IN “LA NOSTRA COSTA”, I WRITE ABOUT TWO HOUSES THAT STOOD SIDE BY SIDE ON THE EAST SIDE OF THE COAST ROAD about three miles north of Santa Cruz. One house belonged to the Gemignani Family and the other to the Comelli Family (my family). The two houses are no longer there having been moved off the Coast by the Tony Landino Moving Company, C. 1953. Today they stand side by side (much like they did ‘su per la costa’) at 1505 Bulb Ave in Capitola, not too far from the Capitola Mall.
The house my family lived in was originally built by ‘‘Baffi” Campioni and Constantino Gemignani. The Campionis were the first family to live in the house and eventually sold it to my parents in 1937. Gino Campioni relates some early memories of living in that house and what he thinks might have been his first Christmas.
Last Tuesday, while waiting for my friend I amused myself by studying a map of Santa Cruz. (and made myself more homesick) I discovered two things:
1. Mission Street in front of Mission Hill School does not run exactly East and West as I had always thought. 2. Bulb Avenue, where your old house and mine is now located, is less that a mile from where Baffi is buried (Holy Cross Cemetery).
(H)ere are my earliest memories of the house: My mother told me I began talking at 6 months of age. My first words were, "Mamma", "Pappà" and "Che è?" ("What is it?" This became my most frequently repeated phrase.)
When I was just toddling around, Baffi gave me a taste of his Royal Anne cherries he had preserved in bourbon. He said, "you have a cherry and I'll have the juice" I remember the good taste, followed by the startling zing! Happy baby!
I remember standing at a window and watching a Caterpillar tractor pulling out stumps. The driver was Tony Checchi. (pronounced, "cake key") I would call out, "Tira, uomo del trette!" Isn't that what you call a tractor? After all it would be another 4 years before I ever heard about English. At that same window were several shiny things that got my attention. They were iridescent and looked tasty. I tried one. This horrified my mother, who got that horse fly out of my mouth. Non fare mai piu così! Is that phrase familiar, Ivano?
Tony had some harrowing experiences. Once while driving that Caterpillar by the cliffs, he got too close to the edge, and the thing gave a lurch and flung him off. He tumbled down to a ledge, and was seriously hurt. Then he watched in horror as the tractor was still moving slowly and also tumbled over, headed right for him. Somehow it took a bounce, and landed SMASH beyond him. I don't remember who rescued him, or how, but he got out of the situation. Later on, he went back to Italy to find a bride, as Baffi had done, and instead received a beating for his trouble, presumably from a relative of his intended. I don't know what became of him after that.
Perhaps it was at the first Christmas in that house that someone brought me some gifts. One was a ping pong set, which nobody knew what to do with. I thought the little white balls were nice, but what was the rest of the stuff for? Another was a beautiful shiny silver toy Caterpillar with black rubber cleated treads. I was able to get them off the wheels, but putting them back on only served to severely pinch my fingers. I was not strong enough to wind the spring motor, so my dad would do it. I was fascinated to watch that toy move so slowly and realistically and with power. Baffi put an overturned apple box on the floor and a plank on each side so the tractor could climb up to the box and down the other side. To show how much power it had, he hooked a little red wagon to the tractor, and loaded it with a 25 pound bag of sugar and a kitchen chair. The thing marched right up and over with no effort. I don't know what became of that toy. I don't remember seeing it in our next house on Laurent Street in Santa Cruz.
I probably already told you of my mother shooting doves through an open window, and my trying to see where "our dinner " was standing, or how it fell when she fired. (looking through the gap in the wall) I still had that single shot 22 in the house on Bay Street, but never dared to try it. It looked so rusty that I thought it might fly apart if fired. You had to pull back the hammer, lower the firing pin holder and insert a cartridge. After firing, you did the same procedure and had to use pliers to remove the spent shell. After Baffi died, I sold his fine Browning automatic shotgun. I really should have kept it, but as I knew I would never use it, I felt somebody would take better care of it. I sold it for $75. Had I any brains, I should have gotten ten times that much. I live and learn, but learn too late.
Best wishes to you and yours, especially at this holiday season.
Thanks Gino. Here is wishing one and all a Merry Christmas and Happy New year. Ivan0
Reminder: The "Old Rancere" will be at the 'La Nostra Costa' Book Signing at the Capitola Cafe Bookstore, 1475 41st Ave, Capitola, on Wednsday, Jan 17, 2007, starting at 7:30PM. [-831-462-4415- www.capitolabookcafe.com ]