In the past five years, I have become the unofficial
genealogist for the Gig Harbor Spadoni and Seghieri families. While living in
Italy this spring, my research uncovered the lost connection between the Gig
Harbor and Seattle Spadoni families. But what should be done with this
knowledge? I posted the story on my blog, and I contacted a couple of my
Seattle Spadoni Facebook friends, but since I have never actually met a Seattle
Spadoni, I have been uncertain what else I should do to make this information
more widely known.
I do know that a member of the Seattle family who has a
passion for family history is Donald Spadoni, owner of Huckleberry Square
restaurant in Burien. I had a long and pleasant phone conversation with him
in 2009, and we were confident that our families must be connected in some way.
Our grandparents were both named Michele, and both Americanized their names to
Michael or Mike. Gig Harbor Michael came to the states in 1903 and settled in
Gig Harbor in 1914. Seattle Michael came to the states in 1905 and made his way
to Seattle not long thereafter. My recent research in Italy reveals that they
were third cousins, having the same great grandfather.
Between the conversation I had with Don in 2009 and the
summer of 2012, we had no contact. Don rarely uses e-mail, though his wife has
an account. I had tried sending him messages to the address he gave me but
never received a reply. I tried sending him a snail-mail letter in care of
Huckleberry Square and still didn’t hear back. I commented this summer to cousin
Greg Spadoni that I don’t know if Donald has heard about my Spadoni family
research, and I explained my difficulties in contacting Donald.
About a week later, Greg gave me a call and said, “You want
to go with me to meet Donald Spadoni?” Greg has been to Don’s restaurant
several times, and Don would come sit with him and talk Spadoni family lore, so
Greg called Donald up and told him that Paul Spadoni has found a connection
between the two families. “Why that little shit; he never told me,” Don
reportedly replied. However, it turned out that Donald thought he was talking
about his Seattle first cousin Paul M. Spadoni rather than me, Paul R. Spadoni,
his fifth cousin.
Sure, I want to go, I told Greg, so one Saturday morning in
August, Greg, Lucy and I, along with a friend of Greg’s, had lunch at Don’s
restaurant. The restaurant staff said that Don always came in Saturday around
noon, so we would surely see him. We took a seat at a table, placed our orders
and told the waitress to tell Don to come see us when he came in. Just as we
finished ordering our dessert, Donald walked up and joined our table, and we
spent an hour of non-stop conversation about our experiences growing up as
Italian-Americans, our trips to Italy and our families. I followed this up with
a second visit yesterday because I became so absorbed in the first
conversation that I neglected to take notes.
|Greg, Don and Paul Spadoni at Huckleberry Square restaurant in Burien, Washington, August 2012.|
Similar to my recent first encounter with a cousin on the
Seghieri side of my family, I found myself slightly envious of Don Spadoni, who
told me of a childhood rich in experiences of Italian culture. Prior to Don’s
birth, his nonno Michael had moved into the house of Don’s father Enrico, and
Don shared not only his bedroom but also his bed with his nonno, whom he
referred to as Papa.
“I thought he was my father,” Don said. “He took me everywhere.
He was my best friend.” Michael spoke half Italian and half English, and growing
up under his nonno’s tutelage, Don wasn’t always sure which language they were
speaking. In addition, Don picked up his grandfather’s Italian trait of walking
with his hands folded behind his back.
“When I started going to school, the other kids wondered
what was wrong with me because I walked like an old man,” Don said. He also
encountered some trouble because Michael shared his passion for wine with his
|Michele Spadoni, left, with his brother Pietro in Seattle.|
“He took me down to the public market to buy grapes, and
then we went back home and made wine,” Don said. “I’m not yet 4 years old and I’m
making wine on a regular basis. And we would sample it together. My parents
didn’t approve of this, but Papa would say, ‘Your mother doesn’t need to know about
this.’ One time I came upstairs and was acting a little silly, and Mom found
out I had been drinking wine. She sent me to bed without dinner, but my
grandfather came down later with a plate of food he had hidden away.”
After this mixed message, Donald apparently hadn’t fully comprehended
that American kids aren’t supposed to drink wine. He often packed his own
lunches, and he told me that in the second grade, he thought to himself, “Why
should I be drinking water at lunch or paying a nickel for milk when I have all
this wine down in the basement?” He loaded his Thermos with vino and went off
“So I’m eating my lunch and drinking my wine, and the
teacher smells something funny and asks what I’m drinking. I’m drinking wine, I
say, and she’s shocked! You can’t drink wine, she tells me. I say, ‘Well, you
charge me a nickel for a milk. Why can’t I drink this? It’s good and it’s free.’
She sent me to the office, and we went through the same questions and answers,
so they called my dad and he had to come pick me up.
“They asked my dad if he knew I was drinking wine at school.
He said no, but then he also said he wasn’t surprised. I didn’t really get in
trouble, but they made it clear I wasn’t to take wine to school ever again.”
While the Gig Harbor Michael had seven children, the Seattle
Michael had only three children (a fourth did not survive childbirth). However,
the Seattle family stepped up the pace in the next generation., Enrico—known as
Henry—had 10 children, and Alberto—known as Charlie— had 12. Angelo Giovanni “Red”
Spadoni had three children, bringing the total first cousins to 25. Thirteen of
these were male, so quite a few people with the Spadoni name now live in the
Seattle area. Don reported that the Seattle Spadonis are nearly all
contributing and upstanding members of local society and that Michael would be
proud of his grandchildren and great grandchildren. One is a neuroscientist,
another is an attorney, one is an engineer and a number of others manage
“Most of them have been ambitious and hard working,” Don
said. “Everybody pushed their children to succeed. They learned to go out and
make their own way. My father told me, ‘Italian tanks have no back-up lights,’
meaning they just charge ahead.”
Well, there was one cousin who was a courier and absconded
with some gold and diamonds, but no one has a perfect family. Don himself is
one of the more well-known Spadonis because his restaurant is quite popular and
has been the topic of some newspaper feature articles.
Both Don and I grew up with a strong sense of pride in our
Italian heritage. “I got that from my grandparents,” he said. “They taught me
that if you were Italian, you had culture, you had dignity. I had something
that most people didn’t have. I still feel more Italian than American.”
He understands that some people looked down on Italian
immigrants, but he chalks that up to blind prejudice. “I felt that the people
who looked down on us were just ignorant,” he said.
Don is also aware of a dark side to the Italian culture.
When one of his Italian neighbors died, his dad paid for and organized the
funeral because the man had been a good family friend. Some Chicago relatives
of the deceased showed up for the funeral with fancy cars and suits, along with
gun-toting bodyguards. They told Don’s dad they would pay for the funeral and
tried to give him money, but he refused to take it.
“When they left the house and Mom started cleaning up, she
found hundred dollar bills stashed under ashtrays and into corners,” Don said. “Dad
wanted to send it back. He said it wasn’t our money, but Mom said it was now,
because they left it behind for us. They argued about this for a while, but Mom
won and we eventually kept the money.”
Don was only about 4 when his grandfather died, and he was
devastated. Before Michael left home for the hospital, he told Don he wouldn’t
be coming back, but Don had no idea what this meant. When the family went to
visit Michael in the hospital, he had died—but nobody wanted to tell Don what
had happened. “Dad just said, ‘We have to go home now’ and rushed us out of the
hospital,” Don explained.
When Don saw his grandfather in an open casket at the
funeral, he didn’t realize Michael was dead, and he walked up front and grabbed
his nonno by the arm and said, “Let’s go, Papa.” Naturally, this disrupted the service,
and in the commotion that followed, poor Don fled out of the church and just
kept running. No one found him until much later in the day, and he was so upset,
he said, “I stopped talking for about a year. I was just so angry. I could not
comprehend death. I didn’t know people died. There was just no concept in my
Don’s voice breaks as he tells this story, and I find it
difficult to speak as well. “My life would have been so different if he had
lived,” Don said. Still, he knows he is fortunate to have had this time of
closeness with his grandfather. My own nonno died when I was 6, but he lived in
Shore Acres and I in Rosedale, about 15 minutes apart. I only saw him each
Christmas Eve, and my only memory is sitting in his lap briefly by his
Now I have five grandchildren of my own. I can’t go back in
time and talk to my nonno, but I can use my sadness for this missed
relationship as a motivation to make sure I don’t miss out on being an influence
on my own children and grandchildren. And I hope that our nonni can somehow still observe our lives and feel a sense of
accomplishment for what their nipoti
have done and become.