Top Navigation

A Letter from Anna – Part 4

by Jan Maguire, 2010

The three Anzalone siblings shared a productive 1920s.  During that decade, many many babies were born: Ralph and Aurelia had baby they named Anna, followed in quick procession by Angelo, Philomena, Federico and Anthony. Carmella and Joe had Esther, first, and then followed up with four little boys – Rocco, Carmine, Angelo and Anthony.

Late in 1923, Anna and Michael’s first son Augustino named was born. He was named after Michael’s father. Ten years later, their third child and second son, Anthony, was born, named after the patron saint of Montefalchione. Both boys had light brown hair, blue eyes and did well in school. In between the two boys, a special baby was born in April of 1925 – a blonde, green-eyed little girl, who was christened Francesca after Michael’s mother. She was called Frances by her family.

By 1934, Carolina, now at the age of 63 back in her village of Montefalcione, had 13 grandchildren living in America – children that she had never met and sadly never would.  Several months later in early 1935, a telegram arrived at Ralph and Aurelia’s apartment in the North End from one of the Martighetti’s who lived next door to Carolina. In less than 25 words, the telegram recounted the sad news of Carolina’s death and her eventual burial in St Anthony’s graveyard next to her husband, Angelo. It was a shock to all the Anzalone siblings and especially for Anna who felt the guilt of leaving her mother alone very deeply. It was at that moment that Anna resolved to cherish and raise her own family in a way that would honor her mother and her long life. Anna did just that.

Frances Pelosi, Anna and Michael’s only daughter, did exceptionally well in school. She attended Girls Latin High School and graduated with honors in 1943. Her childhood typified that of many first generation Italian children living in Boston at that time. She spoke only Italian at home and did not learn English until she started first grade. Michael’s English was much better than Anna’s since he worked in a shop and needed to converse with customers.  Since Anna lived her entire life in Italian neighborhoods, the demand to speak English was not great. All of her friends were Italian, the shops they frequented were owned by Italians, all of the priests and churches where they worshipped were Italian. Marriages, christenings, funerals were all spoken in Italian. There was even an Italian newspaper published in Boston called Le Gazzetta del Massachusetts, which reported on all things important to the huge Italian immigrant population in Boston.

Things were challenging for Frances and her peers in school. None of the mostly young Irish teachers understood Italian and it was forbidden to speak it in school. Immigrant children had to learn English and learn it fast. Unlike some immigrant populations, education – even free public education – was not valued by some. Italian families valued family and work, so many boys left school early to become apprentices to plumbers, carpenters, stonemasons and shopkeepers. When a boy went to work, his paycheck went directly to his parents to help support the family. Girls sometimes left school to help with younger children and to assist in the running of the household. Sometimes they married in their teens or went to work in the textile factories or worked in the family business.

Despite the terrible Depression that hit America hard at the end of the 1920’s, Michael Pelosi had kept his job. He was a very good shoemaker and people always needed shoes.  He worked six days a week 10 hours a day. And he felt very lucky to have this job and to be able to put food on the table.

His and Anna’s family was small by the standard of the day. Some families had 8 or 10 or 12 children, as the Catholic Church did not allow birth control. So, imagine the suffering when a father lost his job and no money was coming in. Italians suffered many hardships during the Depression, but because of deep community ties, their attitudes about working hard, about families helping each other, and the church organizing charities – most Italians endured. Luckily for Anna and Michael, they were able to survive the Depression and keep all of their children in school.

Frances grew up to be a very smart and pretty girl.  There were lots of boys who admired her, but of course her father was strict about everything.  She would come home directly from school every day to help her mother.  Occasionally, she could sit outside with her girl friends Rose and Eleanor.  She went to church and visited her Aunt Carmella or Uncle Ralph and her many cousins. Her brothers, on the otherhand, were allowed a lot more freedom. Both of them had secondhand bicycles and newspaper routes to earn money. They ran around the neighborhood with gangs of friends, playing stickball in the street or chasing each other until dark. When her brothers would rumble noisily up the three flights of stairs, hungry and sweaty, Frances would be by the stove or setting the dinner table. Their father Michael would arrive from work around six or seven and wash up in the kitchen sink.  The family ate dinner together every night, every week, all year long.

Augustino graduated from high school in 1941 and received a scholarship to Northeastern University. Michael and Anna were determined that their son who was a good math student would continue his education. The idea that Augustino actually might be able to attend college was overwhelming to his parents. Northeastern University had a unique program that allowed their students to attend classes part of the year and then work in paid internships for the other part of the year. The internships gave the students on-the-job training, plus a chance to earn money for school expenses. When Augustino, called Augie by his family, started college the feeling of pride could not last long because the world did not cooperate.

World War II was in its early stages and it promised to be a long and harrowing affair.  The Nazi regime was brutal and after the sneak attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor, the United States joined the fight against Germany, Italy and Japan. Imagine how the Italians must have felt to see their native country at war with their newly-adopted homeland. These immigrants had left farm, family, friends behind. What would happen to Italy and her stubborn dictator Mussolini?  Some proper Bostonians continued to distrust the Italians because they believed that the Italians would be secretly loyal to the dictator Mussolini and his ally Hitler. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The Italian immigrants were fiercely patriotic about America and worried only about their families back home. Many, many Italians as new citizens served in the Army and Navy during World War II.

Augie, who was in the middle of his first year of engineering studies at Northeastern, decided to sign up with the U.S. Navy at the age of 19.  His parents were terrified, but every single young man in the neighborhood had joined the service and was prepared to fight for freedom. It was a proud moment in Italian-American history. Augie left Boston for California for his basic training before being assigned to naval duties.

After Augie shipped out, the Pelosi house became very quiet. Anna hung an American flag in the window, which was the way families let others know that a sailor or soldier from the family was at war. If a gold star replaced the flag, then the worst imaginable thing had happened to that soldier or sailor. Nobody ever wanted to be a gold star family.

Frances continued to excel in school and she graduated with honors in 1943. Since it was a girls’ school and almost every young man was in the service, the girls voted to have an “All Girl Prom”. The girls dressed up in their prom gowns, bought their own flowers, and danced with each other. Extraordinary things happened during wartime.

After graduation, Frances at age 18 immediately went to work as an office secretary. She typed, filed papers and filled orders. She worked all day long, five days a week. On Fridays, she received her pay envelope and, like her Uncle Ralph before her, she turned over her paycheck to her father. Michael in turn would take her envelope and put all the dollar bills in his pocket and give Frances whatever coins were left over. That was the only money she would have. Michael used the money to help with family expenses, but he also started saving some of the money to help pay for Augie’s college tuition when he returned home after the war. It was understood that further education for Frances was out of the question, but that investing in Augie’s education was most important.  Frances worked very hard during the war and though she resented her father taking her paycheck, she never complained.  It was not appropriate.

In 1943, Augie wrote to his parents telling them the details of his next duty. He and his training group were being shipped to the port of Boston to be part of the crew of a huge destroyer. Augie wrote on and on about how excited he was to finally be ready to fight in the war and “kick some Nazi butt”. He told his parents that he would be home soon for R&R and that they would ship out. Anna and Michael were proud of their son, but they also realized that he could soon be in harm’s way.

It was during this time that Anna made her decision. She had never done the paperwork to be become a United States naturalized citizen. Michael had gone through the process in 1933 because he worked in the outside world and he wanted to be absolutely certain that there would be no reason to send him back to Italy. He had no romantic notions about ever returning to Italy. He wanted to stay in America for the rest of his life. Anna, on the other hand, had never left the Italian neighborhoods, she had no job on the outside, and was a homebody like most Italian women. But now, with her oldest son fighting for America in the War, she felt disloyal to Augie. If he was willing to fight for his country then America was going to be her country too. So, in 1943, after living in the U.S for 22 years, Anna Anzalone Pelosi applied for and was granted American citizenship.

Despite Augie’s youthful wish to be involved in the real action of war, fate played a trick on him – a trick that was the answer to his parents prayers and one that annoyed him to no end. And yes, Augie was assigned to a big destroyer, a ship fully outfitted with the guns and torpedoes to attack and sink enemy warships and submarines, but Augie’s destroyer never left the New England waters of the Atlantic Ocean. For the next three years, Augie’s destroyer sailed from Nantucket, around Martha’s Vineyard, by Cape Cod, and up the coastline of Maine and back. The destroyer’s mission was to keep an eye out for German submarines coming close to the US shoreline. The ship docked in Nantucket, which was not much more than a rocky farm island in 1942, and then made its little trips up the coast and back down, up the coast and back down, and up the coast and back down.

In three years, Augie’s destroyer never saw one enemy ship or fired off one round of ammunition. Augie was disappointed and felt cheated that he would never see real action. The worst enemy of the men onboard the destroyer was boredom.  Imagine getting sick and tired of cruising up and down the seacoast of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine … beautiful scenery, but no action.

Because Augie’s military service was so uneventful, the men on the destroyer did everything they could to stay focused and not succumb to cabin fever. When off-duty, strong friendships developed, the men played cards and checkers, some wrote home to their sweethearts everyday, some exercised and, of course, the radio gave them news of the war and its ugly rampage throughout Europe. Once every six months or so, their destroyer would dock in Boston and some of the sailors could disembark for R&R.

Augie was lucky since, unlike many of his shipmates whose homes were in Alabama, South Dakota and Ohio, his home was five miles from the dock. On those rare occasions when Augie came home, the Pelosi’s celebrated with family parties and wonderful food. Augie was proud to be in uniform. Many of the younger boys – especially his own little brother Anthony – followed him around the neighborhood like he was a God. Of course Augie would accompany his mother to church where the priest would bless him. This blessing always made Anna feel better since the neighborhood had already endured many gold stars as the terrible war dragged on. It would be another year before Anna would learn that her brother Ralph’s son, her own nephew Angelo would be killed in battle. It seemed that no family escaped the pain of war.

Once back on the destroyer and heading back out to the Vineyard, Augie recounted his visit home to his best friend Joe Vennochi. Joe was a New Yorker and also Italian but, unlike Augie Pelosi whose parents came from directly from the old country, Joe’s parents were born in the Bronx. His grandparents had come over from Italy around the time of the American Civil War. Since Joe had grown up not really knowing his grandparents, he seemed much more American than Italian. And like Augie, he was disappointed not to be fighting in the real war. Joe thought this cruising around Martha’s Vineyard, looking for German subs was a waste of time. The fact was that he was a bit of a party boy and was always dragging Augie off to look for pretty girls when they had a day leave off the ship in Maine or Cape Cod.

Joe Vennochi had a loud voice and loved to crack jokes.  Augie was the quieter one and did not want a lot of attention from girls because he was engaged to be married to his sweetheart Delores Intoppa, who was waiting patiently for the war to end.  Joe always had a different girlfriend and sometimes he juggled two or three at the same time. Even though the two young men had different personalities, their friendship would last well after the war ended. In fact, it lasted over 40 years.

To be Continued .

, , , ,