Saturday, April 28, 2007


*********************Photo: Courtesy of Gino Campioni******************


Since you had the effrontery to post photos of me on the Nostra Costa blog along with the one of my handsome father, I thought I would give you this one. I wouldn't intentionally leave out my beautiful mother. Didn't we all have handsome parents, Ivano? No wonder you and your brother turned out so good looking. I don't know why I went this way.

Yesterday I found the above photo in my mother's passport. It is tiny, not much bigger than a postage stamp. From the passport I learned that it was issued 24 February, 1934, just 6 months before my parent's departure from Genova. My mother was just one month expectant at the time of the issuing. Seven months along during the trip.

Maria Ada Berti nei* Campioni, as the passport is signed, was born 13 February, 1896 at Ponte a Moriano near Lucca in Toscana.
She used to jokingly say that she was born one day after Abraham Lincoln. She always thought that being born on the 13th was unlucky, and perhaps she was right. (Personally I don't believe in good or bad luck)

She was the daughter of Giuseppe Berti and Rosa Piegaia. Rosa died of meningitis at a very early age, after having given birth to 9 children, of whom Ada was one of the youngest. Giuseppe and sons Nello and Pietro struggled to keep the family fed. All three were barbers.

Ada had three years of school before she had to get a full time job. Her first effort was with a jute factory, sewing sacks. She worked there for 20 years, and left that employment to enter the "service", which is to say she took a job as a maid. The factory offered her a pension which they paid to her for life. It amounted to a few lire per year. I can remember having an affidavit of existence in life made for her each year and sending it to her brother so he could collect it. It was just enough for her family to buy a bottle of somewhat better than average wine to celebrate Ada's health.

Her next job was in the household of a minor nobleman, the Marchese Bottini. Bottini was a close friend of the famous Giovanni Bosco, known as Padre Don Bosco, a saintly priest who founded orphanages, and whom the Catholic Church canonized some time after his death. There her duties were maintaining upstairs bedrooms, and washing laundry. This was done at the river. Il bucato, (soap) was made with ashes and water mixed in a conca or basin. She carried the linens in a cesta (wicker basket) on her head, using a succapolo or padding to protect the scalp from the heavy basket. The laundry was pounded on rocks using the bucato, rinsed in the waters of the Serchio which flows through Ponte a Moriano, and spread out on rocks to dry before being carried back to the house.

Ada was happy in the service of the Marchese, but that did not last very long, as the old gentleman died, and the household was disbanded.

Her next job was similar, working for a commoner by the name of Carrara. She was not happy there, as she missed the special privileges the Marchese offered, such as having Sundays, evenings, and one weekday off.

Thus, when that rough looking contadino (''Baffi'') from America came along, offering a "life of ease" in California, she reluctantly accepted his offer of marriage. First, however, she insisted on his losing that ugly handlebar moustache. This he resisted doing. Ada came up with a fix for the problem. Knowing that Guglielmo liked to have her brother Nello give him shaves and haircuts, and that he often fell asleep in the barber chair, she ordered her brother to "do something with that horrid moustache". Sure enough, the next occasion in the barber shop, "Baffi" fell asleep in the chair and Nello snipped off half the moustache. This woke him, and on seeing himself in the mirror, he roared, "What have you done? Get rid of the rest of it!" He never wore a moustache again.

The promise of an easy life in America was a great hope for both my parents, but easy it never was. Things started to go wrong on the Atlantic crossing. The first day at sea was heavenly. Passing Gibraltar, the ship began to roll. Ada went to her bunk below, and was sick for the entire four and a half days at sea, plus the week crossing the continent by train. Meanwhile, Baffi, untroubled by motion, enjoyed 2 or 3 dinners, bottles of fine wine, (the camerieri would bring a full bottle whenever they saw an empty one) and usually was the only person in the mess hall. The rest were suffering the same as Ada. Meals were served to all tables, and things not eaten went overboard.

Two months after their arrival in California, their only child was born. Finished with being a servant in Italy, Ada spent her entire life serving her husband, helping him to keep our family of three fed, and serving her child. She never saw her homeland nor her own relatives again.

Some time after the passing of Baffi, while I was doing something in front of the house, I heard a shriek and a sound much like a watermelon falling on concrete. I knew exactly what had happened. Ada had tripped on the concrete stairs at the Dogliotti house next door, and had sustained a concussion. I begged her to come with me to the doctor, but she could not be moved from her house. This may have been the beginning of the slow decline which eventually made her completely helpless. This accident happened sometime in 1966 or so. She eventually had to have nursing home care. She finally left this world in 1974. She is now reunited with Guglielmo in eternal happiness. I only hope I can qualify to be reunited with them too.

*nei - "among the family of"


ivano said...

Thanks Gino for sharing with us the dramatic and somewhat sad story of Ada. As her photo shows she was indeed beautiful.

As I stated in "La Nostra Costa" there are 1001 stories 'su per la costa'. I would like to encourage everyone to share their stories with others via the "Blagga". Just send me the stories via regular e-mail: . (If you prefer you can send them in Italian.) Don't worry about spelling or grammatical errors. The "Old Blagga Master" with his able assistant Gino "d'Baffi e Ada" Campioni will edit before publishing.Oh yes. If you have a scanner send me a photo. Mille Grazie. Gino e tutti mi 'Blaggatori". ivno

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ivano, for posting the picture of Ada.

She came from a class somewhat higher than contadidi. Her father was an "operaio" or specialized worker. Her service in a house of nobility taught her their manners and genteel language. Years of association with Baffi and other farm workers accustomed her to coarse language which was common there, but in her speech she usually moderated it as best she could.

Her passport describes her as l.60 meters in height, with black hair, rosy complexion, and eyes of "castano" (chestnut) color. Actually her eyes were an unique color. They were a soft, light brown, almost tan. The color of powdered milk chocolate, the pupils edged in a very thin ring of black. Can anyone ever forget ones' mother's eyes?

jerry mungai said...

Thanks, Ivan. That was a well written piece. The "struggles" of
todays' immigrants are nothing compared to what the Italians we know experienced in America. No bi-lingual education, or welfare or
"affordable housing" or free school lunches or subsidized healthcare or gov't documents in their language or mandatory interpreters when
visiting doctors.

gino said...

Ciao Ivano,

Thanks for the letter from your Aunt Lina. Being stuck here in "Mayberry" Oregon, it's sometimes hard to remember that there were so many people who were in the same circumstances as my parents.

It is good to know that many people care about our forebears and theirs.

Alla prossima

LNC: Right Gino. As written in "La Nostra Costa", Lina immigrated to the US in 1947, because of some very unusual circumstances. Although she was very happy with her choice (that of immigrating) she soon found out that "La America" stood for hard work. ivn0

Gino "D'Baffie e Ada" said...

Ciao Ivano,

Dove hai trovato tutta questa musica? Thanks for the CD which arrived about an hour ago. (I have been listening to it for all that time) It is fantastic!

You may not believe this, but I recognized most of the songs, and there were many which I recognized at the first three notes! I was able to sing along knowing most of the words. This may not seem of much importance to you, but I only heard those songs from my MOTHER, and you know that she never sang after 1943. (after Attilio Dogliotti died)

The quality of the recording is quite good, although I suppose you copied it from records. I played it over my stereo with the 2 Sansui tower speaker systems, and made the living room fairly rock! Great to hear that combo accompanying with accordion, bass, guitar, and mandolin.

Some of the songs are very "suggestive", such as those that ask the young lady to accompany the young man to his garden where they will smell the flowers, and etc etc etc.

E tu biondina capricciosa Garibaldina tru la la, tu sei la stella di noi solda'. Such memories! I would have never thought that hearing a recording such as this would INSTANTLY bring almost total recall of the words on most songs, and the tune on almost all of them. Did you know that the one that goes: "Mamma non vuole, babbo nemmeno, come faremo à fare à l'amor", was the inspiration to Peter Tchaikovsky for his "Capriccio Italien"?

Thanks again for this wonderful gift. As for making me want to come to Davenport, well I have always wanted to come. Wanting and being able are two different worlds. I can't ever see any way for me to do this. Oh, I am still able to walk and drive, (thank The Lord) but can't see going on any more trips, unless I could con some friend to go with me, but the cost would be too much for me. One could always hope, but I don't dare pray for such a hope to be realized. I have received my good share of blessings.

Thanks again, and all the best to you and yours.

Gino (il nostalgico)

LNC: You are welcome Gin0. Consider the CD of "Sing Along Italian", a gift for "La Storia D'Ada", and all the other contributions you have made to the 'BLAGGA". Ivano "Gran Blaggatore"