Friday, June 17, 2016

Phil and His Pigeons

This article originally appeared in the Stamford [Connecticut] Advocate,  Jan 17, 2010, in The Dart, "a weekly feature in which reporters throw a dart at a map of Stamford and then go out in search of a story." 

Note: Phil Tucciarone is the son of Frances Mallozzi (1905-1986) and John Tucciarone (1895-1988), and is a first cousin to my husband, Bill Zarges.


Phil Tucciarone raises racing pigeons in the backyard of his home on West Main St. and Harvard Ave. in Stamford, Conn. Photo taken on Monday January 11, 2009. He's also a member of the Stamford Racing Pigeon Club which is behind his home on Harvard Ave. Photo: Dru Nadler / Stamford Advocate

The Dart: 'Thoroughbreds of the sky' keep club's connection alive
Published: 05:40 p.m., Sunday, January 17, 2010

STAMFORD -- Phil Tucciarone is a ladies man.
"When I walk into the club, some of the guys say, `Here comes Phil and his girls,'" the spry 84-year-old said with twinkling eyes. And while the ladies this lifelong Stamford resident admires have storied pedigrees and finicky diets, you're more likely to find these girls in the sky than on the catwalk. Tucciarone is a pigeon fancier. He breeds, trains and races homing pigeons.

Phil Tucciarone holds the special feed he buys for his racing pigeons that's imported from Belgium. He raises the birds behind his home on West Main St. in Stamford, Conn. Photo taken on Monday January 11, 2009. Photo: Dru Nadler / Stamford Advocate

He's the oldest flier at the Stamford Racing Pigeon Club, nestled on the city's West Side away from the traffic on West Main Street. "I fly mostly girls -- they are more reliable ... smarter," Tucciarone said, standing next to his backyard coop that is in sight of the racing club.

Racing pigeons -- "the thoroughbreds of the sky," Tucciarone will remind you -- is a beloved sport in a city that has esteemed its racing game even before the city club was founded in 1934.

Phil Tucciarone tends to his racing pigeons in the backyard of his home on West Main St. in Stamford, Conn. Photo taken on Monday January 11, 2009. Photo: Dru Nadler / Stamford Advocate

There are the underdogs, the long shots, the losers and the champions in a competition that pits birds against their brethren, the elements and natural predators. After training pigeons with short flights from the New York area, the birds compete in 100-mile to 500-mile races against pigeons from the Stamford club and other area clubs, said William Telesco, a club member who began racing pigeons in 1951 and continues to breed the birds.

The average speed of a pigeon is 42 miles per hour, Telesco said, and it takes it from 2 to 12 hours to return to the home loft.

No one knows for sure how the birds are able to fly home from such far distance, though some have speculated it has to do with the position of the sun or the earth's magnetic fields, he said. The club has seen a downfall in interest and membership since pigeon fever gripped many of the Italian, Polish and German families who kept their birds on the West Side during the 1950s.

"At one time there were 20 lofts within a half mile on the West Side," Telesco said.

The club was founded in 1934, as a certificate on the current clubhouse wall boasts, by Paul Ferrara, a carpenter, who became the club's first president, said his son James Ferrara, now a North Stamford resident.

"Once my mother got mad as heck and locked him out, because he was spending so much time with the pigeons," James Ferrara said, laughing at the memory.

The club met on Finney Lane before the group erected a clubhouse on the land where the current building stands, Ferrara said.

Phil Tucciarone's racing pigeons in the backyard of his home on West Main St. in Stamford, Conn. Photo taken on Monday January 11, 2009. Photo: Dru Nadler / Stamford Advocate

 "A bunch of the club guys were plumbers, electricians, carpenters or masons," he said. "They got together and built it themselves."

When the birds returned to the coops, Paul Ferrara would race to put the birds' leg bands into a German-made clock synchronized with other club members, James said. One turn of the key would register the bird's flight time and output a slip of paper.

"A lot of the races were on a Sunday, and we couldn't eat dinner until the birds came home," he said.

In this area, and across the country, the hobby is dying out, Telesco said.

"There wasn't very much for kids to do -- that's how it evolved," he said. "Now kids have so much to do."

Still, Tucciarone has no plans to stop waking up at 4:30 a.m. to train the birds. He doesn't mind cleaning the lofts, tending to their medical ailments or feeding them twice a day. He proudly points out his fastest flier who has a green sheen along the breast feathers. "That's the winningest bird in the club," he said. Then, he adds as a humble afterthought: "I did my share of winning and I took my share of beatings in this game."


Thursday, June 16, 2016

A New Cousin Appears, Part 4

Read A New Cousin Appears, Parts 1, 2, and 3


A Father's Gifts

Vinni continues his story:

I have gotten more than I had ever hoped for when starting on my journey for my family.  I am so thankful and so delighted with the response of everyone involved!

The first things I received were pictures from Bill and Clair.  They were of [Vinni's Aunt] Delia's wedding.  They were special because they showed my father as a young man.  I am so glad I saw him first in this stage of his life.  Quite a handsome guy indeed.  As I stated earlier, my sisters were both able to pick him out in each photo immediately.  

Delia Mallozzi weds William Zarges, Sr., July 1947
in Stamford, Connecticut.
The wedding party is shown on the front lawn of the family home at 83 Wilson Street.
From the left: Mary, Frances, William, Delia, Alessandra (mother of the family), Gennaro, Vincenzo (father of the family), Filippina, and Amalio (Vinni's father)

Then came the picture of him playing the accordion.  In the beginning I was hoping to just see a picture of the accordion.  But here he was, playing it!  Then more pictures of him at much later in life in casual pictures with family.  I can see myself so much in those pictures.  Sometimes I just sit and stare at them.  My 2nd cousin, Lori T, gave me pictures of my grandmother and grandfather and a picture of Amalio when he was in the military.  I have those pictures framed and hanging in our bathroom.  I very much enjoy them.

Brothers in the military, WWII: Amalio (left) served in the Pacific; Phil (right) served in Europe

Amalio in the garden
Wilson Street, Stamford, Connecticut

Next came the songs and publishing.  This gave me a good reason why I am who I am.  My sister always called me a free spirit.  Well, I guess maybe.  I think she just recognized that I was much different than all of them.  I have always had music going on in my head.  I don't think anyone really understood that.  However, Amalio would have understood.  My favorite of his music is When I'm Out Dancing With You.  It has a Big Band sound to it.  Funny thing is even when I was playing Rock on guitar I always had a bit of Big Band sound and swing to my music.  I sometimes wonder if I heard him play when I was still in my mother's womb.  That is completely possible.  If you think about it, I may have even heard this very song.

Then I met a lady who was related to his wife Adeline.  She was a God-send also.  She talked to me one day on the phone for nearly an hour.  She told me many things about him.  She also stated that "No Way" was he anything like the "Al Mallozzi" I was told of for so many years.  She spoke of a generous, loving man that loved his wife, nature, animals and God.  

She also told me something that broke my heart.  She said that he was always trying to talk Adeline into adopting children.  This one haunts me a bit.  She then sent me two books of his poetry and his very guitar.  I understand the guitar has been in an attic for many years.  Nearly thrown away more than once.  No one knows however, where the accordion ended up.  In good hands, I can only hope.  His guitar is hanging on the wall here in our Nashville home.  I have many guitars being celebrated on these walls.  This guitar, however, holds a much deeper meaning than the others.  And rightly so.  It is the only possession I own that was my father's.  He touched it and loved it.  Need I say more about that?

Vinni and his father's guitar

Now for the poems.  They were all put together by his wife Adeline and named Thoughts and Words by Amalio Mallozzi.  Nancy reads them to me often.  She will read one and then we will sit and talk about it.  These really help me to understand what went on inside his head. I so hoped that he would have mentioned us somewhere in those pages.  But, I cannot find any trace of that at all.  I am reasonably sure he never knew about me.  I think Mom kept that secret from him as well as she kept him from me.  One can only speculate as to why.  Nancy and I think we have it pretty much figured out.  But again, it is only our conclusions taken from the facts we have.  

These poems paint a pretty good picture of a man that loved others and loved God.  My favorite one is Best Friends, a poem he wrote about his Mother and Father. 

Thru sickness and thru pain,
In sunshine or in rain,
The best friends that I had
Were my Mother and my Dad.

Whether in joy or gladness
Or I was lost in sadness,
The best friends that I had
Were Mother and my Dad.

Throughout my years of learning,
Or in periods of my yearning,
The best friends I had
Were my Mother and my Dad.

Through my entire life,
Until I took on my wife,
The best friends that I had
Were my Mother and my Dad.

My years weren't lived in vain,
So I sing this sweet refrain,
The best friends that I had
Were my Mother and my Dad.
~Amalio Mallozzi

Doesn't sound like a deranged, awful, angry person, does it?  I am quite glad that no images matching up to what I was always taught have surfaced at all.  

I have finally come to the place where I realize, I will not be able to meet him in this life.  This took a while.  But I am confident, we will meet in the next.  Until then wondering and imagining will have to do.  The things he left behind for me to find will help to get me thru.  There will be a lot to talk about then.  

And my Mother.  Do I forgive my Mother?  Of course I do!  But I will ask her when I see her again some day, "Mom, what were you thinking?"  I am sure she had reasons for what she decided for me.  I am sure she did what she thought she needed to do.  

I am not perfect and my children with probably say someday, "What was Dad thinking".  Speaking of my children, Adam and Audrey, they are doing quite well and are excited to learn about their Grandfather.  Adam is about to become a father himself.  He has decided to name his son Roland Amalio Smith.  That makes me very happy indeed.

Vinni and Nancy, 1976

Vinni and his son, Adam

Vinni and his daughter, Audrey

Vinni and Nancy

Vinni and his dogs

Monday, June 13, 2016

A New Cousin Appears, Part 3

Read A New Cousin Appears, Part 1Part 2 and Part 4.


Here, in Vinni's own words, is the story of his search for his father's family [my clarifications in brackets]:

My search for you all started with only a very few clues. My name was Mallozzi, the pigeon racers called my father Al, my family once lived on Wilson Street in Stamford, and my grandfather's name was Vincenzo. (I did not know what his last name was). That was it!  

So, I first called my oldest [half] brother, Tom, who lives in Stamford.  I asked "Do you know anyone with the name  Mallozzi?"  He said,  "That name is like Smith. There are hundreds in this town."  Then I asked, "Tell me about Wilson Street."  "That is across town. It's where all the Italians live." he said.  "Yeah, it is, huh?" I replied.  "Why do you want to know that?"  I replied, "I will tell you sometime."

I then called the CIty of Stamford. They were VERY helpful.  Much more than I had hoped. I had been snooping around on and found a Mallozzi family that lived at 83 Wilson. The lady in vital records told me that Mary and Filippina were the last Mallozzis that lived there. The house was then sold after they passed.  

With this name Filippina I was able to verify a family with 7 children. One's name was Amalio. Amalio. Al. This had to be a match! The head of the household was Vincenzo. The mother's name was Alessandra. I instantly fell in love with those names and the folks who owned them. I was 90% sure this was my family. Those that came before me. The excitement really began to build.  

One night on Thanksgiving my brother's wife, Nancy, called me and said she found an Amalio Mallozzi in the google search.  It was your article you had written about Mary and Amalio. I thank God for you Clair! How would I have found any of you if it were not for your article? Think about it. There are no remaining, related Mallozzis. I would have had the info and that would be it. I would not have received the pictures, poetry, songs. stories, and guitar.* Thank you Clair and God bless you!  

You know what happened after that. I did not want to upset anyone's life, but I could not wait to email you and get a response. You and Bill [son of Amalio's sister, Delia, thus Vinni's cousin] were so wonderful in your reply. Nothing like what I had feared. I backed off for decades of starting a search because I really did not think anyone would want to hear it or want to meet me. During my search to find you I had the phone slammed down in my ear a few times because I had the wrong  Mallozzi residence.I would even contact anyone with the last name on Facebook, but none of them answered me. I totally understand and felt sorry for those folks I bothered.  

When you started sending me pictures I would immediately send them to my sisters. They were 9 & 10 when they last saw my family. But they both picked Amalio from those wedding pictures every time. Janet even described Gennaro [Amalio's older brother] to me and how he would fall asleep in his chair by the window. OK! Now I am about 95% sure I have the right familia.

Either you or Bill gave me Lori T's [granddaughter of Amalio's sister, Frances] email.  I wrote to her and gave her my #.  She called me right away. I told her what I knew about my father and told her the pigeon racers called him Al. She said her father raced pigeons with him. She asked her father and he verified indeed that all the racers called him Al. I was pretty darn sure now, I had the correct person. Funny how this one little clue was the one that made me so sure that Al was indeed Amalio.

This is when I asked Bill if he would take the DNA test with me. That [waiting for the results] was the longest 8 weeks of my life! One day while driving down the freeway I asked Nancy, "What am I going to do if these folks are not my family?" She replied, "You are going to apologize and keep looking." The relief and fulfillment was nearly indescribable when the results came back.  Now I knew 100% where I came from and who I was.  

I was and still am Vincenzo, son of Amalio.  It is hard to explain what that feels like and why it is so important. I don't expect others to understand. but I can tell you that it is a fantastic feeling! 

P.S. After sleeping on it, there is one more clue my mother told me about Al. He played the accordion. That was another biggie that I asked everyone about him.




*, poetry, songs, stories, and guitar. More about these, coming in Part 4 (to be published soon). 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A New Cousin Appears, Part 2

Read Part 1Part 3, and Part 4

Vinni Smith: Funny how the truth can be lost or forgotten if we hide and cover it up.

In A New Cousin Appears, Part 1, my husband and I learned of the existence of a man named Vinni Smith, who said he was the son of the late Amalio Mallozzi, my husband's uncle. No one in the family had ever heard of Vinni's existence, but we were willing to listen to his story. Well, to tell the truth, some in the family were willing and others were more suspicious.

The day after Thanksgiving, 2014, Vinni and I began a long correspondence by email. Here are some of the things that he told me. (Please note: The older people in this story--Vinni's mother, birth father, and step father--are no longer living. Vinni has given me permission to write his story, but some parts of the story remain private).

Vinni's Story

Vinni was born in Modesto, California, in 1956. He lived there with his mother, Catherine, and his older sisters. When he was two, Catherine married Walter Cleveland Smith, and when Vinni was five, Walter formally adopted him, changing his name to Walter Cleveland Smith, Jr. 

Vinni doesn't remember being called anything but "Butch" before he became Walter, Jr. He says he was too young to understand any of these name changes, and thought people started calling him Walter because they just didn't want to call him Butch any more. He recalls that he had been told that "Butch was the name my grandmother [Martha] gave me to 'hide me from the Italians.'" Who knows what young Butch thought of that idea? We'll get back to the Italians in a bit. 

Vinni (Walter, Jr.) on the left

Butch/Walter/Vinni always had a feeling that he was somehow different from his other family members, that he didn't quite belong. An aspiring musician, he resented his Walter Cleveland name. Vinni: I very much did not like growing up with that name, and it sure wasn't a name for a rock star!

A rock star named... Walter?

When Vinni was 20, he began to learn a new version of his life. He found out that Walter, Sr. wasn't his real father, and his mother told him that his birth father was "an Italian man named Al" who had died by his own hand. This, together with other things his mother said about his father, was very troubling for a young man to hear, and he had a lot of problems understanding this new past. Vinni: I was in a tailspin for some time.

There were more revelations to come. In 1999, his sister told him his real name. Vinni: She just came up to me out of the blue one afternoon and said,  "Butchey Boy, do you know what your name is?"  I really never thought of asking her.

So anyway, I pushed myself back from my desk and took a big breath.  I looked down and I could see my heart beating and moving my shirt I was so anxious.  I said "OK June, tell me".  "Your name is Vincent.  We called you Vincent when you were a baby and then that woman Martha told us to call you Butch so the Italians could not find you.  Then that man Walter married Mom and he changed your name to Walter.  Just thought you would want to know that."  

Vinni: I had always loved that name!

Vinni confronted his mother: Mom, it is time you tell me what my name is. She looked at me and said "Vincent. I called you Vincent when you were a baby. I have your adoption papers if you want them". She then explained my name was Vincenzo and I was named after my grandfather.

Little by little, Vinni's mother's version of his story came out. His name, before the adoption, was Mario Vincenzo Mallozzi.

Vinni: Much later when she was 90 I asked her directly what my father's name was and she said Mario Vincenzo Mallozzi. "The pigeon racers called him Al."  I said "Mom, that is my name, are you sure? Where does Al fit in there?"  

She was confused as I was by then, I am sure.  This is when she called me up out of the blue one day and said "If you ever want to find your family they are on Wilson Street in Stamford, Connecticut."  I think she wanted to come clean but could not bring herself to completely do so.  This was her way of spilling a bit of the truth.  She was a good person. She was not a liar.  But she sure told her share of whoppers to and about me!  We all do what we think we need to do to get by in life, I guess.  Three years later she passed and that is when I started my journey and found you. 


Next: There are a LOT of Mallozzis in Stamford!

Monday, June 6, 2016

A New Cousin Appears, Part 1

Read  Parts 2,  3,  and 4.

Vinni Smith: You probably do not know the feeling of wondering where you came from. Every time I would be questioned by a doctor or nurse about my father, I would have to say, I don't know. I would look into the mirror and say "Where did I get all this hair from?" or "I wonder how long I will live?"

It was Thanksgiving Day, 2014. With a house full of company, dogs underfoot, sideboards lined with serving dishes, and the turkey just coming out of the oven--in the middle of all that, something made me take a look at my incoming emails. And there it was, a message from a man named Vinni Smith, asking if he might have found the Mallozzi family he had been seeking. The Mallozzi family, the family of his father. And the family of my husband's mother.

He had come across my family history blog when searching for the right Mallozzi family in Stamford, Connecticut--and, believe me, there are a lot of different Mallozzi families there. Perhaps it was this post (Mary and Amalio Talk About Life in an Italian Town in the 1920s) that he saw, which was all about the 1999 interviews I had done with Amalio Mallozzi (1920-2005) and his sister, Mary (1912-2009). And perhaps he saw this photo, showing Amalio and another sister, Delia (my husband's mother), which was taken in 1930.

Feeling a little stunned, I showed the email to my husband. He read it a couple of times and shook his head. This just couldn't be--he already knew all of his cousins by name, and I had entered them all into the Mallozzi family tree. There was no Vinni, son of Amalio. Amalio never had any children. Of course he didn't. We knew that for a fact. A fact.

However, the patriarch of the family was called Vincenzo Mallozzi (1874-1951). And this Vincent/Vinni had mentioned a lot of little clues, things his mother had told him about his father's family--the house with the big yard on Wilson Street in Stamford. Amalio's sisters, Filippina and Mary, who had lived out their lives there. Could it be possible that there was a family member we had never known about before?

We went back to the Thanksgiving celebration, wondering and little distracted. In the coming days we were to learn a lot about family secrets. We discovered once again that we just don't know what we don't know. And we would get to know a man named Vinni Smith, who was determined to solve his own family mystery.