The Story of One Emigrant Part III: Life in America

Last week’s installment left off when Angelo’s life was about to change. He had fallen in love, but America was calling. His dream was coming true and he was given the opportunity to head the US and build a new life. 

The Story of One Emigrant

Storia di un Emigrante

Part III: Life in America

            As Angelo sailed away from his home, he began to think. He thought about what he was leaving behind– his family, his friends, his Romana. He was 18 years old, alone, and heading to the unknown. While this might be scary to some people, Angelo turned this fear into determination– something still true of his character today. He was determined to prove himself, to make a life for himself and his future family. He knew he was getting an opportunity that people dreamed about, that he dreamed about, and he was not going to let this opportunity go past him. He got motion sick his first few days at sea, but kept reminding himself that he “was going to America.” After 12 days at sea, he saw the “beautiful, tall, welcoming sight of the Statue of Liberty.” 

The only personal belongings he had with him was a small hand bag, so he got through immigration rather quickly. He was met by his brother-in-law and uncle who were already in the US. He spent a few days in New York before driving to Chicago. As soon as he got to Chicago, he began to think about work, the reason he came to America. His uncle suggested he take some time to go to school and learn the English language before working. This didn’t fly with Angelo and he insisted on working while attending school, and so he did. He got a job in a factory on Armitage and Cicero earning $1.49 an hour. He also attended classes that taught about American history and the English language. As he began learning more, he was able to get himself a place to live and a better paying job. He was making more money and picked up a second job. After a little while, it was time to report for the draft. 

All while in America, he kept thinking about Romana. He wrote her every day beginning the first day he arrived in America. He dreamt about the day he would get to see her again.

He was finally called into service and sent to Camp Chaffee Arkansas where he went through his basic training for the army, which he describes as two extremely challenging months. They then sent him to Fort Dix, New Jersey where he would await his overseas assignment. With the Korean War going on, he anxiously awaited to find out where his assignment would take him. He soon was assigned to a second Armored Division stationed in Worms, Germany right on the Rhine on an army vessel. Being in Germany meant that he was closer to his hometown in Italy and closer to Romana. He found himself thinking about her often and wondering where she was. He wanted to know if she was still waiting for him. 

Angelo was on good terms with his supervisor and told him about his situation with the love of his life. He was granted a 10 day leave of absence and took the first train he could from Frankfurt. He had a long journey ahead of him- Frankfurt to Munich to Brennero to Bologna to, finally, Mola and Romana. He was picked up by his brother-in-law and the next day went straight to that familiar street corner to see Romana. He was nervous to see her and asked some friends to help set up a meeting. Angelo needed to see her and see for himself if she still remembered him after many long years. He was so nervous knowing that they would soon be in the same room. When he first saw her, she was no longer a young girl, but a grown, beautiful woman. They saw each other and everything stopped, neither of them able to speak.  They spent time catching up with each other– she told him that she was caring for her mother who had fallen ill and her mother had saldy passed and he told her about his time in America. As they were saying goodbye that evening, Angelo held Romana’s hands, looked into her beautiful eyes, and told her how much he still loved her and that he wanted to marry her. 

Angelo set up a plan to go with his older sister (because his mother and father were already in America) to Romana’s family home and ask her family for permission to marry her. Walking into her family’s home a few days later, Angelo felt a sense of warmth. He asked for her hand in marriage and was given the blessing from the family, but there were still logistics to be set. Romana and her family were a little uneasy about having a wedding so close to their mother’s death, but Angelo’s sister explained his busy timeline. She told them that he was only in town for a few days. His plan was to get engaged and come back a month before he would return to the US to get married. He then received the official answer that he had been waiting years for… he and Romana were going to get married! 

They spent the rest of his leave together and making plans. They had a dinner with both families where Angelo gave Romana a ring and they went to the cemetery to visit their loved ones that had passed. 

A few months later, Angelo returned to Mola and on September 24, 1956, they officially became husband and wife. As Angelo saw Romana enter the church, his eyes filled with joyful tears knowing this woman would soon be his wife. They had a small reception and spent the last few days of his leave honeymooning through Italy. 

Romana waited in Mola while Angelo completed his service then she would meet him in America. A few weeks after his term was completed, Romana made the journey to America and was greeted by Angelo in New York. They took the next flight to Chicago and spent the plane ride talked and dreamt about their future and their new life in America together. They both knew there would be a lot of hard work and sacrifices that had to be made, but they would enjoy a beautiful life together. 

Just like they had thought, they had a lot of work ahead of them. Check back next week for their new life in America and the start of Caputo’s

From Our Family To Yours

Please follow, like, and share:

The Story of One Emigrant Part II: The Love Story

When we left off last week, Angelo was going to school to honor his parents’ wishes, even though what he really wanted to do was work. While helping out in the store in the late 1940s, Angelo caught a glimpse of a beautiful girl and a love story began.

The Story of One Emigrant

Storia di un Emigrante

 

Part II: The Love Story

In the store where Angelo worked, there was a large scale. One day, a girl with beautiful, long, dark braids came into the store holding a baby. She walked into the store, weighed herself holding the baby on that big scale and left. Angelo watched and waited for this girl to come into the store and wanted to know more about her. Angelo soon found out that this girl’s name was Romana and her older sister had a cantina near Angelo’s family’s store. Romana would watch her nephew, the baby she was holding when Angelo first saw her, during the day and bring the baby to her sister to feed him around the same time every evening. Angelo would see her walk by and wonder about her. One day, he decided he wanted to know more about her. He followed her for a little bit, and when he got close enough, he playfully tugged one of  her braids and said “ciao!” to get her attention. She immediately turned around, unamused, and carried on.

Romana and her mother    

Romana’s routine continued for about a year. Angelo kept watching her and admiring her beauty until one night he got the courage to talk to her. They would briefly chat and Angelo took every opportunity to strike up a conversation with her. He learned things like the fact that her dad travelled for his work, that she had two brothers and two sisters, and where her name came from. Romana was not a common name in Italy, but Romana was born on October 28th which is known for the March of Rome or Marcia Su Roma, so her parents named her Romana. Those little talks helped them to build a friendship. Angelo would find excuses to run errands and hang out on the corner where her house was just so he could see her and talk to her. One day, Angelo kissed her cheek. After which, Romana jokingly told him “you have to marry me now.” Angelo laughed it off because felt he still had a lot to prove before he could be worthy enough to be her husband. 

Romana, her mother, and her siblings

In the meantime, Angelo was assuming more responsibility on his family farm. His older brother and father had found their way to America, so Angelo was the man of the house. Angelo found himself dreaming of going to America and what it would be like to work there,  The Land of Opportunity. It wasn’t possible for him yet, so he worked harder, picking up the extra work that was required. Angelo still took every opportunity to see Romana, like waiting for her when she would run errands. 

The time Angelo and Romana spent together was limited because of how much work needed to be done. He kept working hard, hoping that one day he would have his chance to go to the United States. In June of 1950, Angelo returned to his house after a day at the farm and found a postcard from the American Council informing him of a new opportunity for him. Because his father was working in the US at the time of his birth, he was eligible to enter the military draft and gain his US citizenship. Angelo knew this was an opportunity he could not pass up and that “it was like a blessing from up above.” He found out he could leave Mola in as soon as 24 hours. He could begin the new life he dreamt of in America, but he had a few loose ends in Mola. One was that he was in charge of the farm and there was a full crop of almonds and grain that had to be harvested. The second was his Romana. He decided to stay in Italy for another two weeks so he could finish the crop and teach his younger brothers what to do in his absence. 

On June 20, 1950, Angelo rode his bike to that familiar street corner with a handwritten goodbye note and a carnation. He put it in an open window in Romana’s house. He talked with a couple friends to make sure they would watch over her while he was gone and if they got a chance, to tell her he had to leave for work, but someday, he would return to her. 

On June 21, 1950, Angelo and his father set out for Naples where Angelo would board a ship and begin his journey to America.   

Check back next week for a continuation of this beautiful love story and Angelo’s journey to America

From Our Family To Yours

Please follow, like, and share:

The Story of One Emigrant: The Beginning

 October is National Italian Heritage month. To celebrate, we are recounting the story of our founder, Angelo Caputo. He led a life of hard work and sacrifice to get him where he is today. As his granddaughter, I have been so lucky to hear his story and learn from him first hand. I’ve been able to travel with him to his hometown and listen to his childhood memories of growing up in difficult times. His story is one that I believe should be told and I am honored to share it with you. 

The Story of One Emigrant

Storia di un Emigrante

 

Part I: The Beginning

 

Angelo Caputo was born on January 1st, 1932 at 4am in his family home on Via Zuccarino in Mola di Bari, Italy into a very hardworking family. Their family operated two small businesses at the time of his birth. One business was a wholesale outlet for farmers and the other was a grocery store. They had small and humble quarters for their home. While his mother worked at the grocery store, he stayed at her side in a little makeshift crib. His mother always said he was a good baby who cried very little, something she appreciated during the long, busy days at the store. By the age of four, he was a typical, busy child and his mother entrusted him to Signorina Maria, a teacher who prepared kids for “asilo” or pre-school. He was with Signoria Maria Monday-Friday and he learned many things including how to recite “poesie” or poems. Saturdays were typically busy at their family grocery store so he would spend the day with family friends that lived nearby and practice what he learned with Signorina Maria. 

By the age of 6, he was ready to start helping out in the family grocery store! He started by watching his mom, then would assist her and help organize the products and clean the store. He would even help with collecting money. There were no cash registers at the time, so the family would put the money in a drawer.

When he started 4th grade, he was ready to transition to helping on the family farm. He would get out of school at 2pm and go home to eat quickly. His only way to get to the farm was on an adult bike, which was difficult for his size, but he made it work. This was his routine every day.

 

He finished grammar school in 1944 and, needless to say, World War II had affected their family. His father, despite being older, was called into the army and his family experienced difficult times. The following years brought many hardships for them and many families. Schools closed and bombs were being dropped in nearby towns. Conditions became dangerous and they were forced to closed their grocery store and move to the farm with a  few other families for their safety. As an 11 year old boy, he didn’t mind not having to go to school and enjoyed the company of the other kids who were sheltered there. Food was scarce, but they considered themselves blessed because on the farm they were able to have fruit and potatoes everyday. Although this was little, it was more than others had to eat.

Finally, the war ended and the schools reopened. But during this time away from school, Angelo had gotten a feel for working full time and knew that working was what he wanted to do, not go to school. His parents were not fond of the idea and made him keep up with his studies. He continued attending school, but became even more adamant that he wanted to quit school and work full time. To deter him, his father would give him the hardest and toughest jobs like unloading railroad cars of fertilizer and heavy bales of hay.  This never bothered him, but made him hungrier for work. 

This hunger to succeed and desire to work hard fueled him in his future endeavors. 

It was during this time in 1946 that a beautiful young lady with long, dark braids came into the store where he was working. This beautiful young lady was named Romana and would become his wife.

 

Check back next week for the love story between Angelo and Romana

 

From Our Family To Yours

 

Please follow, like, and share: