As someone who was first generation born and raised in Somerville, by parents shaped from effects of worn torn WWII Europe, eventually I would learn why Somerville became their sanctuary. Many arrived here together and would build a new place they called home for many decades. It was a place of inclusion, where everyone knew their neighbors and got along with each other even when they disagreed. They raised families together and would make sacrifices for one another in the name of friendship. That is the Somerville I remember.
Their lives began in a semi-rural region of Italy, Piacenza, one of the nine provinces of Emilia-Romana. A remote location, not frequented by busy travelers or tourists like Rome, Venice and Milan. Nevertheless, unique by natural design, with rolling hills at high altitudes, winding roads, secret virgin forests, as picturesque and magical as a child’s fairy-tale.
My father fled Nazi Germany just before the war began, where he owned an ice cream factory. Leaving two children behind, cared for by brother and wife, he and his first wife boarded a steamship and headed for Ellis Island, NY. A decision that would haunt them for over a decade, since they would not be reunited until years later.
Barely escaping the horrors of war brought to their homeland, they began their long journey across the Atlantic to a place filled with hope and renewed confidence. Although, no threats of violence awaited them, they would soon find difficult times in Boston as the Great Depression of the 30's presented its own challenges.
My mother, a young girl at this time, would suffer a worse fate. The Nazi's raided her town repeatedly, forcing her brothers and other young men to work in camps. While hidden in seclusion, older men of the families kept close watch on daughters and wives. Not until 1952, would mother wed, to father as his second wife.
I've visited Italy four times--once as a young child with my mother while reunited with family she left in 1952, again in 1992 and twice in the past two years.
My quest had begun, to learn more about who they were, what they left behind, and the country they loved. I continue to long for stories of this turbulent period which separted my family. During most recent visits, I learned how crucial my father's role was in the survival of his family. Packages would arrive, containing clothing and household necessities lost by the war which would help them get through.
It was several years ago that I discovered them. After writing a short story about his migration to Boston, his close friends of that era and one who he greatly admired, James Michael Curley.
Later I would learn why so many Irish and Italian immigrants loved this man, well-known for his long tenure as Mayor of Boston who also served as State Representative and Governor of Massachusetts.
From a story written in the Boston Globe and stories told by family, I learned he was a man who truly cared about the people of his constituency. Hundreds would remember him for his generosity and relentless fight against those who stood in the way of his charitable work and dedication to the poor.
"The Last Hurrah", (1958) by Edwin O'Connor, represents a fictional character by the name of Frank Skeffington, who critics claim is loosely based on the life of James Michael Curley.
Pictures I have included in my blog are of Italy past and present.
From 1930, possibly years prior, my father was a member of the Dante Club until his death in 1974.
He was head chef at the Parker House for a number of years, located in downtown Boston. His favorite past times were hunting for mushrooms in the Concord woods. He is also remembered for his homemade wine and cherry-rum.
During this time, until the late 1980's, our family were members of St. Anthony's Church on Somerville Avenue, along with many friends who also resided in Somerville.
Prior to that period of his life, he lived in the North End of Boston, on Hanover Street from 1926 until 1930. That same year, he purchased our home in West Somerville (paying $7k). He was later joined by a brother who remained in the North End, Boston, on North Margin Street.
Family members also resided at Curtis, Appleton and Cherry Streets, in Somerville during this time.