By Marilyn Pellini
I was always begging to hear more about my family history. Both my parents were born in this country, but their folks came from Italy and understood little English. There wasn’t all that much they could pass on to me because of this language barrier, but here is what I have recorded for future generations. Being an era of information accessibility, I’m hoping my children will want to hear more and pursue their history further through the Internet, DNA, etc.
It took but a moment to descend the gangplank of The Hindoustan and alter the lives of an entire generation to come. The Romanos arrived in America as new immigrants in the late 1800s. They came for the same reasons everyone else did: to behold the streets paved with gold and achieve their own golden dreams. They settled in Providence, Rhode Island where they had relatives and friends who had emigrated from the same area of Italy. Eraclio, the patriarch, found it necessary to hold multiple jobs in order to establish himself in his new homeland. One of his jobs, as a day laborer, required him to walk five miles each way to and from his work tending the grounds in Roger Williams Park. At the same time, he worked nights as a janitor and unloaded barges in the harbor on weekends.
Soon after arriving in America with his wife Rosa, children began arriving to add to their household. Firstborn was Anthony, next came Caesar, followed by Robert, Alexander, and a baby girl, Laura. Two of the boys were named for well-known Italian conquerors. After so many boys, the baby girl simply got a name that pleased her mother. The boys, being much older than their little sister, were taught to do every household chore. One of Alex’s jobs was to make handkerchiefs out of old sheets. This required him to learn all the workings of a pedal-operated sewing machine. As the oldest son, Anthony’s responsibilities included tilling, planting, weeding, and harvesting the garden. Every member of the family contributed in ways benefiting all.
Eraclio knew that the key to success for his children lay in education. He began to work towards this goal when they were very young. Rosa was a mother who scrimped and saved, and soon they were able to purchase a three-story tenement house. They lived in one flat and rented the others. Eventually, there was enough money to buy another house on their block. The first floor of that building housed a corner store, and Eraclio opened a neighborhood bar and grill, which was highly successful. Through the ensuing years, he reminded his children constantly they were expected to excel in their studies so they would be accepted to college one day. That’s just what they all did!
The first boy, Anthony, was admitted to Brown University. His musical ear enabled him to successfully teach himself to play the violin, and his parents struggled to provide him with just a few professional lessons. His playing was so exceptional, he was invited to play at his Brown University graduation, unheard of at that time for a first-generation American. He distinguished himself enough at Brown to be accepted to Jefferson Medical School. While studying there, he auditioned to play with Guy Lombardo’s band and was accepted, but decided his true calling was medicine and he planned to return home and minister to the needs of “his” people back in the old neighborhood. It was said that if he had taken a dime for every baby he delivered instead of a chicken, he would have been a rich man. During the Depression, he considered it a good day when he didn’t have to lay out money from his own pocket for a family who needed medicine and food. Of course, his fee was never a consideration.
The next son, Caesar, became a pharmacist. Although he too wanted to be a doctor, there was just not enough money for him to attend medical school. Robert became a prestigious artist, graduating from Rhode Island School of Design on a full scholarship, which provided funds sufficient to complete undergraduate work and a master’s degree. Alexander also yearned to follow his oldest brother into medicine, but he too had to settle for a career in pharmacy because of money constraints. The boys did not ever complain though, and seemed happy with their career choices. The daughter, Laura, received a business school education at a time when few women were able to achieve higher education.
These immigrants raised their family out of the poverty they experienced when first arriving in this country; they became the ultimate example of what might be accomplished with an education and hard work. Their children held the dream of America’s bounty in their hands and utilized it to the fullest. They gave their unique heritage, skills, time, and caring to the community. Their inspiration and dedication helped the neighborhood, their city, and the state to grow to be one integral part of what they loved — the United States of America.
Eraclio and Rosa’s grandchildren achieved the glories of second-generation immigrants. Two became lawyers, three pharmacists, an artist, an elementary school principal, and a teacher. The ideals instilled by their forefathers when they became new citizens have filtered down and are sure to be carried on by the next generation coming of age.
Let’s keep devouring our family history. Let’s pay it forward. We come from the far corners, and have contributed much. Let us never forget to talk about, ask about, and revere our origins.
Marilyn Pellini has recently published a grief book entitled Dear Al, A Widow’s Struggles and Remembrances. It has been selling quite well. Her other credits as a writer include a recent article in Brick Magazine entitled “Memories in My Button Jar,” pieces in Westchester Parent Magazine, Bay State Parent Magazine, On The Water, Balanced Rock, and others which she would be happy to provide copies of upon request. In May of 2018, she took the first place prize in the N.Y. State Federation of Women’s Clubs writing contest.