Living in the moment and loving it! I write to reflect on the issues that inspire us to be more, the topics we need to address with passion and people that deserve special recognition. I write to simply write, because I love to and I believe we should live out our dreams.
Grandpa Gliatti's Legacy
Whenever Jan. 1st rolls around, I always recall
celebrating my grandfather’s birthday on this day, the first day of the year. I
was never quite sure if that was his actual birthday or if no one knew and that
was just the day someone picked. I was betting if it was picked, it was by my
grandma when I was a kid. Like most Italians, they had their share of sparring
arguments and though I didn’t speak a word of Italian, I was pretty certain she
got the last word in! Besides, she had the power of the kitchen on her side.
Grandma Gliatti, Jospephine D’Angelo Gliatti was the
absolute best cook, hands down. Grandpa had it made in spades when he married
her, as far as having meals prepared by the crème dela crème chef! He, as far back as I can remember, was a
smaller built man and I never really understood how. With all that yummy pasta
around and her homemade Italian bread all us grand-kids would die for, it was
In the far recesses of my mind, I have fond memories of my
grandpa, Michael Gliatti, born in around 1900 and deceased in 1972. When he was younger, the period I recall, he
was a hard worker. As a little girl, I saw a man that was proud, engaging,
laughed, drank, ate and shared. It
amazes me when I think back that as a household, my grandparents were not
well-off and yet both were so compassionate towards others. Within their Italian support group of
friends, the bonds ran deep. I recall they even came to each other’s’ family
get-together. It was as if they were
each other’s extended families.
When he aged, he became quite ill. The details are sketchy
to me and for some reason, I am not all that interested in getting caught up in
them anymore. I think, for far too many years, all I could remember were the images
of him those last several years ill, not the grandpa I had come to know and
love. With time and prayer, I have
realized that in my relationship with grandpa, he was a sweetheart with his
granddaughters. He would not want me to remember that period at all, so I
choose not to anymore. Gone are the
memories of looking at him in a chair and wishing the clock would turn back.
Now the memories are all the happy times, as he would wish them to be.
My grandpa was from a small town called Bovina. Bovina, Italy is a hilltop town at the foot of the Irpinia mountains in the province of Foggia, in the region of Apulia, in southern Italy. It's main economy is agrarian. It was recently voted in a national contest the country's fifth prettiest village.
If you go on
social media to try to meet folks from that town, you will quickly find out
just how small a place it is and how out of the mainstream! It had to be imagine
what is must have felt like to leave this
Chiesa di Sant"Antonio Church of St. Anthony in Bovino
quaint area in Italy, travel to
Naples, take a ship to go to Ellis Island in NYC and then on to Toledo, Ohio to
make a home.Keep in mind the timeframe,
early 1900’s, no cellphones, no great transportation, safety guidelines not in
existence, medical care poor, etc.My
grandparents had an inability to speak English well, the added stress of the
culture shock and a lack of connections, besides a few folks. This was unduly
hard on a young married couple who did not have much money from the start or
Many that know me well have heard me talk about my Grandma
Gliatti often. I didn’t realize, till
lately, I have scarcely talked about Grandpa and he too was someone I looked up
to as a child. Though the images are
harder to pull up and fewer, they are there and there are some wonderful
memories worth recanting of his love and light in my life. He made a difference
in this world.
They came to America in 1929
on the SS Augustus. Conducting research on the treatment of Italians
during this time-frame is quite disturbing. Today’s focus is so heavy on “Black
Lives Matter” or as others chant “All Lives Matter.” Many felt Italians were second-rate citizens
and thus, their lives did not matter near as much. Unions were not much in
existence so my grandfather was resigned to work in sweatshops with unsafe
standards. Grandma, I am told was a seamstress, by trade, and was also working
in her field in unpleasant working conditions.
My grandfather was darker skinned which made it quite
apparent he was European, native Italian. In addition, with a name like
Gliatti, it is hard to hide the fact.
Nicknames like Whop are extremely racist. Grandma told how women
chatted and laughed about her, not even behind her back as they knew she couldn’t
understand their insults so literally did it right to her face. In those days, she was treated more like a
second-rate citizen and needed her job so had no real recourse.
Close to the time my grandparents had immigrated to the
United States, 5 million Italians had came here, 4/5's were from the Southern
regions of Italy. Interestingly, most
were laborers, such as farmers with no intention of staying here. Their goal
was to make money, not assimilate to America’s culture or language and return
home in a few years. They felt they
could make more money here with our wages, at the time, go home and buy land.
Most were unskilled farm laborers and were in poverty. And many did return. My grandparents always chose to remain.
What Italian immigrants faced, upon trying to enter the
workforce, was hostility. Italian workers were placed, in the pecking order
with blacks, on the bottom. They were known as strike-breakers and wage-cutters,
breaking picket lines as they needed work to eat. They began being labeled “dagoes” and “guineas”
and were the only workers permitted to work alongside blacks. None were allowed to hold titles, political leadership
or have a voice in any decision.
But somehow, through it all, my grandparents persevered.
Their story is full of hardships, tough choices and dire straights. My blog is
not the time or the place to tell of all the sacrifices they made. That is a
private intimate look into their lives, their story. Mine is a story of just a
girl who became a woman who wants to pay homage at the start of a New Year to one
of her heroes, gone but not forgotten.
So, the close of my grandfather’s life, as I like to
remember it, is he opened his own upholstery shop. I think he bore his name,
Mike’s Upholstery. I was told his
furniture, by my father, was the absolute best. My grandmother was the
seamstress. Customers came in, looked at the furniture choices while us grand-kids played in the back of the store. Folks could look at the hundreds of
swatches and pick out whatever they wanted, custom orders. The furniture never
broke and they could just have it redone with new fabric when they wanted. This
was true customer service, something you can’t find anywhere, the kind true
Italians that have fought their way for everything that have can only give.
They were compassionate about their customers and their customers must have
They had a home within walking distance of their shop. They loved
each other and they loved everyone in their family, in-spite of their faults.
They didn’t complain about their lot in life, being poor, working hard, being
ostracized by a society simply because they were different, immigrants and
wanting to migrate to be Americans. They
raised children to be more than they were and were successful at doing just
that. They prospered at all they set out
My grandpa let me
know he loved me. Those times I walked in the door and he pinched my cheeks and
said something in Italian I don’t have the foggiest of what it was I miss now.
It hurt when he pinched my cheeks but it hurts more now because he can’t do it
I miss hearing the arguing and then laughing between him and
my grandma knowing, that in the end, they would be gathered at the table
enjoying her wonderful cooking again as if nothing else mattered but being
together in the kitchen. And in the end, they were right, nothing else did
I miss seeing him down that horrible wine that my father
always said burnt his throat going down. I admired Grandpa’s fortitude in
swallowing it, showing me that the smallest of man can be the mightiest.
I miss seeing him hold all those nails in his mouth as he
pounded in nails in furniture. This was accompanied by Grandma yelling at him
to please stop doing that lest he swallow them and him ignoring her because he
knew it was the fastest most efficient way to build furniture and he wanted
always to be a good provider for his woman, the love of his life.
Most of all, I am proudest of his devotion to God, his
country and to all of us, his family. I know,
in heaven, he surely must see his legacy lives on. You did it, Happy New Year Grandpa! Love and miss you always, until I see you again, Ronni