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Rose Masciello's Autobiography - Chapter Seven

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                The Relatives in Rockford, Illinois, USA

 

With her family in tow, Mamma Lucia arrived at the train station in Rockford. The travelers
were met by Padre, Stefano’s cousin, Vito Spada, his wife, Sadie, and an assortment of other
relatives and friends all of whom they knew from their hometown, Roccamena. They talked
excitedly about the near disaster on the
Princess Matoika while embracing each other in
gratitude for their safe arrival in America.

After enjoying a hearty meal cooked by the few wives who were fortunate enough to emigrate
to this new land with their husbands and children, they sat and talked for hours. Giovanni
was congratulated for having married into the Palmeri family, and they wished Giovanna
good health and a safe delivery of her baby, due to be born in the autumn.

Giovanna listened to the men discussing their different jobs. He had never liked working
on a farm, wearing those baggy overalls; but now he thought how much less he would
want to sell vegetables, while riding around the city with a horse and wagon. Some of
the more muscular men were ditch diggers, brick layers or construction workers. Giovanni
knew he was not built for that sort of work– even if Giovanna still called him her Adonis!
He worried and wondered how he would support Giovanna and a new baby.

The discussions continued. These ambitious immigrants made plans to enroll Margarita
and Nina in the local elementary school. The women encouraged Mamma Lucia to go
with them to the dress factory where they worked. They remembered her skill with an
embroidery needle and were certain that she would quickly be hired as a seamstress.

It was after midnight and no one seemed ready to leave. There were so many more
questions these eager, but cautious immigrants needed to ask. Mamma Lucia wondered
out loud if any of these relatives regretted their move to this foreign country. Some answered,
“America means freedom, and it is the land of opportunity.” A few of them tried to hide
their tears while admitting that they missed the slow-paced, peaceful life of sunny Sicily,
but they were here to stay and would soon become American citizens.

Most of these relatives congregated in Italian neighborhoods and knew very few English
words. They were very proud of themselves as they pronounced with a thick Italian
accent, “Ello Gooda morninga, Gooda nighta, Thanka you, and you are welcoma”.
They were even prouder when they laughingly announced to little Margarita that in
America she would be called, “Margaret”, and Nina would become, “Lena”. Mamma
Lucia would always be Mamma Lucia to her children, and still be Lucia to her relatives
and friends, but when she made American friends, they would call her, “Lucy”. Giovanni
and Giovanna looked at each other with quizzical smiles on their faces as they heard themselves
being “baptized” as “John and Jennie”. They never in their lives called each other anything but
Giovanni and Giovanna.

Finally Lucia and her family were shown to their beds. Margaret and Lena had to share one
cot. Lucia had her own single bed and John and Jennie were delighted to share a very
comfortable mattress on the floor of the front room. After all, the
Princess Matoika was
supposed to dock at Ellis Island, not Boston! Now here they were in Rockford and felt
fortunate to have a place to sleep. They counted their blessings and slept peacefully through the night.

The next day Cousin Vito made arrangements for John and Jennie to have their own bedroom
at the home of another relative living a short distance away. These kind people had made
their own children “double up” so that the young couple could have their privacy. John
and Jennie were deeply grateful, and realized the inconvenience they were causing the family.

Adjustments to this new life were being made slowly. Margaret and Lena attended school.
Mamma Lucia was accepted at the factory as a “finisher” sewing buttons on coats.

Weeks went by and John, who was desperate to find a job, was becoming very discouraged.
Just when he thought he might have to resort to being a ditch digger he saw an ad in the
employment section of the Italian newspaper: “Sanitation Department, Workers Needed”.
John made a phone call, hoping that someone would answer in Italian. He dialed and said,
“Ello, me looka for joba”. Luckily the person at the other end of the line could speak both
English and Italian and gave John directions to the department. Early the next morning he
boarded a trolley car and arrived with a hopeful heart at the Department of Sanitation. He
was given a broom half as wide as the streets he would be sweeping clean. He rolled
his blue eyes up to the heavens and smiled at the irony of his situation. Here he was, again in
uniform, this time serving a new country. His new weapon was a broom. He also discovered
that these streets were not paved with gold– that was just a Sicilian rumor. He would earn
the gold, but only if he kept the streets clean!

The days passed quickly by. Jennie turned over the pages of the calendar that hung on her
kitchen wall, counting the months before she would give birth to their baby. As time passed
by, John found himself sweeping up bundles of leaves from the tree lined streets assigned to
him. He was also saving enough money from his meager salary so that he and his young
wife could live in a place of their own. In a few months he and Jennie would need more room
for the new baby. With the help of his kind relatives, a little frame house was found for them
in the poorer section of town. Now they had a place of their own, but only if they kept up with
the rent payments! They were given as many necessary furnishings for their home as these
generous relatives could collect. The young couple was truly grateful.

John and Jennie, alone at last in their little ramshackle love nest, became Giovanni and Giovanna
again. She looked at him, and in her mind’s eye she did not see the words, “Sanitation Department”
printed on his uniform. She saw only her Giovanni looking as handsome as ever in his army
uniform. He looked at her, unraveled her raven black hair, which she now wore in a bun, and
saw a slender young girl waving a flag from her balcony. They were truly happy and eagerly
looked forward to their “Blessed Event”
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