FOR THE FOURTH GENERATION: A FAMILY HISTORY

 

INTRODUCTION

 

This document, part memoir, part history, is a compilation of information and anecdotes and reminiscences about my parents, Rocco and Emelia (DiProspero) Memolo, both of whom came from Italy to America in the early part of the twentieth century and arrived, by very different routes, in Berlin, New Hampshire, where they met, married and became the parents of seven children. I am the sixth child (and third son) of Rocco and Emelia, and I have compiled this history so that their descendants, particularly those born long after Rocco and Emelia died, will know something of their ancestors, where they came from and the many hardships they endured. I hope that it reminds all of us how much we owe to them for the many sacrifices they so willingly made in order to create a better, brighter future for all who came after them.

 

While the Memolos are the centerpiece of this history, it begins with the story of Ascenzio and Rosetta DiProspero (nee, Secondini), Emelia's parents, who were among the first Italian immigrants to arrive in Berlin. Much of the information in this document came from Emelia, who well into her nineties could still recall in vivid, sometimes striking, detail events that took place decades before.

 

Aside from my own recollection of stories Emelia told, I have also relied on information passed on by my brothers and sisters and cousins, and in two instances, Emelia's own account of certain events related on an audio tape made in the summer of l986 and a video tape from l989. Every attempt has been made to recreate Emelia's dialogue as accurately as possible, and while this may account for some grammatical errors, that is a small price to pay for having Emelia's distinctive manner of speaking accurately rendered.*

 

*The names and birth dates of the Memolos and close relatives are included as an appendix at the end of this document.

 

 

 

 

LEAVING SORA

 

The emigration of the DiProsperos from Sora, Italy, to Berlin, New Hampshire, took place because of Rosetta's remarkable powers of lactation. Rosetta and Ascenzio were the parents of four children when Ascenzio, in l90l, shortly after Emelia was born, came to America because he had lost his job as a crossing guard with the Italian railroad. His plan was to find a job in America, save his money and then send for Rosetta and his children. He worked on a track repair crew for a railroad in Pennsylvania, but he was apparently unable to work during the winter months, and to support himself he used up money he had set aside. Emelia also seemed to think that her father lost money in card games he and other Italian laborers played during those winter months when they were without employment.

 

After a year or so, Ascenzio, somewhat disheartened, returned to Sora, where the DiProsperos would have stayed, except for the fortuitous turn of events involving a woman who could not produce enough milk to feed her child, and Rosetta, who could.

 

"My mother, she had a friend, a judge," Emelia recounts. "He was rich and lived in a big house that had a gate and wall around it. My mother had a baby, my brother, Frankie, and the judge's wife had a baby, but his wife had no milk. My aunt was a servant there, in the judge's house. When the judge found out my mother had milk, they sent a horse and carriage for her to go over there and nurse the baby. My mother could nurse two babies. So they would have my mother there, with the servants. And they paid her. That's how my mother made the money to come here."

 

Emelia maintained that the judge, in addition to hiring Rosetta as a wet nurse, also encouraged the DiProspero's to emigrate to America. Thus, Emelia's account of the judge's role in sending the DiProsperos to America.

 

"'Rosetta,' the judge told my mother, 'the only way your family can get ahead is to go to America. You take the money I give you and save it. Then you and your husband go to America. When you make enough money, you take the rest of the family there.' That judge was the person who sent my mother and father to America."

 

Rosetta, following the judge's advice, had enough money by l905 to book passage for America and, on April 11, she and Ascenzio and their oldest daughter, Antonetta, who was l4 years old, sailed from Naples on the S. S. Equita. Nineteen days later they arrived in New York. Back in Sora, Emelia and her sister and two brothers, awaited the day when their parents would return to take them to America.

 

Emelia, on her mother: "My mother, she was brave. My father came here first and went to Pennsylvania. They were building a railroad there, but he didn't make no money, so he came back home. Oh, he sent a little money, but my mother thought he was going to make a lot of money. So then she decided to come here—to leave four kids (Emelia gasps in disbelief), a baby two years old, I was four, my sister, Jennie, was seven, and my brother, Joe and Frankie. My grandmother and my aunt—she was 27 years old—they took care of us.

 

"My mother told my grandmother, 'I'll go for a couple of years, I'll make some money and send it to you so you can pay the doctor.' You see, my grandmother had trouble with her eyes.

 

"My mother came here to make some money to send back to help them. She didn't come here to get rich. And she did send the money. We had shoes on our feet. We had bloomers. We had dresses. The other people in our town had nothing, but we dressed nice. So she came here because it was a necessity, something she had to do to help the sick."

 

It took Rosetta and Ascenzio seven years to earn the money they needed to go back to Sora and bring the rest of the family to Berlin. During that time, however, Rosetta's father had suffered a stroke and was incapacitated, which meant he could never make the trip to America, and her mother's eye condition, probably a form of conjunctivitis, had worsened. Even in the most remote villages of southern Italy, it was common knowledge that immigrants with infectious eye diseases were not allowed to enter America.

 

Emelia, 80 years later, still had tears in her eyes whenever she told of what it was like for the DiProsperos to say goodbye to Rosetta's parents, all of them knowing they would never see each other again, all of them knowing that however painful that parting, the move to America took precedence over all else.

 

 

 

 

“WE WOULD HAVE EATEN EACH OTHER HAD WE STAYED”

 

Sora, a small village in the Abruzzi region, about 85 miles southeast of Rome, was quite typical of many small towns in southern Italy at the end of the nineteenth century, that is, poverty was a normal state of affairs, and worse still, there were no prospects that the peasants living in those villages would ever know anything but poverty.

 

The decision of Rosetta and Ascenzio to emigrate to America was made at a time when hundreds of thousands Italians, particularly those in the south, had decided that emigration, whatever its risks, represented a far better opportunity for them than remaining in the small villages where they lived in bone-grinding poverty. One particularly good account of the Italian immigrant experience and the context within which it took place is contained in "Half Bitter, Half Sweet: An Excursion into Italian-American History" by Alexander De Conde (New York, Charles Scribner's and Sons, l97l). The next several paragraphs quote extensively from that work. The following passages are extended excerpts from that work.

 

The fall of the Roman empire was followed by centuries of foreign rule and internal strife throughout the Italian peninsula before the many regions of Italy were finally unified as one nation in l87l, but with unification, De Conde notes, "Italy entered the community of nations as the weakest of the great powers and the greatest of the minor nations. She could not in her relations with the United States, or with any other powerful nation, carry on as though she were a great power, but she tried. She planned a big army and a large navy, and the cost of building them drained her economy.

 

"The military establishment, the costs of running the centralized system of government..., and the pressures of an increasing population made Italy's economic situation worse than it had been before unification. Many Italians, particularly in the south, now came to look upon emigration as an alternative to economic strangulation. Before unification, the south had been an independent region of low taxes and a small public debt. After unification, taxes, the debt, and worst of all, the cost of living, all zoomed upward."

 

Before unification, there had been notable emigration from Italy, but it consisted quite often of workers who migrated to various parts of Europe for part of the year, or went off to work on specific projects, such as the Suez Canal or the Alpine tunnels and then returned to Italy. Much of the emigration was to South America, particularly Brazil, and many of the people who left Italy were highly educated and quite skilled and came from the north. Also, before unification, the number of southern Italians who emigrated was quite limited because of legal prohibitions, but with unification, and the end of these restrictions, the exodus from the south of Italy soon turned into a flood tide."

 

Emigration, as De Conde notes, was not something that came naturally to the Italian peasant.

 

"Rooted in his native soil, the Italian peasant, according to sociologists, was not by temperament inclined to be a wanderer. The pressure of poverty, however, forced him to abandon conservative habits. 'We would have eaten each other had we stayed,' Italian immigrants in the United States would say.

 

"In l87l, a population of 27 million people placed an almost unbearable strain on the limited resources of the new Italian nation. The country was not truly overpopulated; it just had too many people trying to make a living off the land. Italy lagged behind the other countries of Western Europe in commerce and industry...Everywhere in the industrial countries, people were moving from the farms to the cities for jobs, higher incomes, a better life. In Italy, too, this movement from the land swelled the growth of cities, but unlike cities in the more advanced industrial nations, those in Italy could not absorb the peasants who, like hungry locusts, were swarming from the countryside."

 

Within the span of a century, Italy's population had doubled, producing unemployment and unrest, so much so, that for the newly unified nation, emigration, as De Conde says, "worked as a kind of social safety valve."

 

The migration of Italian immigrants increased so during the latter half of the nineteenth century that Italian leaders, according to De Conde, began urging people not to emigrate. The Italian peasant had an answer to that, he points out:

 

"We plant and we reap, but never do we taste white bread. We cultivate the grape but we drink no wine. We raise animals for food but we eat no meat. We are clothed in rags..."

 

De Conde goes on: "If any one year can mark the turning point in the massive movement of a people, l880 is the one for Italians entering the United States. Census figures for that year show 44,000 Italians in the country, l2,000 of them in New York. Tens of thousands crowded themselves into American cities each year thereafter, at least l00,000 pouring off the immigrant ships in 1900. In that year, there were more than 480,000 Italians in the United States, or nearly three times as many as there had been 10 years earlier.

 

"Now the peasant tide from the Mediterranean swelled to huge proportions. From l900 to 1910, well over 2 million Italians hustled their way through American ports. Nearly three times as many arrived in this decade as has the preceding ten years. In l907 alone, as many as 285,000 flooded the shore, and they kept coming. In l900, Italians comprised less than 5 percent of America's foreign-born population. At the end of the decade, they made up about l0 percent of the foreign born population...In those ten years, when European immigration into the United States rose to its highest level, the Italian inundation reached a crest higher than that from any other nation. The flood from Italy turned into one of mankind's great voluntary movements of population."

 

De Conde explains that there were two other, more immediate, reasons for this great movement out of Italy to America in the late nineteenth century. First, the increase of production of citrus fruits in California and Florida cut into the imports of Italian oranges and lemons. The American growers not only improved their fruit, but worked out improved systems of distribution and marketing. Consequently, thousands of citrus farmers in Italy found themselves with unsalable surpluses. Second, phylloxera (plant lice) invaded Italian vineyards, leaving thousands of acres destroyed. At the same time, France built a high tariff wall against Italian wines, depriving grape growers in Italy of their chief export market. Prices dropped and before long, winemakers in southern Italy went into bankruptcy.

 

This decline in the export of citrus fruits and the shrinking market for Italian wine created a particular hardship for Italian peasants. They could not squeeze a living from the land and there were, as noted, few jobs for them in Italian industries. The peasants of southern Italy came to feel that other lands could not treat them any more harshly than their own. Many of these people may never have gone beyond their native villages, but they were now desperate enough to respond to the posters of the shipping lines that advertised passage to America. They borrowed money, some of them paying a rate of interest as high as 50 percent in order to make the trip to America.

 

"All students of emigration agree that few people leave home by true free choice. Italians put this observation into an old proverb. 'Chi sta bene non si muove,' or 'He who is well off doesn't move.' The Italians came because....their homeland virtually expelled them; they left in a mass act against intolerable conditions."

 

 

 

 

STEERAGE

 

Most immigrants, Ascenzio and Rosetta and their family included, came to America as passengers in steerage, which is a part of the ship below decks, where the steering mechanism of the ship is located. On most oceangoing vessels, "steerage" was the place used to carry cargo, but shipping companies quickly realized that immigrants, anxious to come to America, had little objection to occupying space that was dark, noisy and crowded.

 

The exodus of emigrants from Europe to America was a bonanza for people who owned shipping lines. The average cost for passage in steerage was about $30, with the larger ships able to crowd anywhere from l000 to 2000 passengers below decks. Thus, revenues from one trip could be as much as $60,000 while the cost of feeding a single immigrant in steerage was about 60 cents a day.

 

Emilia always maintained that the voyage from Italy to America was one of the worst experiences in her life. Everyone in the DiProspero family was seasick, so seasick that they thought Emelia's sister, Jennie, might die before they reached America. Emelia recalled that she was the only one in her family who was well enough to go for food and bring it back to the rest of the family.

 

Emelia was not exaggerating when she talked about the severity of the seasickness and the generally squalid living conditions for those who could only travel in steerage. At one time, the average mortality rate for passengers in steerage was l0 percent per voyage. (Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty Magazine, l995)

 

In De Condo's book, he talks of the nauseating smell of vomit from seasick passengers, the maltreatment by crew members of the ship, even the frequent molestation of female passengers by crew members.

 

In fact, conditions in steerage were so deplorable, so unsanitary, and foul smelling, that they were the most important cause of America's first laws on immigration, although it was almost impossible for American officials to enforce laws concerning steerage conditions. (Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty Magazine)

 

In l9ll, the year before the entire DiProspero family arrived, a report made to President William Howard Taft, said this of steerage:

 

"Imagine a large room, perhaps seven feet in height, extending the entire breadth of the ship and about one-third of its length...This room is filled with a framework of iron pipes, forming a double tier of six-by-two feet berths, with only sufficient space left to serve as aisles or passageways...Such a compartment will sometimes accommodate as many as three hundred passengers and is duplicated in other parts of the ship and on other decks.

 

"The open deck space reserved for steerage passengers is usually very limited and situated in the worst part of the ship, subject to the most violent motion, to the dirt from the stacks and the odors from the hold and galleys....The only provisions for eating are frequently shelves or benches along the sides or in the passages of sleeping compartments. Dining rooms are rare and if found are often shared with berths installed along the walls. Toilets and washrooms are completely inadequate; salt water only is available.

 

"The ventilation is almost always inadequate, and the air soon becomes foul. The unattended vomit of the seasick, the odors of not too clean bodies, the reek of food and the awful stench of the nearby toilet rooms make the atmosphere of the steerage such that it is a marvel that human flesh can endure it....Most immigrants lie in their berths for most of the voyage, in a stupor caused by the foul air. The food often repels them...It is almost impossible to keep personally clean. All of these conditions are naturally aggravated by the crowding." (Ellis Island & Statue of Liberty Magazine, l995)

 

"Passage across the Atlantic," one emigrant recollected, "seemed to have been so calculated so as to inflict upon us the last, full measure of suffering and indignity, and to impress upon us for the last time that we were the 'wretched refuse' of the earth; to exact from us a final price for the privileges we hoped to enjoy in America." (De Conte)

 

 

 

 

ELLIS ISLAND

 

The Atlantic crossing over, the immigrants then had to submit themselves to inspection and approval by the U. S. Immigration Service before they could be admitted to the United States. Even then, as De Conde notes, there were numerous pitfalls awaiting immigrants. After the immigrants arrived, "exhausted from their their fearful voyage, small armies of exploiters would swarm around them. Runners who spoke Italian, or one of its various dialects, piloted the newcomers to boarding houses, where greedy creatures detained them until they ran out of what little money they had. Employment agents and bogus railroad representatives sometimes robbed and misdirected the immigrants, selling them counterfeit or worthless railroad tickets."

 

There are stories of immigration inspectors who were extremely helpful to the new immigrants, but there were instances, mostly before the turn of the century, when inspectors demanded bribes from immigrants before they would approve their entry into America. Other inspectors are reported to have admitted attractive young women, but only if the women would later meet them at a hotel, and employees in the money exchange were known to lie about the exchange rates and then pocket the difference themselves.

 

Even if the immigrants did not run into corrupt officials, the admission process they were put through, like the trip itself, was another test of just how badly they wanted to be Americans.

 

It is generally thought that most immigrants to America (at least those arriving on the east coast) were admitted via the Immigration and Naturalization Service station at Ellis Island, but that was not so for immigrants who could afford to travel first or second class. Those passengers were brought directly to the piers in New York City itself, where they went through a rather perfunctory inspection and then debarked. However, steerage passengers, once they arrived in New York, were let off the ship and led to a waiting area. Then they were placed aboard barges and brought to Ellis Island to undergo closer inspection.

 

When the steerage passengers arrived at Ellis Island, they were ordered to leave their baggage—which usually contained all that they owned, including family keepsakes—on the first level of the main building. Then, nameless interpreters, speaking a variety of languages, would start leading them through the immigration screening process.

 

Entering the doorway of the Ellis Island processing station, they climbed the steep stairs to the Registry Room. (As they climbed the stairs, they could see, piled below them, their baggage, which they would be allowed to retrieve only after they were approved for entry to America.) That set of stairs was the first test the new arrivals were being put through because at the top were doctors who were looking for signs of lameness, heavy breathing, or, it is said, "bewildered gazes" that might indicate a mental condition. (And who, after almost a month at sea, in steerage, might not look bewildered?)

 

As each immigrant passed, a doctor, with an interpreter at his side, would examine the immigrant's face, hair, neck and hands. The doctor held a piece of chalk, and on about two out of every ten or eleven immigrants who passed he would scrawl a large white letter on the immigrant's coat or jacket. This letter the doctor made told inspectors up the line that the immigrant should be detained for further medical inspection and possible deportation.

 

The doctors used an X to indicate someone who they suspected was mentally defective, and a variety of other letters—B, for example, meant a back problem—to indicate what room an immigrant should be sent to for closer inspection. There are stories of immigrants who were clever enough, as soon as they left the doctors, to turn their jackets inside out, which was one way to circumvent the screening process. Since Ellis Island processed as many as 5000 people each day, and since the immigrants arrived in clothes that were not particularly stylish, how was some harried and overworked immigration inspector supposed to know whether or not the jacket was inside out or not?

 

Having climbed the stairs, and having been marked or not marked, the next hurdle the immigrants had to clear consisted of the doctors who were known as the "eye men" These were the doctors whose job it was to detect symptoms of trachoma, a disease that can cause blindness and even death. This disease was the reason for more than half of the medical detentions at Ellis Island and its discovery meant certain deportation. It was obviously these stories about the "eye men" that caused the DiProsperos to leave Rosetta's mother in Italy. The test itself was a simple one. The doctor pulled the upper eyelid back with a small instrument. Those who showed no signs of the disease were allowed to move on, but those who had trachoma were barred from entering the United States.

 

This inspection process made Ellis Island a place of high drama. Here were people, so close to America they could see the New York skyline, but standing between them and their dreams were the inspectors. Consider for a moment what happened if everyone in the family was judged fit to enter, but one child was refused because of a medical condition. Immigrant policies required that sick children, l2 years or older, be sent back to Europe alone, to be released in the port from which the boat left. That port, of course, might be hundreds of miles from the village or city where the family had once lived—if there was any family left there at all. Children who were sick but under the age of l2 had to be accompanied on the trip back to Europe by a parent. So, who goes back with the sick child and who stays? Or does the whole family decide to go back? And how is that possible, since they probably had only enough money for a one-way ticket? And what about a wife and husband, one judged fit to enter, the other rejected?

 

Even if the immigrants had not been held up by any medical problems, they still had one more barrier standing between them and their new life in America, the "primary line" inspector. This was the immigration official who was seated at a small desk, perched on a high chair, with the ship's manifest in front of him.

 

By now, the immigrants were in the Registry Room, a huge, vaulted space that was usually filled with hundreds of people, all anxious, all fearful of what was to come, mothers and fathers trying to keep their families together, children of all ages crying and acting up. And at the end of this room were the inspectors, yelling out the names of immigrants, trying as best they could to pronounce names that were strange to them.

 

I visited the restored Ellis Island in l995 and a tour guide from the National Park Service had a very effective way of recreating what it must have been like for immigrants who waited for the inspector to call their name. The tour guide stood at a desk at one end of the Registry Room, and then raising his voice so he could be heard throughout the hall, he began giving his little spiel. There, in the nicely restored room, with only tourists coming and going, it was almost impossible to hear what he was saying unless one crowded close to this desk. Throw in the language problems, the background noise that must have existed when the room was filled with people, and it is obvious that, among other things, anyone who wanted to live in America needed an acute sense of hearing.

 

Somehow an immigrant, someone like Ascenzio, made his way to the inspector's desk, and there he verified for the inspector the 29 items of information about him contained on the ship's manifest, everything from age, sex, and occupation, to questions about where he was going, whether he had ever been an inmate of a lunatic asylum and, last but not least, whether he was an anarchist or believed in polygamy.

 

Immigrants were reportedly so fearful of their encounter with the line inspectors that they often spent time on the long voyage of America practicing answers to the 29 questions and trying to perfect those few bits of English that might help them clear this last and final test they would face at Ellis Island. Fortunately for most of them, inspectors had about two minutes to decide whether the immigrant was "clearly and beyond a doubt entitled to land," which meant that most people who had reached this point in the process were usually admitted to America with little more than a curt nod of approval.

 

The immigrant who had made it through the customs inspection was given a landing card and that meant he could move on to the money exchange to obtain American dollars. With American money in hand, the immigrants were then able to purchase tickets from agents of various railroad lines, retrieve their trunks and suitcases and board barges that would take them to New York or to New Jersey and the trains (or in some cases, boats) for the final leg of their trip.

 

The DiProsperos, according to Emelia, took a ship from New York that traveled all night and brought them, early the next day to Boston, where the family apparently spent a day with some people Ascenzio knew in the North End. The DiProsperos arrived in Boston on March 6, l9l2, Emelia's twelfth birthday, and by that afternoon, Emelia, having survived her voyage across the Atlantic and the inspection process at Ellis Island, was, in her words, "playing jump rope with some kids in the North End."

 

 

 

 

DESTINATION: BERLIN

 

Every immigrant family in America probably has a story about what led the leader of the clan to live in Erie, Pennsylvania, or Berlin, New Hampshire, instead of Wilmington, Delaware. Job opportunities no doubt played a major part in these choices, but just as often an immigrant ended up far from his planned destination simply because he couldn't make himself understood and therefore boarded a train heading south when he really wanted to go north. So it was with the DiProsperos, at least according to Emelia's account of how her father and mother came to settle in Berlin.

 

"They came over here and they were supposed to go to Berlin, Connecticut. They got out of the boat and they went to Boston. They went to the immigration and the immigration said, 'Where's your destination? Where are you going?' They said, 'Berlin.' The immigration took and put them on the Berlin train and they ended up here. They met some people who were going to Cascade and they went there and they got themselves some shack to live in."

 

Emelia's story probably should remain untouched, but this much must be added to her account of how her family ended up in New Hampshire instead of Connecticut. On the passenger ship manifest of the S. S. Equita, Ascenzio told the Customs officials that the relative he was joining in the United States was his nephew, Frank DiPucchio, P. O. Box 859, Berlin, New Hampshire. Emelia's death in l996 (and the death of her cousin, Maria DiPucchio Nicoletti, in l995) will always leave unanswered whether the DiProsperos boarded the wrong train to "Berlin" or if Ascenzio and Rosetta were, in fact, headed there to meet Frank DiPucchio.

 

In any event, there was a very good reason for Ascenzio to settle in Berlin, New Hampshire. The town was just then going through a boom, and as with so many other places in America, there was a need for cheap labor, few questions asked.

 

Berlin, settled in l829, is located at a point where the Androscoggin River drops 200 feet in less than three miles. The Berlin Falls, as they were known, were a tourist attraction of some note in the nineteenth century, but Berlin soon became a mill town because the waters of the Androscoggin could provide cheap power. And nearby, literally surrounding Berlin for hundreds of square miles, was an endless supply of timber for the sawmills that were soon built along the river.

 

By the late nineteenth century, however, the development of the high-speed rotary press brought about an explosion in the growth of newspapers and magazines and a dramatic increase in the demand for paper. Few places in America were as advantageously located as Berlin to take advantage of the need for new paper mills. In addition to the power the Androscoggin could supply, the river provided a cheap means for "driving" wood harvested in the forests of northern Maine and New Hampshire down the river to Berlin.

 

The conversion from sawmills to paper mills was hastened in l885 when Berlin gave a special tax break to entice the International Paper Company to build a mill in Berlin. By l888, a rival paper mill, the Brown Company, was established, and in l893, on Berlin's East Side—that is, on the east side the Androscoggin River that ran through the town—the Brown Company opened the Burgess Sulphite Mill, which was the largest mill of its kind in the world at that time.

 

In l904, the year before Ascenzio and Rosetta arrived in Berlin, the Brown Company had built another mill, this one in Cascade. By now, the company was expanding so rapidly that it placed ads for workers in the Boston and New York papers and had agents stationed at Ellis Island to recruit men needed for its Berlin operation. So many immigrants poured into Berlin in those years that the population increased tenfold, from 1000 to 10,000, between 1880 and 1903.

 

It is little wonder then that Ascenzio, whether drawn by chance or design, ended up in a place where anyone capable of work was likely to find a job. Soon after he arrived, he became employed as a fireman at the Cascade mill recently opened by the Brown Company and built a house in Cascade, in the so-called Flats, which is an area literally outside the gate of the mill. A fireman's job consisted of tending to coal-powered boilers, which was back-breaking work, but according to Emelia, her father chose that job because it paid him perhaps a dollar more each week than the average laborer received, this at a time when the average wage in the Brown Company was probably $9 or $l0 a week.

 

The DiProsperos made some progress in those years—her father, Emelia said, built three houses in Cascade—but they also experienced tragedy. Shortly after Rosetta and Ascenzio arrived in America, Rosetta gave birth to twin sons. One of the twins was a year old when he died of a bladder disease. A year later, in March, Ascenzio was cleaning his yard, raking up leaves and debris. He lit a fire to burn the leaves, and before he knew it, the remaining twin, playing nearby, went too close to the fire. In a matter of seconds the boy's clothes were in flames. Ascenzio was unable to smother the boy's burning clothes, and shortly after, the boy died from the burns he had suffered.

 

Before the DiProsperos returned to Italy in 1911, Rosetta had also given birth to another son, James, and a daughter, Louise. Rosetta and Ascenzio brought the son, James, back with them to Sora so that Rosetta's parents could see their newest grandson, but Louise, born in 1910, was not old enough to make the trip. By the time the DiProsperos went back to Italy, their daughter, Antonetta, had been married in 1909 to Pasquale Sinibaldi.

 

Emelia recalls that she and her brothers attended school in Cascade for a year, but by l9l3 or l9l4 the DiProsperos moved from Cascade to Berlin, where Ascenzio had built a two-family house at 490 Goebel Street. Emelia often pointed to the house on Goebel Street (Ascenzio was to build another house, a four-story tenement right next door, at 498) and the houses her father built in Cascade as evidence of how hard-working and resourceful her parents were.

 

"My father built those houses by taking the wood and put it together. Then he put the tar paper on the outside, put a pipe for the water and that was the house—with the toilet outside. That was the way we used to live.

 

"My father would go down the railroad tracks and take home lumber, the ties the railroad threw away. We used that to burn in the stove.

 

"And my mother, she would take in boarders. She was a woman hungry for money. She had these boarders in one room, like the barracks for the army, with bunk beds. She had four men in that room. And don't think she didn't sell those men a few bottles a beer, too.

 

"She needed the money to take care of my grandparents and my aunt in Italy. They were sick. They had to have the doctor every week, and every time the doctor came he wanted seven lira. That was like $7. They were starving those people in Italy. So my mother sent the money to take care of them."

 

Once, when talking about the strength, physical and otherwise, that helped her parents make their way in the new world, Emelia—with great amusement—told the following story:

 

"My father had a good job in Italy. He worked for the railroad and whoever worked for the railroad, they were given a nice house. But to work on the railroad, you had to know how to read and write. My father couldn't read or write, but he told them he did, and with some pull, he worked his way in. So one day they were on the train, my father and and this big man on the railroad and the man was reading the paper and he told my father, 'Here, look at this.' My father took the paper from him and he went to read it, but he was holding the paper upside down. 'Hey,' the man said, 'what are you doing, reading the paper upside down?' My father said, 'When you know how to read, you can read it any way.'"

 

However hard Ascenzio worked and whatever Rosetta did to bring in more money, a family like the DiProsperos still faced formidable problems in adapting to a new country and different culture. Some indication of the obstacles they faced can be seen in Emelia's school experience. Emelia had enough schooling in Italy so that she had learned to read and write and could do simple arithmetic, but none of this was of much help to her in America.

 

By the time the family had moved to Berlin, Emelia's older sister, Jennie, who was l6 years old, was married to Oreste Mosca, another Italian immigrant, but one who had picked up some English. For some reason Emelia never could explain, it was Mosca who advised her mother and father on where she was supposed to go to school. And Mosca, perhaps because he felt a young girl should be taught by nuns, decided that Emelia should go to the grammar school at St. Anne's parish, which happened to be operated by an order of nuns from Canada. Poor Emelia. She could only speak Italian, was trying to learn English, but found herself each day sitting in a classroom where lessons were taught in French.

 

The nuns at St. Anne's, Emelia often said, were very mean to her, punishing her because she was unable to keep up with other children in her class. She knew numbers, she said, and she understood a bit of geography, but she was at a loss to understand anything else the nuns were trying to teach. Finally, the day came when Emelia decided that she had had enough of the nuns.

 

Emelia had spilled some ink and the nun was about to punish her, which, in those days, meant being hit across the hand with a wooden ruler. When the nun approached, Emelia put out her hand, as required, but this time, the nun was in for a surprise.

 

"I took that ruler," Emelia said, "I grabbed it from the nun's hand and I threw it down on the floor. Then I ran away."

 

On her way to school each day, Emelia had passed by the Cole Street School, which many years later served as the Berlin police station. Emelia passed the school each day on her way to school and the impression she had of the children there was they were having a good time, or at least having a better time than the children who were under the tutelage of the nuns at St. Anne's.

 

Emelia, having escaped St. Anne's, had a plan in mind. She ran all the way from St. Anne's to the Cole Street School and literally burst into a classroom there. A teacher, confronted with this girl who was probably out of breath and in a state of panic, tried to determine who she was and what she wanted. When asked where she lived, Emelia could only say that she lived "across the bridge that way," pointing towards the East Side and Goebel Street.

 

"Cole School. I want to go to Cole School," she told the teacher, and presumably with the help of that teacher, Emelia was transferred from St. Anne's to Cole School.

 

Emelia talked of a teacher at the Cole Street school who went out of her way to teach her to read and write, but by then Emelia was probably thirteen or fourteen years old and she was sitting in a class with children who were much younger than she was. She also didn't own the same kind of clothes the other children wore, and she referred, only fleetingly, to being self-conscious because she was beginning to "develop," as she put it. In addition, Rosetta was unaware that schooling in America, particularly in the lower grades, was supposed to take precedence over a young person's domestic chores.

 

"In the morning I had to help my mother. I had to make the pasta and bake the bread before I could go to school," Emelia said. "Sometimes I would get to the school at 9 or l0 o'clock and the teachers didn't like that. I used to tell that to my mother, but she didn't understand so when I was l5, l6 years old, I stopped going to school."

 

 

 

 

ROCCO, EMELIA AND 590 GOEBEL

 

One of the limitations of this history is the lack of knowledge about the early life of Rocco Memolo. He was the youngest in a family of five children and apparently arrived in America when he was l6 years old or so, probably under the sponsorship of an uncle who lived in Boston.

 

I have been able to get this much information from his application to become a naturalized citizen. According to the information he provided, he was born in Grottominard, Avellino, Italy (just outside of Naples) on November 2, 1896. He emigrated to the United States in 1913, arriving in Boston, on the SS Canopic on October 20, 1913. That would have made meant he was two weeks short of turning l7. But to the best of our knowledge, he was supposed to have been born in 1899, which would have made him only l4 when he arrived. On Emelia's application for citizenship, Rocco's birth date is September 4, 1897.

 

My best guess is this: I think Rocco left for America when he was l4 or so, but gave the l896 birth date because that would make him old enough to work once he arrived in Boston. In any case, when he arrived, it appears that he was among those thousands of young men from Italy who were recruited by a padrone, who, in turn, acted as agents for construction companies. These padrones not only obtained jobs for immigrants, but helped them find a place to live and generally introduced them to American ways. In return for these services, the padrones usually received a portion of the wages earned by his young workers. Good padrones could be invaluable to young men trying to make their way in America, but some padrones, who had no scruples, oversaw a system that was nothing more than a form of indentured servitude.

 

According to Emelia, Rocco and a friend had come to Berlin (around l9l8 or so, when Rocco was l9 years old; thus she was using the 1899 date instead of the 1896 or 1897) because a contractor there was looking for some men. Rocco and his friend were hired, but unable to find a place to stay, they had gone to the railroad station and were about to leave Berlin and go elsewhere. Just then, Emelia's brother, Joe, came by and somehow struck up a conversation with Rocco.

 

Once Joe DiProspero discovered that the two men he was talking to needed a place to live, he had an idea. His mother might be willing to provide them room and board. So Rocco and his friend followed Joe back to 490 Goebel Street, and Rosetta, who wasn't about to turn away a chance to earn some extra money, agreed to give them a place to stay and to provide them their meals.

 

The house Rocco and his friend moved into was not a spacious one by any means, and to those of us who remember it, there is still some puzzle about how the DiProsperos themselves were able to fit into the place, let alone the two new roomers.

 

As I recall it, there were three bedrooms, a large kitchen and a living room. I suppose the boarders were given one room, Rosetta and Ascenzio occupied another, and everyone else piled into the third bedroom. The house was also lacking in a bathroom. It did have a toilet, but that was located in a tiny space that had been walled off from the kitchen.

 

How anyone who lived in the house, including the boarders, took a bath remains one of the intriguing questions about the early years of the DiProsperos (and their boarders) in America. Emelia herself mentioned how difficult it was living under these conditions and recounted how she would often make up an excuse, particularly when Rocco and his friend were present, to make a quick visit to her sister, Antonetta, so she could use the bathroom in the Sinibaldi house.

 

"In Berlin, my mother didn't have boarders," said Emelia, years later, "But then Rocco and his friend came and she figured, well, I'm going to take that money. So, all at once, there were two boarders in that house—and with a toilet next to the stove. It was terrible. I went to to my sister, Mrs. Sinibaldi, for my bath. And I used the toilet there many times. It was only a few houses away from us."

 

Once Rocco arrived in Berlin and began working, he put aside enough money so that by l921, he was able to purchase a house, 590 Goebel Street, for about $2200. The house, once a hotel/rooming house for railroad workers, consisted of a downstairs apartment (where Rocco and Emelia and their children lived), an apartment above that, and four smaller units in the rear of the house. 590 Goebel was located about two blocks from where the Emelia's parents lived. It occupied a site that was separated by a set of tracks (and a chain link fence) from the the Boston & Maine railroad station, where Rocco had run into Emelia's brother several years before.

 

Emelia maintained that in l922, which was, by her reckoning, the year she turned 2l, her father informed her that it was time for her to be married. Her father may have been correct in thinking the time had come for Emelia to be married, but was she, as he maintained, 21, or maybe a year older?

 

That brings us to the intriguing question of Emelia's age. Emelia always said she was born in l90l. In fact, she claimed that the day she arrived in America, "on March 6, l9 and l2," as she put it, she turned eleven years old. The gravestone on the Memolo burial plot at Holy Family Cemetery in Gorham, New Hampshire, gives l90l as Emelia's birth date, which was the date also used in her obituary. However, in l996, one of Emelia's nephews, Remo Sinibaldi, made a trip to Sora and found Emelia's birth certificate. According to that document, Emelia was born on March 6, l900.

 

How Emelia lost a year in her life is a mystery, but perhaps it can be explained by any one of he following reasons. Emelia's mother and father left her in Italy in l905. Was she old enough then to know whether she was four or five? What if she was told she was four, even though she was five? Given the daily struggle for survival in Sora at that time, did anyone bother to keep track of whether one of the children was four or five years old? Emelia herself once said, in a rather vague way, that she was sent to school in Italy a year later than she should have gone, which meant that when she finally went to school, she was probably told to say she was six when she was really seven. It could also be that when it came time to buy the ticket to come to America, Rosetta and Ascenzio may have shaved a year off Emelia's age if that meant a cheaper fare. In this history, all references to Emelia's age are calculated by using the l900 birth date.

 

Complying with her father's edict to marry wasn't too much of a problem for Emelia because she often said (boasted, in fact) that she was highly sought after by a number of young Italian men. It is easy to imagine why Emelia had so many suitors. She was physically attractive. She was hard-working and obedient, healthy and strong. She could cook. She possessed, in short, all those qualities any young Italian male of that era was looking for in a wife.

 

But however much any of her suitors was attracted to Emelia, all of them knew that it was even more important to impress Rosetta and Ascenzio because in the end it was the parents would have the final say on who their daughter married.

 

Emelia never said so outright, but it appears as if Rocco's purchase of the house at 590 Goebel Street—and the close ties he had formed with the DiProspero family when he lived in their household—worked in his favor. Taking these factors into account, and whatever else was considered in choosing a husband for their daughter, Rosetta and Ascenzio decided that Rocco was the ideal candidate to marry Emelia.

 

Rocco and Emelia were married on August 21, l922, at St. Keiran's Church. Emelia, who viewed with distaste the amount of flesh revealed by modern fashions, liked to point out that she wore eight petticoats under her wedding gown. The reception for Rocco and Emelia was held at 590 Goebel, and that night, as Emelia recalled, some of Rocco's friends stood outside the house and serenaded them.

 

The day Emelia was married she moved the two blocks from her parent's house to 590 Goebel Street, which was the house she lived in until the day she died on February 6, l996.

 

 

 

 

LOVE AND WORK

 

Emelia, in those rare moments when she sat down, always sat on the edge of her chair, all the better to rise instantaneously and get on with her work. When she was old, and the need for her to get up and work was not so urgent, she had to be reminded to sit back because it had become such a habit for her to perch on the edge of a chair, ready at a second's notice, to move at full speed.

 

That image of Emelia never allowing herself to sit back in a chair leads, logically and otherwise, to a comment Sigmund Freud was supposed to have made when asked about the make-up of a healthy individual. Work and love, said Freud, the person who is fully integrated is one who builds his or her life around these two things. By that standard, and many others, Emelia was remarkably healthy, for she worked, endlessly, tirelessly, and with the kind of vigor that could only come from a boundless capacity to love. Here, briefly, are some of the things she did day after day, year after year, when she was raising her children, and later, her grandchildren.

 

She cooked, of course, and she did so when there were few shortcuts for cooks and when she had to find some way to feed seven children on a very limited budget. She made her own bread. She baked pies and pastry. She made pasta, rolling out dough like a demon and then cutting out different kinds of pasta at a rate of speed that equaled and perhaps surpassed any pasta-making machine.

 

When her family was young, she would get up at 2 o'clock in the morning to mix the dough for her bread. Doing so, she said, allowed time for the dough to rise during the night. Then, when the rest of the family awakened, she could begin baking right away. "I liked to have my baking done by 9 o'clock in the morning," she often said.

 

Almost every day of her life her hands and arms were caked with flour. She began to "massa," the Italian word for mixing dough, when she was eight years old, and by the time she came to America, it was her job to mix the dough each morning for her mother, both for the pasta and for bread. Kneading dough was as natural to her as breathing and there was nothing quite like the sight of Emelia rolling out dough, particularly for pasta, sliding her hands non-stop along the rolling pin, adding flour as needed, turning the dough so that she worked first length-wise, then cross-wise, so that what began as a lump eventually became a thin sheet, golden in color, light and airy, yet strong enough so that she could toss it around, roll it, cut it, or stuff it.

 

She, of course, cleaned. She kept her house spotless at a time when the cinders from coal-fired boilers at Brown Company were likely to fall over a wide area of Berlin several times a day, and when steam locomotives, also spewing soot, went back and forth in front of her house all day long. I can still recall her shouting to keep the door closed if a train engine was passing and the curses she directed at the Brown Company when soot fell on laundry she had just hung out to dry.

 

She washed clothes. For long periods of her life, when her children were still young and in diapers, she did not have a washing machine so that doing laundry meant using a scrub board to wash clothes in a bathtub, and then, after wringing them dry, carrying them outdoors to hang on the clothesline, which was something she usually did without wearing a hat or coat, no matter how cold and windy it was. By the late Thirties, she finally owned a washing machine, but many days, rather than hooking up her washing machine, she would quickly scrub some laundry by hand. When she wasn't washing clothes in her house, she was at her mother's, or her sister's, Antonetta, washing out clothes for them. When she was old, Emelia would hold up her two hands, and laughing, she would say, "This was my washing machine."

 

She sewed. Almost all of the clothes her daughters wore were sewn by her. She would visit a dress shop in downtown Berlin and take home dresses on approval. At home, she would study the clothes, see how they were made and copy the garment by placing newspapers over it and cutting the newspaper to form a pattern. She would then return the dresses to the store, telling them that the dresses didn't quite fit. At home, she would cut out the dress, using the pattern she had "pirated," and later, pumping away on the treadle of her foot-powered sewing machine, she sewed her version of the dress she had borrowed from the store. Sewing, like mixing dough, was one of those things she found time to do by working in the middle of the night.

 

When she was not cooking, cleaning, washing clothes or sewing, she did her knitting; this was the one time in her day when she had a chance to sit down, maybe even to sit back in her chair. She knitted sweaters and afghans and scarves and mittens and socks. If she was not knitting, she crocheted because it would have been unthinkable to have furniture in her parlor (now called a living room) that did not have a crocheted piece on each arm rest and one other piece, the antimacassar, on the back of each chair and on the sofa, to protect against those people who wore too much hair cream.

 

She took care of children, her own, and those who belonged to others. She had her first child, Clara, in l923. Fifteen months later, Tony was born, and l5 months after him came Fio. There was a l4 month interval before Doris was born and almost 22 months before she gave birth to Donelia. That meant that she had five children in seven years. Reminiscing, years later, she would use the phrase, "Five in seven." Except for a few days rest after delivering each baby, there is no record that she took time off from her daily chores during that seven year period, or in the years following, when Ralph was born in l937, or Shirley in l94l. Emelia delivered all seven of her children at home.

 

Shortly after Emelia was married, she provided help for her sister, Antonetta Sinibaldi, who already had four young children (and had given birth to two others who died), by taking care of Eddie, the second oldest of the Sinibaldi boys, who was 5 years old at the time. Antonetta developed a serious spinal condition after giving birth to a daughter, Helen, who was born the same year Emelia gave birth to her first child, Clara. Because Antonetta was bedridden most of the time, the decision was made for Eddie to live with Emelia and Rocco, which he did until he was 15 years old. She also took care of other nieces and nephews, as needed, and she literally ran a daycare center for five of her grandchildren, each of whom she cared for from the time they were infants until they graduated from high school, a period that ran from 1951 until 1977. Or to put it another way, from 1923, when she had her first child, until 1977, when Louis, Fio's youngest child graduated from high school, Emelia was involved in raising children

 

(Emelia remembers that some of her neighbors wondered why she suddenly had a small boy living with her so soon after she was married. Apparently the neighbors wondered if that small boy was, in fact, a baby Emelia had before she had found a husband. It was only years later, when Clara was visiting one of her friends, that the friend's mother asked Clara, "Who was that little boy your mother had living with her right after she was married?" Clara explained how Emelia had helped out her sister by taking care of Eddie and the woman was somewhat surprised and a bit embarrassed to discover that Emelia, contrary to neighborhood gossip, only started having babies after she was married.)

 

She had to fit all of this work into a day in which she went at least once or twice (literally running) to Antonetta's house or to her mother's, to assist in some way. In addition, she cooked for people when they were sick, was called in for help and support when babies were being born or old people were dying.

 

At the same time, in addition to her own cooking and cleaning and sewing and washing, she managed her property, which at one point totaled 11 apartments in three different houses. Not many days passed without some crisis in one or another of the apartments, a broken pipe or a leaking roof or some other matter that made it necessary for Emelia to call in plumbers or electricians or carpenters, which meant that she was in the midst of negotiating, trying to get the best price she could and forever figuring how she would pay her bills.

 

Emelia, almost until the day she died, could cite the amount of a bill she had paid five years before, give successive amounts for that same bill for each preceding year, explain what source of revenue she had used to pay this bill, and then wrap it all up by saying she was about to do better this year because she had already put aside money for that expense before it came in and then, to her surprise, found the amount she had to pay was slightly less than the year before. If, however, the bill that came in was more than she expected, she was quick to phone and demand an explanation for the higher cost.

 

Neither was she shy when it came to shaving a few dollars off a bill. I can recall how Emelia, when paying a plumber or carpenter, would round off the bill, paying $80, say, for a bill that was $83. Then, to explain why she had claimed a "discount" for herself, she would say, "My sister needs some work done on her house and I'm going to tell her you're a good worker." Presumably, the money she had trimmed from the bill was a "finder's fee" of sorts, money that was owed her because she was going to recommend this tradesman to her sister. None of the tradesman she dealt with, as I recall, had the temerity to object to Emelia's decision to pay them less than what they had charged her.

 

Her own work routine was broken only by more work. On hot summer days, she would have pots of water boiling while she peeled and cooked and canned vegetables from the garden for use during the winter months. In spring and fall, the house was taken apart for a thorough cleaning. Holidays meant that she only did more cooking than usual.

 

She did none of this quietly. She yelled at people who were not behaving themselves and threatened to mete out punishment. She told stories, sometimes to amuse, but more often than not as a warning. She made sure people did their homework and that everyone in the household carried out their assigned tasks. And above all she prayed.

 

Not many days of Emelia's life went by when she didn't say her rosary, whether it was in those moments before she fell asleep, or early in the morning, when she was having a cup of coffee by herself. At her death, she had been a member of St. Kieran's Parish for more than 80 years and may have spent the equivalent of several years of her life in that church at masses, lenten devotions, Holy Hours and other religious ceremonies.

 

She was short, barely five feet tall, and as the years went by, she grew shorter. But the power of her personality, her authoritative voice and the way she punctuated everything she said with the use of her hands, allowed her to dominate any gathering. And always, there was quickness and force in everything she did, whether she was plucking a chicken, rolling out a pie crust or washing her kitchen floor.

 

Emelia was never idle and she didn't expect anybody else to be either. Work was central to her life, and it was simply impossible for her to conceive how work could not be central to everyone else's life.

 

In Emelia's world, there were two kinds of people, those who were "good workers" and those who were "lazy." She could never utter that last word without wrinkling her face to show her contempt for someone who had failed at life's greatest challenge. And when she called someone a "good worker," there was a hush in her voice, almost as if she was referring to someone who was a candidate for sainthood. She admired nothing more than a man who was ambitious enough to hold down two jobs and was clever enough to save money, in addition, by doing his own home repairs.

 

She liked people, in short, with ambition and drive, and she could never understand, as long as she lived, how anyone could fail to take advantage of the opportunities available in America. When she was in her late eighties and she saw help wanted signs at a McDonald's restaurant, she would say, "Oh, if these legs could carry me, I'd jump over the counter to take that job." Her greatest regret, after a lifetime of hard work, was that she never held a job for which she received a salary.

 

It is difficult to convey all that Emelia did on a given day, or in a week or month, and it may be impossible to tell of the number of instances when she was the person who stepped in to resolve family crises, whether it was a job problem, a marital problem, or a money problem, all of which were in abundant supply, thanks to her three brothers and their proclivity for drink and other forms of mischief.

 

It is no wonder that she would get up in the middle of night to "massa" her dough or to do her sewing; she simply didn't have time in an ordinary day to do everything that needed to be done. Her one vacation came in l97l, when she went with her sister, Jennie, for a week-long cruise to Bermuda, but her daily workload only slackened when she was in her eighties, and then she would, only half-jokingly, chastise herself for having become "lazy," complete with that grimace on her face when she uttered the dreadful word.

 

Emelia was, in the proverbial sense, too busy to be sick, and until she was 90 years old, she had been in the hospital once for a hernia operation and two other times for cataract surgery. But, in September l990, due to medication she had taken for arthritis in her knees, she suffered a perforated ulcer. Doctors had no choice but to perform emergency surgery in the middle of the night, even though there was some doubt whether a woman her age could survive that type of operation. She actually survived the surgery quite well, but while the doctors were operating, she aspirated some food particles into her lungs and it was necessary for her to be placed on a respirator to assist in her breathing.

 

Emelia spent the next l00 days in the intensive care unit of the Androscoggin Valley Hospital, much of that time on the respirator. She underwent numerous medical procedures, not the least of which was a tracheotomy, which was done to restore her breathing when it seemed as if she had in fact expired. That was one of two incidents when she "died" but was revived.

 

During this entire period, she ate no solid food, did not get out of bed, and was so strongly medicated that she was only vaguely aware of where she was or what was happening. She had x-rays taken several times each day, had blood drawn from her day and night, even though it was almost impossible for nurses to find a vein from which they could extract blood. She also underwent CAT scans and had tubes running in and out of every orifice in her body. For most of this time, due to the respirator tube that had been placed in her mouth—and later in the opening made in her throat—she could not speak. It is little wonder, when she finally was strong enough to talk again, that she described the entire experience as a nightmare in which she was captured by people who did terrible things to her.

 

Finally, in early December she was well enough to be weaned from the respirator and moved out of the intensive care unit. After another two weeks in the hospital, she was released in time to spend Christmas back at 590 Goebel. Within a matter of weeks, she had regained her strength and was back to doing again almost all those things she had done all her life, although she did need considerable assistance in carrying out some of her daily chores.

 

Until then, Emelia was only a legend, a woman who was mentally alert and physically active and could take care of herself and her house, even though she was old and somewhat hobbled by age. But once she had survived her ordeal in the hospital and was able again to "massa" her dough and roll out her pasta and run her property and pay her bills and generally rule over her family as she had always done, more and more people began to think Emelia had simply decided not to die.

 

In the hospital, Emelia had promised her doctor that, when well, she would make some raviolis for him. I think he went along with the idea, but probably never expected he would get to eat those raviolis. But a few months later, Emelia, her strength regained, was able to make the raviolis (with the help, of course, of her daughters, Doris and Clara, and her daughter-in-law, Florence) and send them off to the doctor.

 

Emelia always considered her extraordinary strength a gift that obligated her to help others who were not as strong or as healthy as she was. She often mentioned this when she talked of the help she provided her sister, Antonetta. As mentioned, one of Antonetta's sons, Eddie, came to live with Emelia and Rocco when he was five years old or so. Then, when Eddie was approaching adolescence, his father, Pasquale Sinibaldi came to see Emelia and said it was time now for Eddie to live again with his own family.

 

"One day in June, his father came here and he said, 'I want my boy back. I want him to get used to his own family. I haven't got the money to pay you. There isn't enough money to pay you for all the work you've done for me. God help you and may he give you the best life, with health and with prosperity.' And crying, he gave me two pounds of macaroni that he had in his hands.

 

"You see, the women didn't go to work then. Sisters would help each other. I was happy to do it. I would run over to my mother and do the washing. Then, I would run to my sister's house and do the washing. Always by hands. My sisters would buy me a dress to pay me. My sisters, they always treated me good.

 

"I've been lucky for everything. I was strong. If you're not strong, you can't do these things. And whoever it is who's the strongest one, they have to help the others."

 

 

 

 

LOVE AND WORK, CONTINUED

 

In l922, when Rocco and Emelia were married, Rocco was working for the Brown Company. A few years later, however, he left the Brown Company and went to work for his brother-in-law, Oreste Mosca, who had opened his own grocery story. Rocco's job in the Brown Company earned him about $25 per week, but the actual pay was much less because Brown Company did not always provide five days of work each week.

 

Mosca, in the l920's, was in the process of building a business empire that would eventually include the grocery store, one of the few in Berlin that carried Italian products, a hardware store that took up part of the grocery store itself, an adjacent bar room, apartments above the store itself, several tenement blocks nearby and a business block on Main Street in Gorham. The grocery store was Mosca's most visible business, but the biggest boost to his fortunes came during Prohibition when he—like many other legitimate businessmen—was a bootlegger.

 

Mosca offered Rocco a job that would pay $25 a week, but he would have to work six days a week and also open the store for a few hours on Sunday. Apparently the extra hours Rocco would have to work didn't matter that much because now the $25 he earned could be counted on to be a steady wage. Rocco was also given a small discount on groceries. His hours in the store were from seven in the morning until six at night, except Friday, when the store stayed open until 9 p.m. On Sunday, Rocco opened the store for two hours in the morning and two hours late in the afternoon.

 

Rocco's official work week totaled 67 hours, but he often worked more than that because it was rare for the the doors of that store to close exactly at 6 o'clock and there were many times, in order to satisfy a customer, when deliveries were made after the store closed, even on Saturday night. On Sundays, when few grocery stores were opened, Rocco would never turn away a customer even if it was closing time. I can still remember how Emelia was almost always upset with Rocco on Sunday because the big meal of the week, Sunday dinner, was held up while everyone waited for Rocco to come home from the store.

 

As with a description of Emelia's workday, it is extremely difficult to convey just how hard Rocco worked and how this was work that was done week after week, without a day off or any kind of vacation. Rocco was the butcher at Mosca's store. He was also the fruit and produce man. He waited on customers, weighing out every pound of beans that was bought, every pound of carrots in a time when very little food was pre-packaged. He took grocery orders over the phone and went through the store putting the orders together and loading them on the truck before delivering them to various parts of Berlin and Cascade. (When he began at Mosca's, he delivered the groceries by a horse and wagon, year round, in all types of weather, day and night.) He stocked the shelves when he had a free minute, but he would leave that behind if there was a customer in the hardware department who wanted a pound of nails or gallon of paint. He checked orders that arrived from wholesalers, saw to it that Mosca placed orders for other goods as they were needed and somehow found time to do all the other things that must be done in operating a large grocery store.

 

Mosca's, of course, was much more than a grocery store. The store was located across from the Boston and Maine Railroad station and close by the railroad's freight warehouse. At a time when the railroad functioned as the city's main contact with the outside world, Mosca's occupied a site that was one of the busiest corners in Berlin. That in itself meant that Mosca's was a crossroads, a meeting place of sorts, but even more important than that, Mosca's was a store where steady customers could get credit.

 

Virtually every customer who came to Mosca's lived from paycheck to paycheck. Whether or not people wanted to shop at Mosca's they had little choice to trade there because they were able to charge their groceries. Then, when payday came (which was usually Thursday at the Brown Company), many of Mosca's customers came directly from the mill to cash their checks at the store and to make a payment on their grocery bill.

 

Mosca had created an office at the corner of the store farthest from the main entrance, an office that one climbed two steps to enter. Never have two steps meant as much in terms of power and class. Mosca was somewhat stout, wore gold-rimmed glasses and was never seen in anything but a three piece suit. He also rarely grinned or showed much emotion. When Mosca was in the store, he almost always sat at his roll top desk (located right next to the store's safe) with his daughter, Beatrice, his secretary and bookkeeper, occupying a small counter across from him, but from time to time, he rose, and from his vantage point, like a captain on the bridge of a ship, he would look out over the store, making sure that everything was in order. To anyone who came to Mosca's office, and stood at the window with the little opening where business was transacted, Mosca, standing in his office and looking out over his store, was the captain of the ship all right. He was also a combination of boss, landlord and feudal baron.

 

I can recall many customers, once they cashed their checks and then had their bills tallied, would offer to make a payment that covered only part of their bill. Mosca would take into consideration how much they owed, whether they made regular payments, and then would decide, yes or no. It was not unknown for him to add a bit of advice, warning customers not to fall too behind in their payments.

 

As a teen-ager, I helped Mosca's son, Armand, deliver groceries, and I can remember Mosca ordering Armand not to leave the grocery order with Mrs. So and So, unless she made a payment on her bill. When we arrived at that particular house, and I brought the groceries inside, I would put the box down and Armand would then inform Mrs. So and So that she had to pay a certain sum or we would have to take the groceries back. Then came the pleading. There was sickness in the family, doctor's bills. Next week, the woman promised, she would make a payment on the bill. Armand would then have to weigh what she told him against what his father said, but always, at least in my experience, we would leave the groceries. Next week, though, Armand would warn her, if she didn't have some money to pay towards her bill, she wouldn't receive any groceries.

 

In the instance above, Armand assumed the role that Rocco had played for many years, that is, he was the kinder, gentler soul who served as the counterbalance to Mosca's toughness. Rocco found it difficult to turn anyone down who was in need and there were many instances when he would throw a little something extra into an order—and perhaps forget to add it to the bill—particularly if Mosca was out of sight. Dozens of Mosca's customers had stories to tell about some favor Rocco did for them, some little gesture on his part that helped see them through some tough time. And dozens of Mosca's customers, out of hearing range of Mosca himself, would say that they shopped at Mosca's only because of their respect and affection for Rocco. On that point there is little doubt because after Rocco died the store soon began losing business to its competitors.

 

By then, of course, post-war prosperity meant that many of Mosca's customers were not so desperately in need of a grocery store that offered them credit. The rising wages of the average worker at Brown Company gave many of Mosca's customers more freedom in the choice of where they could shop, and for the first time, many of them owned automobiles and were not as dependent on Mosca for delivery of their groceries. More than likely, a store such as Mosca ran would have run into difficulty at this time, but there was not much doubt that many customers left Mosca's simply because their good friend Rocco had died.

 

For many of the years that Rocco worked for Mosca, his pay was, as mentioned, $25. At some point, perhaps in l940 or so, it was raised to $30; and then, because Emelia insisted that Rocco demand it, his pay went to $35 per week around l945 or l946. Rocco's arrangement with Mosca was as follows: one week Rocco would take his pay home, but the next, rather than take his pay, he paid the family's grocery bill, which is why Emelia could tell you in a second which month in a given year happened to have five paydays in it.

 

Rocco and Emelia were well-suited for each other, but they were startlingly different in one respect and that was the ambition and drive Emelia possessed as opposed to Rocco's more relaxed attitude.

 

Rocco, as hard as he worked, was more or less pleased with what he achieved in America. He had a steady job, owned his own house, with enough land for a sizable vegetable garden, and one way or another, his family did not go hungry. He owned a car when only a few people he knew were well off enough to have one. His children finished high school at a time when other children their age had to leave school early in order to help support their families. He could listen to the Philco radio in his living room, and he could afford to attend movies once or twice a week. He was happy tending to his garden, making wine in his cellar and playing cards at least one night a week with his brother-in-law, Pasquale Sinibaldi, and Pasquale Paolucci, who had married Emelia's aunt, Lucia.

 

Emelia, who handled the family's finances, didn't think there was any reason why they should be content with their lot. She was fiercely ambitious, and she would have preferred it if Rocco had been more aggressive.

 

In l94l, a two-family house at 583 Champlain Street, directly to the rear of 590 Goebel, was put on the market. Both Rocco and Emelia wanted to buy the house—and eventually they did—but how that came about illustrates the difference in their personalities.

 

"Mosca told Rocco, 'That house next next to yours is for sale for $2700. If you don't want to buy it, I'll buy it. So Rocco came home. He wanted to buy the house, he said, but we didn't have the money. But Mosca had told him he would give him the money and then we could pay it back at six percent interest."

 

Rocco, of course, was only being realistic. Buying the house, to him, was simply out of the question. The last of the seven Memolo children, Shirley, had just been born, and even though Clara, then l7, was about to graduate from high school, it must have been hard for him to imagine how he could take on additional obligations since there was rarely any money left over from his paycheck as it was.

 

Emelia was not about to give up as easily as that, and how she managed to pull off the purchase of the house was related, in part, by Fio, on the audio tape made in l986. In his account, Fio refers to polenta, which was a meal Emelia made, combining corn meal with tomato sauce and pea beans. Polenta is made by stirring corn meal into boiling water, but unless the corn meal is stirred vigorously while cooking it will congeal into an inedible lump. The day that Emelia bought 583 Champlain Street she was making polenta and that meant Fio and Tony had to take turns stirring the pot of polenta while it cooked.

 

"We came home from school because we had to help make the polenta," Fio said. "So Mrs. Cole came to tell my mother she was going out of town. But before she left, she wanted to know if my mother was interested in buying the house. 'Yes, yes,' my mother said. So she went to get her pocketbook and she found $ll. She said, 'Here, I'll give you this money and let's sign the piece of paper and that way we'll make a deal. Then, I'll get you the rest of the money.'

 

"So, okay, that's done, and Mrs. Cole has her $11 and she leaves. And all the while we're stirring the polenta, stirring and stirring. Now, my father's coming home and when he comes into the house, my mother says, "'Rocco, you know what I did today? I bought that house.'

 

"Hey, Moses. Did the dishes go flying! Forget the polenta that day. He slammed the door. He went lay down on the couch. He said, 'I don't have enough to feed my family and you went buy a house.' Oh, was he mad."

 

Emelia, in that same interview, then described how it was possible for her to buy the house. Her maneuvering apparently had begun several days before, when she first approached Mrs. Cole about buying the house.

 

"Mosca was ready to pay the $2700, but I got her down to $1800. The woman came to me. She wanted so bad to sell that house. I told her, 'Well, I'd like to buy it, but I can't. I'm going to ask my brother-in-law in Boston.'"

 

There was, of course, no brother-in-law in Boston. Emelia had concocted the story on the spot because she hoped that might help her drive down the price.

 

"I said to myself, I'll stay three or four days and then I'll go and tell her, my brother-in-law, he wants to come live here, but I don't know if he wants to pay more than $2000. When I went there, the woman said, 'I'll give it to him for $2000.' When she came down that fast, then I knew I had her. I knew I could get it cheaper.

 

"So I went back to her and I said, 'Mrs. Cole, the man, he doesn't want to pay $2000. He wants to pay $1800 if you let it go for that price.' 'Well,' she said, 'Okay.'

 

"Then, when I told Rocco, he got mad. But I went to Mosca and he made the check and I bought the house. And then when the people paid me the rent, I took part of it and gave it to Mosca to help pay the house."

 

 

 

 

CONNECTEDNESS

 

The Memolos, by most standards, achieved success in America. But the family endured considerable hardship, particularly during the Depression years. In addition, Rocco's illness in l948 and his death that same year left the family without its principal breadwinner. Rocco's demise also short-circuited the kind of progress the family could have expected to make in those post-war years, including the plan Emelia had for building a single-family house next to 590 Goebel.

 

Fortunately, all the Memolos inherited from Rocco and Emelia a capacity for hard work and a willingness to defer immediate pleasures for longer-term gains. For the most part, the Memolo children enjoyed the same good health, physical strength and mental acuity of their parents. Emelia was justifiably proud that all children—while not in her league perhaps—were "good workers." The Memolos, without exception, were extremely conscientious and competent employees, loyal to a fault and dedicated to their work.

 

Clara was a clerk with the Selective Service from the early days of World War II through the war in Vietnam and she followed that with several more years as a claims taker in the Berlin office of the State Division of Unemployment Compensation. Tony spent more than 45 years with the Brown Company, carving out for himself a unique position as the person who maintained the grounds surrounding the company's offices and serving as caretaker for the "company house," the residence used by the chief executive officer of the company. Both Fio and Doris worked for the F. W. Woolworth Company for more than 40 years and Fio rose from his position as stockboy to become manager of the store in Berlin. Both of them were among those people the Woolworth company dispatched to "set up" new stores for openings, and Doris, in addition to working at the Berlin store, was the director of personnel at the Woolco store in Nashua. Donelia was employed by an accounting firm in Boston for over 35 years, starting out as a secretary and moving up to be office manager. Ralph was for 23 years in charge of public relations at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and Shirley, except for a brief period when she had her children, was a grade school teacher in the Lyndonville, Vermont, school system for 30 years or more.

 

A Memolo family gathering would always include stories that drew a contrast between the days when the family was impoverished and the relative degree of affluence they eventually achieved. At times, it seemed the stories—intended for the edification of their children—were meant just as much to convince themselves that they had indeed survived those dreary, fearful days when only through some miracle did Emelia, as financial manager, and Rocco, as breadwinner, manage to scrape together enough money for mortgage payments and taxes and food and clothes. Emelia herself, as an old lady, would sit in her rocking chair, and shaking her head, she would say, "How did we do it, I don't know."

 

The answer, of course, was the concept of shared sacrifice. Each of the children—and here, I refer specifically to the five oldest—did not consider what they earned to be their own money until they were grown and married. Even then, the oldest children, after they were married, made significant contributions to the upkeep of Emelia's household, particularly in the years immediately following Rocco's death. When Rocco died, Tony was not yet married, and he became, for all intents and purposes, the family breadwinner. Simply put, most of the Memolos most of the time turned over a good portion of their earnings to Emelia once they were old enough to begin working.

 

Clara often told the story of her first job, working at the the J. J. Newberry Store on Friday nights and Saturdays when she was still in high school, circa l939-4l. She made about $2 to $3 each week, with most of that handed over directly to Emelia. Clara retained only enough of her pay to attend a movie, with the remainder distributed to the other Memolos so they would have a coin or two to put in the basket when they attended Sunday mass.

 

At the same time, Tony and Fio were selling newspapers, and the entire family, by picking and selling blueberries, earned the money that was needed to help buy shoes and clothes they needed to begin the school year. The blueberry picking, the subject of numerous story-telling sessions, provides some insight into what a family like the Memolos had to contend with in the l930's.

 

During blueberry season, Rocco would come home from work just a bit before noon, quickly eat his meal and then pile everyone into the car so that he could drive them to Gorham. There, he left the children to pick blueberries until he would return after work to pick them up. Sometime after 6 o'clock, when Rocco finished work, he and Emelia would drive to Gorham, bringing with them some new containers, ie., pots and pans and anything else that could hold blueberries, so they could join in picking more berries until darkness set in. (Ralph was too young to be part of the berry picking and by the time Shirley was born, the family's finances had improved enough so that berry picking was no longer as vital as it had been.)

 

Back home, Emelia would stay up late into the night, cleaning the berries, picking out leaves and twigs. Early the next morning the Memolos would hurry to the restaurants on Berlin's Main Street, trying to beat out other berry pickers who were hoping to sell their berries to those same restaurants. If for some reason the restaurants had already bought their berries for that day, the Memolos would then go house to house in a frantic attempt to sell what they had picked from the day before so that they could be home by noon, ready for Rocco to take them to Gorham and another day of picking berries.

 

The Memolos were poor, but remarkably enough, they were relatively well off when compared to some of their relatives and neighbors. Rocco owned a car. The house was decently furnished and the family was well fed because Emelia cooked meals that were heavy on pasta and beans and in the summer, vegetables from Rocco's garden. Emelia, with her skill as a seamstress, made sure the children were well dressed. And Rocco, though his salary was small, could at least count on a steady paycheck at a time when unemployment was widespread.

 

But this was also a household where there were only two bedrooms for seven children and two adults and the bathroom did not have a sink until l945 or so. Emelia and Rocco had one bedroom and the other one was used by the girls. The boys slept on a sofa that was in the front hall. For years Emelia urged Rocco to break through a wall and take some space from one of the rental apartments for another bedroom, but Rocco was reluctant to do so because that would have reduced the rent on the truncated apartment.

 

The slight advantage the Memolos had over some of their neighbors came from this small amount of rental income they received from the five apartments at 590 Goebel and the two apartments at 583 Champlain once they had purchased that house. In fact, Emelia had been so intent on buying 583 Champlain because rental income was one way the family could make some headway economically.

 

Nevertheless, rental income on the East Side in Berlin in the late l930's and early l940's was not about to make anyone wealthy. The monthly rental for many years for the three-room apartments at 590 Goebel, for instance—one of those that Rocco didn't want to take any space from—was $9 a month!

 

The only way, therefore, families like the Memolos could make any progress was to pool their earnings. That idea was not very far from Emelia's mind when she went ahead with buying 583 Champlain, even though Rocco felt they could not afford to take on that expense. The house at 583 Champlain was purchased in February l94l. In June of that year, Clara would graduate from high school and Clara, a topflight student, had a better than average chance to obtain a good job, even though economic conditions were not much better than they had been during the Depression.

 

Clara more than fulfilled her promise when, shortly after she finished high school, she passed a civil service exam for a position with the Selective Service office opened in Berlin by the Federal government. The attack on Pearl Harbor was still a few months away, but Congress (by one vote) had approved a draft and all over the country offices were being opened where young men would be registered and then inducted into the armed forces. That Clara had been chosen to work in this new office—and chosen on the basis of her score in a competitive exam—was regarded by Rocco as sure proof that his daughter had been personally selected by President Roosevelt to be one of his chief assistants in fighting the Axis powers.

 

Around the time Clara began working, the family could finally afford its own telephone (number, 24l0-W) and the wooden ice box in the kitchen was replaced with an electric refrigerator. (The refrigerator had been purchased at the end of a summer, perhaps l939 or l940, when the family's berry picking program had resulted in earnings of about $l80.) The phone service, of course, was the cheapest available, which meant that there were four families on one line, and anyone who picked up the phone when one of the other families was using it, had to wait until the other party finished with that call.

 

Emelia was a genius at managing money. She watched over the expenditure of every penny and made sure there was never (emphasis on never) a penny wasted on some frivolous purchase. But however diligent she was in overseeing the family's finances, it was the earning power of the Memolo children—and their willingness to share in the responsibility of supporting the household—that was the key to the family's survival.

 

Moreover, the progress the family made came only as the result of jobs that involved long hours and extremely hard work. Tony's first job, for example, was helping a Mr. Frechette to tend to the furnaces in some of the business buildings on Main Street. Tony would get up at 3 o'clock each morning so that he could arrive on time to meet Mr. Frechette in a building at the farthest end of Main Street. The boilers they maintained were coal fired, which meant that Tony had to empty the ashes from the boilers (and haul them outside in heavy metal barrels) and then fill the fire box of each boiler with coal. When one building was done, he and Mr. Frechette would move to the next building, and from there to the next, until they had taken care of most of the boilers for the buildings on Main Street. When Tony finished his work, by 7 o'clock or so, he went home and washed up and then went to school. His pay for this work was about $4 a week.

 

In the summer, Tony worked for Mr. Lessard, who delivered ice to the large numbers of people who did not yet own refrigerators. This was a back-breaking job, requiring young men like Tony to carry blocks of ice weighing fifty pounds or more from the truck and delivering it to the customer's ice box, which often meant climbing several flights of stairs. Tony's pay on the ice truck was not much more than he made for tending furnaces.

 

Tony really hit the jackpot in February l943, when he turned l8. Due to the large number of men who had been called into the armed services, there was a shortage of workers at the Brown Company paper mill and the company was forced to hire high school students, provided they had turned l8. That meant that Tony would get out of school at 3:l5, hurry home to get his lunch bucket and go off to the Brown Company, where he worked the four to midnight shift.

 

Suddenly, in addition to Clara's paycheck, Tony was bringing in a salary, which meant Emelia now had three paychecks coming into the house.

 

In the summer of l942, Fio was able to work at the shipyard in Bath, Maine, where he boarded with Ettre (or Ted) Sinibaldi, the oldest son in the Sinibaldi family. This was another major boost to the Memolo family earnings, and then that fall, Fio began working as a stock boy at the F. W. Woolworth store, which was the start of his 44-year career with that store.

 

Fio's story of his first pay raise at Woolworth's is another of those incidents that tells about the working conditions for people like the Memolos. Fio was hired at 25 cents an hour to work after school, on Friday nights and on Saturdays. Fio had been at Woolworth's only a month or two, running, literally running there, the moment he got out of school each day.

 

One day, soon after he had started working at Woolworth's, Fio arrived at the store and the manager, said, "You. Up in the office. I want to talk with you."

 

To Fio this was a sure sign that he had done something wrong and was about to be fired. That impression was only strengthened when the manager entered the office and, in a belligerent tone, said, "Do you know how long I've been at this store?"

 

Before Fio could reply, the manager said, "More than twenty years."

 

Then, the manager—like some hard-boiled detective grilling a criminal suspect— asked another question, "And do you know how many stock boys I've had in that time?"

 

Again, before Fio could speak, the manager answered his own question.

 

"Maybe 50, maybe even more than that. And do you know what? Never in that time did I give any of them a raise. But you—you're forcing me to give you a raise. Starting next week, you're going to get 30 cents an hour. You made me do it. You're running around here like a maniac."

 

Any earnings from Tony and Fio were curtailed during the war years since Tony, shortly after he graduated from high school in l943, was drafted into the Army, and Fio, likewise, was drafted soon after he finished high school in l944.

 

The next of the Memolos to begin working were first Doris, who began working at Woolworth's when she was in high school, and Donelia, who began, at age l4, working at the City Fruit Market on Main Street for Julius and Louise Poretta.

 

Not long after World War II ended, Clara was married to Raymond Johnson (June 30, l947) and Fio married Millie Pisciotta (January 11, l948). The Memolo household was growing smaller and, as the children grew older and began to work, it seemed as if the family could finally begin to make some headway. These were the years when Emelia and Rocco were able to accumulate some savings and began to think they might build a new house.

 

In January l948, the Memolos (with the exception of Shirley and Ralph) went off to New York for Fio's wedding to Millie Piscotta. Earlier that year, Rocco had developed a lump on the side of his right jaw, just below the ear. The operation to remove the lump was considered routine and it was scheduled for two days after the wedding, when Rocco and Emelia would go from New York to Portland (the rest of the family returned to Berlin, of course), where Rocco would undergo surgery at Maine Central Hospital.

 

After Rocco was admitted to the hospital and underwent a physical exam, a doctor summoned Emelia to his office and informed her that it would be impossible to operate on Rocco. Your husband, he said, is a very sick man.

 

It turned out that Rocco had developed chirrosis of the liver. Not only would Rocco have to remain in the hospital, the doctor said, but there was little chance that he would recover from his illness.

 

Emelia then returned to her hotel room, alone and absolutely devastated.

 

"That was the worst night of my life," she said. "I was all alone, in that hotel, and the doctors had just given Rocco the death sentence."

 

She knew, she said, that Rocco was not in good health when they went to New York, but this was a time when most people did not visit a doctor unless they were stricken with an acute illness. This was also a time when very few people were covered by medical insurance. Rocco did have an insurance policy that provided a small sum, $25 per month if he was out of work, but Rocco's hospital expenses would have to come out of the small amount of money he and Emelia had managed to save over the years.

 

Rocco was in the hospital in Portand for some six weeks. Each week—on a Tuesday I believe—Tony would drive Emelia to Portland, but the day before Emelia went to Portland, she would go to the bank and withdraw enough money to pay the weekly hospital bill. As I recall it, the weekly hospital bill usually ran to about $100 or so, and each week, Emelia, having dipped into the savings that she and Rocco had accumulated, paid the hospital. I also remember that Emelia asked the hospital not to leave the bill with Rocco because it upset him to see how much money his illness was costing.

 

In the hospital, and later when he came home, Rocco kept by his side a little black book in which he recorded all the expenses he ran up during his illness, every penny paid to doctors, every penny spent on medications. This, he would say, holding his little black book, is the money I have to pay back once I'm working again.

 

Rocco was discharged from the hospital in March and there were some signs that his condition was improving, but on the evening of May 6 he vomited some blood. He apparently concealed this from Emelia, but then the next day, he hemorrhaged once again. A doctor was summoned and Rocco was rushed to the St. Louis Hospital in Berlin late on the afternoon of May 7th and that night, at about 8:30, he died.

 

In all the years of the Memolo family, there was no period that was darker and more dismal than that time immediately after Rocco's death. Emelia, always fearless and indomitable, seemed for the first time in her life as if she might not be able to surmount her troubles. Shirley was only 7 years old. I was about to turn ll. Donelia, l7, was one month away from her high school graduation. Fortunately, Emelia was able to count on her children, particularly the older ones. They all contributed without complaint to the support of the household. She also received the widow and survivor benefits that came from Social Security, but now, more than ever, Emelia counted on the rental income from the five units at 590 Goebel and the two apartments at 583 Champlain.

 

Emilia was also serving at that time as the executrix of her mother's estate. In addition to the house that Ascenzio DiProspero had built at 490 Goebel, he had also constructed a tenement with four apartments next door at 498 Goebel. Emelia was able to borrow money from her sister, Jennie Mosca, and her sister, Louise Poretta, to buy the house at 498. It was a bold move by a widow and a wise one because it gave her another source of income. For the rest of her life she always gave credited her brother-in-law, Julius Poretta, for both advising her to buy the house and for loaning her money to do so, at no interest, and with no deadline for repaying it.

 

If anything at all lessened the impact of Rocco's death, it was that the first Memolo grandchildren began to arrive. On October l2, l950, a son, named after Rocco, was born to Fio and Millie. Three years later, on September 5, l953, Deborah, was born to Clara and Raymond, followed by Fio and Millie's second child, Faye, on May 25, l955. Tony and his wife, Florence (nee, Gosselin), became the parents of Sharon on January 3, l958, and a year later, Fio and Millie's third child, Louis, was born on January l9, l959.

 

Rocky was about a year old when Fio asked Emelia if she would take care of the boy so that Millie could return to work. The idea of mothers going off to work was not that common then (except in dire circumstances), but Emelia agreed. She then took over the care of Debbie, at age three months, so that Clara could return to work, and likewise, she became the babysitter for Faye and Sharon and Louis.

 

In almost all the stories Emelia told of raising her own children, she talked of struggle and hard work and sacrifice. She never concealed how difficult it was to raise children, and countless times she complained of what a burden it was to have a large family during the Depression. But there was a dramatic difference when she talked of how much she enjoyed caring for her grandchildren. Then, she was likely to laugh at something the children had done and refer again and again to the enjoyment she derived from caring for them.

 

"Those kids helped to keep me young," Emelia often said.

 

Emelia, as usual, was right on target for there was little doubt that Emelia, only 48 when Rocco died, found new energy and purpose with the grandchildren.

 

Emelia even liked to say how taking care of her grandchildren didn't even qualify as work at all because they were so well behaved.

 

"They were good kids. And they listened to me. Anything I told them, they did," she said.

 

She could even—years after the event—laugh about how hysterical she became the day Rocky, three years old, was "lost" for two hours, only to be found visiting a next door neighbor. So, too, long after the fact, did she enjoy telling of the day when Louis and Sharon, not yet old enough to attend school, found a razor blade and cut each other's finger so that they could become "blood brothers," thus emulating a ceremony they had seen on a TV program.

 

I recall another incident from those days that might have resulted in a serious accident, except for the strength and quickness of Emelia. In the front hall of Emelia's house was the door to the cellar, and Rocky, not more than two years old at the time, was irresistibly drawn to the cellar, so much so that anyone going down to the cellar always had to make sure the door was closed. If that door was opened just a crack, it was a sure bet that Rocky, wherever he was in the house, was off and running, heading towards the cellar. One day, the cellar door was left open, and Rocky, as usual, headed towards it. Emelia was standing by the kitchen door, but somehow she spotted Rocky out of the corner of her eye. She took no more than a step—or at least it seemed that way—and by some miracle arrived at the cellar door just as Rocky was about to plunge down the stairs. With one hand—like some godlike figure reaching out from above—Emelia grasped the back of Rocky's shirt, literally plucking him out of the air.

 

That incident remains vivid in my mind because of the serious, perhaps tragic, consequences if Rocky had fallen, or because there was something metaphorical about Emelia, the matriarch of the tribe, aging but still alert and quick and strong enough to protect and watch over those in her charge.

 

In caring for her grandchildren, Emelia received a major assist from Shirley, who functioned as half-playmate, half-baby sitter. Shirley was ten years old or so when Rocky came to stay with Emelia, and for the next eight years, until she graduated from high school, she was the one who would take the children out to play after school and generally function as Emelia's assistant in looking after them. Even after Shirley finished high school and went off to college, she worked during summer vacations as the playground director at nearby Community Field, where her five "assistants" apparently made the playground into a wholly owned subsidiary of the Memolo family.

 

"I had the summers off," Emelia would say. "They would go with Shirley to the playground in the morning and I didn't see them again until the afternoon."

 

For their part, the grandchildren were more than satisfied with their "Day Care." In fact, they may have been the only children around who didn't look forward to holidays because then their mothers would be off from work and that meant they would have to stay home rather than spend the day at Emelia's house.

 

With husband and wives working, the Memolos began gradually (and sometimes too slowly) to make economic progress, but perhaps the best sign of the family's headway came in l955, when I graduated from high school and became the first Memolo to go off to college.

 

(The first of Rosetta and Ascenzio's grandchildren to attend college was Remo Sinibaldi, in l950. He went on to graduate from Tufts Dental School. Nancy Poretta graduated from Boston University in l957. I graduated from UNH in l959, and Shirley graduated from Lyndonville Teachers College in l964.)

 

When I was born, in l937, many young men and women in places like Berlin could not finish high school because they needed to work at whatever job they could find to help support their families. As economic conditions improved, children from low-income families completed high school, but it was still a rare occurrence for anyone born on the East Side in Berlin, New Hampshire, to attend college.

 

For some reason, when I was still quite young, Rocco, according to Emelia, often said that it might be possible to send me, and then Shirley, to college. That may have been nothing more than wishful thinking on his part, but he probably figured that his economic prospects were going to improve as his family grew up and went off on their own. But then, when Rocco died, it appeared that his dream of higher education for his two youngest children was just that, a dream.

 

And yet, seven years after Rocco's death, I went off to the University of New Hampshire. No doubt the changing economic conditions in America made this possible, in part, because by the mid-l950's, a young person, by working summers and with some scholarship assistance could put together a good deal of the money needed to attend a public university. I, for instance, received a tuition grant, based on need, which paid half of my tuition, which was $l50 a year when I entered UNH. With post-war prosperity, wages had risen enough so that the money I earned each summer at either the Brown Company or as a laborer on construction projects enabled me to pay for my tuition and most of my room and board. But I went to college—and Shirley after me—only because of the extraordinary generosity of the older Memolos and all they did to assist Emelia.

 

When Shirley and I went off to college, the Memolos came one step closer to fulfilling the American dream, but as with all other steps upward in the history of the Memolo family, this was a joint undertaking, engineered and directed by Emelia (with help from Rocco) and her supporting cast, the five older Memolos.

 

That both Shirley and I were able to go to college was a milestone, but I sometimes date the arrival of some affluence at 590 Goebel Street as the time—just when I was finishing high school—when Sunday dinner might consist of both roast chicken androast pork. That was in marked contrast to the years when nine people sat down for Sunday dinner, and Emelia had to find some way to divide up one chicken so that there was enough for everyone. In those days, Emelia, having somehow given everyone a piece of chicken, would inevitably find herself with little more than the neck of the chicken for herself. Making the best of the situation, Emelia used to say, "Oh, I like the neck." For years after that, when we sat down to a table where there was more food than we could possibly eat, either Tony or me would repeat, in jest, Emelia's line, "Oh, I like the neck."

 

The other measure of prosperity at the Memolos was the yearly celebration of Christmas. Needless to say, Christmas when most of the Memolos were growing up, particularly during the l930's, did not include an overabundance of gifts. Not that Christmas should be equated entirely with presents, but for a family that worked so hard, Christmas became a time to celebrate, among other things, the fruits of their labor.

 

Emelia would begin days, sometimes weeks, before Christmas to prepare for the feast. She would make her raviolis in advance and store them in the freezer. She made pasta, along with meatballs and pots of tomato sauce. As the day grew closer, she would make her crispelles (fried dough) and pizza and meat pies and get ready to roast and stuff a turkey while preparing the chickens she used for soup and to flavor the tomato sauce. When Rocco was alive, she also prepared baccala (salted cod fish), calamari (squids) and fried smelts. Emelia was the executive chef, but even for her, particularly as she grew older, it would have been impossible to prepare all the food for Christmas without the assistance of her daughters and daughters-in-law.

 

As for the gifts, suffice it to say that when seven children, six spouses, and seven grandchildren and their spouses and their children, along with one mother, exchange gifts with each other the pile of toys and clothes and objects of every other kind and description can mount up. Each of the gifts in and of itself had a value, but more than that, the gifts were another way for the Memolos to celebrate what they had achieved. Often, when gifts were being opened, the older Memolos could not help but note the difference between their Christmases of plenty and those of years past. Presiding, as always, at the gift opening was Emelia who managed, even in Christmas l995, only six weeks before she died, to buy everyone a gift, making sure, in her words, "to treat them all alike."

 

Given the number of people gathered together for the gift exchange, and the inevitable physical exhaustion of people who worked long hours, plus the noise and excitement generated by the combination of kids and new toys, it is understandable how this event often bordered on chaos, with attendant tension. When that happened, Tony and Ralph would then begin singing "Jolly, Jolly Santa Claus," in a manner that could have defused with laughter the onset of a family feud anywhere in the world.

If there was ever any possibility that a Memolo Christmas celebration might be dimmed in any way, it came in l984, when Debbie's husband, Andy, became a quadriplegic due to a diving accident. But that year, in the face of adversity, the Memolos were able to gather at Debbie and Andy's house to celebrate Christmas and Andy's return, even it was for only 24 hours, from the hospital in Manchester where he was undergoing rehabilitation therapy.

 

The important point of that Christmas was certainly not the gifts or the food, but the determination of one and all to maintain a tradition of caring and sharing, through good times and bad. Indeed, the most memorable part of that Christmas (other than indications that Andy was making progress in his recovery) may have been a group photo taken right after Christmas dinner. It is a photo that in many ways reveals how the family was able to survive and flourish in America. At the center of the photo is Emelia, with her left hand holding that of Andy's, who is in his wheelchair with his five-year old daughter, Meagan, in his lap, and next to the wheelchair is Debbie, and so on throughout the picture, twenty-four people, their spouses and their children and various in-laws, who, either by chance or design, are in touch with the person on either side of themselves, all of them joined together in an unbroken chain, each of them sustaining and sustained by the others.

 

 

 

 

A MAN'S WORLD

 

The world in which the Memolos grew up was one that placed a premium on men and there was nobody more devoted to this idea than Emelia's mother, Rosetta. Clara has recounted an incident that underscored this attitude.

 

The time was June l94l. Clara had graduated from high school, but she had not yet been hired by the Selective Service. In the interim, she had three part-time jobs. One Friday morning, she went off to work at the first of these jobs, at the National Youth Administration, which was one of the job programs funded by Roosevelt's New Deal. In the afternoon, she went to another job, as part-time bookkeeper at a plumbing supply house, and then that night, she went to the J. J. Newberry store where she worked as a sales clerk.

 

When Clara returned home, about 9:30 or so, she then began washing the kitchen floor, which was something that had to be done every Friday. This was done, of course, on her knees, and she used a scrub brush. When she was done with the washing, she then had to apply a coat of wax.

 

Clara had had an ice cream cone around noon time and a few cookies or some other small snack later that day, but she hadn't had enough time to eat anything more than that.

 

It so happened that Rosetta was at 590 Goebel that night, and shortly after Clara had begun washing the floor, Fio returned from his job, which was at Mosca's store.

 

The moment Rosetta spotted Fio she summoned Emelia and said, "Get that boy something to eat. He must be hungry from working so hard."

 

Clara, of course, was left to scrub the floor.

 

 

 

 

EMELIA'S FOLK TALES

 

Emelia was a masterful story teller. She had a marvelous memory and the skill to marshal facts in an orderly fashion. She also had the knack to provide details that made a point and a gift for mimicry that enabled her to play the parts of people she was talking about. Often there was a moral attached to the stories she told. She liked especially these two stories from the old country.

 

A man was walking from his small village to the city to attend a fair. On the way, he passed a small boy, who asked him, "Hey mister. Are you going to the fair?"

 

The man said he was and the boy then asked him if he would buy him a whistle.

 

"Sure," said the man, continuing on his way.

 

A short time later, the man passed another boy, who also asked him if he was headed for the fair. And when the man said he was, that boy also asked the man to buy him a whistle.

 

"Of course," said the man, continuing on his way.

 

The man then passed a third boy, who asked the man if he was headed for the fair. Yes, he said and that boy then asked him if he would buy him a whistle.

 

But the third boy then said, "Here, take my money to pay for the whistle."

 

The man (as played by Emelia) then says, with some animation, "Now, you, young man, you're the one who reallywants to whistle."

 

At which point, Emelia would explode with laughter, and she would repeat in Italian the phrase, "You really want to whistle," having made the point that only a fool ever expected some favor to come his way if he didn't pay for it.

 

The second of the fables Emelia often told had to do, naturally enough, with work. A young man who lived on a farm was sent off by his parents to the city so that he could study to be an engineer. After a few months, the young man came home on vacation and the parents made a big dinner for him and even allowed him the next morning to sleep late—and this, on a farm, where the father could have used the boy's help.

 

Eight o'clock passed, nine o'clock passed, and still there was no sign of the son. Yes, it was important for a young student to get his rest, but at a certain point, the father began to wonder why his son hadn't yet got out of bed.

 

"Go and check on what's happening," he told his wife.

 

The mother opened the bedroom door a crack, and peeking in, she saw that her son was hard at work, first measuring the room and then measuring his bed. After that, he would go to his desk, write down some numbers, but a moment later, return to measuring.

 

The mother returned and reported to the father what she had seen.

 

"Ah," said the father. "He's busy with some important work. We don't want to bother him."

 

More time passed and the father, growing impatient again, asked the mother to check on her son.

 

She returned with the same report. Again, the mother and father decided that they must allow their son to complete his work.

 

Another hour or so passed, and by now the father was desperate to find out why the son was still in his room. This time, both he and his wife peeked into the room, and even though they saw that their son was still engrossed in his calculations, they entered and asked him what he was doing.

 

When they did, the son, with some desperation in his voice, asked if they would help him solve the problem he had been working on.

 

"I've been measuring and measuring," he told them. "The windows are this wide (he holds out his arms). The door is this wide. (he holds out his arms). But look, the bed is twice as wide as the door and windows. Tell me something. Did you put the bed here first and then build the house around it?"

 

The father, suddenly realizing how stupid his son was, gave him a slap and said, "Get out of here and go to work."

 

Emelia would laugh heartily, first, at the son for not being able to figure how a bed was placed in a room, and second, at the mother and father because they had wildly overestimated their son's capabilities. Even worse, in her eyes, the parents, thinking their son had been immersed in an important engineering project, allowed him to spend the morning in his room instead of putting him to work.

 

 

 

 

THE TRIPS TO PORTLAND

 

I was a little more than two years old and playing on the floor one day (looking at a Sears and Roebuck catalogue, so the story goes) when Emelia noticed that my eyes kept turning in. She became concerned enough about this to bring me to an eye doctor in Berlin. He recommended that I should see a specialist, and a few weeks later, Rocco and Emelia brought me to see a Dr. Dufeaunet in Portland, Maine.

 

Dr. Dufeaunet prescribed glasses for me, which was not done that often back then. He also said I would have to be watched carefully because my eye muscles were not sufficiently developed to keep my eyes properly focused. It was theorized that the muscles may have been damaged because I had measles (or perhaps chicken pox) when I was an infant.

 

From that time on, Rocco and Emelia and I (and assorted family members) began making trips regularly to Portland to visit the eye doctor. At one point, I was required to wear a patch on my left eye for part of the day because that eye was considered the strong eye. With the left eye covered over, the right eye would be on its own, to speak, which meant the muscles of that eye would have to work more strenuously and would become stronger. In fact, when I entered the first grade at Marston School in l943, I was still wearing that patch on my left eye until noon each day.

 

I referred to the novelty of prescribing glasses for a child in l939, but the real novelty in this tale was that Emelia and Rocco scraped together whatever spare cash they had to see that I was treated by an eye specialist. My first visit to Portland took place in l939, when America was still trying to work its way out of the Great Depression. Rocco's wages at the time were $25 or $30 a week, and with that small amount of money he was trying to support six children (Shirley had not yet been born). A trip to Portland, about l00 miles from Berlin, meant that Rocco had to buy gas for the car, which, by the way, usually stayed in the garage the entire week, except for when it was used, sparingly, on Sunday. (In winter, Rocco followed a custom, quite common at the time, of draining the car's radiator, taking its battery out and storing it away, and not using the car for a period of four months or so.) Moreover, there was the bill from the eye doctor. It's no wonder that the morning of the trip to Portland Emelia would pack a lunch so that we wouldn't have to go to a restaurant. In good weather we turned the lunch into something like a picnic, finding an area somewhere along the way where we would stop and eat our sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs.

 

I have no way of documenting this, but I am reasonably certain that I may have been one of the few children in Berlin, particularly at that time, who was being treated by an eye specialist. I can recall that the school nurse, when giving us our yearly eye exam, would find children with vision problems so severe that they literally could not see what the teacher was writing on the blackboard.

 

The hard work that Rocco and Emelia put into raising their family speaks for itself. Rocco, year after year, without any letup, spent almost all his waking hours at Mosca's store, and Emelia, seemingly with a magician's touch, found ways to stretch the few dollars available so that everyone was fed and properly clothed, and taxes and other bills paid. But now, on top of the other bills, there was the added expense of visiting the eye doctor in Portland.

 

I don't think Emelia herself would ever be able to explain how she managed to find the money for the eye doctor, but there has never been any mystery on this one point: once I needed to be treated by an eye specialist, she and Rocco were going to make sure it happened, period.

 

When the war years came, the trips to Portland became even more of a struggle and expense. Due to gas rationing, Rocco could not use his car for the trips, and now, Emelia and I would have to take a bus from Berlin to Portland, leaving early, around 7 a.m. or so, for my monthly appointments with the eye doctor. Bus travel was particularly difficult during war time. The buses were crowded and that trip, with its numerous stops, would take three to four hours, but only if we didn't run into stormy weather or the bus made the trip without breaking down.

 

The visit to the doctor usually took place around noon or so, and then Emelia and I, after lunch, went to the department stores in Portland because Emelia was always on the lookout for a good buy on fabrics or yarn. Then, we would return to Union Station and a bus that usually left around 5:30 or so for the trip home.

 

Emelia told numerous stories over the years about the hardships of those trips to Portland, particularly during winter months. She was, of course, anxious about what the doctor would say and just as concerned, I'm sure, about the expense of these trips. Luckily, most of the time, the reports on my eyes were that I was showing some improvement.

 

To me, the highlight of the trips we took by bus was the chance to have lunch in a restaurant. I can't say the same for Emelia. I may have thought that eating out was a treat, but Emelia would always spot something in a restaurant that would make her "skieve," the Italian word she used to indicate revulsion or disgust. Either the silverware wasn't as clean as it should be and dishes looked as if they had been rinsed off rather than washed or she witnessed something about a waitress that indicated a less than conscientious attention to personal hygiene.

 

At some point in the afternoon—usually well before the bus was scheduled to leave—we would return to Union Station for the bus back to Berlin. Our early arrival back at the station, Emelia always maintained, was necessitated by my fear that we were going to miss our bus if we spent too much time away from the station. It was in those afternoons, while waiting at the station, that Emelia became good friends with a middle-aged black woman who was an attendant in the ladies room. I can remember how the two of them would spend the afternoon talking and laughing and having a wonderful time with each other, discussing their children and commiserating because both of them had sons who had been drafted and sent off to fight in the war.

 

Eventually, my eyes improved enough so that the trips to Portland became less frequent, but they were no less difficult. Emelia found those trips to be particularly unpleasant after Rocco's death because of the associations she had with Portland, which was where she first learned that Rocco was seriously ill.

 

Dr. Dufeaunet went into the service during the war, and I then became a patient of Dr. Francis Tetreau. It was Dr. Tetreau who prescribed a course of treatment that accounted for a remarkable improvement in my vision. Each time I visited, he would have me sit at something that resembled a microscope but was much clunkier. When I looked into the lens of the machine, I would see a red square and blue square. On a table in front of me was a red block and blue block that was of the exact size and shape of the squares I saw in the machine. I was required to stare into the machine and keep track of whether the red and blue blocks moved, either up and down or to the sides. The blocks did move, but quite gradually, almost like the hands of a clock. As the squares I was looking at changed positions, I was supposed to change the blocks in front of me in the same way. The exercise apparently helped the eyes remained focused, and at the same time, exercised those "lazy" eye muscles.

 

Dr. Tetreau was a man of great generosity and talked often of how much he admired Emelia and Rocco for the extraordinary effort they had made to see that I received proper care. I can still recall him complimenting Emelia for having brought me at such a young age to see an eye specialist. He was also well aware of the hardship, financial and otherwise, of her trips to Portland, which often led him to charge only a portion of his customary fee. After Rocco died, he would waive the charge completely.

 

 

 

 

THE SOCIAL SECURITY SCAM

 

Emelia was part of the generation that considered Franklin Delano Roosevelt a quasi-religious figure. Her parents and millions of others like them had come to America because everyone had a chance to get rich here, provided they worked. Or so they had heard. So they worked and they saved and they sacrificed, and for a time they made progress, but then came the Depression and America suddenly looked like just one more place where the poor would forever remain that way.

 

I doubt that Emelia ever allowed a day to pass when she did not bring up in some way the Depression. It was, aside from Rocco's death, the great trauma of her life. Even though Rocco was fortunate enough to be employed throughout the Depression, his weekly pay check was barely enough to support a family of two adults and five children (and then seven, when I was born in l937 and Shirley in l94l). The older children, by the late l930's, began to contribute in a small way to the household income, but it was extremely difficult for people like Rocco and Emelia to imagine any time in the future when there would ever have more than enough money simply to get by.

 

In the l950's, during my summer vacations from UNH, when I worked at the Brown Company, I heard countless tales from older workers about the hardships they endured those Depression years, when they were frequently out of work and had nothing like unemployment compensation to tide them over. These were the years when men showed up at the mill each morning and stood in a "line up" waiting for various foremen to come out and pick the few people they needed that day. One man told me he would put a pint of liquor in his suit jacket, and when the foreman passed him, he would puff out his chest so that the foreman could see the outline of the bottle of liquor. That was the way he signaled the foreman that he was offering him, in return for a day's work, a pint of liquor. Another man told me that his wife would cook something, like a chicken or a pie, and how he would then take the food and deliver it it the back door of the foreman's house. That was his way of hoping the foreman would pick him out of the labor lineup the next day.

 

I bring these items up simply to illustrate how much it meant to working people when Roosevelt became President and immediately instituted programs that created jobs. It is no wonder that there were thousands of homes in America where the portrait of Roosevelt hung right next to the Crucifix.

 

To the day she died, Emelia could never express enough her admiration for Roosevelt and the hope he offered to people who had lost their faith in the future. "I wish I could go to Roosevelt's grave," she would say, "so I could put a rose there."

 

Emelia was talking both about the hope (and help) provided by the Roosevelt administration, but she was referring in a more specific way to the enactment of Social Security in l936, and particularly the provision in that program of widow and survivor benefits. It was these Social Security payments, after Rocco's death, that provided her with a monthly stipend, along with a small check for both Shirley and me.

 

"Because of that Social Security," she would say, "I didn't have to go with another man."

 

Emelia was talking about the need, prior to that time, for widows to remarry; they would otherwise be unable to support themselves and their children. She would then tell of one suitor, the owner of a bar, who was himself a widower and had approached her and proposed marriage—even promising to sign over his house to her if she would marry him. She was able to turn him down, she said, because of that monthly check she was receiving from Social Security.

 

But there was one catch to the survivor benefits that came from Social Security. A widow received payments only until her youngest child reached the age of l8. In Emelia's case that meant the last check she received from Social Security came at the beginning of l959, when Shirley turned l8. Emelia would then have to wait until l963, when she turned 62 (by her accounting) to receive a monthly check from Social Security.

 

Emelia, of course, tried a thousand different ways to think of how she could get around this requirement since that monthly check from Social Security was vital to her. One day, when she was still 61, she decided to make her move. She would go to the Social Security representative, who came to Berlin once a week, and claim that she was, in fact, 62 and not 6l, and that she was eligible therefore for her Social Security pension.

 

She thought she could claim to be a year older because of an old-country custom that Rocco had followed. To Rocco, an individual became a year older the day after his or her birthday. Emelia recalled that when she and Rocco were getting married, Rocco and her father had gone to City Hall to pick up the marriage license, and Rocco, following his system, listed Emelia's age as 22, although she had, she insisted, turned 2l the previous March.

 

The marriage license on file at City Hall, Emelia figured, was the only document in Berlin that could prove her age, and since that showed her as being 22 in l922, then she was eligible for her Social Security pension in l962 instead of l963. Better still, Emelia had worked out a cover story for herself and her inability to document her age with any other document except the marriage license.

 

She began by telling the Social Security representative that she was 62, and then said she could not offer a birth certificate to show her age because that document was destroyed by the fighting that took place between American forces and Germans during World War II. She did think, though, that the marriage certificate on file at City Hall in Berlin would show her age. The maneuver worked exactly as planned because the Social Security representative went to the City Clerk's office, found the marriage certificate, and agreed that Emelia was indeed eligible to receive a monthly pension.

 

Immediately after leaving City Hall, Emelia walked down the street to F. W. Woolworth, where she reported her coup to Fio. She was overjoyed, of course, and she expected that Fio would be as excited as she was by the good news.

 

Fio, of course, was beside himself.

 

"Holy Moses," said Fio, which was the expression he used whenever he heard something that struck him as outrageous. "Do you know what you just did? Do you know what happens to people who cheat the government out of that money. They put them in jail."

 

Anyone who ever knew Fio will not be surprised by his reaction. Few people on this earth were as scrupulously honest as he was. Certainly no employee, in the entire history of the F. W. Woolworth Company, was ever more honest than Fio. Emelia herself liked to tell the story of how accurate Fio could be when weighing out a pound of candy she was buying. If the weight of the candy was an ounce or so over what she asked for, Fio would take enough candy out so that the weight was absolutely precise. At which point, Emelia would say, "Fio, that piece of candy, are you afraid you're going to make Mr. Woolworth poor if you put it in my bag?"

 

In any event, whether Fio was worried or not, Emelia had pulled off her Social Security caper and she never told the story without laughing about Fio and how he greeted her good news by telling her she might end up in jail.

 

Now, this footnote to Emelia's Social Security scam. It turned out that Emelia's birth certificate was not destroyed in the fighting during World War II at all. In fact, when her nephew, Remo Sinibaldi, went to Sora in l997, he found that document, and, as I've pointed out elsewhere, it turned out that Emelia was indeed born in l900 and that she was eligible for her Social Security pension, fair and square, when she filed for it.

 

This information only came to light after both Emelia and Fio had died, but all of us who knew about Emelia's raid on the U. S. Treasury were relieved at last to hear that FBI agents were not going to show up at 590 Goebel with a warrant for Emelia's arrest.

 

 

 

 

PROHIBITION

 

In l9l9, with the enactment of the l8th amendment to the U. S. Constitution, America embarked on what would become known as a "noble experiment"—-the prohibition of alcohol. However noble the purposes of this misbegotten experiment, it also brought about the flagrant violation of prohibition statutes and the creation, at the same time, of criminal enterprises and mobs that virtually took over the control (and governance, in some cases) of American cities.

 

Prohibition did nothing to weaken the public's taste for alcohol. Indeed, it may have fostered a culture that was built around the thrill of violating the laws, thus encouraging people to drink because they were involved in a kind of cat-and-mouse game with the police. I remember a high school friend of mine telling me how his parents and other young people in their circle would make trips to Canada and buy alcohol and smuggle it back over the border for the sheer entertainment they derived from trying to fool the customs inspectors.

 

Every self-respecting American in that era had his bootlegger, just as he or she might have a family doctor or a favorite butcher. Given the laws of supply and demand, it was no wonder that suddenly there was an unprecedented opportunity for a lot of people to make money by becoming bootleggers.

 

One person who entered this new business in a big way was Oreste Mosca, Rocco's employer, and one of the people involved in the enterprise was Rocco. The liquor Mosca sold came from Boston and was shipped to Berlin in boxes of pasta. In those days, pasta did not come pre-packaged, but was sold "loose" and then weighed out and warped in a piece of paper. The boxes shipped to Mosca may have said pasta on the box and they may have had pasta as a top layer, but hidden beneath the pasta were bottles of liquor. The goods were shipped to Berlin on the Boston and Maine Railroad, but instead of arriving in Berlin, Rocco would meet the freight at the station in Gorham with his horse and wagon. After loading his wagon, he would then return to Mosca's store, which was the place where the liquor was either sold or distributed.

 

Apparently the police were tipped off about one of Rocco's trips to Gorham because one night, shortly after he picked up the shipment, the police took off after him. As Emelia recounted it, Rocco was driving his horse with one hand while reaching back with the other and frantically searching through the pasta for the liquor, which he then threw into the woods. I'm not sure if Rocco got away that one time and was then watched more closely, or if he was caught then, but there was a night when the police had enough evidence to come to 590 Goebel (late at night, it seemed) to place Rocco under arrest. Somehow, probably through some payoff to the police or a court officer, Rocco received a suspended sentence or was probably placed on probation, but Emelia, with great amusement, used to tell how Tony, four years old at the time, was in tears when he saw the police leading his father away.

 

Much to the surprise of anyone who ever knew Emelia and her distaste for drinking, she herself was involved in two raids by the police who were looking for illegal liquor at 590 Goebel. According to Emelia, she usually had a bottle of liquor in the cabinet under the kitchen sink because she would rub it on her gums to ease the pain from pyorrhea. (Trips to the dentist, then, were an extravagance, reserved only for emergencies. ) In one instance, Emelia saw the police coming to "raid" her house, and she grabbed the bottle and poured it down the kitchen sink just before answering the door. The other police raid required more ingenuity on Emelia's part.

 

Emelia, of course, nursed all her children, and she was nursing Fio when she spotted the police once again coming to her door. This time she was unable to drain the contents of that bottle before the police arrived so she tucked it in her dress and concealed it with the breast she was using to feed Fio. Whether the police figured out where the liquor was or not, they apparently decided not to part a baby from his mother's breast and left without confiscating the liquor they were after.

 

Emelia claimed that for years after that, when she was walking down the street and passed a couple of cops, she could tell, even though the officers were speaking French, that they were referring to Italian women in general, and this one in particular and how effectively she had concealed the bootleg liquor.

 

"Those policemen, I could see they were laughing about it," she said. "but I fooled them. They knew there was liquor in the house, but they looked everywhere and they couldn't find it."

 

 

 

 

WHERE WE LIVED

 

Immigrants, because of their unfamiliarity with the language and customs of their new country, have always tended to create enclaves in which they live next to each other. In a time before government-sponsored social programs, this proximity to each other helped create the support systems needed to help newly-arrived Americans cope with everything from day-to-day problems to life-and-death crises. In an era before every house had a telephone and every family owned a car, it would have been impossible for these people to stay in touch with each other—and therefore to provide each other with assistance and moral support they needed—if they had not huddled together in certain neighborhoods.

 

Next to kinship, perhaps the major factor determining where these people lived was proximity to work. In Berlin, that decision hinged on two words, "the mill." If you had a map of Berlin in l940, say, and you put a red dot that showed where each Brown Company worker lived, you would find the reddest areas in those neighborhoods closest to the Brown Company. After all, most men walked back and forth to work—and work days were not always limited to eight hours—so nobody wanted to walk farther than they had to after a long shift in the mill. In Berlin, weather was another factor. Who wanted to finish a midnight shift and then face a long walk home through a blizzard, or in sub-zero temperatures?

 

People familiar with Berlin know that it is bisected by the Androscoggin River, which runs roughly parallel to the city's Main Street. Since the river runs north to south, the two segments of the city on either side of it are referred to as the East Side and the West Side. The Brown Company's largest mills, the Burgess sulphite plant, and later, the Kraft mill, and all the company's wood operations, were on the East Side of Berlin. Consequently, the East Side was home to the greatest concentration of mill workers, many of whom lived in triple deckers that were within a five to ten-minute walk from the Brown Company.

 

Until there was widespread ownership of automobiles, the neighborhoods where these people lived also contained a variety of businesses, particularly grocery stores. When I was a boy, there were, in addition to Mosca's Market, similar stores on several street corners within a few blocks of Mosca's. These were stores, like Morrisette's and Blanchette Brothers, that were not only fully stocked with groceries, but that also employed a number of clerks, including meat cutters, and like Mosca's, offered delivery service, and most important, credit. In addition, on any given block there might be a number of mom-and-pop stores that existed primarily to sell soda and candy to kids, and cigarettes and beer to adults.

 

On these blocks there were also a variety of other businesses, including, for instance, a barber shop owned by Aime Tondreau, who was also a gunsmith and repaired clocks and served as mayor of Berlin, and East Side Drug, where I spent countless hours reading through their supply of comic books and every sports magazine available. (I "bought" my right to browse, I think, because I actually purchased a comic book or magazine from time to time with pocket money I earned from shining Tony's shoes and other errands.)

 

Those East Side blocks also included a number of bars, which were usually referred to as "beer parlors," and other small businesses, such as a tailor shop and beauty parlors, doctors and dentists offices and a dry cleaner. There was a funeral home, the Angel Guardian Credit Union, which was a bank established for the members of the Angel Guardian church. Until l943, there was the King School and a fire station beneath the school and a hall that was used for dances, wedding receptions and other activities. When the King School closed, everyone on the East Side who wanted to attend a public school had to go to Marston School on Willard Street, which was where I went.

 

Next to the river, and just outside the gates of the Brown Company, was a large athletic field, large enough, in fact, so that it eventually came to include two Little League Fields and tennis courts in addition to the main baseball diamond that was used (prior to the construction of Memorial Field in the early l950's) for baseball games that featured the town team when every decent-sized town still had a baseball team. The field was also the site of high school football games and for special events, like the Labor Day Celebration, which went from morning until night, with everything from kids' games to full-scale vaudeville shows and boxing matches.

 

Next to the field with the baseball diamond was a smaller area, bounded on one side by a small park and a monument to soldiers and sailors who served in the Spanish American War. This field became a playground in the late l940's, but prior to that time it was used for carnivals and band concerts.

 

Only a short distance from the Androscoggin, and just barely on Berlin's East Side, was the Boston & Maine train station and the freight warehouse. Berlin was the northern terminus of the B & M Railroad in New Hampshire. When rail service was the lifeline between a city like Berlin and the outside world, the train station was a hub of activity, with people coming and going, either to take the train or to meet arriving passengers. On the West Side was the terminal and freight operations of the Grand Trunk Railroad, which connected Berlin to northern Maine and Canada, but there was not as much rail traffic and/or activity at that station as there was at the B & M terminal.

 

At the same time, the Brown Company had its own small railroad that connected the mills in Berlin and Cascade, and both the B & M and the Grand Trunk had "spur tracks" that enabled them to shift cars back and forth to the Brown Company. That meant there were box cars constantly going back and forth between the main yards of the B & M and the freight warehouse as the freight train, which went out each evening, was assembled.

 

Prior to the installation of automatic electric signals, the B & M railroad even employed a guard, who stood at the East Mason Street crossing, holding up a sign that said STOP, as a train was approaching the crossing. I can still remember that the crossing guard's name was Mr. Wood, and that he had only one arm, the other one having been lost in an accident at another job he had had with the railroad. He sat in a tiny shack that had a wood burning stove.

 

At the B & M Station itself, there was a full-time ticket agent, and nearby at what he always called the Freight Shed, although it was a large warehouse building, there was a manager and supporting staff. That train station was really a hub of activity, particularly during the war years. I can still remember, after the war, when the station platform could barely accommodate the crowds of people who waited each night for the return of their sons from the war.

 

A word or two about the ticket agent at the B & M Station. His name was Ed Penney, and I doubt that there was a happier man employed by the B & M Railroad. He was a big guy, with a hearty laugh and the patience to put up with kids who were constantly running in and out of the station to use the rest rooms and generally just hanging around the place. He and his wife were the parents or seven or eight children, all of whom were outstanding students and star athletes.

 

I can remember how fascinated we were with the the telegraph in Mr. Penney's office. (We called him Mister, of course). Many times I'd find a way to be in the station, looking in through the ticket window and listening when, in the late afternoon, he sent in his daily report, tapping it out in dots and dashes.

 

Back then, our house was still heated by a coal/wood furnace, and it was my job to cut wood each day. We would buy wood in the summer and store it in the cellar, but there was never enough wood to get through the year (and there wasn't enough space in the cellar to store the amount of wood needed for an entire heating season) and so, beginning in January or February and going right through April, someone had to cut new shipments of wood to keep the furnace going. I was at an age—11 to l4 years old—when I stubbornly refused to spend the time it would take to cut enough wood to last several days, which meant that I was cutting wood practically every day just to keep up. In cold weather, I cut wood in the cellar, but once it grew a bit warmer (but still cold enough to keep the furnace going), I did it outdoors, using a buck saw. A buck saw looks somewhat like a bow and arrow, with the blade located where the string of a bow would be.

 

A buck saw works best if the teeth of the blade are "angled" or "set" so that they can really rip through the wood. My saw, alas, was neither very sharp, nor were its teeth angled, and that meant I had to work about twice as hard at cutting the wood as anyone would who had a properly sharpened saw. Now to get those teeth sharp and angled would require considerable labor as each "tooth" has to be filed to a sharp edge and then you had to take pliers and carefully bend that tooth to one side and then the next tooth to the opposite side.

 

One day, Mr. Penney came out of his office and told me to bring him my saw. He took one look at it and said he would bring a file and pliers to work the next day and properly sharpen it for me. So the next day, I took my buck saw over to him and he patiently filed away each of its teeth, giving them a sharp edge, and then he carefully bent the teeth the way they should be. When I went home and began to cut the daily supply of wood, I had to apply hardly any effort for that saw to rip through the wood.

 

I bring all this up as a prelude to explain where the Memolos and their relatives lived and to give some insight into what daily life was like in our densely populated neighborhood, on the East Side of Berlin.

 

As mentioned, the house the Memolos lived in was directly across from the Boston & Maine Railroad Station. Three houses away, in a southerly direction was Mosca's Market. Another block south of Mosca's store, at 490 Goebel and 498 Goebel, was the two-family house built by Emelia's parents, Rosetta and Ascenzio. That was the house Emelia and her brothers and sisters moved to in 1914 or so. Next to 490 was a triple-decker (with a basement apartment) at 498 Goebel, which was built by Ascenzio and was purchased by Emelia after Rosetta died. After Rosetta had a stroke in the early l940's, her son, Jimmy and his wife, Marion, and their four children lived with her in the first floor unit of 490 Goebel.

 

Midway between 590 Goebel and 490 Goebel was Mosca's store, which was on the corner of Goebel and East Mason Street. Mosca's Store, including the hardware store, two storefronts, a garage and a bar, covered most of the block between East Mason Street and Champlain Street. One block farther, along East Mason, was the house the Sinibaldis lived in. They lived upstairs over a small restaurant that was run by their son, Orry. That restaurant, by the way, was a kind of neighborhood hangout in the thirties and forties, and later, when Orry's brother, Eddie, took it over, it became a highly popular pizza parlor, which Eddie and his wife, Laurie, ran for almost forty years.

 

Next to the restaurant on the ground floor of the Sinibaldi house was a small storefront that became a hair dressing parlor operated by Helen Sinibaldi before she married Mario Gemmetti sometime in the late forties. Later, it served as a garage for her brother Joseph who operated a "traveling store." His panel truck contained groceries and some staples and each day he went off to the country side, selling his goods to farmer's wives and other families who lived too far from Berlin to get into town more than once a week or so.

 

A block or so north of the Sinibaldi house was the Mosca block. I say block because it was a building that contained several apartments, including the one the Moscas lived in. Next door to Mosca's house was Pasquale and Lucia Paolucci. Silucia, as we called her (Si being a shortened form of the Italian word for aunt), was Rosetta's sister and it was Silucia who had taken care of Emelia and her siblings when they remained in Italy for seven years until Rosetta and Ascenzio returned to take them to America.

 

Intermingled with the houses of these immediate relatives were scores of other Italian families, the Bosas, the Nicolettis, the Gemmettis, the Baldassaris, the Torros, the Ottolinis, the Arcadis—and various branches and offshoots. Only a few of these people lived in single-family houses. The idea was to have a house that had apartments upstairs, downstairs, in the rear, in every available cubbyhole really, so that rental income could help the owner meet the mortgage payments on the house. All of these houses usually had some kind of garden in order to grow vegetables that helped provide food during the summer months. More to the point, the gardens produced enough food so that housewives could "can" vegetables to help get through the winter months. Emelia would put up almost enough jars of tomatoes in the summer to supply the tomatoes she needed to make tomato sauce for almost the entire winter.

 

This was a world without a distinct separation between residential areas and various businesses. Less than a block from 590 Goebel, for example, was the garage and storage area for Sealtest's Fro-Joy Ice Cream. On summer nights. we would leave off playing games, to wait at the corner of Champlain and Burgess Streets, ready to run to the Fro-Joy garage the minute the ice cream truck showed up. The driver—I think his name was Eddie—was completing his rounds, which meant that he was returning with a truck that was almost empty. He would then have to load it up for the next day, which meant he would invite a few of us to help him. The pay for this was a few cups of ice cream or some popsicles that were a bit battered and couldn't be sold.

 

On Friday mornings, the big truck from Maine from the Sealtest plant in Portland, Maine, would come to bring the supply of ice cream that would get Eddie through the week. If you got there in time and were picked out for that job, it involved a couple of hours of sliding gallons of ice cream down a wheeled ramp into the freezer. The bigger kids were even given heavy hooded parkas to wear so that they could work inside the freezer, storing the ice cream away.

 

Across from 490 Goebel Street there was a foundry and not too far away from that, a small plant where bleach water was bottled and sold. In addition, there were those trains, with coal-powered steam engines going back and forth. With trucks arriving to pick up goods at the B & M Freight Shed, and with the wood trucks arriving every few minutes to deliver wood to the Brown Company, this was a pretty active area. Add to that, of course, the mill itself, which was a noisy, smelly presence in our lives twenty-four hours a day, seven days of the week, except for the occasional lull on a holiday.

 

Maybe it's a matter of age, but I have this image in my mind of children, dozens of them, simply tumbling out of the doors and windows of the houses in that part of the East Side where we lived. Not only did people have large families, but it was not uncommon for a lot of families to have grandparents and relatives visiting or living with them, either for a short time or on a permanent basis.

 

So how did these large families fit into the triple deckers that were so common throughout Berlin (and other mill towns in New England)? The typical triple decker had a kitchen, living room, bathroom and three bedrooms, one for the parents, one for boys and one for girls. In addition, the living room sofa often served as a bed by night. It was not uncommon in the summer for children to sleep outdoors on the porch.

 

The Memolo household didn't quite make it to the three bedroom threshold. There was a bedroom for Rocco and Emelia and one for the girls. The boys' bedroom was in the front hallway and consisted of a sofa that opened up into a bed, more or less, although I can never remember one of those sofas that failed to have a very distinctive crease down its middle.

 

My arrival in l937 presented a bit of a problem since there wasn't any room to fit me in either with the boys or the girls. I gather that I was kept in a crib until Shirley came along in 1941 and then was fit into various places until Tony was drafted in l943, which opened up space on the sofa in the hallway. I was once again in trouble, however, between the time Fio returned from the Army and his marriage in l948.

 

This doubling up (and tripling up, at times) of people in various beds, with other people sleeping on sofas, was so common at the time that even in a house as crowded as the Memolos, it was not out of the question for Rosetta to "visit" with us for a couple of weeks in the summer. Rosetta's stay at 590 Goebel was intended to give Jimmy's wife, Marion, a short respite from the considerable work involved in taking care of a mother-in-law who was, by and large, incapacitated.

 

Living in close quarters didn't necessarily end once children grew up and moved away from home. In fact, right after World War II ended, there was such a serious shortage of housing that newly married couples were often forced to live with either the family of the bride or the groom. When Clara and Raymond were married, they lived with Raymond's parents until they were able to move into the upstairs apartment at 583 Champlain Street. Fio and Millie, likewise, moved into an upstairs apartment in the rear of 590 Goebel Street, and then when their first baby, Rocky, was born, they moved to the apartment upstairs in the front of 590 Goebel. The apartment they moved into had been occupied by Eddie Sinibaldi ever since he had been married in l940 or so. And then, when Tony married in l951, he moved into the apartment vacated by Fio.

 

This idea of an extended family living within the same house, or next door to each other, was another part of the immigrant culture, and not necessarily limited to Italian-Americans. Throughout Berlin, there were (and are) countless families where children either bought or built a house next door to their parents.

 

I had a unique perspective for someone who lived on the East Side in that I was part of that neighborhood and part of another one, which was on the west side. That happened because I was "bused" to school. In l943, when I was about to begin grammar school, there was a shortage of teachers because many teachers had left town for more lucrative jobs elsewhere. There was probably a dip in the school age population, too, because the birth rate had declined during the l930's. This combination of teacher scarcity and small classes caused the city to close the King School, which was two blocks away from 590 Goebel. Thus, I became the first Memolo to attend the Marston School, which was slightly less than a mile away from 590 Goebel.

 

Since I wanted to play with my friends from school, I would come home after school, change into my play clothes, and go back to the neighborhood around Marston School, where my school friends lived. In the summer, however, after school was out, I played with the children who lived in the area of 590 Goebel. Thus, my unique view of the two Berlins.

 

The area around Marston School had more single-family homes, many of which housed doctors, lawyers, and Brown Company executives, or at least the Brown Company white-collar workers. It was, in contrast to the East Side, somewhat more affluent, certainly more middle-class. Many of my school friends came from families in which at least one parent may have attended college and it was assumed that the children in these families would be going to college. Not many children in the vicinity of 590 Goebel had any expectation of going on to college or pursuing a line of work that was terribly different from what their parents did.

 

So from an early age, I was introduced, or exposed to, a world that was somewhat different from Goebel Street. My two best friends were Kenneth Van Kleeck and Stanley Israel. Van Kleeck's father was an executive with the Brown Company and Israel's father was a doctor. Van Kleeck lived in a house that, as I look back on it, was somewhat modest, but he had his own bedroom, there was a dining room, two bathrooms (who, in our neighborhood, ever heard of a house with two bathrooms?), and a basement that was, at least to my eyes, filled with more toys and gadgets than any one boy could ever play with. The Israel house was much more impressive. They even had a maid, which, again, was not a standard accoutrement in the typical household in the Goebel street area.

 

I can remember, when I was seven years old, that Van Kleeck invited me to attend the Christmas party given at the Country Club in Gorham. The Country Club (now the Town and Country Inn and Restaurant) and its golf course, built and owned by the Brown Company, occupied a site that was just below the wooded area where the Memolos (and other families like them) picked blueberries they then sold door-to-door in order to make enough to buy back-to-school clothes. I recall that everyone who hung around Mosca's store seemed to think I had already, at the age of seven, moved up in the world because I was going to the Country Club.

 

Nobody had a greater appreciation for my "climb" into that other world than Emelia. She had no use for "rough kids," of whom there were a good number in our neighborhood, and she seemed to think that my daily contact with the Israels and the Van Kleecks of the world would help fuel my ambition. Near St. Kieran's Church, which was only a few blocks from the Israel's house, there was a very big house, one that had an impressive granite wall around it, and when Emelia and I went by that house, either coming or going from St. Keiran's, I would tell her that that house was the one I intended to live in some day. She was highly amused by that, amused and rather proud of the goal I had set for myself.

 

I can never touch on this subject without telling the story of how I must have been the only boy in Berlin who had breakfast with a Jewish family so that I could take Communion when we all went to mass each morning during Lent. During Lent, we would walk from 590 Goebel to St. Kieran's Church in time for the seven o'clock mass, and I wouldn't have had anything for breakfast since there was the requirement to fast before taking Communion. I would then walk back to 590, have breakfast and walk to school, which was only a couple of blocks from St. Kieran's. All of this was done in February and March.

 

Stanley Israel's mother, hearing of my back-and-forth routine, invited me to have breakfast with Stanley and then go to school from there. And so, in one of those only-in-America, sagas, I may have been the first Italian-Catholic boy in northern New Hampshire to have learned, circa l950, what a bagel was.

 

 

 

 

EULOGY FOR EMELIA MEMOLO, DELIVERED BY DEBORAH ELCIK,
FEBRUARY 10, 1996, ST. KIERAN’S PARISH, BERLIN, NEW HAMPSHIRE

 

On behalf of my grandmother's family, I thank you for helping us to celebrate her life today. I thought it was important to say a few words about this woman who touched our lives in a very special way.

 

I feel as though I lost a bit of myself today. There's something about losing a mother or grandmother that makes you feel that way. Perhaps it's because they are creators of a family—and what a family my grandmother created. She was proud to say she had seven children, and admitted that each one was different from the others. She saw their strengths and weaknesses, and depended upon each one accordingly. Each child had a specialty and each had a special place in her heart. And to each one, she taught there was nothing like family. A family would be there through the good times and bad, where friends would come and go. But when someone in this family was in need, an instinctive call went out, and all of them came to you, each in the way she taught them and expected of them. Believe me, no one knows that better than me. She also treated her sons' and daughters' spouses as if they were her own. There is no better way to describe this than to say that each of them called her Mom.

 

Then there were her grandchildren, the second generation. She was our surrogate mother, the one who changed our diapers, monitored our report cards, attended our graduations/weddings and everything in between. I was an only child, but I never felt alone. I had a privileged childhood, in that I shared everyday with four others, who were my true brothers and sisters. Ask anyone who grew u on the East Side about that Memolo gang, and they will tell you they had it all. You see, our aunt Shirley was the playground director of Community Field. So on weekends, rainy days and in the evenings, we had all the playground equipment. We played zell ball, baseball and all the other games, all the other kids had only during the week. We ruled Community Field, and the leader of this operation was my grandmother. She could be our toughest critic, but she was also the one we went to when we were in trouble with our parents. She would dress us down, but then stand up to anyone in our defense. To this day, each one of us has worked a little harder to make her proud.

 

She had a special place in her heart for her last two grandchildren. She didn't raise them, but she was involved in their lives and proud of their accomplishments. No one smiled any brighter than when Kathy married and John and Brian wore a tux.

 

And last but not least, her great grandchildren. She was older when they were born, but still kept up with their lives, forever asking them how they were doing in school. She started a tradition for them, too. As soon as they started school, she promised them a date at Burger King if they got good report cards. True to her word, every summer she took them out, proud they had passed and had done so well.

 

All these things she did for a mother's work is never done. No only did she create a family, but the sense of family was her life long work of art. Every holiday was a feast of food, laughter and tradition. For all of these memories, I thank her with all my heart. She truly loved us all. At each holiday and family gathering that we share in the future, she may not make the raviolis, or plan the schedule or rule the roost, especially in her kitchen, but she will be with all of us, in the most sacred of all places, in our hearts.  End of Story

 

 

 

 

CAST OF CHARACTERS

 

Here are some of the people in this history and their relationship to each other.

 

ROSETTA AND ASCENZIO DIPROSPEROemigrated from Sora, Italy to Berlin, New Hampshire in l905. They had seven children who survived to adulthood. Their children, by order of birth, were as follows:

 

ANTONETTA, who married Pasquale Sinibaldi and gave birth to ll children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. Their eight who survived, by order of birth, were:

 

Ettre (or Ted)

Eddie

Oreste (or Orrie)

Henry

Helen

Joseph

Mary

Remo

 

JOSEPH, who married, and had two daughters

 

JENNIE, who married Oreste Mosca, and gave birth to 9 children, seven of whom survived into adulthood. The Moscas, by age, were:

 

Beatrice

Albert

Armando

Melio

Alvera

Irene

Oreste, junior

 

EMELIA, who married Rocco Memolo, and gave birth to 7 children.

 

FRANK, who married, had two daughters.

 

JAMES, who married, and had four daughters. They were, by order of birth:

Melia

Lorraine

Jeanne

Rose

 

LOUISE, who married Julius Poretta, and had one daughter, Nancy.

 

The seven Memolo children are

Clara

Tony

Fio (died in l993)

Doris (died in 2006)

Donelia (died, 2008)

Ralph

Shirley.

 

The seven Memolo grandchildren are

Rocco, Faye and Louis, whose parents are Fio and his wife Millie

Debbie Elcik, the daughter of Clara and husband, Raymond Johnson

Sharon, the daughter of Tony and his wife, Florence

Brian and Kathy Ranney, whose parents are Shirley and her husband, Ken Miller.