Chapter I - Childhood
I was born in the city of Avellino in the southern part of Italy. Avellino runs parallel to Naples about 60 kilometers away.
However, I was raised in Atripalda, a place to which my family moved after my father returned from America.
My father had stayed only one month in America. As many other people were doing, he had given up our farm to try his fortune in America. After pooling his resources, he had rented an apartment for his family in the town of Avellino and had sailed for the shores of "the Promised Land" with my brother Luigi, the second son of our family.
There were five children in all. Guiseppe, the oldest, was serving in the Italian army. My sister Emilia, my youngest brother Marco and myself lived in town with mother.
My mother's father, Grandfather Pellegrino, lived with us while my father came to America to try his fortune.
Since I was only four years old, I was too young to realize what was going on. When my father reappeared I was delighted and I could see that my mother was happy too. I can remember sitting in the middle of their large bed playing with some coins that my father had put in my hands.
"American money," he said. I looked at their happy faces and I felt happy too.
My next remembrance is of a happy family living on a small family farm on the outskirts of the town of Atripalda, a town only two or three kilometers away from Avellino. It was like a little isle in itself. On one side our farm was surrounded by the houses of the town. Since our land was at a high level, there was a retaining wall on the other side. At the back of the farm there was a lane which connected with a playground for the children of the town. The town was a little over 5,000 in population and was divided in two by a stream passing right through the town. Two bridges joined the town together.
Life was quiet there. Two nights a week a band played on the main street. The street was wide and couples would stroll in their best clothes, enjoying the fine music.
My mother, Lucia, would first go to church with my sister and myself to receive the benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Then we would go to listen to the music. On those occasions I was rather bored. I would take a little nap in church. When we went outside I would hold onto my mother's skirt, leaning first on one leg and then on the other trying to figure out what it was all about. I wondered why I should be made to stand on my legs and listen to the band when I would rather be on the loose and playing around. However, I did not dare leave my mother's skirt because by now it was dark, and I did not want to get lost and walk home alone. I had heard so many stories about spirits coming out at night, especially at places where some accident had occurred. The gate to our farm was located on the side where there was no street and no houses. There was just a stretch of empty land where the boys of the town would play games. A wall separated this playground from our farm. On our side of the wall there was a drop and a small hole in the wall, which allowed a trickle of water to pass through. My mother had a barrel underneath the trickle to catch the water, and in the summertime I would climb into the barrel and enjoy the coolness of the water. Also, as the story goes, there was a legend that a fig tree had once grown near the wall on the side of the farm. The branches of the tree were showing above the wall on the side of the playground, and a boy, tempted by the luscious fruit, climbed the wall to get some. While reaching out to pluck one of the figs, he lost his balance and fell below and died.
That story had me in terror. If I had to pass the gate alone at night, I was sure the spirit would get me. For that reason I did not dare to let go of my mother's skirt on those special nights.
Every Thursday was market day. My mother would dress up in better clothes, take a wicker basket, and do the marketing while my father cleaned the barn. He would put fresh straw on the floor and feed and water the animals. That done, he would have a breakfast of bacon and eggs and then he, too, would go to the market but only to appraise the prices and keep abreast of the trends in selling and buying.
The feeding of the animals was also a part of my mother's chores. Two nights a week, Thursday and Sunday, she would take over the chores of tending to the animals' needs. That work done, my mother, my sister, and I would get ready for our special Sunday night treat.
After church on Sunday, Mother would proceed to prepare a special Sunday meal while my father played bocci with friends. I loved those Sunday mornings watching my father play and I would root for him to win. After dinner, my father would take a rest and, after resting, he would freshen up and go to a certain tavern to play games of cards with friends.
After my mother's work was done, she would take my sister and myself to church for the benediction. Afterwards we would join my father at the tavern. He would call the owner and say, "Filomena, see what Lucia wants," and then my mother would order while Father would finish the game and join us for supper. After supper we would all go home together. My three brothers were not with us because they were all in America.
One day in school, while I was studying geography, I began to wonder why my father hadn't stayed in America since America seemed so wonderful.
I asked him and he said that since he was a farmer and a free man making his own decisions he could not stand the regimentation of a factory. He did not like to be ordered around and he also did not like to be indoors all day since he loved the open air.
This explanation appeased me though I felt he had not given himself enough time to really find out.
I loved school. Every morning, after delivering milk to a few customers, I would get ready for school. The school, which I attended, started at 8:00 a.m. and ended at 1:30 p.m. with no intermission for lunch. We went five days a week.
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