I was in Tampa the first week of the new year, visiting/interviewing my mother, talking to a friend and collaborator, and avoiding some of the coldest-of-cold weather that has haunted us in Omaha for some time (the wind chill will reach -25 degrees F this evening, January 15th). Not to be outdone, a significant cold snap took over a few days before I arrived in Tampa and lingered until I departed. At one point, the weather folks were warning people not to pick-up/pry-off dead looking Iguanas (off the ground or from shrubs, bushes and trees) because, while they might look dead, most were not—they were simply very cold! I don’t know how many weather report watchers/listeners heeded the warning, but I am sure that the lives of many of our green, gray or brown-skinned friends were spared. Note: I once had an Iguana, Golem, who at his passing was about three feet long, and green. When he finally went to where dead lizards go, he was 13 plus years of age.
My interviews with my mom, Giovanna, aka Jean, took place because I intend to write a lot more about my families: how and why they came to America and what it was like when they were the ones who looked different, spoke with an accent (or did not speak any English at all), did not have much education, and came from one of those undesirable countries. I will be using the interviews with my mother and others, along with recorded data (e.g. ship manifest and census data), to create narratives about their lives. I also intend to integrate historical events with the stories in order to bring them to life, again. When my grandfather Giorgio, aka George, died in 2002, I reflected on his life by considering all of the major historical developments that had happened in his 97 years. He was born only three years after the Wright Brothers first flight, lived through two great world wars, suffered the effects of the Great Depression, watched our country put a man on the moon, witnessed the fall of the wall, and finally saw his home town attacked and the towers come down. Imagine a life that spanned those years!
Of course, we visited /attempted to visit two of our favorite restaurants, Fortunado’s for pizza, and Frenchy’s for grouper sandwiches/peel-and-eat shrimp. Well, we did not get to Frenchy’s. They were closed for repairs. So, we went a short distance up the beach to Palm Pavilion. Yes, we had grouper sandwiches and shrimp. No, we did not eat outside, it was too cold.
One more story. My grandparents were relatively poor during the depression, and my mother recalls living in a few tenement houses. At the same time, my grandmother’s friend Rose, Aunt Rose as I knew her, had money and connections. One day, Rose told my grandmother to be ready for a special visit. The Italian and world boxing heavyweight champion Primo Carnera was going to be in New York, and Aunt Rose was going to bring him to their apartment for a visit – wow, what a treat. My grandmother (Ersilia or Elsie as she was known) was tasked with keeping the visit quiet. Mr. Carnera did not want a big crowd awaiting him when he came to their apartment. Well, Elsie couldn’t keep this secret, and some others, and word spread here and there among all those Italians in the neighborhood who wanted at least a glimpse of the big guy. When my Aunt Rose arrived at the tenement house with Primo in tow, a real mob had formed, making it less-than-easy to get into the building and up the stairs. Finally, after working his way through the crowd, this huge person entered the front room of the apartment and found his way back to the bedroom where my mother, sister and two brothers slept (it was already evening). My mom’s recollection of this visit is: he had such a deep voice when he said, “hi Jeanie,” he was huge, and he had big feet.