Grandma and Grandpa

June 20th, 2018 by Nick Jacobs Leave a reply »

A few weeks ago, I got a box of cassette tapes. One of the tapes had “Grandpa and Grandma” on the label. I instantly remembered sitting with my family with my little tape recorder as I interviewed my grandparents for posterity in 1960. Let me share just a few tidbits from those now deceased voices talking, laughing, and telling, in broken English, their story of poverty, struggle, and life. While they spoke I thought about the life of my English grandparents whose families came here in the 1600s. It was like “Downton Abbey” or “Up the Down-staircase.”

I asked my grandmother what her family told her life was like in the early 1800s she said, “Longa time ago, our family lived in a family cave, and even when we were little, we useda olive oil to light our house with little lanterns.”

Then my granddad who came to America at age 13 said, “ When I was a kid, I had to take care of the cows. My brother and dad would use them to plow the fields, and I had to clean up after them, feed them, and take care of them. I hated that. That’s why I ran away.”

I asked him, “Did you go to school?” And he said, “The old man used to say, ‘Get a book and learn to read.’ So, I taught myself everything.”

Then I asked what he remembered about his mother, and he said, “She went to church every day, and every dime she got, she gave to the priest. She gave him bread all the time even when we were hungry. He had a big belly.” Then I asked him, “Did you ever go to St. Peter’s in Rome?” He said, “When I lived away from home, we went there all the time, but I don’t know whata you people think. The Pope is just an old man.” (Obviously, he wasn’t happy the priest got all the bread.)

Both families had farms close to the town of Alvito between Rome and Naples. Her family’s was three miles away, and both fathers were sharecroppers. Half of what they grew went to the rich men who controlled the land. My grandfather said, “One summer dad cried like a baby because everything dried up, and another summer he didn’t geta good grapes for wine, and he cried even harder that time.”

I asked if they made wine, and my grandmother said, “The mena mada the wine by stomping on a da grape in their bare-feet.” My English mother asked, “Did they wash your feet?” The result of that question was lots of laughter. “The alcohol killed the germs,” my grandfather said laughing between breaths.

“When we were ina this country and was married, I made a jug of wine,” my grandmother said, “and Patsy (my grandfather) tested one time.” Then she said, “My winea was betta than his dad’s wine.” My granddad looked at me, smiled and winked. “Yep, he laughed, yours was better.” (That’s why they were married for so long.)

“Did you wear shoes?” I asked. My grandfather burst into laughter, “The first shoes I have was when I come in America.” “So, what did you do in the winter?” I asked. He said, “We would wrap rags around our feet in the winter time.”

For whatever reason, as a 13-year old boy, I asked, “Did you ever see a wolf?” To which my grandmother said, “My dad had to walka to church one time at 4 in the morning and something came after hima growling. He yelled because he thought it was a wolf, but it was a biga dog.” Then she laughed and laughed. Grandad said he saw wolves.

Then he said something that stuck with me. He said, “We had a lot of fun, but it wasa stupid fun.” From the sound of the laughter on that tape, maybe it wasn’t so stupid.



  1. William Valusek says:

    Neat memories . Reminds me of my family. My grand parents spoke with an Eastern European accent. Wish we had had a tape recorders! Thanks for sharing Nick!

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