Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mary and Amalio Talk About Life in an Italian Town in the 1920s

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I asked Amalio (Uncle Mario) Mallozzi in April 1999 if he could share any memories. He did the talking at first, but eventually his sister Mary Mallozzi chimed in, too. In the first part of the interview they spoke of their life in the 1920s in the village of Pulcherini, a suburb of Minturno, Italy. I took notes and typed up a summary that afternoon while the experience was still fresh in my mind. The only direct quotes are those words in quotations.


Amalio and his younger sister, Delia
after their arrival in America.
Stamford, Connecticut, 1930

Amalio said he could only remember some of his sisters in Italy--Rose (born 1901), Filippina "Pucci" (born 1906), Mary (born 1912), and later, Delia (born 1922); but not Frances (Maria Francesca, born 1903) or any of his brothers. He "met" them when he moved to Connecticut at the age of seven and a half. He hadn't seen [or didn't remember seeing] Frances, Phil (Philip, born 1907), or Gene (Gennaro, born 1911) before then. 

Mary: Frances was 18 when she went to America. At that time, her son Jimmy (Jimmy Tucciarone) was crawling, and her son Phil (Philip Tucciarone) was two. 

Amalio: Papa (Vincenzo Mallozzi, born 1874) went to America in the 1890s when he was 16, and made eight trips back to Italy. He married Mama (Alesandra Poccia, born 1880) in 1900 on one of those trips. Amalio knows of eight children born who lived, plus two males who died; one a miscarriage and one who died in infancy. The kids hardly knew their father, as he could only stay with them a couple of months at a time. In America, he worked at digging ditches, in railroad construction, and landscaping for "rich people." Eventually, "Papa got disgusted because he had to keep going back to Italy to give away daughters at weddings," so brought the rest of the family over to the U.S.

See a satellite view of Pulcherini and surrounding areas.

Amalio: The house in Pulcherini had three floors and a cellar and was made of "dead stone," not brittle stone. There was a grape arbor across the front for shade, and a cement area for sitting during the day and evening. His father and compadre (Amalio's godfather) built the house around 1924 or 1925. The family had another house in the town that had been left to Vincenzo by his father. They kept animals there. When they lived there they kept the animals (sheep and goats) on the first floor and the family lived on the second floor. They rented the town house out after moving to the new house, and kept both houses until they left for America. Eventually, Tony Pellicione, Rose's son, bought the newer house from the other family members. He still rents it out. 

Mary interjected: He sold it three or four years ago. [Amalio expressed surprise at this].

...just like in Roman houses

Amalio [speaking of the house that Papa built]: There were marble steps inside to the upper floor, just like in Roman houses. Each floor had two big rooms. On the first floor was the kitchen. It had a fireplace, where the cooking was done. There was no stove, and no running water. 

Mary: There was a coal burner standing about as high as a stove along side the fireplace. The water came from a cistern in the cellar. There was a little room like a closet in the kitchen, with a hole down to the cistern. They got the water by letting down a bucket on a rope through the hole. 

Mary: Dishes were washed in a pan, usually outside. When there were a lot of clothes to be washed the laundry was done in the river. It was a forty-five minute to one-hour walk from the house to the river; they carried the clothes in baskets on their heads. The clothes were dried on bushes, then stretched and folded, because they weren't ironed.

Mary: The family's clothing was made by a dressmaker in Santa Maria. They each had two or three outfits, but only one pair of shoes.

A donkey in the cellar

Amalio [continuing the description of the house]: The cellar was divided into a room for the cistern and a room where the animals (a donkey, a couple of sheep, a couple of milk goats, a couple of pigs, some chickens, and pigeons) lived. On the first floor was the kitchen. It had a table and chairs and a closet for dishes. The next room on that floor was used to store hay (homegrown) and animal feed and tools. 

Amalio: The second floor had two bedrooms, and the top floor had two more. He slept in the room above the kitchen, in his parents' room. 

Amalio: The house was on four lots, two on each side of it. The land was probably about 800 feet or 600 feet square. There were prickly pears (cactus, which they also called India pears) growing there. It was a five minute walk to another plot of land owned by the family. It consisted of two acres and was located at the bottom of a hill on a plain with a large stream (but not large enough to use for washing the laundry; for that they had to walk all the way to the river) running through it. There they grew oranges, figs, pears, walnuts, hazelnuts, grapes, and olives. They also grew wheat, beans, and corn.

The snake

Amalio: There were a lot of snakes there. They killed any that they saw, but Mary and Amalio both reminisced about a particular snake with a bright mark on its head. No one would kill it, because they all wondered if it was someone in Purgatory, or someone reincarnated. They left that snake alone. Everyone in the neighborhood did.

Amalio: There was another piece of land owned by the family. It was about an acre and a half, about a three quarters of an hour walk from the house. There they grew wheat and corn. The corn was used for pig feed and some was ground into meal for cornbread. Near Santa Maria there was another plot of land that belonged to Alesandra, a "jardine" of about two and a half acres. There they raised apricots, peaches, lemons, oranges, "nespole" (loquats), figs, "suchel" (?), escarole, and beans. There was a well to water the crops.

Amalio: He also remembered going to "Uncle Louie's" (Luigi's) house, which was near Mama's acreage. Luigi was a "healer, a holy man." Uncle Joe (Giusseppe) lived across the street. [Alexandra "Mama" had brothers named Joe and Luigi].

Amalio [back to the house description]: The house was furnished with old-fashioned Italian furniture. Some of it was made by the town carpenter, who also made coffins. Some of it was bought in stores. All the floors in the house were tile. Everyone had his own bed.


Amalio: They were one of the better-off families in the town, mainly because Vincenzo was sending back money from America for them. They had enough animals and crops to supply their own food, because buying in the market in Minturno was expensive. They made their own olive oil, taking the olives to a place called "The Mounds," where the olives were crushed between stones turned by a horse. The owner of "The Mounds" took some of the olive oil in payment.

Mary: They made their own bread, taking the dough to the center of town where a woman had a wood-fired brick oven in her house that was large enough to bake three or four loaves at a time. She was paid for the use of the oven with some of the fresh bread. If someone needed some bread between bakings they could borrow a loaf from her, then repay it out of their next baking.

Amalio: The only cash used by the family came from Vincenzo, and it was used to hire people occasionally to work on the land. They were paid with their noon and evening meals in addition to the cash.

Mary: Rose and Fil [Filippina] worked on the land. They had also helped with the building of the house by carrying buckets with cement and stones.

"A pain in the neck"

Mary, remembering Amalio as a child and younger brother, when asked if he had gotten into mischief: "He was a pain in the neck. He was mean."

Amalio: He remembers a little tame white dove that he was chasing in the yard. He accidentally kicked it in the head and killed it. It was the "loss of a good pet." If he had admitted what he had done and how it had died, Mama would have cooked it. Instead, fearing punishment, he threw the body of the dove into the prickly pears and didn't say anything when Mama was looking for her pet. That's why "I love doves," he said.

Mary: "He used to do those things and say he was sorry when it was too late."

Amalio: Can't remember much more about living there...

Pulcherini today


Amalio Mallozzi died in 2005; Mary Mallozzi died in 2009.

1 comment:

  1. Completely fascinating. Great work! So much detail. I'm so glad you got all of this down when you did. I love that big gnarly tree in the video.


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