Grandpa's journey and life in La'Merica
by Raymond Tuminello
(Oak Lawn, Illinois)
My grandfather was born in a Sicilian hill town called Nicosia in 1880.Good work was hard to come by for unskilled laborers in Sicily in those days so he came to America when he was 24 in 1904.
The ship he sailed on was the SS Napoli. He had 50 dollars in his pocket, didn't speak the language, although he learned it, and carried with him the hopes and dreams of his generation to find a better life in this country. He came on this journey with several friends from his town.
When he arrived at Ellis Island, he was asked his occupation. I don't know what his response was but his occupation was listed as "countryman", which I believe was a generic term used by the immigration authorities for a "jack-of-all-trades". He finished his long and arduous journey in the Chicago neighborhood of Bridgeport.
He went there because he had a cousin there who came before him and settled in a small area with a sizable population of people from Nicosia. He soon found a job like most of the immigrants who came in those days doing back breaking work.
He helped build this great city with his sweat, digging ditches, and carrying the hod. A hod carrier would climb a ladder with a large tub called a hod filled with mortar up to bricklayers working on buildings. It was grueling, demanding work but it was a job.
It enabled him to marry and eventually rear 9 children with my father Joseph born the second to the last. It was this hard work that kept him in good shape until he was very old, climbing to work on his second story roof well into his eighties. My father remembered my grandfather going to work in the morning with a shovel over his shoulder.
A shovel he had meticulously sharpened every night to make the next days digging easier. He stayed his whole life in Bridgeport never returning to the land of his birth. He did not forgot his roots though and drank his wine and enjoyed the wonderful Sicilian cuisine until the end.
His story doesn't sound very interesting or unusual but it was the story of millions who came here to find a better life. He lived to the ripe old age of 93. Many times I wonder if he ever regretted leaving Sicily. It had to be difficult to leave his homeland and his family never to see them again, but those times were very different and people such as those we will never see again.