Tuesday, November 30, 2010

December 1, 1901 Luigi's Birthday

Luigi was born in Bari, Italy on December 1, 1901. Luigi was in the middle of some 15 or so children. Whenever his children tried to find out the precise number by asking Aunts or Uncles they never seemed to nail down a fixed figure. Luigi grew up in a happy but strict Italian family. Luigi's father was a shoemaker, not a shoe repairer but one who made shoes. Luigi's mother used to bake bread for the Nuns that lived nearby. Luigi's family lived in a suburb of Bari called Casamasama. This was a poor town and business for new shoes wasn't a thriving one. The Mother kept the finances between bearing all those children. Two years separated the kids since she nursed and managed to get pregnant when she stopped. Catholics take note, better than the rhythm method. Luigi seemed to grow up happily enjoying Football (Soccer), Opera and loved to sing and eat although he always was very thin. Yet he never wanted to become a shoemaker like his father and a few of his brothers so he did odd jobs. Luigi shared with his son many years later that each town's square had a shell for musicians that would tour and play Operas. God forbid if they made a mistake. The people knew each Opera, note for note and if badly played they would throw tomatoes and rocks at the musicians.

Around 18 Luigi became restless and saw very little future for him at home. A few of his siblings had immigrated to the United States and encouraged him in letters to join them. When he was 19 he boarded a ship and set sail for Waterbury, Conn. with first stopping at Ellis Island, New York. Now he could only afford the cheapest so he sailed on the lowest deck and ate very little since he was seasick most of the way.
Luigi arrived in New York harbor barely a man, unable to speak the language knowing very little of the customs. He must of been very afraid yet his Italian pride would show none of that. He got through customs and was met by family members and headed for Waterbury. I guess you could say he settled in a ghetto which was good not bad. The Italian part of town gave him a feeling of belonging, of home. It was near the Polish part of town. He got a job in a factory that was staffed at his level with Polish and Italian workers. The Polish guys were big brawny guys and Luigi was wiry but thin. In those days eating was a sign of manliness. The Italians knew about Luigi's eating prowess but the Polish guys didn't. They would be suckered into a bet choosing the favourite as to who could eat the most, not the fastest but the most, quantity not speed. When the Polish guys saw skinny Luigi the betting went up. Luigi insisted on the menu which consisted of the most filling Italian cheeses and salamis. He easily beat them. The Italians collected the money from the bets and went home for lunch, including Luigi.

A little later Luigi's family moved to New York where he picked up the trade of Furniture (Re)Finisher in which he excelled because of his ability to color and match colors. He met a young Italian-American girl and they married. For a while he fractured the English language but when two young girls in a bakery made fun of him and he didn't know why until he asked his wife he became so angry that on his own he studied and in his later years had a refined accent. I guess you could take the boy out of Italy but you could never take Italy out of the boy. He had friends that migrated from Italy also. Many a night they would listen to records of great Operas and cry at the beauty. This was never understood by Luigi's children until they got older. Baseball was foreign to Luigi but Soccer was not popular here. Yet he tried to understand the game as his children were really into it. Little by little he became Americanized. His name became Louis. He became a naturalized citizen. He was very proud of this. He worked hard, supported his family, loved his wife and kids yet never got too sentimental in showing this.

Luigi now Louis died at age 69 and his children have never forgot what courage this young guy of 19 showed by coming over here to make this strange country his very own. How he managed to be a good husband, always loyal showing respect to his wife's family as if they were his own blood. Even trying to understand his children who at times were too American for an Italian guy to understand, yet try he did. In a way Louis epitomizes what makes this country great, built by humble people with great strength and courage.
Happy Birthday, Pop.
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