My Father’s Early Years

This is a photo of the house my father lived in during the first few years of his life. It was a farm with several acres. There used to be a long henhouse and two barns. A couple of years ago it was put up for sale after sitting vacant a long time. I wanted to buy it so badly. To get a glimpse of what it was like for my father living there. I wanted to be taken back in time to the early 1900s and that simpler, yet harder, way of life. There were photos of the interior on a Realtor website. I got so excited and was going to make an appointment to see it, but sadly every room was completely gutted to the bare studs. Wood planks were littered all over the floor. It was advertised as a handyman special. Too many years of neglect. Someone bought it and went to work tearing down the barns and the front porch. They put up new aluminum siding over the original red. This is what they are doing to beautiful old houses.

My Italian grandparents had only been in the United States a few years by this time. After living in an apartment with another family in the city when they first arrived, they decided to try their hand at farming and rural life. They were quite poor, but determined to have a better way of life in America.

The childrens’ rooms upstairs were unheated and every winter ice would form on the inside of the windows. Weekday mornings they trudged the two miles to the one room school house. My father had polio and one leg was shorter than the other. Walking was difficult. For a time he was using wooden crutches. I remember finding them in the attic when we were bringing down Christmas decorations. My father forgot he had put them there and wanted them thrown out. I have this image in my head of my dad being a character from “Little House on the Prarie.” Hobbling around on crutches while the other children played.

My dad’s school house
Outhouse behind my dad’s school. If you zoom in you can see the doors are marked: Girls and Boys
Swing set minus the swings. I like to imagine my dad swinging here, squealing and laughing.

My dad told us very few stories of this time in his life. But there was one that always bothered me. My grandfather once punished him for something he had done. My dad tried to escape by climbing out of his bedroom window and jumping onto a nearby tree. His weak hand slipped and he fell quite a distance, breaking his arm. It was never reset. (I looked for that tree the other day wanting to know which room was my dad’s, but the tree is no longer there).

My dad was a delicate, sickly child. Polio had wreaked havoc on his body. But I cannot sit here in judgment of my grandparents. It was a different and difficult time. They were in a new country unable to speak the language. Poor farmers raising chickens and children. My dad recalled being hungry after school many times and stopping at an elderly neighbor’s house for milk and cookies. It wasn’t until they moved 8 mile’s away to a bigger house in town that life got better. My grandfather found work as a stonemason and my dad grew stronger. They began to bond. Together they built beautiful bookcases. Finally, some nice memories.

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