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Arrotini (Grinders)

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A newspaper article that appeared in the November 10, 2011 edition of The Italian Tribune newspaper reminded me of my grandfather, the patriarch of our family.  Arrotini was the name of the article.


If someone would have asked me about the word “Arrotini,” my first response would have been, “It is a pasta made in Italy.”  But to my surprise, Arrotini translates to “grinders” in English!  And, here’s why that word brought my grandfather to mind most recently.


Rocco, my granddad, emigrated to America in 1896.  He hailed from the village of Castelluccio Val-Maggiore in the province of Foggia, Apulia, Italy.  After my grandmother, Filomena, had passed on, Rocco had to leave his son, Donato (my father) with family in Italy, until my grandfather had established himself in America.


Rocco settled in Rosetto, Pennsylvania, where he remarried Giovanna Campanaro.  Upon his marriage, he sent for Donato.  In 1901, my dad, Donato, accompanied by a chaperone from the town of his birth, arrived in Pennsylvania to begin his life in America.


My had grandfather come over with few skills.  All he had were the muscles in his arms and the drive to forge a decent life here for his family.  As a result, he earned his living working as a laborer. One of the skills he acquired was to sharpen cutlery with a small hand-propelled grinding wheel.


Most of his work was seasonal.  During off season times, he would strap that small grinding wheel onto his back and walk through his town as well as neighboring towns, calling out his services to attract business; he  sharpened cutlery and tools for housewives and anyone else with a need.  It has been rumored in the family that on one occasion, he’d walked as far as Pittsburgh, eking out a living for his family.


In 1910, prompted by better job opportunities, Rocco and Giovanna moved to South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where they continued to raise their family.  In the ’30s, Rocco managed to procure a job with the city’s Sanitation Department.  He collected trash for a living, in the days when such workers were known as garbage men and not the misleading euphemism of “sanitation engineer.”   It was a job that he would keep until his retirement.


One did not have to ask Rocco what his occupation was; just a simple handshake told the story.  He was a large man, with years of hard, physical hard labor etched upon his face and his character.  His sources of enjoyment were simple: his wife, his family and friends, Italian cigars, and his dark, pungent homemade wine.


During my formative years, every Sunday evening meant a visit to my granddad’s home, which was the gathering place for the entire family. All the kids were assigned to the living room, while all the grownups conversed in the kitchen.  When refreshments were served, the children were then allowed around the table.


Ours was a military family.  My granddad’s eldest son, Donato, enlisted in the United States Navy during World War I.  Donato’s step-siblings were Filomena, Nicholas, Jenny, Lucia, Biagio, and Rocco Jr.: the children who later became my uncles and aunts, and some of whom became U.S. soldiers.


With the attack upon Pearl Harbor, America entered World War II.  As named by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “our sons, the pride of our nation,” marched or were drafted into that long global conflict.  My family was no exception.

 

Uncle Bill (Biagio) enlisted in the US Air Force and saw action in the North African and European theatres with the 448th Bombardment Squadron.  Drafted into the U.S. Army, Uncle Nick was deployed to Italy as a member of the 34th Infantry Division.  Uncle Rocco, Jr. did not go overseas; he was assigned to the U.S. Army stationed at the Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  I followed two my uncles overseas.  Attached to the 24th Infantry Division in the Philippine Islands, I became part of a multi-national Allied coalition in a stabilizing/peacekeeping mission.  For a full year, I was stationed in Japan after that nation’s Emperor had surrendered to the Allies.


My grandparents both passed away in the same year, 1942. Perhaps the timing was a coincidence, or perhaps it was a matter of lifelong devotion to each other, a devotion that did carried into the next life.   When they passed on, they left the family with a legacy of hope and survival.  They never lived to see their sons return from war, or their grandson; they never witnessed the warm welcome that we all received from our loved ones waiting patiently, and praying for our safety, at home.


I guess many families of immigrants can relate to this story, for World War II produced 16 million men under arms before it ended.


As I subscribe to The Italian Tribune and read the articles about Italians, Italian-Americans, and their way of life, I never fail to reminisce about events that happened to, or helped to shape, my family.  All the years that I told people that my grandfather was a garbage collector, I never envisioned when the day would come when I could say that I knew for a fact that he’d possessed a marketable skill, a skill that had put food on his family’s table for a number of years.  Thanks to that newspaper and its illumination of the word, “Arrotino,” I will always equate “grinder” with my granddad’s trade of sharpening cutlery and tools for neighborhoods far and wide.


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