One of the gaps in our history of the Padulese immigrants who came to the United States is knowledge of the contacts between them and their families back in Paduli. Letters written back and forth would be excellent sources of information if we had them. Unfortunately, many, if not most, of these letters were destroyed or lost over the years. I have been able to acquire a few letters from my cousin Nicola D’Angelis and from my friend John Zullo. Below, I would like to share one of those letters with you that I received from Nicola who was farsighted in seeing the value of saving letters written between his grandfather, also named Nicola, and his grandfather’s brother-in-law in Oyster Bay, Rocco Verlingieri.
The letter is copied below, first in Italian and then in translation. It tells us several interesting things about the continuing ties across the Atlantic.
LETTER FROM ROCCO VERLINGIERI TO HIS BROTHER-IN-LAW, NICOLA D’ANGELIS, 1 SEPTEMBER 1944
22 Spring Street
Oyster Bay, L.I.
My Dear Brother-in-Law,
With great pleasure we received your dear and welcomed letter; and we are very happy, I and my wife and my children and their families, at hearing the good news assuring us that all of you are enjoying the best of health. We are pleased to know that you all are fine; and I can assure you as I write this letter that we here are all fine. We always hope as we look ahead that we can give you good news from one to another, but we are very sorry to hear that your son Pellegrino finds himself a prisoner; and we pray to our Lord Jesus Christ that this war will end soon and that all of the enemies will be driven out of the whole world and not just from our country, but from all parts of the world so that all the populations will be liberated from Nazi and Japanese fascism and thusly that all may return to their homes in the bosom of their families and that they remain peaceful and happy, just as you have made us to know about your son-in-law who remains at home or perhaps is still soldiering. We are happy to know that our home town has not been touched by the enemy. You have been very fortunate. Saint Rocco, our Protector, has watched over us and we hope that he may always watch over us. Now that we can write to each other frequently our worries have disappeared.
Not having anything more to say, please receive our salutations from me together with my wife, and also my children and their families salute you, and your brother Giovanni salutes you and your sister Grazia and her husband salute you, and also receive salutations of all of our nephews and nieces who all are fine. We here salute all of our relatives, and please salute my brother and his family for me, and also everyone who inquires after us. And if your son Pellegrino writes to you, please send me his address so that we can write to him and bolster his courage. Once again, I an my wife and my children and all of their families salute you, your wife and all in your family.
Below I remain, as always, your brother-in-law,
Hoping always for good news from you.
Mio Caro Cognato,
Con tanto piacere siamo ricevuti la vostra cara e desiderata lettera la quale mosto siamo rimasti contenti io unito mia moglie i miei figli con le loro famiglie sentire le vostre buone notizie assicurandoci che tutti godete ottima salute quello e’ il nostro piacere sapere che state bene. E cosi nel momento che io vi scrivo posso assicurandovi anche di noi tutti che stiamo bene e cosi lo speriamo sempre nell’avvenire di darci delle buone notizie da una parte all’altra, siamo rimasti dispiaciuti sentire che il vostro figlio Pellegrino si trarre prigioniero speriamo al nostro Signore Gesucristo che presto finisca questa guerra che viene scacciato il nemico di tutto il mondo non solo dalla nostra Patria ma da tutte le parti del mondo che tutte le popolazione vengono liberate dal Nazi fascismo nipponico cosi tutti si ritornano alle loro case in seno al loro famiglie che stanno tranquilli e felici come anche ci fate sapere di vostro genero se sta a casa o pure per soldato, siamo contenti sapere che il nostro Paese non e stato toccata dal nemico siate state fortunati S. Rocco il nostro Protettore vi ha guardato e speriamo che vi guardasse per sempre. Adesso che ci possiamo scrivere diamoci notizie spesso cosi stiamo senza nessuna pensiero. Non avendo altro ricevete i saluti di me unito mia moglie cosi vi salutano i miei figli con le loro famiglie vi saluta la Sorella Grazia e suo marito e figli cosi ricevute i saluti di tutti i nostri nipoti che tutti stanno bene da qui salutiamo tutti i nostri parenti cosi mi salutate mio fratello e sua famiglia e tutti coloro che domandano di noi come pure se vostro figlio Pellegrino sei scrive ci mandate il suo indirizzo cosi lo possiamo scrivere a dargli piu coraggio di nuovo vi salutiamo io mia moglie con i miei figli e loro famiglie a voi vostra moglie e tutti di vostra famiglia.
Sotto mi dico sempre vostro cognate,
Spero sempre vostre buone notizie.
The first thing of interest is that the letter was written in Italian, not in Padulese dialect, even though it is possible that neither sender nor recipient knew Italian. It is even possible that they did not know how to write, but that is conjecture based on the fact that many Padulese immigrants were illiterate. When they wanted to send a letter, they asked someone who knew how to read and write to write it for them. Then, when the letters were received, somone would not only have to read them but also translate it from Italian into dialect.
The second bit of interesting information is that Nicola’s son, Pellegrino, has become a prisoner of war. It does not say who is holding him prisoner. Many unfortunate Italian soldiers were taken prisoner by the Russians, and of those many were never heard from again or showed up years later when everyone thought they were dead. Such a thing occurred in my own family to my grandmother’s sister. Thinking that her husband was dead, she remarried. Then, after several years, her first husband showed up.
The third thing of interest is that Paduli “has not been touched by the enemy” (il nostro Paese non e stato toccata dal nemico…”
Another interesting point alluded to in the letter is that a substantial number of family members then resided in Oyster Bay. These included Nicola’s sister Grazia and her husband (Bartolomeo Ranaldo) and their five children, Nicola’s sister Filomena and her husband Rocco Verlingieri and their children, Nicola’s brother Giovanni, his nephew and niece, Rocco and Madalena D’Angelis (my grandfather and great aunt), and so forth. In other words, this one letter alludes to the tremendous family dislocation that occurred at that time.
Finally, I wish to point out the appeal made to St. Rocco, Protector of Paduli. Veneration of St. Rocco remained very strong among the immigrants. It was a bond of faith shared between them and their relatives back in Paduli. Every year, whether in Paduli or among the immigrants in the United States, the Feast of Saint Rocco was celebrated with singing, bands, food and fireworks. In Oyster Bay, the statue of St. Rocco in St. Dominic’s Church, was taken out and paraded through the streets of the town to the accompaniement of a band playing Italian marches. As the statue passed by the houses of the Padulese immigrants, people would stream out of their houses to pin dollar bills on the ribbons streaming down from the statue. The statue itself was imported from Paduli and still stands in the St. Dominic’s church to the right as one faces the altar. During the festival, the statue is placed in a tent on the festival grounds for the duration of the several day celebration. Unfortunately, time has taken its toll and none of the first generation are still around, and many of the second generation are also gone. Nowadays, the music is rock and roll and the religious aspect of the Feast is all but gone. It remains stronger in Glen Cove where there is still a large community of Italians. Padulese immigrants in Campbelltoen, South Australia, also still maintain a strong interest in the Feast. They also have an active club dedicated to Saint Rocco, the San Rocco di Paduli Club.