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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.