This is the story of my father, feast may not be the best way to describe him but it does make a great title. This historical document will cover his life and the lessons we can learn from him. I will start with his early days where he was born in the town of Barano on the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples. He’s the youngest of eleven children born to Luigi DiCostanzo and Regina Margarita Lombardi DiCostanzo.
They had eleven children but only seven survived; one daughter and six sons. This is not only an admirable accomplishment during the depression, but it happened in spite of my grandfather’s trips to the United States to earn money to send back to Italy to help support his family. He made three trips here for about six years each time. His objective was to work hard and send money back home.
This account will start with his early years as he grew up on the Island of Ischia between the years of 1929 and 1950. He started life as the baby brother of five older brothers. It’s most likely that the oldest brother Pashcal (Pasqual) (I will be using phonetic spellings for his brothers because to use their actual names would spoil the flavor of this historical document) rarely tormented him as older brothers usually torment younger brothers because he skipped town early in life and found refuge in southern France in the town of Gignac near the city of Montpelier. At some point the next older brother Neenuch (Antonio) also snuck over the border into France in the same town of Gignac. It has never been confirmed or denied that these sudden departures were the result of the Italian Selective Service System, but the rumors have been spread by me, my brothers and many of our cousins.
That left the only sister in the bunch; Naanynell (Anna), and the younger bunch of brothers, Filuch (Raphael), Bateest (Batiste), and Chichile (Franco) and my father Rocco. My grandmother was left to raise this bunch usually by herself while my grandfather was overseas earning what ever money he could earn.
It was the Depression, and they lived on a small farm with no electricity or running water but they had some land and they had an innate ability to work hard and get results. This family never had an opportunity to get an education, but none of them were ever limited in any significant way by a lack of education. There’s a big difference between uneducated and stupid. I’ve known a number of people who’ve enjoyed far more education than they deserved and they have trouble tying their shoes without adult supervision.
My father and his siblings had the benefit of being intelligent and hard working. I think they also had the gift of common sense. Intelligence is one quality, but the ability to use what has been learned in school in any meaningful way is a separate quality. A lot of educated people fail to use what they know in any useful way, but my father and his family had an abundance of that quality.
Hard work and common sense are qualities that go a long way. You can achieve anything with those qualities and this family did. They worked hard at working their farm to provide food to consume and to sell. They raised a few rabbits, made some wine and were loaned out as labor to help neighbors and family who were not as blessed with cheap male labor as our family was.
Every member of this family enjoyed a successful life filled with riches. None of them earned a significant fortune that would impress a banker, but they each raised a family and supported themselves and provided a better life for the next generation and the next and so on and so on. We’re all spread across the world but stay in touch and care about each other and respect and admire who we are and where we came from. An education is nice to have, but not essential to success. Hard work, determination and a love of family and friends can be a close substitute.
As I said a successful life filled with riches.
There was no electricity so they had no TV, electronic toys or electric lights. One time we asked my father how to say toaster in Italian. He looked at us with a confused look on his face and said, “I don’t know, I never saw a toaster until I came to the states.” I think that was the first time I really understood how different a life he lived than we lived growing up as his children.
They all had to walk to school for what little education they did get. Unless we were lied to they had to walk up hill, both ways in five feet of snow all year long; quite an accomplishment for a Mediterranean island. No wonder they all dropped out of the fifth grade two or three times each. We came to believe that you needed a note from the Pope to get into the 6th Grade on that Island.
We had cars, TV, radio, toys, sports and places to go and things to do. They had the farm they lived on and a piece of land near the beach with a small shack / cabin on it they used when they worked there. Transportation involved feet with no shoes and donkeys (Ooo Chuch)
They lived a life of hard work and family. The very shallow gene pool we sprang from provides a family tree with very few branches. When I use the term “friends” in this historical document I could possibly still be referring to family. Perhaps it’s best that I don’t dig too deep into this topic. I don’t want anyone to confuse the Mediterranean Island of Ischia with West Virginia. There are too many scary similarities between the two.
They had cousins and friends who lived similar lives on the same island, but they never had the kind of free time to go out and play that we’re used to today. They had nothing to play with other than rocks, sticks and an occasional deck of cards. Not the same deck we are use to, but the Italian 40 card deck used to play skobe (Scopa) and breesk (Briscola).
My grandfather suffered from glaucoma. During the war he had the opportunity to get some medical attention that may have saved his sight. They were fighting and bombing near Naples so he decided not to take the risk. He ultimately did go blind so the last 20 or so years of his life he was blind. He was never an invalid; he worked with the family and made a contribution in spite of his blindness.
He accepted the condition and adjusted his life to accommodate his condition. No one ever spoke of his complaints or of him sitting in a corner waiting to be taken care of or feeling sorry for himself. They did speak of the jobs he performed on the farm and around the house; they spoke of how he lived while he was blind. There was a change, not a limitation. I’m sure that he didn’t want to go blind, but the blindness never beat him, he beat the blindness.
I met him when I was 8 years old. He took me, my sister, and brothers around the farm and gave us a tour and told us what was growing where and which one of his sons planted whatever we saw. He never had a Seeing Eye dog or a white cane, but he was able to get around and know where he was. He did use a Seeing Eye grandson, at least for the 2 months I was with him. We frequently walked around with his hand on my shoulder as we walked. I was able to guide him, but I might not have been necessary. He may have been trying to make me feel important. Not bad for an uneducated, illiterate blind Italian.
He was known around town for singing and playing the mandolin, I don’t know that he was very good at either, but I’m sure that didn’t matter. He was always full of fun and went through every day with a smile on his face. Five of his grandsons have been named after him. All of us seem to have a similar personality. We are predisposed to stay positive and keep a smile on our faces and on the faces of those around us. I don’t think you could put a price on an inheritance like that.
It’s not limited to the Luigis in the family, the entire family leans toward the positive. We can go through life determined to be miserable or determined to stay positive. It’s a choice, and we choose to be positive. We choose to smile and look for reasons that the glass is half full and not half empty.
Our grandfather had much less of an education than his hooligan sons who were tossed out of the 5th grade multiple times. With such a limited education he passed on to his descendants a strong work ethic, a positive approach to life and a strong sense of family. In our world the bicciere (glass) is always half full!
Life was basic and fun, every one of the members of this family lived their life with a smile on their face. They never had money, they never had any sort of leisure activities that could compete with the electronic marvels our kids get, but they worked hard and played together every day. Decades after they moved away from that island they would reminisce and talk about the great times they had as children.
One of the memories I remember being discussed was when they were working on the piece of land near the beach Morundi also a phonetic spelling. Naanynell would come by with food for them to eat. One large bowl with enough food to feed four hungry boys doing a hard day’s work. One bowl, four forks. Filuch ,Bateest , Chichile and my father Rocco working together and eating together out of the same bowl.
Imagine 4 young men born and raised in a very primitive environment, working hard like men their whole lives to support themselves and their family. One bowl of some very basic food for the four of them to share; the problem here was that one of the brothers was Filuch. They were all hard working boys who had a great deal of respect for their family. That bowl was all there was to eat until they got back home at the end of the day. It had to be shared four ways.
Filuch does everything slow and deliberate. The three other brothers tore into that bowl like they attacked every job they had, but at one point they had to back off and let Filuch be Filuch. They had to leave enough in the bowl for him to eat his portion slowly and deliberately, as they sat there watching him eat.
They worked hard to scratch out a basic existence and they stole a little bit of time to play games or cards or something fun that wasn’t work, and could think back decades later and remember those times as part of a great childhood. They never complained or regretted their childhood and what they didn’t get or have. They dwell on what they had and what they did together. Many children today can learn a lot from my aggressively uneducated father, aunt and uncles.
They also learned some bad habits growing up in Depression Era Italy. They all smoked, most likely starting in the womb, but the exact dates have never been determined. One thing that is interesting is that they never had any spending money, and they don’t grow tobacco on the island, so just exactly what were they smoking? Some questions should not be asked or answered. Let’s move on.
As the years moved on they worked primarily to support themselves and their extended family on the island. As time passed they all did their best to leave and make a living someplace. They moved to Canada, France Australia, France and the USA. The family that moved to Canada ultimately moved back to Italy, but the rest settled and stayed in their adopted countries. The family grew and continued to grow, until it’s the size that it is today.
In 1995 we had a family reunion on the Island of Ischia, which did not enjoy 100% attendance. The original 7 children in the family had grown to more than 95. There have been many births since then and we now total well over 100. Mostly male children, female children in this family are very very rare, the females always think of themselves as a princess or a queen, and the males in the family let them think that way. Over time we discovered that it’s best not to piss them off.
Besides an abundance of intelligence, common sense, a strong work ethic and a sense of family, we also have pretty mobile sperm with more than our share of the Y chromosome! Don’t pity us it’s our cross to bear!
• Family and friends are important.
• Stay positive Families who work together and play together stay together.
• The glass is always half full, it’s never half empty.
• Material possessions and money are less important than friends and family.
• Sacrifice for family is not a wasted gesture.
• Hard work and dependability are qualities to be proud of. They’re the building blocks of success.
• Education is important, but not essential for success.
• Common sense and a strong work ethic can help make up for a lack of education.
• Challenges come our way, understand them and overcome them, don’t surrender to them.
• Find a reason to smile every day and make those around you smile as well. Happy people are healthier and more successful than those who look for a reason to be miserable.
• As a parent it’s important to raise your children and give them the opportunity to achieve more than you were able to achieve.