Thursday, July 16, 2009

Musings of a post-modern Giusvallèn

My grandfather was Frank John Rosaio, known in the family simply as “Junior.” He was the baby of the family, born in 1930 when his mother was 38 and his father was 51. He grew up on the family farm off Ebright Road in north Wilmington. His father cultivated mushrooms and his mother would take the mushrooms and other produce grown on the farm to sell at the old farmer’s market on King Street in the city.

Times were a lot different. Ebright Road was just a little dirt road in the country, there were no street addresses … the scattering of homes in the area were simply known by their “rural route.” Naamans Road was two narrow lanes flanked on either side by open farmland, forest and fields (one of which was used as a landing strip for small airplanes). Route 202 north of Blue Ball was more like a drive through the country than the traffic-clogged, uninterrupted stretch of strip malls, restaurants and corporate plazas that it is today. Old families with names like Husbands, Mousley and Grubb still owned vast plots of land that had been handed down through generations, legacies from Quaker forbearers who had cleared the land two hundred years before.

This was the world that my grandfather Rosaio knew. His parents had both come from Giusvalla to Squirrel Run as young adults; his father first came in 1904, but returned to Giusvalla for a few years before coming back permanently in 1910. His mother came in 1909. At the time of my grandfather’s birth, his household included his parents; his three older siblings Elsie, Anne and John; his maternal grandmother; and two teenaged orphans, Gidio and Josephine Tortarolo, whose mother had been a close cousin of my grandfather’s father.

After my grandfather graduated from high school (Salesianum '49), he went into the carpentry trade. Within a couple years, he opened his own construction company and converted the old red barn behind his parents’ house into his office, and became very well-known in the area. He married my grandmother in 1951 and they settled into the family farmhouse. My father was the second of the seven children that would be born into the family, when he was three years old the family moved “across the field” into their newly constructed home, one of the first to line Ebright Road.

By the time my father was growing up in the 50s and 60s, little had changed. Ebright Road was still just a narrow stretch through the country. “Fairfax” seemed like the big city and 202 north of the city was still pretty much a ride through the country. A right turn off 202 onto Naamans Road brought you to the new raceway, but after that the rural road resumed. The old landing strip had given way to a new high school.

I grew up on Ebright Road, but by the time I came along in the early 70s, there were some changes. Ebright Road had been paved (though still lacked any painted lines) and every house had a number. When I was four or five years old, my great-grandmother Rosaio sold a large portion of the farm to a developer who put in a housing tract called “Brandywine Forge.” Naamans Road was still just two narrow lanes (and would remain so until the mid 80s), but the old farmers had been busy selling their family land and so several new large housing developments flanked either side of the road from just past Ebright Road down to the intersection of Naamans and Foulk roads.

Route 202 had seen the birth of the Concord Mall, a couple hotels, the beginnings of a couple strip malls and a tall white office building built by the Rollins brothers, which seemed to stretch high into the sky …. If he had still been living, my grandfather Rosaio might have begun to have trouble recognizing parts of 202 by then. The wheels of progress were in full motion by the time the 80s arrived, the credit card companies had moved in and things were changing quickly ….

The old Quaker families are long gone now, their vast farms sold to developers, divided and sub-divided to make way for the endless housing tracts and strip malls that have become the new face of north Delaware’s landscape. My father, in turn, has become the legacy holder, living on the land that his Giusvalla-born grandfather purchased from a Quaker named Talley almost one hundred years ago ….

In the picture: View across the field to Grandmom’s house, circa 1975

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I think, or fear, that many of us have a similar story. Farming is the most rewarding, and perhaps the most difficult, career path. It is always the children that lead to selling though. Decades of struggle and no funds for college, bank debts, and little future for agriculture lead almost all of us to the inevitable sale to developers. As my Aunt Mary used to say, "It's America!". Of course, she was an Anarchist in her later years.