ALBERT COLONE RECOUNTS FAMILY’S STORY
Editor’s Note: The COVID-19 pandemic has Albert Colone, founding president of the former National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, musing about the immigrant experience, when times were REALLY tough. This is the first of two columns on the immigrant experience of his grandparents, Frank and Lucia (Valentini) Colone.
COVID-19, which hit America hard starting in early 2020, turned our worlds upside down. I haven’t been able to hug my grandchildren since early February 2020 on my last visit with them. So here we are hunkered down, adhering to the virus protocols, playing it safe and staying healthy.
So, what do you do to maintain your sanity?
I reflect on stories surrounding the trials and tribulations of my ancestors to understand the struggles they plowed through in their lives.
Remember, they were handicapped by not having all of today’s quality-of-life assets, no cell phones, computers, the luxuries of travel from automobiles to airplanes, prepared foods, safe housing, money and all of assets that we enjoy, and perhaps take for granted, today.
Do you hear where I’m going with this? Let me share with you some of the storied struggles of the early lives of my grandfather and grandmother.
My grandfather, Francesco, (Frank) Colone was born in 1882. My grandmother, Lucia Valentini was born in 1883. Both came from the small Apennine Mountain village known as Roccavivi in the Province of L’Aquila, an hour south and east of Rome and an hour due east of Naples. The economy there was primarily agrarian. The people raised all kinds of sustaining produce: Olives to eat and to make olive oil, goats and sheep for their milk – and for the very best Italian cheeses anywhere – and chickens and pigs. Also, they managed grape vineyards that produced some very hearty red wine varieties. They grew-up there and married. They began their family (famiglia) in Roccavivi having two daughters, Elvira (Maria) and Ida (Idarella).
Ma and Pa followed relatives and friends to America in search of better lives for themselves and their children, arriving in the U.S. around 1906, I think.
Sadly, they decided to leave their two Roccavivi-born daughters behind to help care for their maternal grandmother. They apparently made that decision knowing the Atlantic crossing would be very difficult and that having their children along would likely restrict their safe travels once here in the U.S. as they looked for work and established roots.
It was commonplace for Italian immigrants to follow in the paths of relatives and friends who came here before them for both security and assistance.
Along the way, I know their travels took them to Boston, Detroit and Berwick, Pa., where many Roccavivians had already established roots. The main employer in Berwick was American Car & Foundry which produced railroad cars and where many relatives were already working, among them my maternal grandfather.
I’m not quite sure why Ma and Pa Colone left Berwick, but they finally found their way to Oneonta around 1910, initially living on Depew Street.
Pa worked as a laborer on the D&H Railroad while Ma took in boarders and did laundry for railroaders. She was hard working and a wonderful cook!
They had two more children while residing on Depew Street, my father, Annibale (Ani) and my Aunt Lisa, known by most all of us as Sisetta (Susie). Things had to be going along pretty well as they slowly assimilated to a new country, hometown and culture, when in 1915 an earthquake hit Avenzano, an Italian city nearby Roccavivi.
It’s reported the earthquake took the lives of an estimated 50,000 people. Like other immigrants whose families were impacted by the quake, Ma and Pa decided to provide assistance to relatives.
So they packed their bags and took their two Oneonta-born children back to Roccavivi, traveling the Atlantic again by ocean liner.
They re-established themselves in Roccavivi and while there, they had their fifth child, Adelia (Ethel). As time passed, I suspect they wondered when, if ever, they’d be able to come back to The States to pursue their long-term dreams, subsequently threatened by major global events: World War I and the Spanish Flu of 1918.
The Big War and the pandemic both ravaged Europe and the World. The pandemic alone killed an estimated 50,000,000 people worldwide. How did they handle all of this?
Well, somehow they got through it all, the repair after the quake, the war and the pandemic returning to Oneonta and Depew Street in 1920 with two of their five children, Ani, who was 8, and Adelia, born in Italy, who was then 4.
Lisa (Sisetta), born on Depew Street in 1914, was left behind in Italy to be raised by her grandmother and her two older sisters. It seems U.S. immigration law limited returning immigrant parents to reenter the country with the same number of children they left with.
I think Ma and Pa always thought that somehow, someway and at sometime in the future, all of their children would reunite in Oneonta.
Sisetta did come to Oneonta in 1930 and sadly, stayed only until 1933. She was just 16 and while here worked at the dress factory on Chestnut Street across from Nick’s Diner.
There’s much more to tell about Ma and Pa Colone’s story which will come to you in a second installment. I’ll pick-up their timeline in 1920 returning to Oneonta from Italy after the quake, the Big War and the Spanish Flu. They then had to deal with the massive human stress from both the Great Depression and World War II. La forza!