Grandma Carl (Ida Carl) gives a cultural history of her family growing up. Interviewed and edited by her grandson, James A. Carl.

A cultural history of Gaetana Fonzo born 14 Oct 1884, San Giorgio, La Montagna, Italy died 11 March 1968 Mineral Ridge, Trumbull, Ohio daughter of Angelo Fonzo born 1854 and Anna Bosco born 1853.
Grandma Carl was born in St. George, Italy. Her language was Italian with a Benevento dialect. Information in this paper came specifically from an interview with her.

According to Grandma, any material goods that her family had were made with their own hands. The garden supplied a majority of their food with pigs providing the meat for their diet. Beef was had only on special occasions.

Grandma's family stored their food in the main living area of their home. The container, which doubled as furniture was twenty to twenty two feet in length and eight feet deep. It was divided into three compartments where the family stored such items as corn, wheat, beans, lentils and chestnuts. They also dried fruit such as apples, figs and prunes and stored these items in this large container.

Since grandma had no refrigeration most of the vegetables they raised were left in the garden where they would keep for the winter. Other vegetables such as cabbage were kept in a pit dug in the ground. To store the cabbages a pit was hand dug and

Grandma pictured here at 31 years old. lined with straw. The cabbages were placed on the
straw and then covered with a layer of straw and earth. A second layer of straw was then placed in the pit and more cabbages were placed on the straw and covered with more straw and earth. This layering was continued until the hole was filled and all the cabbages were stored away for winter use. In this way they did not need to have a root cellar but were able to make efficient use of what they had at hand.

They were not able to do their own canning so tomatoes were preserved in a special way. The picked tomatoes were washed, cooked and strained through a sieve. The straining would effectively separate the tomato juice and meat of the tomato from its seeds. This liquid was placed in an oven until it until it formed a thick paste. The paste was then formed into loaves and coated with olive oil. The tomato paste loaves were then wrapped in the washed and dried leaves from ears of corn they had shucked for the winter. According to Grandma the "tomato paste" was so concentrated that two spoonfuls would make enough tomato sauce for a family of thirteen or so.

Meat was obtained from pigs they raised and butchered. After butchering, the meat was soaked in brine for several hours to help preserve it. After the salt soaking, the pork was removed from the brine, washed and smoked in their stone smoke house. They used hickory branches for the smoke curing process. After the meat was smoked they hung it from the ceiling rafters in their home.

All bread and pastries were cooked in an outside brick oven. Wheat was first brought to the flour mill to be ground. They paid the miller with a portion of the ground wheat. After the flour was ground it was passed through a sieve to remove the bran.

After the bread dough was made and while it was rising they would heat the stone oven. Heating the oven was accomplished by burning vines in the baking area of the oven. The vines were cut from trees and stored during the season to allow them to dry out so that they would burn properly. The oven was large, approximately ten feet high and twelve feet in diameter. It had a peep-hole to allow for visual inspection of the bread and pastries as they were baking.

After the vines were burned and had become glowing coals they were removed. The oven floor was washed with a special mop and clean water. A handful of flour was then thrown on to the oven floor. If the flour burned, the oven was to hot and allowed to cool. The floor was mopped again and tested with a second handful of flour. If it turned brown the oven's temperature was just right and it was again mopped.

The order of baking was pizza, bread and finally pastries. Normally the oven was not be reheated since its massive size would keep enough heat to bake everything if they were baked in the correct order.
  Anna & Angelo Fonzo, Grandma's parents

Grandma's childhood house was built from granite. The roof was made up of ceramic half round tiles. The house had no upstairs, only an attic where they stored potatoes. They had no running water or indoor bathrooms. All the water used for washing and cooking was carried in from an outside well.

Their dress was simple. All clothing was made in the home except for the shoes which were made by the town cobbler. When the children were young they wore dresses regardless of whether they were boys or girls. After the boy's dresses wore out they were given pants to wear.

When they went to work in the fields the girls would wear an old blouse and skirt. The women would also wear a scarf around their heads and a cape like wrap around their shoulders that crossed in the front. The men wore white shirts with ballooning sleeves, and pants that came down to their knees. Their stockings came up to their knees where they met with the bottom of the pants. The men also wore large buckle shoes. The children wore shoes only on Sunday. Clothing for Sunday was the same style as any workday except it was new.

Cooking utensils were made of copper with an inner lining of pot metal. Forks and spoons were made of tin alloy and knives were made of iron. Drinking glasses were bought at an open air market. Each glass was beautiful and distinctive in that they were all hand blown. Tools were handmade from iron and wood.

Weapons were old muzzle loading shotguns both single and double barrel. In loading the guns, powder was first dumped in the barrel, and then a wad of cotton tamped down on the powder. BBs were placed on top of the cotton wad and held in place with another wad of cotton. Primer caps were bought from the gunsmith along with the BBs, cotton and powder.

Travel was on foot or by oxcart, which made for long slow journeys. This also meant that travel to and from work was over short distances. They worked for rich plantation owners by planting and maintaining their fields. After work they would return to their homes and work their own small fields and gardens.

The art that they had was minimal in terms of paintings and drawings. However, they did do a little wood carving, mostly figurines, on the handles of their planters. The planter was made of wood with one end sharpened to a blunt point. It was used to make a small hole in the earth for planting tomato plants, pepper plants, etc.

They also exhibited their talent in the music they played at festivals. The village people played accordions, tambourines and mandolins. All the people would sing and dance. The dance which was most favored was the tarantella, a folk dance popular to the Italians.

According to Grandma they had no myths with exception of the legend of St. George. A statue of him is erected in the town square showing him standing on his house while slaying a dragon.

The superstitions and magic they believed in were mainly the evil eye and having the ability of putting evil onto other people. They also believed in witches.

In Grandma's time there were very few doctors. If a person became ill they were put to bed. The pharmacists of the time filled the void for the few doctors by prescribing medicines for ailments and sicknesses. Many times the druggist was not successful so that the Catholic priest was called to administer the individual's last rights.

After an individual had died the family would have a small funeral and bury the dead as soon as possible. After two or three years the dead were dug up and their bones cleaned with alcohol. The cleaned bones were then placed in a box in the family burial vault and left there forever.

Marriages were conducted in the court house first and then in the church. After the wedding the family and friends would have a festival that would last one day. The day after the wedding, the people would return to their regular lives. The woman was typically about fifteen when she married and was required to have a dowry or material goods. The men usually married in their middle to late twenties when they could adequately provide for a family. The man was the head of the household and his word was law. He had the "authority" to beat his wife if she would not obey him.

Everyone had specific tasks to perform in the survival of the family. The father and the children would go out to earn the living while the mother would stay home and take care of the children. She was not allowed out of the home, except with her husband's approval.

Given all that happened the family was close and there was much love. They were always there for each other as it was a matter of survival.

Copyright 2002,  James A. Carl,  All rights reserved.