Thursday, November 1, 2007

Show me how you row

I can remember being at a relatives wake when a distant cousin decided that he now had the right or perhaps the motive to tell me about my great grandfather and how and why he came to this country.

I had always known that I was the third generation in this country on my mothers side and I also knew that I was only the second generation on my fathers side. This had never bothered me or even phased me in the least until my great uncles wake. I can't say that I was bothered by what I learned but it sure made me curious.

Sometime in the 1890's my mothers grandparents were born in Italy and in their early twenties immigrated to this country through Ellis Island in New York's harbor. I had never been told nor did I ever ask why they had come to America; it never seemed to come up and it was never an issue. It still isn't.

The story I was told goes something like this: "Your great grandfather was fleeing Italy when he came to this country. He had a fight with a neighbor over a tree that adjoined their property which was shading his garden. Your great grandfather swore the tree was his and the neighbor swore the tree was his and no one could decide who the true owner was. At the end of that day, your irate great grandfather, then a young man and no ones grandfather, took it upon himself to chop the tree down thereby giving his garden the sun it needed to grow." All of this was being told to me as my great uncle, my great grandfathers son, lay in his casket at the front of the chapel. "When the neighbor saw what your great grandfather (Antonio) was doing, he confronted him waving his fists. Your great grandfather was very mad, so....he swung the axe he was using at his neighbor and continued doing so until he was dead." Okay, I can handle the fact that I've got Lizzie Borden's brother Antonio's blood coursing through my's where the timeline gets screwy. "Your great grandfathers father, finding his son covered in blood knew that he had to get his boy far from where he had done the dirty deed. Passage was booked on a steamer ship and he was on his way to America". In that instant I was thinking that in those days it should have taken some time to accomplish this...but...who knows? It was after this conversation that I decided I had to do a little more digging to see if this guy knew what he was talking about. So I searched the Ellis Island website and lo and behold there they were.

Now my great grandmother also comes into the picture; they crossed the ocean together. I'm not sure if they were married or not since the ships manifest from the same sailing shows her coming over with her maiden name; maybe it was a ruse to try to disguise the fact that they were together. It also shows the name of an infant who she was travelling with who I presume is their dead child who I've heard my family speak of.

According to the records I found, when they came to this country on the lam (which I haven't been able to prove or disprove), they had exactly twenty dollars in their pockets and were each supposed to be met by an uncle (who I never met or even knew about). My great grandmother and the child were classified as peasants and my great grandfather a farmer according to the manifest.

Once through Ellis Island they blended into New York amongst the many other farmers, peasants and immigrants. He went on to operate a fruit and vegetable concern and they had four additional children. Those children had children, their children had children, we (our generation) had children and some of those children have had children.

The point I'm trying to make here is that I'm not far from being a newcomer to this country; if they had come from a different area perhaps I would be the offspring of someone who jumped the border. Every one of us in this country is here for one reason or another and some of those reasons might be less than honorable. Some of us feel that this is OUR country and that no one else has the right to join us; I've often fallen into that mindset myself, but really, it's wrong if you consider where your blood has been.

It doesn't matter how you got here, it doesn't matter where you're from, it doesn't even matter why you're here. What does matter, and greatly I may add, is what you do once you get here. It's what we do that make us who we are not where or who we're from. We've all heard the adage about the picture being worth more than a thousand words, simply put, don't try to tell me what you're made of; show me. Just show me so I don't have to rely on what I hear.


MedStudentWife said...

A really nice blog :)

It made me old "ears"perk up in that I'm sorta in the same situation.... on my Dad's side, a second generation here and I've been slowly trying to piece my family's story, from that side.

Its not because I want to find out where I am going, but because I never knew my grandparents well, & some of how my Dad was raised and the family & community dynamics.... I want to find out about my distant family past to help put things together.

Matty said...

Thought for sure you were going to say he became a butcher once he got here. I am now charting my family tree. It's an absolutely fantastic hobby...chock-full of interesting wars, travels, hardships. My sons father came from Calabria Italy..and their grandfather squabbled with his brothers over land and thats why he came to Canada. We are all immigrants when you think about it.

paisley said...

very nice post.. there have been so many divorces and remarriages in my family i wonder if i could ever piece it together,,, but it sounds like an adventure.. and i totally agree with you on the immigration thing.. most of the people i work with are illegals,, and it is all in what you make of it once you are here....

Catherine said...

Hiya Death! Please stop over at my blog. I wrote a small tidbit about you. I am also going to add you to my bloglinks if you don't mind. Just let me know if you do and I'll remove it.

I have been reading your blog from start to finish over the past week. OMG I am so happy that you blog. I have enjoyed your posts so very much.

Thank you for everything that you do for families, the deceased and for us, your loyal audience. :)