Thursday, August 01, 2013

We Came from a Donkey and a Goat

            Whenever we talk about family history, Lora loves repeating that while the Northen side of the family may be able to trace itself back to royalty, her side goes back to a donkey and a goat.  This weekend in Buffalo, she got some insight into that theory.
One of the highlights of our trip to Buffalo over the weekend was a visit to Lora’s Aunt Lucy who is now living in an assisted residence in Kenmore.  I’ve always enjoyed Aunt Lucy.  Whenever I have seen her in the past, she has come across as a very positive, youthful person.  In June she had to have surgery in which a large portion of her colon was removed and she was given a colostomy bag.  While she was recovering in the hospital, her husband (Uncle Joe) suffered a stroke himself and died.  He had been told that when Aunt Lucy got out, they’d have to move to assisted living.  If you knew Uncle Joe – ‘nuff said.
            This was the backdrop to the visit that Lora, her brother Mike, Bev and I  made to see Aunt Lucy, so we did not know how we would find her when we visited her in her new surroundings.  Though the assisted living complex has the vague nursing home feel of all senior citizen complexes when you initially walk in, her room itself was light and airy and, once in, there was no sense that she was in a residential facility at all.  Aunt Lucy was actually quite glad to see us and insisted on giving us ginger ale and chocolate candy.  Though she seemed older and a bit weaker she was actually in good spirits and seemed to have had no cognitive losses from her so-far terrible summer at all.  Mike prompted her with a couple of questions about the family and she gave some background about her own father, Joseph (Giuseppe) Albanese, who is also Lora and Mike’s grandfather. While much accorded with what we knew, there were some surprises.
          Everyone knew that Joseph Albanese had been in an orphanage in Palermo but was not sure how he had gotten there.  According to Aunt Lucy, he had actually been born in CĂ©falu but raised in Temini.  His mother died when he was young, within a few years of his birth.  His father remarried and he had a half-sister Mamie, but the second wife  may have died as well.  I’m not clear about that.  One of the things that he did when he was young was to take vegetables from his neighbors in Termini into Palermo by way of donkey and sell them.  Then he would bring the money back to them in Termini when done. When he was still fairly young, his father was kicked in the head by a donkey and died as a result of the injuries.  That is when Joseph was placed in the orphanage in Palermo.  It was a seminary orphanage and apparently he did not care for it too much and tried to run away with a friend several times, but then would always get hungry and come back.  Because it was a seminary orphanage, at the age of sixteen he either had to make a decision to become a priest or else leave the orphanage.  He chose to leave.
           His trip over to the United States was sponsored by his Uncle, also named Joseph, who lived in Mt. Morris, New York.  Aunt Lucy says that he barely brought anything with him except a change of close, but Lora says that he came over with a trunk that is now in Eli’s possession.  While in Mt. Morris, Lora’s grandfather (i.e. Aunt Lucy’s father) had several jobs including doing shoe shining and repair. Aunt Lucy says that in her old home she still has the shoe kit.  [As an aside, According to Aunt Lucy one of the Albanese family, named Dominic Albanese, who was a barber, was also the mayor of Mt. Morris. Bev says she has tried to confirm this but cannot.]  Joseph gradually made his way over to Lake Erie.  Lora has always said it was because he loved the water so much, having lived in Palermo, and needed to be near it.  First he lived in Dunkirk and eventually moved up to Buffalo.
            Mike asked Aunt Lucy how his grandparents were met.  It was pretty basic.  There was a man, named Russ, I think who was known as the singing butcher.  Her was Joseph’s paisan, meaning, according to Aunt Lucy, that he came from the same neighborhood in Sicily as Joseph.  One day he was hanging around a store – perhaps the butcher shop – and noticed Lena Varco.  He was attracted to her and asked to be introduced.  That was pretty much it.  Early in their marriage they lived on Trenton St. in on the lower west side of Buffalo, an area basically considered an Italian ghetto. Aunt Lucy said the address was 111. (I think.)  We drove by to see it, but the house –as Mike already suspected – was no longer there.  The area itself looks quite depressed.  Later they moved to Niagara St. and the house where Lora was born.  That house is still there.  Mike told us that one day when he was in the neighborhood with a community outreach project that he saw people sitting on the porch and, when he explained that he had lived in the house at one time, invited him to come in.  He said much of it still looks the same as he remembered it.
            I know that I have left out a number of detail, and perhaps have gotten some of the things Aunt Lucy told us backward, but it was a really memorable visit.  Aunt Lucy obviously enjoyed it too because when someone poked their head in the door to tell her it was five thirty and dinner was being served, she merely looked at us and said that she would be able to get something to eat later. At least now we know that there is indeed a donkey in the Ventura family story.  Lora says that we just needs to find out where the goat comes in.