We never came close to the notion that he would not be with us for guidance and support for a longer time. Somehow, I think he would have given us the opportunity.
In the years since 1949, grocery stores have grown into a mega-business. One individual who my dad knew well and was a fellow grocer, Tom Raley, grew his ownership from one or two stores to hundreds around Northern California. It is impossible to drive on a major highway or freeway today and not see one of his enormous delivery trucks. We will never know, had Daddy lived another 20-25 years, if he would have been part of the enormous supermarket growth. Marge and I had lunch with Olga Houx recently. Olga worked in the United Grocer's business office when my dad met her in the early 1940s. I was curious about her thoughts of how our dad might have done in the modern market system. She was sincere when she shared that he was even more capable of growing a business successfully. She told us that Mr. Raley had to be a "cash and carry" for his purchased merchandise because he would have small failures in his businesses. But my dad never had a problem — he was always solvent.
For many years following Daddy's death, during our private conversations, my mother and I would talk about what might have become of his and her lives in future years. She thought he might have mellowed and slowed down, wanting to be at home more. He would have likely enjoyed his grandchildren, but also might have told them when it was time to go home. Other times, he would likely have put them into the car and taken them for a treat of ice cream and soda.
Mama and I agreed that the outcome of our individual lives would have been different because he was such a dynamic individual. We, especially his daughters, looked to him for leadership and direction.
[Losing Ota Giuseppe]
The year after our father died, Joe and his dad came to our house to take Grampa away from us. They would take him to Uncle Frank and Aunt Rosie's house. This was something our mother could not interfere with. Joe was Uncle Frank's son. Grampa (Ota's) son Louie was gone. My mother resented the way this was done. We girls were upset that Grampa would not get the care we had given him. He was used to us and an integral part of our family. It was a traumatic move for him. Along with Grampa went a personal trunk that was kept in the downstairs bedroom that Ota used. Within the trunk were kept the few personal belongings that Grampa had. I do not ever remember seeing the inside of it. It was not too many months before Grampa's health began to fail. In the many years he lived with us he was never ill. He lived in a caring atmosphere with people who respected him. He would soon be put into the downstairs ward at the county hospital where the elderly were taken to die. We were devastated that he was put there. Our mother continued to say that we could not interfere. He was their father. She was right. He died shortly after. It was so hard on Marie as she was training at the county hospital and was not only upset but was embarrassed that her grandfather was in the basement with other elderly people, most of them forgotten. The difference was that Grampa had family. Probably most of the others did not.
By 1954 Royce Hodgkins had come into my life. He and I were brought together by a mutual friend, Betty Sorocco. Royce was my date for my senior prom a few years earlier. I had not intended to attend the prom, but Betty suggested that I might want to go with him. They had been friends for some time having met each other through mutual friendships. I was very active in school activities and school government, but when it came to the social scene, my sisters and I resisted. However, Marie attended her prom with a cute fellow named Ken Kirby. I think they dated a time or two. The evening of my prom, Royce appeared at the front door wearing a white dinner jacket, a bow tie, and a black cumberbund around the waist of his black trousers. He was holding a corsage box. When I invited him in he handed the box to me and as I opened it I realized it was an orchid in a shade of green that matched my gown. Apparently, he had asked Betty the color of my dress for the event. Incidentally, my gown was the one I had worn in Marge's wedding the year before. The evening was a lovely time. We danced a lot, had refreshments, sat and talked for very short breaks, and danced some more. The highlight of the evening was the "Grand March," during which each couple would emerge from the end of the ballroom floor and walk forward to form a huge group picture. Because I was a class officer (either president or vice-president), Royce and I were in the front row of the picture. When he walked me to the door at the end of the evening I did not expect to hear from him again. But I was wrong.
We would both attend junior college together for a while before he joined the army in May of 1953. He would immediately begin to spend time at our house. His house was a quiet place. He had a sister Bernadine's age. He made himself at home with any member of my family who was around. I did not have to be there. By May or June, his parents were anxious to meet me and my family and find out something about the folks who had captured their son's attention. God knows what they might have been thinking. The idea that their son was spending so much time with one person could only mean one thing to them! They were wrong. We both had more sense than to be teen-aged and married. I saw the confinements and demands of marriage within the examples of my family. Someday, but not now.
Mr. and Mrs Hodgkins came to visit shortly after Royce reported to Fort Ord in Monterey. After he finished basic training, they would invite me to go to the completion ceremony with them. It was a long day traveling round-trip seated in the back seat of their Ford. Royce's sister Anita and I occupied the back seat. Royce came home on occasional weekends to visit. One of those weekends, his parents invited me to go along with them and Royce to Lake Tahoe. They had a cabin at South Shore; it had been completed a year or two before. I enjoyed the weekend with them. Little did I realize that it would be the first of many trips to the cabin over the course of my lifetime. By early 1954, Royce was in Japan and later, Korea. He wrote to me very often and I wrote back. I would receive many, many photographs.
[Stepping Into the Working World]
By the summer of 1953 I decided to try to find a full-time job. I stopped by Cal-Western Insurance Company, completed an application, tested, and started a job in the collection department the following Monday. It was a lovely new office on the corner of 21st and L Streets. I thought I would take classes in the evening eventually. I liked the idea of moving into an adult world. I did well at Cal-Western. I was advanced three times during my tenure there.
I found my co-workers very diverse in their lifestyles. There was also a varied range of ages. I made many new friends. One in particular I grew fond of was Lily Tamaki. She was a few years older than I. As we became better acquainted I learned that Lily was a Catholic. I was somewhat surprised that a Japanese woman would be a Catholic. As we talked about our backgrounds I learned that she and her family had been placed in an internment camp during WWII. It was there that Lily and her family became converts to the Catholic faith. She and I became close and I appreciated her friendship. I later visited her home and met Lily's parents and sister. They lived to the south of us near the airport.
[Charm School; "On the Waterfront"]
I met someone at Cal-Western who was taking a course at the local charm school. It was an intriguing idea. I was growing interested in developing a wardrobe and was beginning to buy attractive clothes. After the course was completed, I participated in two fashion shows and two or three other events in Sacramento. It was fun for a brief time but I soon put it behind me. I did learn about using make-up, assembling a wardrobe, and walking with a book on my head. I realized, though, that I would rather read the book!
In 1954 when the film "On the Waterfront" was released, it was Nikki Guzzi with whom I would go to the theater to see this revealing film. Nikki had seen first-hand the plot of this movie. She confirmed and validated the horrors that existed among the unions and the bosses on the harbors of New York City. I absolutely fell in love with the role Marlon Brando played. It was a movie that brought me close to the reality of the lives that my dad and his brothers could have lived had his family remained in New York and been forced to find work as longshoremen or in other related jobs. Although my father and his brothers were not immigrant workers, they would have been treated as such and be vulnerable to these kinds of conditions.
[First TV Set]
For Christmas of 1953, I had bought a television set. It was a whole new world opened up to us. Jim and Inez had a TV set. Bill and Anna Rose had one, and Marge and Ray also. It was the thing to do in the 1950s. Before the purchase we would drive to West Sacramento on Monday nights occasionally and watch "I Love Lucy." But we needed a set of our own. While Marie was with us for the year of Jerry's absence, she hardly missed a night of watching Doug Edward's news presentation. Dinah Shore was on three nights a week following the news. We all would watch "This is Your Life" every Wednesday. Our mother loved this show. If the evening viewing was going to last awhile, she would make popcorn using a large heavy fry pan on the stove. She would ask every evening, "Is there a pretty picture on?" She liked the shows that had a mellow plot and romance. "Gunsmoke" was a favorite on Saturday nights. If Jim was with us, he would be the one to remind us that it was on. It was his favorite. Sid Caesar was another fun show. Our mother could only take a little of that show. The pace of it was too crazy for her. "Studio One" was live theater. It was always worth watching. If Linda Sue was with us, she would like to watch "My Little Margie." If the small children were around in mid afternoon, the TV would be tuned to "The Mickey Mouse Show." Lynn, Marge's oldest girl, loved that show and would always sing along. Dave Garroway and Steve Allen were favorites of mine.
[My Mother's Changing World]
For some time our Mother was sensing that soon her two remaining grown children would be gone, and her big concern was keeping her independence. She would always want to be free to get to the grocery store and church without waiting for others to take her. As long as Bernadine and I were there, she would attend mass with us and we could shop together or take her shopping. In our private times with our mother, Bernadine and I began to talk about selling the house and moving close to St. Mary's Church. The grocery stores were within walking distance and there were many newer houses being built there. We began to take drives around the neighborhood and generate interest in the idea. By the time we would get home, she had talked herself out of the idea saying, "Where am I going to put my kids when they come?" We now knew we were in the middle of a set pattern and Bernadine and I had no power to change anything. She and I began to talk about the possibility of moving out and getting an apartment. When we had the courage to tell our mother she was appalled. "Only tramps move out of the house!" she would say. We could not change her thinking. We would surely never defy her. We would live with the situation as it was.
Understanding the complexity of our mother was not difficult if we could fully accept her life. She reflected so well the first generation of the Southern Italian immigrant woman. By this time, I knew that there would be areas of her personality that I would never want to imitate, nor could I. The culture that she had been a part of in her life had changed for us. We had been exposed to a world more open. Hers was limited to family and other relatives; we had more education that gave us opportunities for knowledge and the reading of books. Her generation did not have that. Within her generation and culture that started in the old country, books were not practical. Those women who read books were taking time from what was most important for them: caring for the home and children. By the event of her birth she was predisposed to pursue life as it had been mapped out by her mother and previous generations of Southern Italian women. That was a life that brought comfort to her by preordained traditional ways. An Italian wife and mother of her background would forever devote her life to the needs of her husband, children, and other family members. She would be useful. Surrounding this, only certain behaviors would be accepted. Another part of this culture was religion. The Catholic religion was at the center of her world. She prayed to her chosen favorite saints; among them was St. Lucy and St. Anne, and most powerful was the influence of St. Mary, the Virgin Mother of Christ. She prayed the rosary faithfully and was comforted by this discipline. Her Madonna qualities were her strongest. She was able to endure life's many tumultuous events.
At about this time, the summer of 1957, Jim and Bill were developing plans to open a family-style Italian restaurant. They had, in fact, purchased a large piece of property on Fair Oaks Boulevard. It was the area that began to develop after the war, and now that Sacramento State College was in the area, businesses were flourishing all the way to Watt Avenue and beyond. Bill would be selling his store and investing that capital into the new venture. Jim would dissolve his ownership in the four-plex he had and any other assets. They kept ownership of their houses. Ground would be broken by the fall. As the time grew closer, the structural plans changed to something more grand than the first ideas. It was now decided they would open a more elegant dining spot. It would be called Villa d'Italia. It would have near the main entrance an enormous fountain with water billowing from the upper part of the design. Inside the front of the building interior was a lovely cocktail lounge designed in wall paper and stucco walls. The dining area was a large room that displayed white linen-covered tables and cushioned chairs. The kitchen was the most modern available for its time. This venture would be something everyone in the family could be a part of, except for Marie, who was living in Southern California.
[Miss Defazio Goes to Washington]
Our 1957 trip east was wonderful. It was the first flight for my mother. Nearly every one of her children and several grandchildren showed up for the afternoon flight out of Sacramento. We flew to Washington, D.C. first. I had wanted to see our Capitol City for a very long time. She liked the tours and talking to other tourists, and generally enjoyed the experience. I made reservations for us at the Statler Hotel, in the middle of the city. The White House tour was especially meaningful to her. Dwight Eisenhower was president at the time. She had told me even before we left home that we would call Nellie Brocato while in D.C. Nellie was my dad's first cousin and had lived there for many years. I was anxious to meet her. Nellie was happy to hear from us. She and her husband picked us up at our hotel and drove us to Rockville, Maryland, where they had moved after they retired. Nellie's son Stuart, his wife, and their two boys were there when we arrived. It was a lovely evening and we took photos. From that time I maintained a relationship with Nellie. We would write to each other. She took a trip to California in 1960 and visited us. She and my dad had been close as cousins, so I found it gratifying to know her for that reason as well.
[Marriage — October 27, 1957]
Once back home [from Washington, D.C.] I began to make wedding plans. I was given a shower by friends. The wedding was at St. Mary's Church. We stood beneath the lovely statue of Mary as we spoke our vows. She gazed down upon us on that blessed day of our lives. Bernadine was my maid of honor. My bridesmaids were Marge, Shirley, and Anita, Royce's sister. Our best man was Anthony. The groomsmen were Larry Penfield, Anita's husband, and two of Royce's friends from school, John Berggren and Bill Holtz. I was given away by my brother Bill. He had performed the same honor for Marge and Marie. We were fortunate to have such a loving brother in our lives, but we would have cherished having our dad be there to walk with us down the aisle. Our reception was perfect. It was held at the Tuesday Clubhouse on L Street. It was a catered affair with salads and sandwiches of delicious cold-cuts and cheeses. We had champagne and a beautiful tiered wedding cake. My mother had made an assortment of familiar Italian cookies to offer to the 150 invited guests. Annie Masi was still running the Hodson Studio, so we had her do the photography, which she assigned to her son-in-law who worked with her. A most memorable part of the party was when Pete took a group photo of our entire family present.
[Firstborn — Christopher, August 15, 1958]
I delivered our first son at 11:56 in the morning in Montebello, just east of Los Angeles. I had hoped to be awake for the delivery, but there was a problem with the umbilical cord. As a result, I was anesthetized so the doctor could work on the baby. Later that day the doctor came to my room where I was in recovery and told me that the baby did not breathe for several minutes; because of this, it was necessary to place him in an incubator. He would remain there for at least five days.
I was overcome with grief. The pregnancy had been a glorious time for us but my joy was overshadowed by my worry that my baby would possibly suffer brain damage. I lay in bed and prayed for hours until I fell asleep. My prayers were my only comfort at this time. The next morning when Royce came to visit me, we walked to the nursery to see our baby for the first time. He was beautiful and looked as healthy and strong as any baby I had seen. I was not allowed to touch him because it was vital that he remain in the ideal conditions the incubator provided him.
When it was time for me to be discharged, Royce and I completed the necessary paperwork required before I could leave, including naming the baby. We gave our son the name Christopher Thomas: Christopher, after the bearer of Christ and patron of traveIers; and Thomas (Aquinas), after the scholarly doctor of the Church. I was grateful that Royce agreed to the choice.
It was so difficult leaving my baby behind at the hospital. Once I was home I was again confronted with the grief my family was going through, especially my mother over the financial problems with the family restaurant. I so wanted to be there with my mother, but it was not the right time for me to make the trip. We would be traveling to Sacramento in November. We could not get away before then.
Knowing of my problem, my mother rode a Greyhound bus to East Los Angeles to be with me. It was incredible. Her mothering spirit was so resilient. She stayed only a few days, but went to the hospital with Royce to bring my baby home. The sense of complete joy when I held him overwhelmed me. I took Christopher from his grandmother's arms and into mine for the first time. I could only cry and hug my infant close as she stood beside me and cried with me. This was a moment of elation for her amid the anguish she had been living with for the past several months.
["The husky little guy" — Craig, December 31, 1959]
Marie offered to care for Christopher while I was hospitalized for Craig's delivery. I appreciated her generosity. She remembered how I stayed with her two older children, Charles and Louise, when she delivered John, who was born in February 1958. This was when I was in my early pregnancy with Christopher. I stayed in Oxnard and did all the usual chores that Marie would do for the children. I remember that Jerry was decent during my entire stay. Royce drove me there and came back for me a week later.
Since my first pregnancy, I knew I did not want to be attended by the same medical staff as I had had with Christopher. I concluded that they were lax about being with me during the entirety of my labor and delivery. The physician was not part of the scene until I was being taken into delivery. Perhaps the problems with Christopher's birth would not have taken place had the doctor been there.
Our former neighbor, Margie, had raved to me about the obstetrician who delivered her daughter's last baby. His name was James Maharry and his office was located in Whittier. I made an appointment with him and he agreed to follow the pregnancy and deliver the baby. He was efficient and caring. As the due date approached, Dr. Maharry suggested that we might induce labor if it was what I wanted. That way the doctor would be in attendance through the entire process. The baby was due on January 3, 1960, but during an office visit in late December the doctor said that if I did not go into labor by December 31, I could be admitted. He would also be inducing another patient that evening.
Our next door neighbor, Rose Lemley, offered to care for Christopher until Marie and Jerry could get to our house that afternoon and take our toddler to Oxnard with them. The plan went very smoothly. The experience delivering my second child was a pleasure. I had the reassurance of the doctor the entire time and I delivered within three hours of being admitted to the hospital. I was given a spinal and so was able to participate in the beautiful moment. I stayed in the hospital for three days, returned home with our second son, and Marie and Jerry brought Christopher back home within two or three days. She wanted to keep him longer but I missed him too much.
Naming my new baby was a new experience. We had no other boy's name in mind, so I spent a little time during the two days following his delivery going through books of names. We decided on Craig. It seemed to suit the husky little guy. He was strong and alert. The name Craig, with its Scottish roots, sounded right with Hodgkins. The name Matthew was considered prior to his birth. Matthew was a faithful disciple of Jesus who was later martyred. Its meaning is a gift of the Lord. We thought this combination would provide a good path for Craig to follow. He has not let us down.
[The "beautiful eyed" — Catherine, March 21, 1962]
Living back in the Sacramento area, my third pregnancy was easy. I was getting plenty of exercise by taking care of two active sons and looking after a house. I remember visiting Royce's folks around the weekend of March 16. They had invited us to dinner. After dinner, I thought I had gone into labor and called the doctor to meet me at Sutter Maternity Hospital. After checking in and being examined, we decided it was a false alarm. We collected our sons from Royce's mother's house and went home. Early on the morning of March 21, I again checked into the hospital. Dr. Yaholkovsky was waiting for me. This time it was the real thing.
Before long I was being wheeled into delivery and my baby was born at 12:03 in the afternoon. I had a beautiful baby girl. She was lovely, healthy, and precious. I was elated to have been able to share the entire experience with the roomful of personnel in the delivery room. I did not notice that an entire group of people, male and female, in nurses' training had entered the room. It was almost festive. The doctor was entertaining the audience, and I was enjoying the baby bundle that rested just across my body in a perfect position for me to gaze in admiration at her pretty face and into her blue eyes. During the constant ordeal of the delivery, the chain holding the crucifix hanging around my neck broke. One of the attending nurses spotted the crucifix attached by perspiration and body heat to my chest. She immediately taped the cross to the spot where it had been. We never did find the chain in all the confusion. I later bought a new chain and still wear the cross.
I think I decided I liked the name Catherine a long while before I saw her. It is the name of many Saints, and one significant meaning of the name is "beautiful eyed." Her eyes were her outstanding feature. She was a perfect baby. Her weight was nearly eight pounds, making her appear to be about two weeks old, and her skin was a delicate shade of soft pink. I was joyous.
[An Early Christmas — Charles, December 7, 1971]
My children were beginning to show their eagerness for the near-arrival of the new baby. Would it be a new baby brother or sister? It was early on the morning of December 7, at about 3:00, that I awakened Royce and told him I was in labor — the pains were timed closely enough for the doctor to direct me to the hospital. By 8:00 I was taken to delivery. At 8:36 our beautiful 6 pound 14 ounce baby boy (my smallest) was born. We had a joyous time in the delivery room. The attending nurses were talkative, complementing me on such a beautiful baby (which he was), and Dr. Titus announced that had he been a girl he would have to be named Pearl in honor of December 7 being Pearl Harbor Day. I had heard that Dr. Titus liked to sing to his patients as they were in delivery and my delivery was no exception. I don't remember the songs but he was singing. Shortly after I was taken back to my room, the nursing staff brought the baby to me. Royce had returned to the hospital after helping the children get ready for school and together we welcomed our newest member of the family. I snuggled him and nursed him and the moment was a little different from previous deliveries, when several hours had passed before the babies were brought to me. This time it was within an hour.
We decided to name our new baby Charles in keeping with the "C" initials. I could speak only in the superlative about the Queen of the Valley Hospital staff. They were excellent. The day we left the hospital, most of the attending nurses came to say goodbye. All December babies born at the Queen of the Valley Hospital were sent home in a large red and white stocking. I watched as the nurse dressed him and placed him in the oversized sock. I have kept the stocking to give to Charles eventually. The same nurse, Nurse Fontana, who greeted me and cared for me during my labor, wheeled me to the car. It was a lovely experience and to take home a healthy, robust baby was a blessing. I thanked God for the blessings of a healthy delivery and perfect care.
Once back home the children were excited to see and hold their new baby brother. Charles was a good baby, but because he was less than seven pounds he wanted to nurse more frequently. He began to gain weight rapidly and each time I took him to Dr. Moore for a check-up he was topping the height and weight charts. He immediately had a special place in our hearts, and in our family. The children's friends loved to come to see him and watch the infant, I think because they did not have many opportunities to be involved in the life of someone as young as Charles.
I am not sure that I recognized it then, but I surely do now, just how unifying to a family a later baby could be. The disruption to my life, which had certainly taken a sharp turn from the planned luxury of my returning to school and pursuing my own interests, became incidental. It was now my primary responsibility to put the needs of our new baby first in my life. He was a joy. He grew rapidly and responded to everyone who spoke to him. I had resumed my regular duties of driving and picking up the children from their many school functions and extra activities. Charles soon became used to being placed into the baby seat in the car several times a day. He and I would run errands to pay bills and shop. I remember when he was only a few days old, we were shopping in Safeway and my Napa College friend, Barbara Erickson, was shopping also. When we spotted each other and she walked toward me, she gazed down at the baby in the carrier. She then said with a smile on her face, "So this is the baby who was thought at first to be menopause?"
[My Mother's Example]
I remember thinking about how our lives had evolved to the point we had reached. Life just happens sometimes! It is not by any particular effort or design, but rather part of a timeline of sorts. Most importantly, you know when you must take on a responsibility just because it is there.
It was my mother who had been my primary example. My question was whether I would be the same way in my later years? I was beginning to see my world from a broader perspective because my world had become so enlarged. It was a perspective, by birth, that I had been destined to assume just because of my birth. The traditional Italian family had different expectations for sons and daughters. My mother knew of only giving and the giving up of herself. I was struggling with my role as the daughter of this person. I could not feel resentment because I saw the situation as a responsibility. It was a moment of truth for me.
What if I had been born into a family of a totally different background? Different parenting? What if I have been an only child, or even one of two, instead of the eighth of nine? What had seemed like a blissful world as a child was now weighed down by responsibilities that were increasing by no efforts on my part.
I loved my mother dearly, and honored her and her courage to always be faithful to God and to her family, no matter what happened to her personally. The complexities and entanglements of my extended family were growing each day.
I had the day-to-day responsibility of three teens and a nearly six-year-old son, a husband, a house, and a job. All this was a small part of the overall load. Additionally, I was emotionally committed to my extended family, the most important being my mother whose needs I must help meet. I could only conjecture what other responsibilities would await me in the future. I knew I must persevere to carry on, be of service, and put my faith in God as I had seen my mother do time after time.
(This entire memoir is over 200 pages long, and was written during the years 1997-2002, but ends in 1980. It preserves Eleanor's authentic voice from the years just before 2003-2004, when Lewy Body Dementia began to rob her of her memories and of her mind.)