(The following are biographies of the first 100 years in America of selected Buscaglia families. We welcome any descendant of a Buscaglia Clan to write and submit the biography of their family for publication.)
The Family of Giuseppe Buscaglia and Giuseppina Pellegrino
Peter M. Bellanti, Grandson
February 28, 1989
My maternal great-grandfather, Cruciano Buscaglia (1848-1919) married Margherita Pellegrino (1854-1913).
Cruciano's sister, Angela Buscaglia (1845-1918), married Margherita's brother Vincenzo Pellegrino (1848-1904). The
offspring of each of these marriages were, in fact, double first
Cruciano and Margherita (Pellegrino) Buscaglia had one daughter and four sons. In order of age they were Giuseppe (my grandfather (1878-1952)), Crocifissa, Angelo, Serafino and Lorito.
Angela Buscaglia was first married to Serafino Pellegrino.Of this union, a son, Cruciano, was born. Family legend tells that Serafino, a practical joker by nature, was teasing an individual who reportedly was the “Village Idiot”. Over this innocent gesture,the retarded individual shot and killed Serafino. Widow Angela then married her brother-in-law, Vincenzo. The three children of this union were Angelo, Rosa and Giuseppina (my grandmother (1887-1965)).
My grandparents, Guiseppe and Guiseppina were married in Buffalo, New York in 1905. This marriage produced six children that survived. In order of age they were Margaret (my mother (1906-1981)), Charles, Serafino, Frances, Angeline and Jennie.
The repetition of first names in alternate generations is obvious. Sicilian tradition mandated that the first male and the first female born in a marriage be named after the paternal grandparents. The second male and female born had to be named after the maternal grandparents. All other offspring could be named freely, although customarily, consideration would be given to deceased relatives' names. With rare exception, this tradition held absolutely true.
One rare exception was the naming of my Grandmother, Giuseppina Pellegrino. To start with, both her paternal and maternal grandmothers were named Rosa. The obligation was fulfilled when her eldest sister was named Rosa. Rather than have two children named Rosa, my great-grandmother Angela decided to name my grandmother Vincenza, in memory of her first husband. However, when it came time for the baby to be delivered, it was obvious that the birth was going to be difficult, since the baby was in a breech position. Since it was March 19th, the feast day of St. Joseph, prayers were offered for the intercession of St.
Joseph. The baby was finally born and both mother and baby survived. In thanksgiving, the baby was named after the saint, Giuseppina.
As traditions go, the practice is fine; however, as the family branches out, the names become confusingly repetitious. As an example - my generation - my parents had two offspring, me, (Peter), and my brother Joseph. Following the tradition, you would know that my paternal grandfather's name was Peter (Pietro) and my maternal grandfather's name was Joseph (Giuseppe).
The tradition was broken at my generation level.
Both the Buscaglia's and the Pellegrino's came from Montemaggiore Belsito , Provenzia de Palermo, Sicily. (Mount Major, Province of Palermo, Sicily). They migrated to the United States during the first mass Italian migration just prior to 1900. The port of entry was Ellis Island, New York City.
Up to that time, in the City of Buffalo, the Irish were at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder and as such had taken
their "licks". With the first Italian migration, a new "pecking order" was established. It was the practice of the Italians to
first scrape up enough funds to send the men to the "New World" to establish a new home and earn enough for the passage of the
wife and remaining family
My grandfather, Giuseppe Buscaglia, first came to the United States with his father, Cruciano Buscaglia in approximately 1886. My grandfather was about 8 years old As the story was passed down in the family, Giuseppe was somewhat of a "Mama's Boy" and after a few years, languished to see his mother. Cruciano returned to Sicily when my grandfather was in his early teens. Shortly thereafter, Cruciano returned to the United States.
According to reference book “Italians to America-Lists of Passengers” by Glazier and Filby, Cruciano arrived in New York from Palermo on November 8, 1889 on the ship “Iniziatia”. The listing also indicated he was 41 years of age and a laborer. Although the reference book only listed Cruciano, he must have
been accompanied by Angelo one of his other sons. Angelo served in the U. S. Army during the Spanish American War in 1898. Giuseppe remained in Sicily with his mother and brothers and sister.
When my grandfather was 18 years old, he was conscripted into the Italian Army and served his tour of duty. According to his Army records, my grandfather served in the “27 Reggimento Fanteria” (the 27th Infantry Regiment) between 1898 and 1901. According to my grandfather’s immigration papers he sailed, after he completed his tour of duty, on the ship “Nord America” from the port of Napoli on November 27, 1901, bound for New York. The papers also indicated he sailed third class. The remaining family migrated to the New World at this time to join their husband and father.
For some unknown reason, Angelo, Serafino and Lorito, within a short time, mastered the English language despite the fact that all were virtually illiterate. They lost all traces of an accent. Giuseppe and Crucifissa spoke as much English the day they died, some 7 decades later, as they did at the turn of the century.
After arriving in Buffalo, the family settled into rented quarters on Court Street next to St. Anthony R. C. Church. This section of Buffalo was commonly referred to as "The Hooks". It was the toughest section of the City.
Typical of the Sicilian heritage, the community was made up of extremes. The community spawned "Mafiosi" and a host of other lower echelon racketeers.
On the other extreme such notables as Dr. Scanio, Dr. Buscaglia, Surrogate Court Judge Christy J. Buscaglia, Mayor Sedita, Councilman Muscari, lawyer William K. Buscaglia, City Court Judge Christy A. Buscaglia, Dentist Dr. George Sciarrino and bankers Alfonso Pepe and Mario Lunghino, to name a few, were also from this same section.
Shortly after the family settled, Cruciano established a saloon located on the corner of Canal (later the name was changed to Dante Place) and Evans Streets. The business proved to be very successful. It was at this time, in 1905, my grandparents Giuseppe Buscaglia and Giuseppina Pellegrino married.
The entire family, including Giuseppe and his bride, moved from Court Street to the newly acquired business property and occupied the second floor as living quarters. Further research revealed that a brothel was in operation on the third floor.
My mother Margaret and my uncle Charles were born to Giuseppe and his wife while they lived above the saloon.
Frequently, the "ladies of the night" played with and cuddled the Buscaglia babies during their off hours. The family had high
regard for these "ladies" despite their vocations.
The boys, Giuseppe, Angelo, Serafino and Lorito frequently were required to help out in the saloon by tending bar and washing dishes and glasses.
A story that has passed down through the family relates to three lake seamen that stopped in the saloon for a few beers. At that time, the bar was tended by Cruciano alone. The three sailors, after drinking their fill, decided to "stiff" the old man by refusing to pay the tab. When the three became abusive, the old man placed his fingers in his mouth and gave a shrill whistle. His sons, who were upstairs, heard the distress call and raced to the saloon and beat the three sailors within an inch of their lives. During the fight, the three sailors fled the saloon with the Buscaglia boys in hot pursuit. As the sailors were running one lost his shoes, to the delight and amusement of the people in the neighborhood.
Cruciano and his married son Giuseppe worked the bar. Serafino primarily earned his livelihood by hawking newspapers on the corner of Main & Huron Streets in front of the former Buffalo Savings Bank Building, which later changed its name to Goldome Bank and subsequently went out of business. Angelo and Lorito occasionally worked either place depending on their availability and/or mood.
My great-grandfather, Cruciano, was highly respected by both the political/judicial sector and the "other side". He often played the role of liaison between the two factions. He prided himself in that he was trusted by both sides, was able to keep open lines of communication and yet not betray one side to the other.
Frequently Cruciano acted as a bail bondsman. In this role,
Cruciano was proud of the fact that, whoever he vouched and posted bail for, gave his word that he would honor the bond and
not "jump bail". This was Cruciano's reputation on both sides of the law.
Selling newspapers was a very difficulty existence since the retail newspaper business was monopolized by the "Irish" as were the police department and public transportation at that time.
The three brothers, in order to establish a "toehold" in the newspaper industry and for other reasons, decided to Anglicize their names. They all took the name of "McCarthy".
Angelo was known as "C. M." McCarthy, Serafino as "Sledge" McCarthy and Lorito as "Mac" McCarthy.
Of the entire family, Angelo and Lorito proved to have restless spirits. Frequently they left home and struck out on their own.
Angelo, at the age of 16, attempted to join the Army to serve with Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish America War. As the story goes, because he was a minor, he was asked for parental consent. He left in frustration. A few days later he approached a second recruiting office and joined using the name of Charles McCarthy, stating that he was an orphan.
During the conflict, Angelo was wounded in the left hand. The "web" between his thumb and first finger was shot out, causing the thumb and finger to somewhat fuse together.
Toward the end of the Spanish American War, Charles McCarthy (Angelo) was reported killed in action to his family. However, Serafino, who was a friend of the editor of the Buffalo Times, asked him to check out the report. Thus, family fears were allayed. When Charles McCarthy was discharged, he returned home and returned to the newspaper business, working for the Buffalo Times. During this same span of time, he also earned a reputation as a strong, local lightweight amateur boxer. His record stood with very few losses.
During World War I (1917-1918), C.M. McCarthy hit the road again and sold trinkets and novelties at the various Army camps - - particularly Fort Dix.
He subsequently moved to Florida in 1919, becoming one of the first settlers of Miami Beach. He took a job as a lifeguard on the beach and manufactured and sold his own concoction of suntan lotion.
According to an undated newspaper article (probably about 1925), "...in the winter of 1919 McCarthy left Buffalo and went to South Beach, established a gymnasium and inaugurated physical culture classes.... His latest venture soon proved a success and he enlarged the gymnasium and added the now famous hot ocean water baths...
Among the people who enjoyed the privileges of his gymnasium were Jack Dempsey, Dave Shade, Jack Renault, and Gene Tunney..."
Serafino, now known as "Sledge", became a well known boxer on the local Buffalo scene.
According to his newspaper obituary, "...he died at his home, 43 Evans St., after a long illness. Kidney trouble, attended by complications, had resulted in a complete breakdown, and he had been taken to General Hospital, where four operations had proven unsuccessful in saving his life...."
Lorito, or as he liked to be addressed, "Mac", was drafted into the Army and served during World War I. He ultimately was injured in training and received a medical discharge.
Other stories I recall from when I was a boy, tell of my uncle "Mac" in his carnival and vaudeville days. He reportedly teamed up with another "maverick" from the old neighborhood and hit the road. Reportedly, were a dance team in vaudeville known as "Kane and Starr" but subsequently they followed different carnivals and ran various sideshows.
Uncle "Mac" always stressed getting an education to his nephews and grand-nephews. He maintained he would have pursued an acting career but for the fact that he was illiterate and was unable to read script and thus, could not memorize the role part.
Click on the Family Album for a few family photographs.
THE FAMILY OF
GIUSEPPE ANTONINO BUSCAGLIA AND MARIA ANNA BUSCAGLIA
Joseph Anthony Buscaglia, Grandson
October 3, 1999
Well, it is hard for me to begin because I had never met my Grandparents. They had passed away many years before I was born. But I remember all of the stories I was told by my father and his sister, my aunt Carmela, who had lived with us as far back as I could remember. I regarded her as my second mother. I could never put anything over on her. My grandfather Giuseppe was always known by his middle name, Antonino. No one called him Giuseppe even his tombstone is inscribed Antonio. He was born October 28, 1881.The eldest son of Cruciano Buscaglia and Carmela DiFrancesca in Montemaggiore Belsito Sicily a small mountain village where farming was the only way to make a meager living. My grandmother, Maria was from the same village and family as my Grand father they where first cousins their father’s were brothers. A fact that my father and aunt where very proud. They always maintained they were 100% Buscaglia.
My grandfather first came to America in 1898 at the young age of seventeen. He came by himself to this great land that he had heard so many stories of. When my grandfather first arrived in the new world he landed in New York City and traveled by train to Buffalo where he had many cousins & friends from his village of Montemaggiore. He rented a room on Court Street, just down the street from Saint Anthony’s Church. Saint Anthony’s was the church of the Italian community, which must have been very comforting for him to be close to it. He first found a job as a laborer. After 8 years of scrimping and saving he accumulated enough money to return to Montemaggiore accompanied by his cousin Rosolino Buscaglia who was also living in Buffalo. At that time, Rosolino was a partner in a saloon business with his brothers Giuseppe and Cruciano. The saloon was located at 188 Terrace, in the section of the city that was referred to as the "Hooks". The name of the saloon was "The Buscaglia Brothers". When my grandfather arrived in Montemaggiore he married his first cousin Maria Buscaglia. Rosolino married Maria’s younger sister Angela. Rosolino and Angela were second cousins. After they were married, both couples returned to Buffalo accompanied by Antonino’s (my grandfather) younger brother Sam start their new lives in America.
After returning to Buffalo my grandparents and my granduncle Sam moved into an apartment on Front Ave. They all lived in the same tenement building with their other cousins Charles G. Buscaglia his wife Crocifissa and their children. According to the 1910 US census, their family consisted of two daughters, Annie & Margaret . Charles G. later went into the real estate business.
In 1908 on October 20, my grandparents were blessed with their first child; a boy they named Cruciano. Following an age old Sicilian custom, Cruciano was named after my grandfather’s father. But tragedy soon struck and Cruciano died of pneumonia at the age of 2 months and 13 days. Tragedy also struck the Charles G. family on that same day. They also lost an infant son, Orazio, to pneumonia. The two infant cousins where laid to rest in a common grave in the United French & German cemetery in Cheektowaga, NY. After years of saving my grand father went into the bakery business in 1910. He was in this business with a man named Rosolino Maiuri. The bakery was located in the hooks at 40 State Street and the name of the bakery was Maiuri & Buscaglia with in two years time my grand father bought out Rosolino Maiuri and ran the business by himself.
The bakery business was doing well and in 1909 they were blessed again with another son which they named Cruciano and then again in 1911 they had another son which they named Giuseppe after my Grandmother’s Father. But in 1912 tragedy soon struck again when the second Cruciano, at the age of 2 years 4 months, died in a terrible accident when he was scalded to death after a fall into a bucket of hot water. He was also buried in the United French & German cemetery in Cheektowaga, NY, just one row down from his brother and cousin.
My Grandmother was inconsolable for months after the tragedy. But then almost a year to the day of Cruciano passing, they were blessed with the birth of a baby girl which they named Carmela after my grandfathers mother.
Well, the bakery was doing great, and my grandfather expanded into larger commercial accounts like Columbus hospital. The bakery supplied them with all their bread and rolls.
Then in 1917, they were blessed with another son which they named Cruciano. They where not going to give up on that name. This Cruciano was my father. After his birth the family finally had accumulated enough money from the bakery to buy a house. The house they bought was on Front Ave. near Georgia St. I still have fond memories of it. In later years the name Front Ave. was changed to Busti Ave. The bakery was now a successful operation. Antonino, now a successful entrepreneur, was getting restless. My grandfather was looking to start another business. That’s when he decided to go into the soft drink business. He founded the American Bottling Company which was located at 240 Court St. This again, was a very successful venture for my grandfather and his younger brother Sam. Sam helped operate the bottling company, and soon people identified him as "Sam the Popman".
My granduncle Sam married Mary LoBue whose father was Fortunato LoBue who started the LoBue Funeral business in Buffalo and was the Undertaker for the Italian community on the West side In later years Sam also went into business for himself, and opened the "Court Street Grill" which was located on Court Street adjacent to the firehouse. During prohibition, rumor had it that my grandfather and his brother Sam were bottling beer and whiskey at the pop shop. During this span of time their younger brother, Angelo came to Buffalo and they put him to work as the guard at the door of the pop shop armed with a shotgun. Before leaving Montemaggiore, Angelo was an officer in the "Carrubbineri", the elite quasi military law enforcement organization known and respected throughout Italy. The thoughts of standing guard over an illicit operation truly bothered him. So after a few months he informed his brothers of his feelings. They then sent him to Chicago to chaperone their sister who was sent there as part of an arranged marriage. He moved to Chicago and opened up a shoe shop making and repairing shoes. He finally married Anna Manca and settled in Chicago to a life style more to his liking. Angelo and Anna subsequently had three children, Carmela who died at the age of 12 from a bad heart and two boys Angelo Jr. and Vincent. Both are alive and have families in Chicago, IL
My grandfather had four brothers and one sister. All but two brother’s came to the New World. The two brothers that stayed behind to care for their parents, and work on the family farm were Filippo and Cruciano. Filippo, who was a deaf mute, married and had one son named Cruciano. My grandfathers youngest brother Cruciano who also remained, married and had seven children who are all still living in Montemaggiore to this day. They are Cruciano, Cosimo, Angelo, Carmela, Rosalia, Cosimina and Concetta. They are all married and all have children.
My grandmothers sister Angela, who, along with my grandparents, also came to Buffalo with her new husband Rosolino Buscaglia ultimately settled on 7th Street near Porter Ave. They had five children, four boys and a girl. They were Orazio (George), Anthony, Joseph, Philip, and Anna. George was married after he came back from W.W.II to Mollie Ciocca and they had two children Russell and Angela.
Russell served as Assistant District Attorney for Erie County. After an unsuccessful bid for Erie County District Attorney, he was appointed Judge of the New York State Court of Claims on August 1, 1997 in Buffalo. He is the third Buscaglia to be sworn in as a Judge in the New York State Justice System.
My father, Cruciano Buscaglia, did something very unusual for a young man of his generation and station in life, considering the times. In the mid to late 1930's, during the heart of the "Great Depression," my father earned his pilots license and owned a biplane (a vintage W.W.I relic) and a sea plane which he kept moored at the foot of Georgia Street. Although this was long before I was born, relations have told me stories of how my Dad enjoyed taking friends and relatives for a flight and scaring them half to death.
These are my thoughts and recollections of my family.
Click on the photo album for family photographs
THE FAMILY OF
CRISTENZO BUSCAGLIA AND LUCIA DE CARLO
Thomas B. Buscaglia, Grandson
January 5, 2000
"The Negro is not the man farthest down. The condition of the colored farmer in the most backward parts of the Southern States in America, even where he has the least education and the least encouragement is incomparably better than the condition and opportunities of the agricultural population in Sicily." -Booker T. Washington
Nestled between the lush green mountains and spartan pastures of Sicily lies an old town, Montemaggiore Belsito. It’s well hidden among the hilltops and valleys of the Italian countryside but similar to the search for my family’s history, if you follow the winding roads…you will eventually find the treasures left from a time long, long ago.
I grew up hearing bits and pieces of this far-away place, Montemaggiore Belsito; the small street named "Via Buscaglia", the hard life the rugged land carved out for family farmers, the traditions of their culture, and the stories about a lifestyle and family I knew little about…those were the stories that inspired me to search further into my family’s lineage.
Thanks to the courage and bravery of my grandparents, my parents were born first generation Italian-Americans.
My mother’s family immigrated from southern Italy and not too far across the sliver of the topaz colored waters of the Mediterranean my father, Biaggio or Ben Buscaglia’s ancestors toiled in Montemaggiore.
The beginning’s can be traced back to 1775 when the patriarch of our lineage Castrenze Buscaglia, was born. His marriage to a woman two years his junior, Nunzia Runfula in 1803 produced their one and only heir, Fortunato. Many stories of many families continue from there, but mine begins with my grandfather, a grandson of that same Fortunato, Cristenzo Buscaglia.
Cristenzo was born and raised in Montemaggiore Belsito. He was one of five siblings, including a twin sister named Carmela.
After twenty-two years among friends and family Cristenzo, in the tradition of the old saying, "Cu nesci arrinesci", "he who leaves succeeds", decided to leave the future of the family farm in other hands and set his sights on a brighter future in America. So in 1901, he traded in the lush countryside and rugged Sicilian terrain for the big city life of Chicago, Illinois.
As far as we know, Cristenzo had no family or friends in Chicago, or America for that matter. Why he chose Chicago we do not know. But somehow he managed to maneuver around language barriers and the doubt that comes with unfamiliar territory and found steady work as a carpenter for Chicago Northwestern Railroad repairing boxcars.
After four years of steady work and steady wages, in September of 1905, Cristenzo Buscaglia officially became a citizen of the United States of America.
Two more years passed and Chris decided to return to Sicily for awhile. So in 1907, he returned back to the familiarity of Montemaggiore to find a wife.
We believe it was then that he met and married Lucia DiCarlo.
Lucia was born in Montemaggiore in 1890. She was 17 when she married Cristenzo and her memory spans the breadth of our family. I don’t remember my grandfather all that well but my grandmother Lucia was one of my closest connections to the paternal side of my family and their life in the old country. At Christmastime she made wonderful anessette cookies that were as big as the palm of your hand and you could never forget who she was and where it was we all came from because despite 81 years in the United States, she didn’t speak much English around me.
Cristenzo met Lucia one day while he was walking through town with his twin sister Carmela and his sister Bartola. The trio was walking past the DiCarlo family farm on the outskirts of town when Cristenzo saw Lucia in the fields and asked Carmela, who was a friend of hers, to introduce him to her. The rest, as they say…is history.
They were married later that same year.
From what we can tell, Cristenzo stayed in Montemaggiore with his new bride until 1910 when he returned to Chicago with Lucia as well as his sister Carmela.
Shortly after returning, Cristenzo befriended a man named Giacomo "Yaguzo" Catalano who would later become the husband of Carmela Buscaglia. They were married in 1912.
By then, Chicago was filling up with Buscaglia's. Cristenzo and Carmela’s sister Bartola made it over at one point. She settled in Chicago, never married and died in 1930.
And then…there were the new members of the family…first generation Buscaglia’s being born on Chicago’s west side
My father was the first generation of Buscaglia's to be born in Chicago.
He was named after Cristenzo’s father in Montemaggiore, his grandfather Biaggio.
Biaggio has since become a family name carried on for three generations. It has been watered down a bit, thanks to duplicate copies of birth certificates and some confusion over the ‘real’ name (Biaggio versus Benjamin) but we’ve managed to make it have meaning nonetheless.
After Ben was born in 1912, another son, Frank followed in 1914. Two years later Joseph arrived and in 1918, Chris and Lucia had their fourth son, Anthony. By 1920 a little girl was welcomed into the all-boy household with the birth of Josephine. And by 1923, Cristenzo and Lucia would have their sixth and final child.
But not before suffering one of the first tragedies to hit the growing family, the death of Anthony when he was two years old. Of what, we do not know but the new baby was his namesake…the man I would come to know as Uncle Tony.
Their childhood was, as far as we could tell, typical of immigrant life at the beginning of the twentieth century.
My father was the protector of his younger brothers and sister. He says that Frank would always stir up trouble around the neighborhood and then call him to finish it up. As a result, he took up an interest in boxing and boxed Golden Gloves "until someone tougher showed up in the ring"…he says that’s when he decided to take up football.
To this day, one of his better memories is of those Sunday games at Garfield Park, near his house. He started playing when he was about 17 years old and continued his weekly ritual of gridiron grovels well into his twenties. He still talks about those games as if it were yesterday…brags about them really. "We won virtually every game for years" he says, and since they were always for money, that meant a lot to the team!
The Buscaglia kids did not have a lot of formal schooling. My dad worked for 68 of his 87 years, beginning at the age of nine selling two-cent newspapers on the corner of Clark and Lake streets. By the time he was 12, he was working six days a week.
But waking up at 5:30 every morning for work had its price. His schoolwork suffered and he repeatedly got into trouble for falling asleep in class.
He somehow managed to squeeze in two years of high school, some instruction on the printing trade and after his sophomore year, traded in the study of books for the process of printing them.
He took his first real paying job at Cuneo Press, a large Italian-owned printing company based in Chicago.
He would work there for the next twenty-five years.
They say the past and the present have an odd way of bumping into each other. And my passion for old cars led me back to the Cuneo Family.
Every year an antique car show is held at the Family Estate and I won an award for my 1951 Ford. When I showed it to my dad, he thought Frank Cuneo, his old boss? Gave it to me! That would have made Frank X years old!
The Buscaglia family lived on the west side of Chicago for most of their lives. They owned a three-flat on Sawyer Avenue surrounded by other Italian immigrants.
Two doors south of the Buscaglia home lived the Palermo’s, another family of immigrants from the southern Calabria region of Italy. There were three kids in the Palermo family, Amalia Palermo being one of them.
My dad says he met "Em" or Emily as she was called, when he was 12 years old. When my mom passed away, we came across some old photos from those days on Sawyer Avenue…one series of pictures in particular stands out in my mind.
It was of my parents. They were at the Indiana Dunes, at the beach. They looked like people I hardly knew, so young and full of energy. There were four of them in these photos; Ben and Emily and another couple. They all posed for the camera in their old-fashioned bathing suits. Standing in ankle deep water, they carried each other and played in the surf laughing, smiling, and enjoying each other’s company.
Sometime, not too long after those pictures were taken, Ben and Emily were married. In 1923, the young couple, Ben 19 and Emily 20, eloped in a civil ceremony in Crown Point, Indiana. Although they were in love, they kept their marriage a secret for a year, knowing their families would not approve of the union. My dad says that his mother did not approve of the Palermo’s because they were not Catholic. They also did not get married in a church and everyone would think they were too young to marry. So, they lived in their respective homes and would sneak out to see one another at night. But after a long year, they told their families and eventually made their first home in the basement flat at Emily’s parents’ home on Sawyer Avenue.
My own kids used to love to hear my mother tell the story of their first few years together. It seemed so mysterious and old fashioned to them…a secret marriage. She used to tell them how she and dad would ‘steal’ little bits and pieces from their homes; a fork here, a lamp there…in order to set up house in their modest basement flat.
There are few things left from those times. Keepsakes that belonged to Cristenzo or treasures from Sicily that survived the journey overseas. But what things I do have, I treasure.
I still have my grandfather Cristenzo’s tool chest in my den. How it survived all the years of moving around and not knowing who it belonged to or what it was, I’ll never know.
My dad kept his tools in it, as did his, and one day he happened to mention that it belonged to my grandfather. He made it around 1923.
It no longer stores tools, but rather another relic from the past, an ‘American Flyer’ train that my mom bought in 1930 for my older brother Jerry. Story has it that I did quite a job banging it up once it was my turn to play and, like the toolbox, I have since restored both to their respective ‘selves’ and enjoy them now more than ever.
Sawyer Avenue became quite a neighborhood over the years. It was full of family and for a kid, having all those aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents a shout away was great in retrospect. There was always family nearby and we depended on one another. Not like today, where everyone is spread out all over the place, so far and out of touch with people they should be close to.
My parents, my brother Jerry and younger sister Carole grew up in a three flat owned by grandma and grandpa Buscaglia. My dad’s sister Josephine and her family lived on the top floor and for awhile, my grandpa who started it all, Cristenzo, lived in the basement flat.
Two doors down, my grandpa and grandma Palermo lived in a three-flat of their own with my aunts and uncles and their families above and below them. Across the street from them; Lucia DiCarlo –Buscaglia’s sister from Montemaggiore, Mella and her husband and their kids. Grandma and Grandpa Buscaglia owned another home about one block away, on Kedzie Avenue. They lived there with their second son Frank and his family for many years.
Being surrounded by family was especially important during the hard times.
Like the Depression. For Cristenzo’s generation, and for that matter, my father’s generation, the Depression was the most significant period of their lives.
My family was no exception. They were deeply touched by the day-to-day struggles during those times and perhaps, if there was no depression my family’s history would read much differently…
Money was tight for the Buscaglia’s. It was so he could bring home some extra money that my dad began selling papers. He says he got his younger brother Joey a job on that same street corner, around the same time Cristenzo lost his job with Chicago Northwestern Railroad. Although he looked for work, he began to buckle under the pressure of trying to support his young family.
And then came the death of another child. Joey was only 15. He caught a terrible cold while selling those papers. That cold turned to pneumonia and he died.
Joey was my dad’s favorite brother. Just the other day I asked him to whom he was closest with, who was the brother he would pal around with, share things with…he said, "Joey".
His death touched them all…but it had a significant impact on Cristenzo. After that they say he was never the same.
Cristenzo died in Chicago in 1962. He was 83.
Grandma Buscaglia lived for many, many years. She was able to meet great-grandchildren and even a great-great grandchild before dying in 1988 at the age of 98.
As for my parents, Ben and Emily, their three children span the many regions of the United States, as do their children…so as far as insuring new generations of Buscaglia’s …there’s no question that the family name and Cristenzo’s legacy continues to live on.
Aside from my son, there is only one other male on our side to carry on the family name…and that’s my grandson, Isaac Buscaglia who was born in September 18, 1999.
They live on a farm in Durango, Colorado where they work the land growing organic vegetables. Although it may seem light-years away from the rugged countryside and lush pastures of Sicily, Isaac and his father, Thomas Benjamin Buscaglia Junior, are perhaps the closest we’ll ever come to the true day-to-day living of my ancestors.
In a way, it gives credence to the prophecy that "everything comes full circle". For my grandfather left all that was familiar to him for the unknown of a more exciting, more hopeful future. And my son has too gone on and left all that is complicated and busy-the life that Cristenzo left his country in search of-for the way things used to be in a time long, long ago.
Click on the photo album for a few of my family photographs
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