Remembering The Saga Of Ma And Pa Colone
Editor’s Note: Our columnist and Oneonta businessman Al Colone died April 13, without finishing a two-part series about his ancestors. As a tribute, his brother, Frank Colone, wrote this memorial about their parents.
By Frank Colone
In the aftermath of World War I and the pandemic of 1918, Ma and Pa Colone returned to Oneonta and Depew Street. Oldest son Ani and baby Adelia (Ethel), who was born in Italy, came with them. Ma and Pa were determined to provide a better life for their family, both those in Italy and those in America.
After living for a time on Depew Street and West Broadway, Pa bought a home on River Street and the family settled permanently in the Sixth Ward in Oneonta’s “lower deck.” They were proud of their home and the fact that they could call Oneonta “home.”
Pa resumed work for the D & H. He worked briefly at the roundhouse and eventually spent most of his working years in the shop.
An unfortunate accident in the shop cost him an eye, but it did not cause him to stop working. He worked in the shop until he retired.
As a young man, Pa served in the military in Italy and acquired reading and writing skills there.
After returning to America, Pa worked to learn how to read and write in English. He so valued education and he constantly preached the value of learning to his family. Pa became a naturalized American citizen in 1928, a very proud moment in his life. Like many immigrant families, Ma never learned to read and write English and, therefore, could not become a citizen.
The Old World ways and skills learned in Italy helped them survive the Great Depression. Without a lot of money, Ma and Pa worked hard and used all their resources to keep their growing family secure. Despite her lack of a formal education, Ma had the primary role in maintaining the household and in raising the family.
Because of Pa’s employment at the D&H, Ma was able to ride the train for free and she went on regular shopping trips to the Italian markets in Albany. She would take the morning train, shop for several hours and return to Oneonta in the evening with her homemade cloth sacks loaded with goods from the market. What she couldn’t carry, she had shipped.
Often, she was accompanied by a family member or a neighbor.
Ma also took the train to Tunnel, just outside of Binghamton, where she purchased fresh ricotta cheese from a goat farmer. The ricotta became the main ingredient in Ma’s homemade ravioli.
In the fall, Pa would join her and travel to Albany where he would select grapes for the wine he made in the cellar of their home.
Ma and Pa’s backyard consisted of a huge vegetable garden and a chicken coop. Ma canned many vegetables for winter use while the chickens provided daily eggs used to make pasta dishes and homemade bread. Ma used everything at her disposal — from chicken feathers for pillows and old feed sacks from Elmore’s that she boiled and made into pillowcases and sheets.
Ani would take Ma out in the countryside where she would spend the day picking wild blueberries for canning and a wide assortment of greens and mushrooms.
She knew where to find the best ones!
Ma also picked bags full of broccoli rabe that she cooked up with olive oil and garlic and put in the end of a hunk of Foti bread. They made a great sandwich! She specialized in organic health food before it became fashionable.
All the while, the family grew. Sons Albert (Eddigate) and Enio and daughter Ethel went to public school and graduated from OHS. Oldest son Ani was the first to graduate and was the salutatorian of his graduating class. A proud moment came when Ani was selected to recite General Logan’s Orders at a Memorial Day observance in Neahwa Park with Ma and Pa looking on.
Ma and Pa were very proud of sons Eddigate and Enio’s military service during World War II. While on leave, both men were able to visit the family hometown of Roccavivi. They reunited with sister Sisetta (Susie), now married with her own family. They met older sisters Maria and Ida for the first time.
Ma and Pa’s dream of family unification was becoming more real.
During the Depression and World War II, Ma and Pa sent many “care packages” to Roccavivi. They would accumulate many items of clothing and other necessities for the family in Italy. Those packages were a lifeline to them. Son Ani continued this practice for many years.
His generosity is still remembered to this day in Roccavivi!
Though Ma and Pa, in effect, had two families — one in Roccavivi and one in Oneonta — the families never lost touch with one another. Pa made several ocean voyages to see the family in Italy.
Later in her life, Ma actually flew to Italy to visit her family. Family members were amazed by her determination to travel alone to see her daughters, their families and her grandchildren.
Following his retirement, son Ani made annual trips to Roccavivi, where he had spent several years as a child. Ani’s visits were eagerly anticipated by the entire family there and the bond between them was strong. Ma and Pa’s dream of uniting the American and Italian families is being kept alive by grandson Frank. He is a candidate for dual US and Italian citizenship, that he hopes will serve as a concrete embodiment of Ma and Pa’s dream.
For their entire lives in Oneonta, Ma and Pa were sustained by their family, their neighbors and their friends. The Sixth Ward was indeed Oneonta’s melting pot where neighbors helped neighbors to prosper and succeed. Ma passed away in 1964 and Pa joined her in 1968. They lived long enough to see their oldest grandson become the first family member to graduate from college. They felt they had realized the American Dream!
While we are still living with the challenges created by COVID-19, we can all succeed with patience, hard work, ingenuity and the support of our family, neighbors and friends. This is the legacy of Ma and Pa Colone. It’s a legacy to value, to cherish and to pass on to the future generations.