Ripped off, the story of “Jim” Fressola

vincenzoMy only American grandparent was born in Manhattan, New York at the end of the 19th century. He was born in the USA to recent Italian immigrants. He was their last child, born when they were already advanced in age, and had more or less given up on having a son at all, having had 3 daughters before him; Maria, Filomena and Vincenza. They named their last daughter Vincenza to make up for not having a son, as they were expected to name a son after the father’s father.
He grew up in Manhattan, attending public school, but his parents felt the pull of their land (they had some property in Atena Lucana) and decided to go back to Italy. He didn’t want to go, he was an American, and Manhattan was all he knew, but being just a child, he had to go with them. He hated it there, he always spoke Italian with an accent and was called “the American.”
Soon after they returned to Italy, the first world war began. And he was just the right age to be drafted. He was very unhappy about being in the Italian army, he was an American! But serve he did, and at the end of the war, he was discharged honorably, still a private. He took the first boat he could find back to the USA in 1920. This was the one time where he was on the lucky side; a lot of his fellow veterans of that war could not go to America, because of very strict immigration quotas. He had no trouble at all, because he was an American citizen.
Back home, he discovered that now he was considered an Italian, not an American at all. Once again he was the odd man out, swimming up stream.

because of his Italian heritage, he found it very difficult to get a job, even with his very good command of English. Once when he was out job hunting, he saw a “help wanted” sign. He received an enthusiastic welcome and filled out the application. When he was done with the paperwork he handed it in, only to see the interviewer throw it into the trash upon seeing his very Italian name on the application.

Speaking of names, a common American nickname in those days for Vincenzo was Jimmy, so Vincenzo became Jimmy and Jimmy became James and my grandfather went by James or Jim for the rest of his life. His last name, Fressola meant frying pan in dialect. Of course, here in the USA, it was just another hard to spell foreign name.

When he was in his late 20’s he met the Melino family at church and found their younger daughter Lucia very interesting. She was only 16 years old, totally not interested in him, (he was so old!), but he continued to come to their house for dinner, and when he was 31 years old, they got married; my grandmother, Lucia Melino, was barely 18 the day of her wedding.

While his fellow Italian-Americans bought houses, got medical care, and went to college on the GI bill, my grandfather received absolutely nothing from the Italian government. Whatever he tried to do, he seemed to come up against stumbling blocks, he wanted to be a police officer, but was too short. Finally, long after his kids were raised, he found work at the Lionel model train factory, where he was twice awarded for good service. Our memories of him are of an angry and then finally defeated man.
Right after he died, the Italian government made him an honorary knight and offered my grandmother $15.00 a month in pension benefits. She declined.

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