Born October 26,1898, Died March 4, 1992
Transcribed from an audiotape made at a family reunion in Canaan Valley, West Virginia July 1978.
Erminia’s Childhood in Italy:
He’d buy cattle, and he’d buy wine, hay, and olive oil when the market went down and sell it when the market went up. He was just born to be like that. He was a regular businessman. He never working in the mine. He’d go work in the mine twice and see the bucket up so high and he’d say “You’ll never get me in a mine anymore. You can put me in there when I’m dead.” So anyhow, that’s the man he was.
So this time he got caught with 98 heads of cattle. And you have to graze them. To buy hay costs money, so he decided to talk it over with my mother. “So, what are you gonna do? It looks like the market is going to be down for quite a while.” So my mother said: “Why don’t you rent the place and let them graze. That’s the only thing we can do.” “You’re right. I think I’ll rent a place where the hay comes up two or three times a year.”
So they watered it. It looked like a lake. And I visited the places he rented. I’ll never forget, I never saw a man bite an animal’s mouth, but he did. We were tending these 98 animals from the stall he had rented. Cost him a lot of money and that made him mad. Here they were, running from one place to another people’s farm, you know, and he grabbed this thing and grabbed him by the mouth and bite him. He was so mad. I was with him. You know, I was his shadow. I was an only child and I was his shadow.
He had 98 kids, young goats, that’s a lot you know. I was so mad. I was his shadow, you know. So one time he took me over to one of these traders over there. I never saw this before. I was about eight years old at that time. And they grab you by the coat and they say: “Now listen here, Giacomo, I want it for so many thousand lire, you know and you’ll have to sell it.” And I start crying; I thought they were going to hit my father. He said: “Can’t you see you are scaring my daughter?” And after that he told me “They are not trying to hurt me, they are trying to explain things to me.” Then we got in our horse and buggy, and away we’d go.
We had about 21 rooms in that house in Italy. There was a great big formal garden in the back of the house. We rented it. It was nice. And of course, the one he had was already rented. His idea was to make some money here and then settle down in Italy. But it didn’t work that way.
My father didn’t make as much as he should. So my mother said: “Now see here, since you rented this meadow, it has a lot of this here berries, mulberry trees, and I’m going to get some of these silkworms and raise them. We got a big home here and we are using only five or six rooms. Why can’t we put that in there?” And some of her friends said it’s too much of a big place and it will be too cold for them and you’ll never be able to raise them. “Well,” she said, “I’ll try.” That’s how she was, you know.
So finally she went out and got the eggs. You buy them by the ounce, you know, 1/4 ounce or 1/2 ounce. But anyway, there is a fireplace in every room. “I’ll get two women and they will know what to do. And I’ll get two men to go to pick the green mulberry leaves.”
And when they first come, the worms, they were small you know. They are just like this. And finally we had five rooms full. They really get big and fat and white with little spots on it and a little mouth. First you have a 2 o’clock feeding, then a 3 o’clock feeding, and you have to cut the leaves real small. But after they got bigger, you put the whole leaf in it. And they have this great big bamboo trays, you know. The tray were as big as this here. And at night, we had somebody to light the fires.
I was confirmed there in Verona, and I had my godmother with a big home there. She had me for dinner and bought me a silver watch with a chain to put around and in a big box like that of satin.
She had a little boy there, and they took me around and we had a big dinner. “I don’t like this,” he said, “always serving soup first.” “You, know,” I said, “its ill manners to say you don’t like something when you’re at somebody else’s home.” I said that to the little boy. I was about eight then.
It was 1915. We were in Pittsburgh first and I was trying to get my father, but he wanted to make a fast dollar and then go back again to Italy, see. And that’s how we happen to go to Colver. And I was so angry because over there they were selling liquor and beer and all that stuff for these miners, see. And my sister-in-law came up and asked “Would you let your daughter come and help me because the girl who worked in my store left and I can’t find anyone right now and I need someone.” And me, being that I hated it there and I like doing that kind of work and I said: “I’ll come.” And my father said, “You’re not going to work.” “But I want to.” “Well, just for a couple weeks,” he said, “Until you find someone.”
So when I got there was I happy! I was alone and I was working like a Trojan, I’ll tell you the truth. And I had to carry water about a mile, believe it or not, and had to rinse clothes and I was happy just being there. And my husband …I didn’t even look at him. I remember he used to deliver groceries to us. And my stepmother said to me: “Wouldn’t you like him, there is a good catch there?” I wouldn’t touch him with a hundred feet pole.
He had his eye on me right away. Then finally, I don’t know how, he started asking me, talking to me and all like that. And he’d ask me again and I’d say “No, no.” I had nothing to do with him. Finally I said, “Okay.” (She laughs awhile.)
We took rides with that girl that came up, Ida, because she liked him. But he was playing for me; he didn’t care much for her. Then his brother came up and asked me. And my sister-in-law said “Don’t even talk about it because I think she going with Ralph now, you know.” It was Charley. So he told me after, when I went down to the store that “You know, I was going to come up and ask you to marry me.” That was Charley.
So every week my father would come and say: “Why don’t you come home now. Everything is okay. There’s nothing going on with him?”
“No” and I was telling the truth. Because I was too young for Daddy. I was 16 and he was 25. And that’s when I told him I was going to get married.
I asked him, “You know dad, he gave me a bracelet.” I still have it at home.
“Give that back. A man never gives you anything for nothing. You’re coming home. I’m going to get the ticket out and you’re going right back to school again in Europe. You’re gonna go back there.”
And that’s when I said to him, “You do and I’m gonna elope.” And he slapped my face. That’s the first time my father slapped me. He said I was too young, see. “First make your own bones.”
Oh, a lot of times I saw my father cry: “What don’t the good Lord take me? You need a mother, not a father.” But he came down here to die at my home, believe it or not.
Well, we had to have his consent to get married in Italy. You have to be 21. So finally when he slapped my face he made me stay home there. He sat me down and he talked to me. “Why did you want to get married, is something wrong?” He thought I was pregnant. “No Dad, my golly, I’m not that kind of a girl. Do you think I’d be that kind of a girl?” I said to him. “Well, I just wanted to know.
And now I’m going to get the ticket and you’re gonna go.” Then my sister-in- law, Italina, came down and I was crying and Ralph was crying too.
“Now listen here.” she said, “What do you want to do? They’re either going to get married. I think it’s serious. What you wanna break this up for?”
And I said to him: “You oughta be glad, you’ll have less trouble, less worry. You’re always worrying about me, see.” So anyhow…
That’s why I wanted to get away. If I had my mother do you think I would get married? Never.
If I had had my mother I’d be over there too, because they took me over there for school but I came back with him because I wanted to be with my daddy.
Before I left my grandmother said: “I hope you get a 106′ temperature.”
She wanted me to stay there in school in Italy, see. Because he did take me over there to go to school and my mother was here, and when I came back she only lived 15 days. They were treating her for malaria fever, mind it, and here she had T.B.
On January 12, a Wednesday, we got married twice without knowing it, the courthouse first and then went over to the priest at Ebensburg and he wasn’t there. This is funny. And two kids like that. Who would tell you? The housekeeper said: “Why, you’re already married.” So I said: “Well, I guess we are married.” We didn’t know.
So we went home that day. We had to light the stove, you know, go down and get the wood because we didn’t want to invite … to have a big wedding because we had a grocery store and you have to invite everybody. So we said we’re just gonna go away to Europe. So went on our honeymoon to New York. So when I came back from there, after 15 days, and every time it came up my relatives would say: “You’re not married, you know, you’re not married to her.” So we had to go to the Catholic Church and repeat it.
It was funny. Nobody told us. My mother-in-law, my sister-in-law. She thought like everybody in Italy, you get married and go to church. See, that’s what happened.
I was about 18. 1 went to Colorado because there were too many here. So they gave us so much money and told us to go ahead and go. And Ralph’s mother start crying: “What do you want to do that for?”
So anyhow, we went to Denver. And boy, over there they said to me: “Where is this man taking you?” I guess he’d say a lot of time he’d ask me you wonder where I was going and I didn’t even know myself. And when I went through that desert, you know, it was terrible so when we got there I saw cars and all, it was nice in Denver. And we had to spend the money we had … we had to go to work and find ourselves a job.
We were trying to look for a little place to open up a store so finally we went to work. I didn’t know where to go so I went to National Biscuit, you know, where they make crackers. And I went down there and asked them if they had a job. “Do you have any experience?” I said “No” “Well, we only take people with experience.” “I’ll fix you.” I said to myself. So I went home and waited another week or so. I fixed my hair all up, something to look a little older and I went down.
“Do you have any experience?” “Yes,” I said, “Where did you work?” “Pittsburgh.” I said. I hoped there was a factory there. “O.K., get yourself a uniform and a cap” and away I’d go. This man was there, looking at me. So I said to her (the girl next to me): “Where does the white paper go first or after” “Here, on the back.” And I said to the man: “You know, you make me nervous. Would you please leave me alone.” And he walked away.
I worked there about two months. And he came to me and said: “You weren’t experienced, where you?” “No, I wasn’t.” That shows you, if a person wants to work they can learn. “You know, you are one of my best packer I have.” “Now listen, that’s what makes me angry. Why do you have to ask for experience, why don’t you give a person a chance when they wanna work?” Oh there was a line waiting to get work. It was $5.00 a week.
Ralph, he was looked around and couldn’t find a place. He tried different kind of work. He couldn’t do hard work. He wasn’t used to it. And finally he ended up at the Edelweiss, a beautiful restaurant, one of the best First Class ones there was. He was like a bellboy, bringing dishes out and he’d bring out the food, these big steaks that the customers wouldn’t eat. I couldn’t eat them. And I fix for myself in this little tiny kitchen, two by four, I think. I had one of those beds with the button, the Murphy bed, and a big mirror with the two pegs to put your coat on. And double windows. Eighteen dollars. A lot of money. It was furnished.
It was 1917, no 1915. 1 only stayed there six months and then they called us to come back to Cumberland, Maryland and start the Macaroni factory. Dad went to Leadville. I stayed there, I was working at a job. He wasn’t. That’s the time he was traveling. He went to different places around there. I forget the name of the places, to see if he could start a business. This other man wanted us to go into Real Estate and he was ready to teach him how. You could by three houses for $3,000. All you had to do was fix it up. And they made more than $3000 on profit before we left. And was going to go in half with us. And Ralph said, “I don’t know the language.” In Pennsylvania he didn’t have a chance to learn the English language. He used to read Italian books all the time.
He’d send to New York. He always read, read, read. I used to be jealous about him. And he was well read. There wasn’t anything you could tell him about. My God, he was on the road for 35 years, all educated people. He didn’t have college. You see, when you are in there in the mining towns you have Slavs, Hungarians, Russian, and none of them spoke English language, so it was motion. You learned how to tally Slavish, Hungarian and different things, whatever they want, and that’s why he couldn’t speak the good English. And that’s why he didn’t go into Real Estate. “I could never handle it.”
His brother wrote:” Come back with us, come back with us.” And then we were in Pittsburgh and we were going to buy a grocery store there but the banks pulled out. They wanted $40,000 I think for the whole thing. I think it would have worked. Then his brother and begged him to come. “What do I know about macaroni?” “Well, you’re the youngest one. You’ll learn.”
Having a Family:
Right then. I started getting fat. I had to laugh at your grandfather: “You would have to get pregnant just at the time I’m working and need all the money I can.” “What did you expect?” I was happy. I remember his mother said “You’ve married a woman…” See we were married two years already… “You married a woman who will never give you a child.” But I was pregnant and I was so happy I was pregnant. I stayed two years without having any. And my golly, we weren’t doing nothing. We were just being as innocent as God made us. And I used to help him down at the office. He had a bookkeeper there. I took a little business course at the Catholic Nuns.
I had Inez at the hospital in the operating room. They didn’t have a place then. And I had a trained nurse. She was with me with all my six children and my main operation.
Aldo was born at home. I didn’t have anyone to take care of my baby and said I’m not going to leave my child, but I had the trained nurse there. The doctor was Koons. He brought all my children. When you see Koons Dam in Cumberland you know it was named after him.
That’s how we were. We started out with second-hand furniture but my bed was new. I didn’t want no bass (wood), bass was popular then. We rented a little apartment there and Dad started the foundation of the factory.
I had a stillborn baby, next to the last. This was a boy. I was full time with him and then carried him 18 days beyond. It was on a fourth of July. The children were out there with their little sparklers. And Ralph was away, he was traveling then. I always made them go to bed early. Inez, I leave her up to keep me company, maybe 9:30. After I bathed the children and I was sitting there and all of a sudden I felt this here somersault. I jumped up from the chair. And Inez said: “What is it? I thought I heard somebody at the door.” I didn’t want to say nothing, see. I didn’t feel nothing no more. No life, nothing.
The next day I was there alone and I thought I was going to faint. I was on a swing. “Maybe this thing is making me sick.” And I went into the kitchen and nobody was there. So here I open up the faucet of cold water, putting it on my forehead, on my pulse, you know. And I started breathing better and I called the doctor up the day after. “You know, I haven’t felt life for 48 hours.” “Well, you come on down. Sometimes they can be alive but you don’t hear their heart.” He didn’t want to scare me. “Now if pass anything you let me know. Call me.”
I was going to have that one home. The nurse came, she bought all the package, she kept it all in a suitcase. When I called the nurse she said: “You’ve got 15 days to go and I’m going on a trip tomorrow.” “What am I going to do?” “I’ll see if I can find somebody for you.” In the meantime Ralph was home. I did pass.
L’altra giorno me nonno porta casa …
My grandfather brought home a little basket, and you open it inside. And he put it on the floor. And he opened up the basket and came out a little kitten. And then he starts saying: his eyes are blue as the sky and his fur was white as snow. And there was no other cat as beautiful as that. And he jumped here and he jumped there. But first she said when she saw her grandfather with the little basket, she said maybe there are apples or maybe pears. I wonder what’s in it. And he opened it up and here is this little face, a little kitten.
Note: Nonnie got a kitten later in her life, and named it Musetto, which she told me means “little face” and then sang the song above in Italian to me about the little faced kitten. —Kristin Adolfson