Saturday, April 28, 2007
"LA STORIA DI ADA" BY GINO CAMPIONI
*********************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"