Monday, July 5, 2010

Life at Vicari

Up the winding road about a mile past his father’s farm at Barbiella, my great-grandfather Rosaio would have arrived at ra ca deŕ Vicoŕi (località Vicari) and the home of the Buschiazzo family. In those days, it was common for young adults – and even children – to leave the family home to go to work on the farm of a neighboring family. The work was generally unpaid, but it alleviated the burden on the family when children could be sent to live with a neighboring family, where they would “earn their keep” by helping out on the farm. Times were much different in the days of our grandparents and great-grandparents; families did whatever was necessary to survive. My great-grandfather went to work on the farm at Vicari as a young boy.

Località Vicari is located northwest of the center of Giusvalla – the farm would have consisted of perhaps two cleared acres among the heavily forested hills. The road that led from the “strada provinciale” to Vicari was dirt (it still is today), one would pass the small farm and the Ca’d Tunòn at Barbiella to the right while making the way to Vicari. My great-grandfather’s father Tunòn was considered extremely fortunate, his farm at Barbiella included “duj bùi” – two large steer – so he did not have to till the rocky soil of his farm by hand. I bùi ‘d Tunòn came to him by way of a tumultuous agreement he reached with his brother Gianòn in settling their late father’s estate – Tunòn got the steer and Gianòn got the small house off the main road. It is said that Tunòn got the better end of that deal.

Like all the farms in Giusvalla, the Buschiazzo farm at Vicari was modest and hardscrabble. The small family home was a field stone and wood beam structure – one level – consisting of a kitchen and perhaps two bedrooms. There may have been a tiny root cellar or cold shed beneath the house. There was of course, no running water – it was taken from a nearby spring or stream. There was a small stone barn where the cow, pig and goat were kept – if the family was fortunate enough to have them. This is where my great-grandfather and any other farm hands would have slept as well. The Buschiazzo house maid, Lucia Ancili, would have slept in the main house, probably in the kitchen.

The main crops in Giusvalla at the time were granturco (corn) and fieno (hay). My great-grandfather helped with the tilling of the fields – the Buschiazzo family did not have any “bùi” so this was done by hand – then the planting and harvesting. The family also kept a garden, fruit trees and of course the beloved “cashtagne.” The families in Giusvalla tried their best to preserve enough of the harvest to last through the long and cold winters there. This was not an easy task. If the family was lucky enough to have a pig, it would be slaughtered near harvest time and the meat would be cured or made into sotìzza and stored in the cold shed. Every bit of the pig was utilized in some way, they wasted nothing. The men would hunt wild boar and deer in the abundant boschi throughout Giusvalla in order to help put a little meat on the table. Portabello and porcini mushrooms would have been another staple, harvested throughout the summer in Giusvalla’s abundant forests and dried in the sun to preserve them for future use. Many a meal would have been made of polenta with mushrooms. If the harvest was bad, or there was no pig that year, or the winter lingered a bit too long – or the family did not prepare adequately – they were in trouble. Malnourishment and even starvation was not uncommon.

It was a terribly difficult existence, but in the midst of it was life and love and friendship. In between the daily chores, my great-grandfather would have enjoyed a few minutes with his friends GioBatta Buschiazzo and Lucia Ancili. GioBatta left the farm at Vicari as a young man, he came to the United States and went to work for the DuPont family in the powder mills. He went back and forth from Italy to the U.S. a couple times over the years before returning permanently to take over the family farm at Vicari. He died there in 1963.

Little Lucia Ancili – like my great-grandfather – went to work on the farm at Vicari as a young girl. She worked in the main house and would have been responsible (among other things) for helping in the kitchen, the washing, the garden – and even the harvest, when everyone came out of the house to help in the fields. When Lucia came to the U.S. in 1912, she went to live with my great-grandfather Rosaio (who came in 1910). She never married and had developed tuberculosis and a deformity on her upper spine, my great-grandfather cared for Lucia until she passed away within a couple years of her arrival here in the U.S.

Life presented new challenges here in America, but a background of hard work and perseverance in Giusvalla prepared our grandparents and great-grandparents for anything. They worked hard and pushed forward, they became Americans and were proud to be here. My great-grandfather came here as a young man and within a few years was running his own farm of over 100 acres. I wonder what he dreamed about after those long days tilling the rocky fields at Vicari – could he have ever imagined the opportunities that lay ahead in America?

In the picture: View of the abandoned remains of ra ca’d Tunòn at Barbiella, from the road to Vicari.

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