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Luigi's Marriage

By Jim Colombo


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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo


In 1910 when he was nineteen my father's father Luigi left the small town


of Torbigo, which lay at the foot of the Italian Alps near Lake Como, and went on


an adventure to America with his older cousin Tilio.  They traveled by train to


Genoa and sailed on a three-mast canvas sail freighter that stopped at London


before going to New York City.  It took a month to travel from Genoa to New York


City. Midway in the Atlantic they encountered a storm and they became very sick


They arrived weak with little money and stayed with Tilio's cousin Paulo lfor a


week to get their strength back.  Paulo lived in a small apartment and worked at


an Italian grocery store.  He bought salami, Italian sausage, and pasta so Luigi


and Tilio could regain their strength.  


Tilio and Luigi found jobs unloading ships on the docks of New York and 


worked two or three days a week for a month. They saved their money and


bought train tickets to Chicago.  From Chicago they went south to Bush, Illinois, a


tent town for coal miners.  Luigi and Tilio worked in the coal mines for ten years


and saved their money.  Tilio went to Petaluma, California and one the same day


bought a ten-acre ranch and got married.  He raised chickens and rabbits, and


he and his wife raised three sons. Luigi grew up on a farm and had no intentions


of becoming a farmer, so he stayed in Bush.  He wrote a letter to his uncle in


Torbigo and asked how much it would cost to have a wife sent to him.  His uncle


replied after a month that it would cost $200, the price of a ticket and a wedding


dress.  His uncle had picked a healthy young lady for Luigi, and sent a picture of


Givona.  The uncle asked for a recent picture of Luigi to give Givona.  Luigi was


thirty and bald, so he sent a picture of himself when he was twenty-three with


hair.  Two months passed and Luigi received a letter from Paulo informing him


that his bride was in New York City with him, and she would arrive in Bush in one




                It was September 1920 and Luigi received a letter from Tilio explaining 


how good life and the opportunities were in California.  The next week Luigi’s


bride arrived wearing a red hat and a white dress. He had a picture of Givona


and wore his blue suit and gray hat, and had a bouquet of flowers for her.  The


train arrived on time at noon and a young, frail, lady wearing a red hat


approached Luigi, looking surprised.  They spoke a dialect of Italian that was


typical of their region.  She was confused and asked where the young Italian man


was  Luigi was confused and asked where Givona was.  He had spent $200 for


a healthy lady, not a frail girl.  She explained that her sister Givona had changed


her mind at the last minute, and she, Emma, who was seventeen, had come


instead.   She asked Luigi how old he was, and he replied thirty. She showed


Luigi the picture he had sent, and he told her that was seven years ago.


                He had spent $200 dollars for a bride, and Emma wanted to come to


America.  They were married the next day.  A son was born nine months later


in their coal miner’s shack. Tilio continued to send letters about the good weather


and opportunity in California. The coal dust was starting to affect Luigi’s health,


and Emma was three months pregnant with their second child when they left for


California with two suitcases and hope.  They lived in an apartment in the


Mission District of San Francisco on York and 20th Streets, near the county


hospital.  Luigi worked for Charles Carney Construction Company as a laborer


for twenty years.  They bought a house on Cortland Street in 1948 when Luigi


had a job with the city of San Francisco as a gardener.  He rented a lot on the


corner and grew vegetables and raised white rabbits with red eyes.  He sold the


rabbits and vegetables at the Farmer’s Market every Saturday.  When I was eight


I spent a summer with my grandparents tending the garden, feeding the rabbits,


and going to the Farmer's Market with my grandfather at dawn.  


                My grandparents met one day, married the next day, and remained a


loving couple for thirty-seven years until my grand mother died in 1957of heart


failure at fifty-four.  She had scarlet fever when she was eleven and it had


damaged her heart.  The coal dust and hard life caught up with my grandfather


ten years later.  He died slowly of cancer after a year of suffering. 


I sometimes wonder what it was like traveling to a new country, not


knowing the language, the customs, not having a job, or a place to live, knowing


only what someone looked like when he was twenty-three or expecting an


older sister whose picture was flattering.  I wonder if I would have taken the


chance to come to America, work in the coal mines, and marry my fiancée’s


younger sister.  Luigi knew he was off to America for adventure, but he never


planned on such an adventure.