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Immigrant Stories: The journey to America and finding a home in Glenwood

Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

A few years before his mother Amelia died, Bob Zanella asked her to write the family history down. She did and the result is a remarkable story of indomitable spirit. Last week, Amelia talked about her mother’s (Freda) life. This week, Amelia will talk about growing up in Italy and her journey to America. Bob will describe the family’s early years in the coalfields of Wyoming.

(In Part 1, Amelia’s parents were taking her and her younger sister to visit her father’s parents. Amelia’s father had been injured in the mines and was in pain. With no work and little money they decided it was a good time to go back home.)



Amelia: Ten days after we had arrived in Brez to visit my grandparents, Dad said all of his aches and pains were gone. He was ready to return to work in Wyoming. He only had enough money for himself, so he left Mom and me and my little sister, Lorraine, in Brez. His plan was to earn enough money to send for us in a month or so.

In those days it took almost two weeks to cross the ocean and sometimes even longer. In the meantime, we were to stay with my grandparents and their four daughters and young son. The situation was hell for my mother. She was in a small house with her in-laws whom she didn’t really know. My baby sister was sick because no milk was agreeing with her. I was a little too lively and always running away. My mother was overwhelmed, so she got in touch with her two sisters who were nuns at the Institute in Pisa, Italy. They came to visit her and realized that she wasn’t able to take care of a sick baby and me. And so it was decided that my aunts would take me back to the convent with them to stay until my father sent for us.



Mother and my sister returned to America on May 30, 1907 and I was left in Pisa. I never knew why I was left there, but it must have been a deal made with my aunts. I think they felt I was getting a good education and would be well cared for. A year and four months after my mom returned to Wyoming, she gave birth to my sister Naomi. Nineteen months later, my brother was born but he died when he was only eleven months old. His death was a great loss because sons were the center of a family in those days.

The convent had a Catholic school with girls from four to sixteen years of age. I was only seventeen months old but my aunts were able to get special permission to admit me. The school used the Montessori method and I was very proud that I always passed with high grades. I didn’t have much exchange with my parents, my aunts were all that I came to know. They loved me as if I were their child. I know I had certain privileges over the other girls, because of my aunts, but the other girls didn’t seem to mind. We were one big family. I loved that place and cared deeply for everyone. Grade school was only through the sixth grade and from there I went on to high school.

In June of 1920, I graduated from high school with exceptional grades and transferred to the University to begin studying to be a teacher. …But, almost from the first day, I knew I was in the wrong place. I was all alone after being with over a hundred children. I struggled for over two months, trying my best to learn as much as possible. In December, I went to visit my aunts and tell them my troubles. They assured me things would improve and told me to do my best. None of their advice lifted me from the bottom where I found myself.

I finally decided I would write my parents in America. I don’t remember the exact date I wrote, but I do remember that on April 9, 1921, I received a telegram and all it said was, “meet me at the train from Torino today. Papa”. I was in shock!

I met the first train but no one got off, so I waited for the second. It arrived on time and many people got off. I could see them but I wasn’t sure I would be able to identify my father. The only picture I had of him was taken in 1905 and now it was 1921. I waited but no one showed.

I started home, walking slowly, with so many things to think about and so much to do. Suddenly, a carriage passed me with a man in the back. I looked at him and, to this day, I cannot describe what I felt. He was looking at me as I was looking at him. All at once I hollered, “Papa”! The carriage stopped and I ran to him and he called out, “Amelia, Amelia, Amelia” over and over. We held each other and cried for a long time. He kept saying, “You called me Papa”.

Two days later, we went to say goodbye to my aunts. They were waiting for us at the train depot. We all cried, even my father. I thought they might be angry that I had written my parents for help but they said it was the best thing I could have done.

We left Cherbourg, France on April 21, aboard the Aquitania. I had never seen such an enormous boat. When we arrived in New York, Dad took me to lunch and bought me a new outfit, skirt, sweater, hat, purse and shoes. I felt like a queen! For the first time I was wearing something that wasn’t a uniform.

We arrived in Denver on May 1, late in the evening. We were walking through the underpass of the train station when Dad said to me, “Do you see that lady in the blue dress with the two girls? That’s your mother”! She was running towards us and my legs were shaking as she took me in her arms and held me very tight. “Momma, Momma”, I said. We were all crying. It was a moment I will never forget. I hugged my sisters for the first time.

We walked from the station to my parents’ hotel, my new home, and Mother held me close to her the whole way. In the large dining room of our hotel, a scrumptious dinner had been prepared and many of my parents’ friends were waiting to greet us. I was home at last!

Bob: My mom (Amelia) married my dad (Julio) on August 6, 1932, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Denver. They were living in Superior, Wyoming where my dad was a coalminer and my mom worked in the bank. My sister was born a year later and I was born in August of 1937.

That was really a tough year for my parents because that was the year my dad was injured in the mine. He had a pretty bad head injury. Mom said that he was in horrible shape when his friends brought him home. The doctor said he couldn’t find anything wrong, even though my dad’s head and neck were swollen and bruised. He didn’t work for a few days because of the pain but, eventually, he had to go back even though he was hurting. My mom was pregnant with me and they had bills to pay.

I was born on August 8. At that same time, my sister came down with a high fever and earache. The doctor thought she had spinal meningitis and had her quarantined. My mom was in the maternity wing with me, and no one told her about my sister until she came home with me ten days later. She went back to the hospital to talk to the doctor, but he had gone fishing. Against hospital rules, she went into Freda’s room, wrapped her in a blanket and brought her home.

Mom realized that my sister was in real trouble, so she got on the train with her and me and rode to Denver. Her sister, Lorraine, met her at the train and took us to Children’s Hospital where they operated on my sister. They did a mastoidectomy*. The surgeon discovered that parts of her tonsils hadn’t been removed in an operation six months before in Rock Springs, and everything had gotten infected. Mom had to come back home with me and leave Freda in the care of her sister Lorraine. She went back for her two and a half weeks later.

At this same time my dad wasn’t improving. He was losing weight and suffering from neck and head pain. When the pain started down his spine, my mom loaded us all on the train and we went to Denver. They admitted Dad to Presbyterian Hospital where he had a laminectomy**, one of the first of its kind. After the operation all the pain was gone but so was the feeling on the right side of his head, neck and shoulder. He learned to live with the numbness and never regretted the operation.

My parents were faced with all kinds of bills and no real opportunities. My dad was still going to the mine but he was only able to do light work. It was my mom who found a way out. One day she saw that the Jackson Cafe, in town, was for sale. She talked to her family and they were willing to help. And that’s how we got into the hotel and restaurant business.

My dad was skeptical at first. He was still insisting on going to the mines, but he quickly saw that the cafe was a success. My mom was working from five in the morning ’til ten at night. And then one night, my dad came home from work and said, “Well, old lady, no more mine for me, I want to work here with you if you want me”. Mom’s answer was, “Thank God”.

We had the cafe until February 15, 1944, that’s when my mom saw an ad for the Rex Hotel (in Glenwood Springs) in our local paper. Mom called the number in the ad and the next day Dad and my sister, Freda, drove through a snowstorm to Glenwood. Dad called the next morning and told Mom he had just bought a hotel.

The folks were able to sell the Jackson Cafe two weeks later and on March 1, my sister and I started elementary school in Glenwood Springs.

*A mastoidectomy is performed to remove infected mastoid air cells resulting from ear infections, such as mastoiditis or chronic otitis, or by inflammatory disease of the middle ear (cholesteatoma). The mastoid air cells are open spaces containing air that are located throughout the mastoid bone, the prominent bone located behind the ear that projects from the temporal bone of the skull.

** Laminectomy is a surgical procedure used to open up space in the spinal canal and help alleviate the symptoms associated with an impinged or irritated nerve root or spinal cord. Each vertebra contains two laminae, which are bony segments that help form the arch across the back of the vertebra.

– To read other Immigrant Stories go to http://www.immigrantcolorado.blogspot.com


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