Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Offhand comment offends Alameda Spadoni family members

Monday, April 29, 2013
I was dismayed recently by the discovery that I’ve offended some of my Alameda, California, relatives, descendants of Guido Spadoni, the brother of Italo, Bruno and Gino. Ironically, I went to a lot of work to discover how these people are related to me, and then the very first thing I do is insult them, which was surely a mistake on my part.

I just got off the phone with Steve Busse, who was one of those who took exception to a blog comment I made, and after re-reading the comment, I can understand his point of view. I made a closing comment that I am distantly related to this group of relatives, and that considering that I didn’t have the best opinion of Gino Spadoni, maybe that was just as well.

In hindsight, I can see two problems with that statement. First of all, this could come across as if I am writing off the whole family because of my problems with Gino, which is not what I wanted to say at all. I was trying to say that considering some of Gino’s actions, he did not make me proud. But even if I had said that more clearly, I didn’t stop to think that a number of my California relatives knew Gino fairly well and found him to be a nice guy, at least in all of his dealings with them. Had I been more cognizant of this, I certainly would have been more tactful and sensitive.

Busse, a grandson of Gino’s brother Guido, said he knew Gino as well as any of his cousins, and he had nothing but good experiences in all of their encounters.

“I never heard anything bad said about Gino,” Steve said. “He was always nice to me and my brother. He was generous at Christmas and always kind and polite. He was the hardest worker you could ever imagine.”

Gino Spadoni
In an e-mail to Greg Spadoni, Steve also wrote: “Uncle Gino was a loner and very quiet; he didn’t talk a lot, but maybe that was because his English was so hard to understand. Many times when he was around, I would try to talk with him, but it was just so hard to understand him that conversations didn’t last long. If he was around for Christmas, he would give money to my mom to buy my brother and me presents or even graduation gifts, and that’s what I will always remember about him.”
Another point in Gino’s favor was the financial support he gave his parents in Italy, as well as to Italo’s widow and daughter Gina and her family. I have heard this bit of praise for Gino from relatives on both the American and Italian sides of the family.

As for Gino’s alleged crimes in Tacoma and San Francisco, Steve pointed out that he was never actually convicted of anything. “I’m not saying any of it is true or not true,” he said. “None of us can change what has happened. It is what it is.”

I can’t disagree with these statements, though my careful reading of the accusations and proceedings against Gino don’t give me much doubt that he escaped conviction only through some fortunate circumstances. To put it more bluntly, I think he was guilty. But I also think he came to regret his actions as a young man, and he probably became a changed person at some point in his life.

It is very likely that when Gino moved back to Italy, his family had a good idea of the names of at least some of the people involved in the murder of Italo Spadoni. Italo’s grandson told me that Gino often visited the graves of Italo and other family members in the cemetery; he would mutter things in English, and he said in Italian that he would like to see justice for Italo’s killer. Gino could have taken revenge and then fled to safety and anonymity and America, but he didn’t. We will never know Gino’s thought process, but I like to think that he considered how his family had suffered during the deaths of Italo and Bruno, and he didn’t want to see another family suffer in the same way.

About Gino’s three brothers, everything I have learned shows that they were exceptional individuals, and I am proud to say they are my distant relatives. Italo and Bruno recognized the growing evil of Mussolini’s fascist regime and weren’t afraid to speak against it, while other Italians blindly accepted the status quo and followed Il Duce’s oppressive leadership into a destructive and disastrous war.

Guido Spadoni, in order to give his 10 children a better future, left his homeland and carved out a promising future in America. Because of Guido and his descendants, the Spadoni name is respected in the Italian Bay Area community today. Steve told me that Guido’s funeral in 1966 was attended by many prominent people, including a lawyer and a Superior Court judge.

“I would ask if Grandpa was just a blue collar worker, where did he meet these people and why did they show so much respect for him and the family,” Steve said. “The answer was always the same: When a lot of Italians first came to this area, many had problems, and my grandparents would help by providing food and lodging and sharing what little they had. Growing up in Alameda, which had a large Italian community, whenever I ran into other Italians, the Spadoni name had a lot of respect.”

I apologized to Steve for my poorly chosen words and insensitivity toward his family, and I’m happy to say that he accepted my apology. I hope others who were offended will grant the same grace.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Few new insights into Italo Spadoni, but nice photos, a pleasant final day

The family home where Guido, Italo, Gino and Bruno grew up. This is where
Italo was going on the night he was killed by a group of fascists.
Saturday, April 27, 2013
This rusty cross behind a
fence marks the place
where Italo Spadoni died.
Rain is predicted for later, and I want to take some photos of the field where Italo Spadoni died and also of his former house, so hoping to avoid getting wet, I skip breakfast and pedal off to Ponte Buggianese. I take photos of the field he crossed and ask permission of a lady I see outside to look around the house that Italo Cortese had pointed out to me last night as being near where Italo was shot. The house is now a row of apartments, and the lady hasn’t lived here long enough to know about any cross. I don’t find it either.

Then I move on to the old Spadoni family house, and Italo Cortese is there, because this is where he keeps all his tractors and other farm equipment. He is happy to see me again, and immediately offers to show me the cross. It has begun to sprinkle, so he grabs an umbrella and takes me about a block away, to a garden about 100 feet on the opposite side of the house where I had looked previously. There is the old metal cross, next to the ditch where Italo Spadoni’s body had been found.

Italo Cortese stands near the cross and ditch where his nonno was killed.

We walk back to his farm yard, where I take some photos, and Italo is very willing to offer more help. He thinks of an old man who might know more about his nonno’s death. We drive off to the man’s house, but we don’t find out anything more. Italo asks if I would I like to go to the cemetery. Gladly, because when I went earlier this year, I couldn’t find Italo Spadoni’s tomb, though I had seen it many years earlier. We go there first thing and I take a photo, and then we go to the marker for Italo’s wife. She remarried Fiorenzo Pemonte and had three more children after Italo’s death. I am surprised to hear that she married a man known as a fascist, but I suppose love is stronger than politics.

Inscription at bottom translates: He leaves in tears his
 inconsolable parents Antonio and Gioconda, his wife
Caterina di Vita and his daughter Gina.
We also see the marker for Gina Spadoni, the daughter of Italo and Caterina di Vita. She was raised by her grandmother, Maria Gioconda Niccolai, who died in 1952 while in the embrace of Italo Cortesi. We also find the marker for Gino Spadoni, brother of Italo Spadoni.

Gina Spadoni
I ask if there a grave here for Boccaccino. Italo goes to the woman who sells flowers outside the cemetery. She is obviously a long-time resident of Ponte Buggianese, because she knows his real name. She closes her booth and accompanies us on a search. We can’t find his name, but then she finds his daughter’s grave, and it has her name and then says “and relatives,” so she is quite sure that Boccaccino is also buried there.
Francesco gets out of the tractor to talk to Italo.
We make a stop on the way back to check on the progress of two workers who are plowing Italo’s fields. One is Francesco, driving a tractor. Something isn’t working quite right with the plow’s machinery, Francesco says, so Italo takes a turn while I talk to Francesco for a few minutes. They talk some more about the plow and then Italo and I return to the farm yard. I tell Italo his son seems like a fine young man,  and he agrees. He is proud of and very happy with his son, and he shows me two old tractors that Francesco has beautifully restored that they keep in one of their garages. I am invited once again for a spaghetti dinner next year, and I repeat my invitation to have Francesco come to the United States for a visit. Then I am off on my bike to finish packing and eat.
One of the two tractors Francesco has remodeled.
Luca takes me to catch the 4 p.m. train to Lucca, and I check in a hotel, borrow an umbrella and walk into the centro to buy a bus ticket for tomorrow, a loaf of my favorite bread and a last gelato: tiramis├╣, fragola, cioccolato and limone. Later that evening I attend a free a cappella concerto di musica sacra in the Chiesa Santa Maria della Rosa. The acoustics in these old churches is fantastic, and so are the singers, one of whom I know from the Valdese church Lucy and I attend here in the city. It’s a very peaceful and pleasant final day in Italy.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Italo Cortesi shares his knowledge of the death of Italo Spadoni, his nonno

Friday, April 26, 2013
Italo Spadoni
I spent most of Thursday and today alternating between packing and trying to read some of the history of Ponte Buggianese in a book given to me by a librarian in Ponte Buggianese. I also took photos of some pages from two other books that weren’t available for check-out. I wanted to know more about how anti-fascist martyr Italo Spadoni met his end in 1924. Unfortunately, very little is written, but I have found out that his grandson still lives in town, and I have been hoping to arrange a meeting with him and Elena, my translator.

Unfortunately, the tourist season has begun, and Elena has been working 12-hour days this week. Also, now that the weather has finally turned spring-like, Italo is working even longer hours getting his fields planted. He is only available after 9 p.m., his wife says. We had a tentative appointment Monday at 9 p.m., but Italo was still working and couldn’t come. Tuesday through Thursday Elena worked in the evenings. I kept checking my e-mail throughout today to see if Elena had written that she was available. Finally at 9:03 p.m. she calls, saying she is on her way home and do I still want to try to see Italo. Knowing both she and Italo must be exhausted, I am tempted to say I could wait until next year, but what I had read in the history books had so piqued my curiosity that I had to say yes. I very badly wanted to meet Italo.

Too bad, though, because Elena calls back a few minutes later. She has talked to Italo’s wife Enrichetta, who says Italo is still working and hasn’t even come home for dinner yet. We’d have to wait until next year . . . wait, Elena has a call coming in; she’ll call me back. Italo has said he will drop what he is doing and come home immediately. He really wants to meet me too.

Paul Spadoni and Italo Cortesi. Italo was gracious enough to
see me at 9:30 p.m. after having worked some 14 hours on
his corn fields, tilling and planting seeds.
So at 9:30 p.m., we are welcomed warmly by Italo, Enrichetta and their son Francesco. Before we can sit down, Italo asks if we want to see the field where his nonno was killed. It would be better in the daytime, but I didn’t want to pass because I might not get another chance, so I say yes. With Francesco at the wheel, we drive less than a mile while Italo tells the story. Italo Spadoni, age 26, was out visiting family and friends after dark when an acquaintance told him he was wanted at home. He was taking a short cut across a field and was almost home when he was assaulted by a group of fascists. As he tried to jump across a big ditch, he was shot and killed.

There is a cross now at the site. It is not on family property, and at one time the property owner removed the cross. Italo Cortesi hired a lawyer, and the property owner was required to replace the cross, as the site has historical significance. It is too dark now to go there, but we do continue on to the house where Italo grew up with his brothers and lived with his wife, Caterina di Vita, and daughter Gina. The house is used now for storage of farm supplies, so I don’t bother to take a photo of the inside. When Italo’s brother Gino returned to Italy from America, Gino rented a room in the house across the street because the family house was full.

We drive back to Italo and Enrichetta’s house and talk for another half hour. I show Italo how our two families are distantly related and also give him some information about his cousins in California, who are much more closely related. He can’t recall ever knowing that Italo Spadoni had an older brother, Guido, in the United States. But he does remember Gino saying he had nephews in the United States, so it doesn’t come as a total surprise.

I ask him for more details about his nonno’s death, but he can’t come up with much more than he has already said. He knows that Italo was a communist and his killer was a fascist. He knows Italo was at the house of Armando Sorini before he started home, but he doesn’t know why Italo was singled out for such extreme measures. I tell him I read in a history book that Italo was accompanied by a friend, who escaped unharmed, but this is the first he has heard of this. He says he will ask around the town and see if he can find some of the old-timers who might know more, and he will have Francesco contact me by e-mail if he finds something interesting.

He does say that he is almost sure he knows who killed Italo Spadoni, a man named Boccaccino, and he said he sometimes thought about getting revenge for his family. One time he even tried unsuccessfully to run this Boccaccino off the road. Boccaccino is not the man’s real name, but that’s what everyone called him, Italo says. At first he tells me Boccaccino’s surname was Della Maggiora, which surprises me, because the history books I have been reading have page after page of information about an incident involving a Michele Della Maggiora, who killed two fascists in 1928. Later, though, I think Italo realizes he was confused because he had heard the name Della Maggiora often in connection with those years. He says he doesn’t know the real name of Boccacino, but he will find out.

He also says that when Gino returned to Italy, he often visited the cemetery and sometimes talked about getting revenge for Italo’s death. We talk more about what Gino was like and also about Italo’s other brother, Bruno, who died while in prison for supplying a gun to Michele Della Maggiora, the man who killed the two fascists in 1928.

The Cortesi family: Italo, Francesco and Enrichetta. And they
truly were molto cortesi (very courteous).
But it is getting late. Italo will start work at 6:30 a.m. and Elena has a full day ahead of her as well. Italo invites me to come back for a nice spaghetti dinner next year, and Francesco and I exchange Facebook names so we can establish online contact. I also invite Francesco to come visit us in America next winter, and he seems interested. He works with his dad on the farm and really likes John Deere tractors, but he is disappointed to hear that Seattle is far from Moline, Illinois, which he knows is the company’s headquarters.  Elena and I thank them for this hospitality and she drops me off at my apartment.

I have recorded our conversations, and when I transcribe the interview, I will have more details to add at a later date, but I am nearly homeward bound now. I will finish packing Saturday and then go to Lucca for a concert, staying overnight at a hotel. Sunday morning I’ll head to the Pisa airport and fly home, where I must almost immediately begin work. Thus the details of my research into Italo’s death as well as Bruno’s imprisonment must be put on hold for some time. Bruno’s story is turning out to be equally as interesting as Italo’s, and I will have a few more facts for cousin Greg to add to his account of Gino. This has been one of the most interesting hours of my two-month stay.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

With help from a pro, I make another Spadoni family connection on last day

Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Have you ever played a sport and thought you were getting pretty darn good, and then you went up against somebody who was really, really good?  And then you realized that you actually weren’t such hot stuff after all. Today I observed close up the vast difference between an amateur and a professional, only it wasn’t in sports and it wasn’t a competition. If it had been a contest, I would have been the loser for sure, but a very happy one anyway, because I ended up obtaining the information I have been seeking for many days.

I recognized last week that I was still far from my goal of finding out how the Alameda, California, Guido Spadoni family—which is also the family of the famous Italo and infamous Gino—is related to the other Spadoni families. So I sent an e-mail over the weekend to Andrea, the archivist who has helped me in the past. I told him that I would need his help at our next session at the church archives, because it would be the last time the archives were open before I had to leave (I leave Sunday).

It had taken me about eight sessions at the archives to go back four generations in this family line. True, I was also working on the Tacoma family line as well, plus trying to record the birth of every Spadoni I found in Ponte Buggianese, but now I needed to go back another four generations in a single two-and-a-half hour session. This called for the work of a real professional, and Andrea did not disappoint. With an hour or two of detective work on his part, he went back four generations further and found the link to the Spadoni family of Stignano. Since Carlo Spadoni has already compiled a complete family tree for the Stignano Spadonis, this ties everything together. Andrea, I bow down to your impressive abilities and thank you for your time!

So now we have connected five Spadoni family lines: Gig Harbor, Seattle, Tacoma, San Francisco and Carlo’s family here in Toscana. Even though the final work was done by Andrea, I still feel a certain sense of personal accomplishment. I played a small part, at least, by having the good sense to ask for his help again.

The San Francisco family is far removed from all the other ones I have found. It splits off from Carlo’s line in the late 1500s, and from my line in the late 1400s. I’ll try to summarize without going into too much detail. Francesco Spadoni, born around 1455 in Marliana, moved to Stignano and had two children, Michele (around 1480) and Bartolomeo (around 1490). The Spadoni families of Gig Harbor, Seattle and Tacoma descend from Bartolomeo, and Carlo’s family from Michele. Three generations removed from Michele, Domenico and wife Camilla gave birth to sons Giovanni (1605) and Pietro (1617). Carlo’s line follows Giovanni, and the Alameda Spadonis descend from Pietro.

In the 1600s, one member of each of these families moved to Ponte Buggianese, and I believe that possibly every Spadoni who has lived in that town is a part of one of these three branches of the family. This would explain why so many of the Spadoni families living in Ponte Buggianese have no idea how they are related, since the lines diverged so long ago.

It would be nice if I could say I was a close relative of the Alameda family, with whom I have established some friendly contacts, and with Italo Spadoni, who has a street in Ponte Buggianese named after him, but in truth we are very, very distant relatives. On the plus side, if you have read my blog entry about Gino Spadoni, maybe its just as well to say that we are not close relatives. But most of all, I am very content to have been able to tie all these families together during my last week here for this year.