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Italian grandmother made a life taking care of others

Immigrant Stories
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Bob Zanella
ALL |

Bob: At the turn of the century, both sides of my family came from the mountains of northern Italy, near the Austrian border, to work in the mines. My parents, Amelia and Julio, were strong, resilient people who experienced a lot in their lives. I was always trying to convince my mom to write or record her story. Toward the end of her life, she finally did. What follows is her life story, in her own words. I have made only a few changes to her original script. She starts by telling the story of her parents.

Amelia: My mother, Freda, was a beautiful lady, tall, with dark eyes that penetrated you. She could laugh or cry with you. She had an open heart for anybody. The experiences she had in life made her a perfect woman. Everyone liked her, and she was good and kind to everyone.

Mom was born on December 4, 1882, in Cloz, Trentino, Italy, the youngest of seven children, five sisters and two brothers. She was orphaned at the age of 12. Her uncle, a Catholic priest, became her guardian, and she went to live with him. With the help of her uncle’s housekeeper, my mother was groomed to become a maid. She learned to do all phases of housework and went to school until the sixth grade.



When Momma finished the sixth grade, she was placed with a rich family in Trento and was a very good maid. She had plenty of work to do, helping raise three children until she left to come to America.

I don’t know too much about my father Luigi’s family. I do know that he had three brothers, Olivio, Joseph and Silvio, and four sisters, Pia, Barbara, Maria and Irene. My father was the eldest. He was born on February 6, 1880. He came to the United States in 1898 and went directly to the mines in Leadville, Colorado.



Shortly after Dad came, his brother, Olivio, joined him to work in the mines. The elevation was hard on both of them, and they decided to move to Lead, South Dakota, to work in gold mines there. They didn’t like it there, either, and eventually moved to Cambria, Wyoming, to work in the coal mine, where they were joined by their brother Joseph. They all worked in the mine together. Olivio died of emphysema in the early 1920s.

When my father decided to get married, instead of looking for someone locally, he wrote his parents in Italy and asked them to send his girlfriend to America. His parents knew the girl very well, but they didn’t approve of her. She had a light deformation on her back and shoulder so they decided to see their priest and get his advice. The priest was my mother’s uncle and guardian. My uncle suggested that my mother go in the girl’s place. Mom was asked if she wanted to go to America and get married. She said yes.

My father’s parents made all the arrangements. They even bought her some clothes. She said goodbye to the family she had worked with for the last eight years. They didn’t want to let her go, but Mom believed that America was a dreamland.

My father was very conservative and didn’t want to lose a day’s work, so he sent his brother, Olivio, to meet my mother at the train. Olivio had a picture of my mother so he recognized her, but my mom thought the man approaching her at the train station was her fiance. It was only after she embraced and kissed him that she heard him say, “I am not Luigi, I’m his brother.”

Mother arrived in Newcastle, Wyoming, on February 23, 1905, and she was married two days later. She never forgot what happened on her wedding day. As they walked down the church’s long stairway after they were married, they stopped to kiss. That’s when my father told her, “You are not the woman I sent for to be my wife.” Mom told me this story on the day before I got married. She said she felt a cold chill run throughout her body and almost cried. I have often wondered how she managed.

My parents were married on a Saturday, and Mother found out on Monday that she had six men to cook and clean for, not counting my father. Dad had hired a German woman, Mrs. Bell, to teach my mother how to cook and care for the boarders. My mother never forgot her kindness. The boarders were all coalminers who ate three big meals a day – a heavy breakfast, a large lunch packed for in the mine, and a hearty supper served at six in the evening.

Mom did all the cleaning in the house and the men’s laundry. Even when she was pregnant the work had to be done. (I was born on December 4, 1905, 10 months after my parents were married.) She took care of the men until the day I was born. That’s when Mrs. Bell took over so Mom could rest for a week. Maid work became her way of life, and the work was hard and steady. The miners demanded heavy meals. She did all the baking, washing and cleaning in addition to raising babies.

They lived in Wyoming until 1918 when they moved to Denver. By the time they moved, Mom was successfully managing a hotel in Newcastle while my dad worked in the mines. She had developed a freedom within herself, and she was proud of all she had accomplished.

In Denver, my parents found a partner and leased a hotel. Mother was in charge of the kitchen and she had over 20 boarders who were working for the railroad. She hired a maid who took care of cleaning the rooms. The hotel had 26 rooms, a large restaurant with a dining room to serve the boarders their meals. They ate three meals a day, breakfast, lunch in a bucket and an Italian meal of spaghetti and veal stew with a salad for dinner. Mom would substitute the veal with roast beef, but spaghetti was always served. This was like a second home for these men, and my mother knew just how to take care of them.

There was a small bar in the corner, which my father and the partner took care of. Prohibition was in force, so all they could serve was soda and a funny beer that didn’t even foam in the glass. They called it “glitz.” The men passed the time playing cards and reading. My mother didn’t allow either of my sisters in the bar, but they did help in the kitchen and waited tables. This was the hotel I came to when I returned to America.

As I mentioned before, I was born on December 4, 1905. My sister Loraine was born 15 months later. At that time, my father had been injured in the mine and developed an acute backache that kept him from working. The local doctor suggested a change of climate might help him, so my parents decided that we should all go back to Italy/Austria and visit my father’s parents.

My sister was only 40 days old when we embarked on an ocean voyage to visit my grandparents in Brez, Trentino, Austria.

Note: Next week Amelia and Bob will talk about life in Italy and the coalfields of Wyoming.

Immigrant Stories runs Mondays in the Post Independent. To read other Immigrant Stories go to http://www.immigrantcolorado. blogspot.com.


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