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subfield code a Y10-000962 USFLDC DOI0 245 Beatrice Giunta oral history interviewh [electronic resource] /c interviewed by Andrew Thomas "Andy" Huse.500 Full cataloging of this resource is underway and will replace this temporary record when complete.1 600 Giunta, Beatrice650 Holocaust survivorsz Florida.Holocaust survivorsv Interviews.Genocide.Crimes against humanity.7 655 Oral history.localOnline audio.local700 Huse, Andrew Thomas710 University of South Florida Libraries.b Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center.University of South Florida.Library.Digital Scholarship Services - Digital Collections.Oral History Program.730 Holocaust & genocide studies oral history projects.773 t Ybor City Oral History Project4 856 u https://digital.lib.usf.edu/?y10.96
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text Andrew Huse (AH): Okay, my name is Andrew Huse. Iâ€™m an associate librarian at the University of South Florida libraries, and I am here today with the Giunta sisters: Sara, Vicky, and Tessie. And itâ€™s October 3rd, 2019. Weâ€™re in their home on Eleventh Avenueâ€”their ancestral home, you could say. And thank you very much for being with me today.
All: Youâ€™re welcome. Weâ€™re happy to be here with you.
AH: So weâ€™re going to try to avoid confusion by going a little sequentially, beginning with the eldest and going by theme. Â So letâ€™s start with your childhood, Sara. What are your earliest memories?
Sara Giunta Rametta (SR): My earliest memories would be when I was perhaps around four years old, because my grandmother Giunta, my dadâ€™s mother, lived with us.
AH: What would her name have been?
SR: Victoria Giunta. And I remember her asking me, â€œSara, do you want to go to Mass with me and church, rosary?â€ And I would say, â€œYes.â€ I would accompany her, and just being with her was wonderful. So I was so young, I donâ€™t remember what exactlyâ€”if it was a Mass or rosary, but I enjoyed walking with her. The other thingâ€”and she passed away when I was six, so my memories are before that age. Another thing I did with her was she would go shopping on Seventh Avenue, and naturally, we walked. She didnâ€™t drive ever. And we would walk, and she would stop, and she would barter. She would not pay the asking price. She would barter with the owner, and she would always get what she wanted. And that was enjoyable, walking up and down Seventh Avenue with the shopping, andâ€”
AH: So your grandmother is really featured heavily in your earliest memories.
SR: Oh yeah, yeah. I remember sometimes, I wouldâ€”I donâ€™t know what I would doâ€”something crooked, and I would run from my grandmother. She usually would be sitting back there, doing a little sewing or something, and I would hide under her apron, because my mother said, â€œCome here.â€ She went and spanked me, so I hid under her apron. She always had an apron. So those are wonderful memories.
AH: Right. So how did she pass?
SR: She passed away in December, theâ€”was it the 8th? Oh, the 12th, thatâ€™s right. December 12th. And I think it was a brain hemorrhage, so it was very fast.
AH: Right. Okay, what else? Tell us about some of your other early memories. So, you know, you would be going to school probably, what, at five or six?
SR: I started school when I was four, because my birthdayâ€™s in January. They let me into kindergarten at four. And I went to Most Holy Name with the Salesian sisters, and it was just wonderful walking back and forth. My motherâ€”when we were young, weâ€™d stand at the back gate, and she would walk usâ€”watch us as we walked a few blocks down. And then when we got to the end, we would wave like that. She would wave and knew we were safe.
The house next door was the Lazzara family, and they had a daughter named Angela whoâ€™s an eighth grader, and sheâ€™s the one that walked me to school when I was in kindergarten. So it was nice. I mean, it was like aâ€”I felt so special, you know, thisâ€”in fact, I named my second daughter Angela because of her. And Most Holy Name wasâ€”well, kindergarten was a class, you know, just kindergarten and first. But then, beyond that, then fourth and fifth were in one grade. Half the class is fourth and half the class was fifth grade. In certain subjects, we would all participate, for instance, geography, history, science, something like that, but, like, the math was more individualized to the grade level. And also, the fifth and sixth grade were in one, and the seventh and eighth grade, because they didnâ€™t have that many students, you know, soâ€”
AH: And what was theâ€”what about church life?
SR: Well, we had Mass every morning before school. It wasnâ€™tâ€”weâ€™re not obliged to attend it, you know, because some people were not Catholic, but there was Mass every morning if you wanted to attend. And then from there, we would go straight into the classrooms. There are a lot of differentâ€”along with the Catholicism, there was the Sicilian celebration of many different feast days that we participated in.
AH: Oh yes.
SR: And especially like Easter time was really big. We hadâ€”starting with Holy Thursday, we had a procession around the church, around the block, and I still remember some of the songs because at that time we sang them in Latin.
AH: Okay, right.
SR: Because the Mass was in Latin at that time, soâ€”and then the nuns lived in a house, right on the property. So I remember my mother took me to have an interview with the principal, because I was only four years old and she wanted to know if I could enter kindergarten early. And so the principal, knowing that we were Italian, sheâ€”and I spoke Italianâ€”she asked me questions in Italian, and the one thing I remember was she said something about â€œWhat do you do?â€ or â€œWhat does your father do to get ready for work?â€ or something. So I started telling her in Italian, â€œOh, he gets up in the morning and he shaves, and then he goes and dresses up, and he has breakfast.â€ All Italian, and she thought thatâ€”oh, it was funny.
AH: Right. So, and so youâ€”obviously you spoke Italian first.
SR: Yeah, yeah.
AH: Did you learn Spanish as well? Was that still necessary back then?
SR: Well, I picked it up because when youâ€™d go into the grocery stores, I would hear. My mother would speak, my grandparents all spoke Spanish, so I picked it up.
AH: Right, okay. Right.
SR: So you knowâ€”and, of course, the Sicilian that we speak now is called the â€œantique Sicilianâ€ because it has changed so much. Because the language has changed. Also, at the time that my grandmother came overâ€”all the grandparentsâ€”at that time, they didnâ€™t go to school. So there wasnâ€™tâ€”they didnâ€™t follow the written language. But nowadays, they have schools and you knowâ€”
AH: Now, would you consider yourself second- or third-generation immigrants?
Unknown: We are the firstâ€”weâ€™re second-generation Americans. Is that the way you figure it? Dad was born here.
SR: Oh yeah.
Unknown: We were born here.
AH: Right. So okay. But yeahâ€”but youâ€™reâ€”itâ€™s interesting when you follow generational things. You seem to fall better into the third generation, as far as, like, education and all that stuff because usually you have the generation thatâ€™s just starting out, and the second thatâ€™s really building up capital and things like that. Soâ€”because whatâ€™s so interesting about the Italian experience is that so few of the immigrants were educated, but that became such an important thing. So was that instilled in you at a young age?
SR: Yeah, somethingâ€”my mother always made sure, you know, we were supposed to do our homework. My mother always helped us if we needed help, until we got to the age where she was not as knowledgeable, like in sciences, which we went to my father and he would help us out.
AH: Right. And I donâ€™t think weâ€™ve started with thisâ€”when were you born?
SR: In 1943, so I'm 76 years old.
AH: Okay. Soâ€”and tell usâ€”tell us a little bit about your earliest memories of your parents.
SR: Well, my earliest memoriesâ€”I remember sleeping in their bedroom. My crib was in their bedroom until I was three years old. And I rememberâ€”I guess it must have been in the spring and summer, when we have a longer day, because it seemed like she was putting me to bed so early because itâ€™sâ€”it was light outside. But then Vickyâ€™s three years younger than I am, so when she was born, they needed the crib. So thatâ€™s when I went into this room over here then. And then Vicky got the crib.
AH: And what were the names of your parents?
SR: My dadâ€™s name was Domenic, but he went by Don. And my motherâ€™s name was also Sara, like me.
AH: Right, okay. And soâ€”and were they both born here in the United States?
AH: Okay, so yourâ€”as far as I understand, your dad was born shortly after your grandfather came, is that correct?
Unknown: Actually, seven years later.
AH: Seven years. And what year was he born again?
Unknown: Nineteen fourteen.
AH: Okay. And soâ€”and your mother was born here too?
AH: Was she born here in Ybor City?
AH: Okay. Do you know how they met?
SR: Yes. Do you want to cover that?
AH: Okay, so Vickyâ€™s going to cover this.
Victoria Giunta (VG): My father had a brother named Jimmy, or actually Vincenzo is his first name. And so he married a woman by the name of Nora, and our aunt was very close with my mom because my mom used to go to the beauty parlor, the salon, and she wouldâ€”my mother was a beautician. And so she would fix Noraâ€™s hair. And Nora was asked by my dad, â€œDo you know of anybody that I could take to a dateâ€”on a date to aâ€â€” I think it was a college fraternity dance or something. And so she said, â€œYeah. I just have the perfect girl for you.â€ So he set it upâ€”she set it up, and Dad and Mom really hit it off. And after that, they went to several fraternity dances and parties and things like that and eventually married in 1941â€”December of 1941. So that was a very happenstance kind of thing. And this brother, Jimmyâ€”it was his nicknameâ€”he used to live adjacent to the property. He lived on this block, right there, yeah. This is some cute romance.
AH: Right. Thank you for that. What else do we need to know, Sara, about your education? Letâ€™s get through to high school, and then weâ€™ll cover the other stuff later. But so you wentâ€”you started withâ€”
SR: Junior highâ€”back then it was called â€œjunior highâ€ and not â€œmiddle schoolâ€â€”sixth through ninth, I went to Phillip Shore Elementary School, which is a few blocks away. Then I went on to Jefferson High School.
AH: So Phillip Shore is a public school, right?
SR: Yes, andâ€”yeahâ€”
AH: So how was thatâ€”was that an interesting adjustment for you, or did you just kind ofâ€”just rolled off, or what was that like? Do you remember?
SR: Yeah, I mean, it wasâ€”I donâ€™t knowâ€”I didnâ€™t notice that much difference except for the religious aspect in the Catholic school, but since we went to Mass, holy days and all that, we continued our faith. So it was always with us.
AH: Understood, yeah.
SR: Through high school, andâ€”
AH: And then where did you go to high school?
SR: High school? Jefferson High School.
AH: Okay. And anything to tell us about that? I mean, what wasâ€”
SR: Well, I wasâ€”I enjoyed high school because I wasâ€”well, middle schoolâ€”I mean, you know, junior high also, I was in the band. I played clarinet, so at Jefferson High School, there were more activities involved because we had district contests, and we traveled within a certain area, and then we went to state contests also. So we got to travel. And we went on buses to football gamesâ€”to Sarasota, whatever. So I have a lot of good memories, you know, and then the different clubs I belonged to.
AH: Of course. Yeah, what kind of clubs? What did you like back then?
SR: Well, I was in the National Honor Society, then another one called â€œScholarship Incorporatedâ€ that was just for high grades, the Math Club, the Future Teachers.
AH: So yeah, it was all academic-oriented.
AH: Yeah, you got your fill of PE [physical education] later.
SR: Well, I was not good in PE, I tell you that.
AH: Right. Interesting. Okay, well, if youâ€”when we get back to you, if thereâ€™s anything we forgot, please jot it down and weâ€™ll talk about it.
AH: So letâ€™s move on to you, Vicky. Tell us when you were born.
VG: I was born in 1946â€”April 2nd, 1946.
AH: Thatâ€™s my motherâ€™s exact birthday.
VG: Oh, coincidental. And as far as my earliest memories, itâ€™s always been like Sara said, was our nonna. Our nonna was Victoria. She was always here for us, and she was the buffer that we ran to when we needed comfort or to wipe away our tears and all of that, and our mother as well. But naturally, she had to run a household. And we were always very close as a family. We spoke Sicilian. I spoke Sicilian, also, with my grandmother. That was our first language, from what I recall. And when we did start attending school, naturally, Sara was the first to go. But Sara and I were very close, and so when she went to school, I just decided to go to a corner and suck my thumb. And so this was every day, and I wouldnâ€™t do anything until I saw Sara again in the afternoon. So my mom decided, â€œGood. You want to go to school, go to school.â€ So she talked to the nuns, and they allowed me to go to kindergarten, which I stayed there for two years.
AH: Okay, right.
VG: So that was kind of traumatic. And all my friends went on, and I didnâ€™t, but I understood in later years because of when I was born and so forth. But it was a comfort, going back and forth with Sara and learning things. And as far as the grade school and all that, we had wonderful nuns. They put their heart into their teaching. Iâ€™d say that a lot of them in those days were from Italy. That was my feeling because, though they didnâ€™t speak Sicilian or Italian to us, they were that caliber. The culture was there and they understood it, and so forth. Itâ€™s kind of interestingâ€”Sara mentioned Phillip Shore, which weâ€”I also attended. And that man was originally an Italian immigrant, and they named the school after him. And itâ€™s interesting that itâ€™s the closest school here in the Ybor area, with the Sicilian immigrants that did come here. Itâ€™s just a sideline, but thatâ€™s always been of interest.
As far as going through school, like Sara said, it was wonderful. The experiences were great. They were all positive. A lot of little plays and things like that that we all got involved with, and it was a big thing, and the nuns gave all of their time and made you feel very special. And then, of course, the parents were just so supportive. They would come to all these little functions. And to this day, I donâ€™t know how such a small area would have so much going on, because they used to have a school carnival, and they had booths and all that, and silly things like the fishing pole and that big throw-a-line and somebody behind the curtain would throw a prize over. And that was so special in those days, you know. It was just a wonderful experience all those years.
But then, after the sixth grade, we went to Phillip Shore. My father was teaching there, and by the time I was ready for junior high school, Sara was in high school. Is that correct, Sara? You were going onto high school when I started junior high. And so it made it convenient, so we attended juniorâ€”I attended Phillip Shore. There, I donâ€™t recall any club activities or things like that. It was just academics and theâ€”what did go on a lot at Phillip Shore, my fatherâ€”there were no funds in the school system at that time for films and slides and enrichment of any sort. But he would plan entire programs, in which he would get a lot of the student body involved. And these programs were held for certainâ€”it would be Thanksgiving, or it may be just an issue like â€œWhat is scholarship?â€ And he would have different students speak about â€œWhat does it mean, scholarship?â€ And theyâ€™d have different aspects and how it can be beneficial in the futureâ€”
AH: So theyâ€™d be assigned to, like, do research to give a talk, right?
VG: Yes, and then theyâ€™d give a talk at this assembly. He would have the band participate. He would have the chorus sing. And if there were a couple of talented students, they did solos. Then, if it was something like Thanksgiving or whatever that they were doing the program on, he had students glue craft paper together. It was in rolls, maybe about three or four feet. And they would make a whole backdrop on the stage, that was like that. So he had some of these children that are not academically inclined that he wanted to involve. But they were good at painting, so he would get them involved. You paint the backdrop and this and that. And it just gotâ€”everybody felt, hey, this is important because itâ€™s a project. It has to be successful. And they were very good. He did a lot of these, and he had the scripts for them and everything. He just went out of his way.
During those years of elementary and junior high, my recollectionsâ€”and I think Sara also remembers this, because weâ€™ve talked about itâ€”Dad used to teach. Before Phillip Shore, he taught at West Tampa Junior High. And during those years, that community over there was very close with the teachers, and Dad especially. So he would sponsor the end of the yearâ€”a sort of hot dog, wiener roast.
Unknown: Yep. Barbecue.
VG: Barbecue. And it was held right there. We still have the oldâ€”not the original pit, but the cement is there. And all of his classes were invited. Heâ€™d invite family, his brothers and nieces and nephews, and so forth. And the parents would drop them off, and they knew that the kids would be in a safe environment here. And they would stay till nightâ€”maybe nine, Sara? Like that, till nightfall almost. And they would have a fantastic time, then the parents would pick them up. So dad was just, in the eyes of many of these parents, he was just a real godsend. I mean, he justâ€”he gave discipline, and we still have his method of discipline upstairs.
He used to have a solid mahogany little round piece of wood, and he would tell them, and this is after theyâ€™d misbehave and misbehave, he said, â€œOkayâ€â€”and nowadays you canâ€™t do this, but in those days you didâ€” â€œdo you want me to, you know, send you to the principalâ€™s office, or do you want aâ€â€”I guess you call it a â€œlick,â€ or whatever Daddy would call it. And, â€œNo, no, Mr. Giunta. Give me that,â€ so heâ€™d do that. And it was, I guess, the embarrassment of it and all that. And they didnâ€™t want their parents told that they misbehaved, this was so important. And boy, that was it. It straightened up, and yet they had such high respect for him, you know, because they didnâ€™t get away with stuff and he tried to involve them, even those that could not do very much.
AH: Right. Well, by not telling the parents, it was like they had a secret between them and they could trust in him.
VG: Yes. And some of these parents would tell dad, â€œMr. Giunta, they misbehave, you give it to them. Whatever it is, you give it to them, you know. Donâ€™t feel that you canâ€™t.â€ And thatâ€™s the environment that it was in, because in West Tampa, wasnâ€™t it a Sicilian and Italian community and Spaniards?
Unknown: Itâ€™s Spanish. Cubans, too.
VG: Yes, so that was over there. But thatâ€™s myâ€”what I have as far as a recollection of Phillip Shore. Then from there, I went on to Jefferson, like Sara did. I was not in the band. I took what they called college-preparatory courses and was involved with many of the organizations that Saraâ€”or clubsâ€”Sara was. I was in National Honor Society, Future Teachers. There was a Z Club, which was the offshoot of the Zonta International, at the school level. So we did a lot of volunteer projects and things of that sort.
I caught the bus goingâ€”coming and going. I did that, and that was interesting. I used to look forward to the bus rides and comingâ€”then walking home through the neighborhood, because in those early years, once we came home, we were very active in different chores and helping with the household and helping outside. And it was always a family affair, but our scholarship came first, and our parents very much supported that. That was very important to them. From high school, I went on toâ€”
AH: Okay, wait, weâ€™re going to stop there.
VG: Oh yeah. Good.
AH: Because weâ€™re going to get going to get Tessie, so that we can move all forward, together. And then I want to talk about the farming and stuff, too, but weâ€™ll get back to that shortly. So, Tessie, when were you born?
Beatrice Giunta (BG): I was born July 12th, 1952.
AH: Okay. And so kind of walk us through your childhood.
BG: I would say the earliest I remember, with strong memories, would be when I was about age four. I remember my father brought an insurance man here. I think he was involved in selling magazines to raise funds for the school my father was working for at the time. And the salesman saw me, and he gave me a little monkey. It was a stuffed monkey. It was called â€œPhoebe Beebe.â€ And I was four years old at the time, and I thought that was the most beautiful little monkey I had ever seen, which I still have today, by the way.
AH: Thatâ€™s awesome. Thatâ€™s great.
BG: So that monkey is what? Oh, well over 60 years old.
AH: Right. If monkeys could talk.
BG: And I remember theâ€”we met in the parlor. I remember seeing the gentleman, and my father always rememberedâ€”bringing something to me, doing things like that, having the gentleman remember his child. I remember when my father took his science class to Cape Canaveral. My father bought me a rubber model of a rocket, that if you took the rocket apart, it was a set that you could play with on the beach. And so you could dig, and I had that for many, many years. And those are the happy memories I have. I remember, to me, growing up here at the Giunta farm was like paradise.
My brother, who was three years older than I wasâ€”he was born April 19th, 1949â€”he was my playmate as a child. When I would play with my dolls or dress up, I would do that alone. But my sisters, when I was a little girl, they were already teenagers, so I was playing alone. But when my brother and I played together, we would enjoy the outdoors. And we had a menagerie. And we all loved animals very, very much, so we had a collection of pets. They were chinchillas, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits. We had a snapping turtle, iguana, and we had a lot of fun. We were very loving. We took good care of them. We had chickens all our lives. And I have memories of being able to play with my brother andâ€”
AH: What was his name?
BG: Domenic. He was named Domenic after my father, we called him â€œDon.â€ And I remember oneâ€”several summersâ€”we would go out to what was called the â€œorchid tree.â€ It was a large tree that made blossoms of orchids, and it was at the end of the field on Twenty-Fifth Streetâ€”near Twenty-Fifthâ€”and my brother would tie a large rope with a rubber tire, and he would swing me into the field. And we would play on summer afternoons, and I had such wonderful memories of that.
AH: And so he was probablyâ€”he was born in â€™49 or â€™50?
BG: Forty-nine, so he was between Vicky and me. And so home life here was always wonderfulâ€”a warm, loving family. My mother did so much for the family, and I enjoyed spending a lot of time with her. And I was very close to her because after all the other children went to school, I remained home until it was my turn to go to school. So I remember we would go to Seventh Avenue, catch a busâ€”and I donâ€™t remember visiting Seventh Avenue very much, but I do remember going downtown, visiting Kressâ€™s with her, and things like that.
Myâ€”I would like to say that, at an early age, my parents began giving usâ€”have us take music lessons, and I know we each took private music lessons. My father and mother both loved music very much. And I know that when my father was a student at the University of Tampa, he took mandolin lessons for a while, and I think thatâ€™s something that he always wished he could have done as a child, because each of the four children took music lessons.
And I began taking music lessons on the marimba when I was six years old, and my father became aware of the instrument because my brother was taking music lessons from an Irving J. Singer, who was with the Tampa Philharmonic group at that time, and he was the head percussionist. So my brother was taking drum lessons, and I began taking marimba lessons. And I know my sister Vicky took piano lessons, and my sister Sara took clarinet lessons, and we formed a bandâ€”a musical family band. So I know I spent many hours on my music, which I always loved. And later in life, I took flute lessons, and that has been a big part of my life.
Another area that greatly affected me, I think, was my years at Most Holy Name Catholic School with the Salesian nuns. I found them to be extremely loving. They had very high ideals. They were strict disciplinarians, but it was all about love, academics, scholarship, discipline. And they taught not only, of course, religion, but morality and how to live a good life and that type of thing. I remember I had one nun, in particular, for three years. She followed her class, and it hadnâ€™t been done, I think, too much before. So I had Sister Esther for grades three, four, five, and six.
And I remember certain times in my grammar school years, that were very interesting regarding what was going on in the world at that time. I was about nine years old when the Cuban Missile Crisis was going on, and things were getting very tense. I was only a child, but the nuns started getting us ready for a possible crisis. And I remember they kept insisting we each take at least a gallon of water to school, and we had all these gallons of water lined along the back of the classroom, and we were toldâ€”we had to practice getting under our desks at that time. And I remember not really understanding what was going on, but I knew something bad could happen, and that always stuck in my mind.
Another interesting thing that I still remember today is the presidency of President Kennedy, and then his assassination. The nuns loved President Kennedy, of course, being our first Catholic president. They were overjoyed, so they spoke a lot about him, about what was going on in the White House. And they would make commentary to guide us in what we saw, maybe on TV or in the news. And I remember one time Mrs. Kennedy wore a strapless evening gown for some type of function, and the next day, the nuns had a talk about morality. And they talked about dressing modestly, and how one should dress, but that we had to understand that when you are in a situation like that thatâ€™s political, you dress a certain way and she had to dress like that. I rememberâ€”
AH: She was French, not Sicilian.
BG: I rememberâ€”for the assassination of President Kennedyâ€”I remember it was a Friday afternoon, and we were working on an art project, and Sister Superior Rose came to our classroom and spoke to our teacher, Sister Esther. And then they said they had an announcement for us, and they announced that President Kennedy had been assassinated. And the whole class started crying, and it was chaos. We justâ€”I'll never forget that day, how everyone was crying and crying, and the nuns were very upset too. And thatâ€™sâ€”those are thoughts that I remember. And I remember, it justâ€”the warmth that I felt at home, the love, the discipline, but it was always thereâ€”it continued at school with the Salesian nuns. They were such wonderful teachers at the time, and still are today.
Myâ€”in junior high school, I went to Franklin Junior High. I went to Most Holy Name Catholic School to grade six, as each of my siblings did, and then we would accompany our father to junior high school. As Vicky and Sara said, they went to Phillip Shore Junior High. I went to Franklin Junior High. My father was teaching there at the time, so my brother also accompanied my father to Franklin, and by the time I got to Franklin, of course, my brother had already gone on to high school.
Franklin was a very different experience for me. Asâ€”when my father was growing up, all of the Italians, Spanish, and the Cubans considered themselves Latin, and thatâ€™s the way we felt when we were growing up. We were Latin, not just Italian. We were Latin. And though there were some non-Latinsâ€”there were non-Latin children at Most Holy Nameâ€”we were more of a Latin community at Most Holy Name Catholic School. Franklin was very different. There were less Latin children there. It was an experience to go to school with children who had a different culture and not my culture. I remember one time, one of my little friends said that on Sunday, her mother made chicken and dumplings. And I said, â€œWhatâ€™s a dumpling?â€ And you know, from being a Sicilian girl, and the food we ate and the culture I was used to, I didnâ€™t know what that was, so it was an eye-opener for me. It was very, very different.
I would say that Franklin Junior High was the beginning of my band experience, like my sister Sara had, and Vicky in junior high. I began taking the flute in the seventh grade, and so band became a very important part of my life. I loved music. And so, because the marimba was not an instrument you could walk down the street with for a parade, and Vicky expressed to me the difficulty of carrying a very heavy bell lyre, my dad asked the band director at the time, Mr. Crosby, to recommend an instrument for me. And he recommended the fluteâ€”that would be a good instrument. And I fell in love with it. So I continued music and taking music lessons on the marimba, and then I started taking music lessons on the flute, and that continued.
I would say that growing up here, our mother was likeâ€”she was just a tremendous woman, a wonderful cook, she sewed our clothes. My father also did income tax work, so she would type all his papers for him, of the income tax work. And so I would say that growing up inâ€”I couldnâ€™t have grown up in a more loving, wonderful environment. And I think I was always the luckiest. Being the youngest, I got the adviceâ€”I had two big sisters, a big brother. It wasâ€”I had the best of all worlds. So for me, it was justâ€”itâ€™s just been wonderful.
AH: So letâ€™s, before we move on with yourâ€”the rest of your lives, letâ€™s talk about your parents. Theyâ€™ve already come up quite a bit, and I'd like to get an idea of their personalities and kind of what drove them. Obviously, your father wasâ€”well, intellectually, Iâ€™d say gifted, butâ€”and very driven. Give us an idea of, kind of, what their internal lives might have been like, what their personalities were like. What were their quirks? Letâ€™s start with you, Sara.
SR: The reason for that, I believe, is my dad was one of eight children, and his family really believed in education, so they decided that my father seemed like the most likely to succeed in college. So they all sacrificed to put him through the University of Tampa. He was in the first graduating class of the University of Tampa. It was very important. And there was not the least bit of envy or anything among his brothers and sisters that he got to go. I mean, they were just happy for him. So I guess thatâ€™s whereâ€”then it came down to our generation, that education was important to us. And itâ€”with me, itâ€™s the same thing. All my six children are all university graduates, you know.
AH: Right. So that explains how youâ€™re more like a third-generation, because you father was really jump-started by the rest of the family, when it comes to education.
AH: Thatâ€™s impressive. And what else? Tell us more about your dad. I mean, we know a lot about him professionally, but obviously, youâ€”we also want to talk about the farm too. So he did a lot of stuff besidesâ€”I mean, he had several lives, it sounds like. One of them was in education, which he was very dedicated to, but what about the farm?
SR: He loved the farm.
AH: Yeah, and tell us also about the landscape growing up, because when you guys were growing up, it was at a time when the Italian farms in East Ybor were on the wane. But at one time, your farmstead would have been one among many. So tell us about thatâ€”I guess the farming community, how your dad saw it, how it all fit in.
SR: By the time I was growing up, I donâ€™t remember other farms around. There were maybe backyard gardens and stuff, but his was the only one that I'd recollect.
AH: And was it a working farm at that point, and did he sell?
SR: Oh yes.
AH: Yeah, like sell produce and stuff.
SR: Yeah, he would take orders fromâ€”at that time, there were many small Latin stores, Italian stores, at Ybor City and West Tampa, so he would take orders during the week and pick the orders, and then deliver them on the days they wanted them.
AH: So this is in addition to all of his other work?
SR: Yeah. And also, my dad, he worked during the war in theâ€”at the shipyard, at MacDill. Yeah, MacDill.
AH: So he just gave up his position teaching orâ€”
SR: He wentâ€”well, yeah, he had to give it up. It was before I was born, so he was an electrician, and he did electrical work on ships. Then after the war, then he returned back to teaching. So he wasâ€”he knew electricity. He alsoâ€”every summer, teachers, naturally, donâ€™t work, so he would sometimes get subcontracted by some contractor to do the electrical work on houses. So he did different jobs like that. He even, I think, did plumbing, so anything to supplement the income.
AH: And actually, he ran for office at one time, is that right?
AH: Did he runâ€”was it for city council or what?
AH: Oh, it was for mayor, right. Okay.
Unknown: Against Curtis Hixon.
AH: Okay, right. Interesting. I wonderâ€”I donâ€™t think we were having honest elections yet, at that point. So yeah, and what else about your dad and the farmstead? So Iâ€™m interested, what was his sense of humor like? Did he have a real sense of humor? Was he always serious? What kind of guy?
BG: He wasâ€”had a wonderful sense of humor. He was a very loving individual. He alwaysâ€”he neverâ€”everyone was a friend. He didnâ€™t have enemies. And he always saw the best in everyone.
AH: This is Tessie, by the way.
BG: Yes, and heâ€™s always set an example for us in the way he lived and the way he carried on his life, his interactions with others. Always very protective of all of us and very loving. A very hard-working individual. He spoke three languages, and he was very intelligent. You could ask my dad anything, and he would alwaysâ€”he would know the answer to everything. He was just a brilliant man. He really was. And he couldâ€™ve, I guess, been anything he wanted, and his passion was teaching, and he was excellent at teaching and always loved it.
VG: To give some background on my dadâ€”
AH: This is Vicky.
VG: When he graduated from college, from what I recollect, and you all can correct me if I'm wrong, but he started working. He got a job in social services, and his job was that he would interview individuals who are in need of assistance, and it might be financial or food or whatever. And they would tell him their story, and then he would appropriate whatever funds were appropriate for that situation. Well, it was found that his lines always were very, very long, and the other lines were shorter because [in] those lines, people would be denied a lot. Dad had a soft heart, a big heart, and so he couldnâ€™t say no to a lot of the individuals. So I remember that something they told him, No, you canâ€™t do that. You have to go by the book. But it just broke his heart. That was one recollection I have.
Like Tessie said, he was a realâ€”a giver, and so genuine. Heâ€™d help you in any way possible. And thatâ€™s why I think my dad and my mom were just such a perfect mesh, because he treasured education. His whole family did. And like Sara said, there was no envy in it, because in Sicilianâ€”at least this Sicilian familyâ€”if one in the family advances, you all advance. Itâ€™s not me-ism, you know. If you get a job and you earn a wage, you donâ€™t get that money and put it in your pocket. Itâ€™s shared. It goes to the coffers of the family. And so with mom, she attended Ybor School, thatâ€™s still functioning today in a different capacity as a school. And she loved school. She did well, but she came from a family ofâ€”my grandparents on that side had three children. It was Mary, a sisterâ€”an older sisterâ€”and then it was Phillip. Phillip was a brother, and he was next in line, and then my mom.
Well, Mary ran away and got married very youngâ€”eloped. And so that was very disappointing to my grandparents because they wanted her to go to school and attend school. She ended up working the cigar factories, whichâ€”she made a fine wage. My uncle Philip, they sent him to school, and he used to skip school and skip school and be in all kinds of problems with the administration, and my grandmother would get all these complaints about him. So finally, they said, Thatâ€™s it. You know, just drop out of school, go to work as a mechanic. And he did. And he did well for himself.
With my mom, she wanted to go on to get an education. She wanted so badly to go on, and go into the ninth grade, which would be next after the elementary years, and my grandmother said, â€œNo.â€ And it wasâ€”in the Sicilian familiesâ€”a matriarch type of setup. And itâ€™s not that she was being cruel, but because of the history she had with two children abandoning the dream of education, she said, â€œNo, youâ€™re going to go work. Youâ€™re going to get some training and go to work. Iâ€™m not going to waste timeâ€”look what your sister did, your brother did.â€ So Mom never felt that, Oh, my mother has shortchanged me, but she felt denied.
And so, often, people sometimesâ€”forms, questionnaires would come up, â€œWhat was your highest level of education?â€ And she would check high school. And I'd question, â€œMom, you went to high school?â€ She said, â€œWell, I was promoted to the 10th grade.â€ So she wanted so much to be able to be part of that, so she was given the opportunity to getâ€”my grandparents paid for training for her to become a beautician, and she learned that trade and did fine with it. It was within walking distance of her home, so she would do that. But once she married, she was just so happy with family life, and my dad said, â€œFor what youâ€™re making, you know, itâ€™s really not helping the family. You just stay home.â€ And then they had a family shortly after that. Going back into some of the other thingsâ€”
AH: Well, before weâ€”before thatâ€”it makes a lot of sense now, your parents and how they fit, right?
AH: And that your dad, even thoughâ€”I mean, he was an ideal that she kind of felt denied, you know, and that she could live vicariously through you guys as you went to school too, right?
VG: Yes. Which youâ€™re very right, she had that.
AH: Iâ€™m sorry, you were going toâ€”
VG: I just was going to say our mother was always here for us. In other words, she was hereâ€”the guts and bones of the household, so to speak. And I remember one of the thingsâ€”the first thing that I'd come home from junior high, or high schoolâ€”sometimes I'd walk home because Dad had meetings at Shore, and I'dâ€”before I even put down my purse or whatever, I'd be there, â€œMom, you know what happened today?â€ And itâ€™d be the whole recounting. And I'm usually the most verbal in the family, they can attest to that. So I would give a blow-by-blow account of different things that happened, and so that was so fantastic to be able to share my experiences. And she would comment and say, â€œWell, and how did you do on that test?â€ and give me feedback, and it was always a constant thing.
And then it was funny because Daddy would come later, [and] heâ€™d change into his work clothes to go to the field or whatever. And so at that time, I'd also change into a pair of shorts, or what have you, and then I'd run to the field. And Daddy would be there shoveling the sand or whatever, and I'd be, â€œDad, do you know what happened?â€ And so thereâ€™d be conversation there, sharing, and heâ€™d stop, â€œReally?â€ leaning on his hoe or whatever. It was just that kind of a simple time, a frozen time, and I guess because we were the only small, little farm that remained. Like Sara said, there were no large plots. There was a farm across the street, and everything was just so small at that point. Watercress was being grown in some of the ditches that ran water from Oak Springs, and so forth.
But our parents were just so important, as far as the success of the household. And my mother would never buy anything for herself if she didnâ€™t have for us. In other words, Saraâ€”Tessie said, I believe, or Sara, about Mom sewing clothes for us, and she did. We always had new dresses at Easter that she sewed, or Christmas and all that. And my grandmother would also come and help out, and they were both there with a sewing machine and hands going at the sewing. But not that my mother would ever deny us so that she could have a new dress, that wasnâ€™t the case. And both parents were like that.
AH: Understood. So I think this is probably a good time for a quick break, if thatâ€™s all right?
VG: Yeah, sounds good.
SR: I just wanted to say one more thing.
AH: This is Sara.
SR: Along with the memories of elementary, the greatest thingâ€”one of the greatest things about elementary was we could walk home for lunch, and a lot of the kids did that. We knew how long it would take to get from here to Most Holy Name. And there were kids from all over that would come down the street, and we would join up and walk to school and back. I remember one time, it wasâ€”we had this old desk with the inkwell. We had to dip to write. And it was so cold, I had my coat on, and I spilled it, and it got all over my coat, and the nun said, â€œOh, run home, run home.â€
So in the middle of the afternoon, my mother said, â€œWhy are you here?â€ I said, â€œSister said to come home and wash this.â€ So that was so great. She was always here. There were noâ€”we were not everâ€”I never knew what the word â€œlatch[key] kidâ€ was. We had our mother here all the time. And one other memory with my mother was that I was the oldest, so when she was pregnant with the other children, I would ride with her. We would catch the trolley, there on Seventh Avenue, and it would go all the way to her doctorâ€™s office for her appointments with her doctor, and I would accompany her.
AH: Wow. And that was probably the last couple of years with the trolley being there, right?
SR: Yeah, with the trolley. Yeah.
AH: Wow. Great stuff. Well, this is a good place to pause for a moment and take a quick break.
SR: Sounds good.
AH: Yeah, Sara, you were just talking aboutâ€”
SR: Yeah, this is Sara. Our grandparents and aunts and unclesâ€”most of the family, back in the old days, worked in the cigar factories. Because of that, there were so many more Cuban people working in the cigar factories, that theâ€”all the women learned Cuban recipes. So I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s a householdâ€”a Sicilian householdâ€”that doesnâ€™t know how to cook Cuban food, along with the Italian, and itâ€™s such a blessing. I really didnâ€™t realize until I got married and I'm cooking all these different foods. I didnâ€™t realize what a blessing it was for my grandmothers to have learned all of that and passed it on to us.
AH: Right. So you, likeâ€”because you married an Italian, right?
SR: Heâ€™s half Italian. His father is Italian, and his mother was Irish.
AH: Okay, so he was probably surprised by all this Cuban food that you were making, is that it?
SR: Well, my father-in-law owned a restaurant. So my father-in-law was a very good cook, and he could cook.
AH: Was the restaurant here in town?
SR: Yeah, it was called Tommyâ€™s Restaurant and itâ€™sâ€”it was on Dale Mabry [Highway], near the Bucsâ€™ [Buccaneers] training facility and all that. And they sold the land to, I think, Buickâ€”Royal Buick or somethingâ€”when he retired.
AH: Right, okay. And when was that restaurant active? Do you remember?
SR: I never knew that it existed because, I mean, I knew Ybor City, and thatâ€™s about all I knew. But my husband saidâ€”I guess it was opened maybe in the early â€™50s. Because I know when he went to high school, all his buddies and everything, you know, they went to Tommyâ€™s. Everybody said, You havenâ€™t heard of Tommyâ€™s? I never did.
AH: One thing I'd like to talk about is the role of women in, kind of, Sicilian culture and how that changed over time. Tell us a little bit about how you understood life to be for, say, your grandmother, or as the way that you understood. And howâ€”and just the familyâ€”not just women, but men, too, because I heard someone mention that it was kind of a matriarchal thing, but then I've heard people say this is a patriarchal thing. Whereas, I think itâ€™s more like a division of laborâ€”whereas, because, you know, I donâ€™t think there are a lot ofâ€”well, I donâ€™t know, you tell me. First of all, like, weâ€™ve heard in yourâ€”your father mentioned in his oral history, that the man was the ruler of the household, right. But in practice, Iâ€™m sure it didnâ€™t always work that way. So, I guess, tell us about your grandparents and how you understand that give and take.
BG: Okay, well, Iâ€™m Tessie. With my grandmother, Nonna Victoria, she passed away two years before I was born, so I never had the pleasure of meeting her, but I knew her from all that I have heard from my family all these years. That, I think, from what I understand with my nonna, it was the matriarch at homeâ€”everyone loved her and respected her, and she did a lot for the family.
And forâ€”and my grandfather was also the bread earner who had to be away a lot, because sometimes he would go as far as St. Cloud in order to find work, so my grandmother was always here. Though she worked, she was here every day for the family. With my motherâ€™s parents, I know that they got married at a very young age. My grandmother was 14, and my grandfather 22, and so life for them was difficult. She worked in the cigar factories, and he worked in various placesâ€”the cigar factory as well.
But as far as a strong matriarch or patriarch, I wouldnâ€™t say that I saw either of them. I knowâ€”but the mother is alwaysâ€”because itâ€™s all about the home, and the warmth of the home. Thereâ€™s always something cooking on the stove. Thereâ€™s that warm matriarchal vibe that goes on, andâ€”but I wouldnâ€™t say I saw a strong male hand. In our home, I would have to say, with my mother and father, I never saw a more loving couple. Neither ever raised a voice to one another. There was such mutual respect. They each had opinions that were respected, and it was loving and harmonious. My dad used the term, when mother passed away in 1980, that how she filled this whole house with her presence, and even today, we feel that loss so many years laterâ€”almost 40 years now. So thatâ€™s my take on it, and I'd like to hear what my sisters have to say as far as the roles and that.
AH: And, also, how you were taught, you know.
VG: Well, for oneâ€”Vickyâ€”Tessie, you recall that you told me over the years, like, your music background and youâ€™re alwaysâ€”you love music. And at one time, you had considered going into it as a profession, and mom and dad discouraged you because ofâ€”you want to explain that? Thatâ€™s shows role.
BG: Yes. We were very family oriented, all of usâ€”not thenâ€”just here, the six of us: Mom, Dad, and four children. But then we had Sara get married, and brought Danny into our family. And she started having children, so we had an extended family. We were all very close. And I knewâ€”they made me realize, if I majored in music, there was going to be the possibility of getting a job with a symphony orchestra, something out of town. Was I willing to relocate if thatâ€™s the way I went with my music studies?
So I knew I wanted to stay here, and thatâ€™s why I thought about and was encouraged into education. And I remember being young, and I remember telling my mom, â€œBut I donâ€™t know if I really want to work. I want to be like you. I want to be a homemaker. I want to have children, be at home with my children.â€ And my mom said, â€œWell, thatâ€™s fine. You can do that, but you need to have a career. Make sure you can take of yourself. What if something happens to your husband? You need to be able to fall back on something.â€ So we always got that kind of advice of looking ahead, always being prepared, and have choices availableâ€”donâ€™t be very one-sided in how you proceed in life.
AH: Right. Well, and this is a contrast to a lot of Baby Boomers who, you knowâ€”follow your dream, drop everythingâ€”family, you know, â€œIâ€™m going to California.â€
VG: Yes. Right.
AH: And so, itâ€™s interesting that that was kind of inculcated in you enough that you made that decision ofâ€”a strategic decision to be with the family. Interesting.
SR: Itâ€™s funnyâ€”this is Saraâ€”itâ€™s funny that without realizing, I canâ€™tâ€”I realize how much I am like my mother. Because my younger son, whoâ€™s 41, when he was in high school, he wanted to be aâ€”what kind engineering is Pierre in? Mechanical. He wentâ€”my son-in-law was a mechanical engineer in Albany, Georgia, and my son went along with my husband and the others to see the facility. And he was so impressed, he said thatâ€™s what he wanted to be, and he was a junior in high school.
So I said, â€œTim, you should rethink that, because if youâ€™re going to be like Pierre, youâ€™re going to have to move away. I donâ€™t want another child gone,â€ because I already had two out of state at that time. And so, I said, â€œThink of something else, you know, there areâ€”â€ besides, he loved hunting, he loved fishing, he loved the beach. And soâ€”but by senior year, he took computer courses, and that was it, and so now he has his own company.
AH: Good for him.
SR: Â So he stayed here. He lives very near us. So we have always encouraged that. And my daughter, for instance, in Georgia, she moved back after 12 years, and so it worked out for them.
SR: One other thing I wanted to sayâ€”this is Sara againâ€”the women, you were talking about the Sicilian womenâ€”very few women at that time were driving. My mother never drove. Myâ€”none of my grandparents ever drove. And also, they usedâ€”my mother, I donâ€™t think, ever wrote a check. My dad wrote the few checks that had to be written, but everything we hadâ€”he would cash his checkâ€”at that time, I think, teachers were paid once a month, and they would budget. And the coffee man delivered the coffee and you paid him, the milkman, you paid himâ€”he came to the door. We belonged to Centro Asturiano for medical, and she paid thatâ€”everything.
AH: So thatâ€™s interesting. You didnâ€™t get those benefits from the Italian Club? No? Interesting.
VG: Because they had hospitalizationâ€”this is Vickyâ€”over there at the hospital, where you actually had the ability to stay at a hospital if the need arose.
AH: Right, so the Italians didnâ€™t have that.
VG: The Italian Club was a social organization. The Centro Asturianoâ€”it was very reasonable, and you got all your medical expenses paid for, and they made prescriptions there.
AH: So you were probably just members of both then, you know, you had the social benefits.
VG: Yeah, you have the social and the other.
AH: Understood. Right. Did you spend a lot of time in the Italian Club growing up?
VG: No. Not at all, no.
AH: Now, why is that? Was it because it was in decline, or was it because it was usually men hanging out there? What was your impression? Because, of course, I mean, its glory days were probably already passing at that point, butâ€”
SR: I donâ€™t ever remember them offering things that, like, we could go to. I think we used to go to a movie that was in Seventh Avenue. Was that the Ritz?
VG: Oh, the Ritz? Yeah, the Ritz. Yeah.
SR: We used to go to Saturday morning movies there together.
AH: Yeah, your dad talked about going to the matinees at the Italian Club that they would screen. But I guess they didnâ€™t do that by the time you were going.
VG: That must have been in his earlier daysâ€”maybe as a teenager, maybe in college years, butâ€”
SR: But they didnâ€™t offer things for children, that I remember, or teenagers, like they do now. It was a different kind of thing.
AH: They didnâ€™t have dances or stuff like that anymore?
SR: I donâ€™t recall that. But then again, we were involved, like, with our high schools and those activities. And dances that were held would be there with our friends.
AH: Understood. Right.
SR: Because the Sicilian community was dying at that point, by the time we were growing up in our teenage years. So when you donâ€™t have that population adjacent to a club, it starts dwindling. People have cars, and they could get there, but everybody in those days didnâ€™t have a car like now. Itâ€™s kind of different. And theyâ€™ve done so much now to try to promote the culture, and itâ€™s wonderful what theyâ€™re doing. It really is admirable.
AH: Now, in the old world, in Sicily, did the women work or did they typically stay at home and help with the farming?
BG: No, they were moreâ€”Iâ€™m Tessieâ€”and they stayed home more.
AH: Right, because it strikes me that the cigar factory might be a real decisive institution here because it got women into the workplace.
BG: Yes, it did.
AH: And then there was no shame or stigma of being a stripperâ€”of stripping the leaves in thatâ€”and one thing your father kept saying in his oral history is that this is light work for Sicilians who are used to breaking their backs. I mean, when the men first got here, they were working in sugarcane fields and laying railroad tracks and stuff like that, and the idea of stripping leaves or rolling cigars for a living seems like very light work. So whatâ€”do you think that thatâ€™s true, that the cigar factory sort of helped break down that wall?
VG: It definitely didâ€”Vickyâ€”I think definitely, like in Sicily, the women worked in the fields. I mean, they also did everything at home, but the family had to have two individuals there, working, to be able to maintain any kind of income. And then the other thing is that it wasnâ€™t like they just worked right thereâ€”the village was here, and they would travel, and sometimes they wouldâ€”it would take half a day to go to where the land was farmed. And farming required removing big boulders and things like that to get a little bit of farmland. Itâ€™s ugly land to farm.
AH: Yeah, for the uninitiated, itâ€™s very rocky, itâ€™s kind of mountainous there, right?
VG: Yes, and so they would sleep in something that they still have todayâ€”sometimes you can see them in the Sicily. I have a picture of one. Itâ€™s called a Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â (??), and itâ€™s like a hutâ€”looks like some kind of an Indian hut. And itâ€™s made of mud and grass and hay, and they just pack it, and they just go in there. And thatâ€™s where they have some protection from the elements and such. They would kind of live there. That would be where they got their meals, or start a little fire and cook something or warm something. And then they would work the farms for several days like that, and then go back to their home in Santo Stefano with their donkey and whatever things that they took back to the town.
So it was a very, very hard life. It was a life that not onlyâ€”they didnâ€™t mind so much working hard, but then the feudal system that was there just ate them up alive as far as taxes. And then taxes not only the property that they were farming, and then taxes on seeds, and just so much. And so, finally, there was a revolt, and then our grandfather was involved in that, and he was jailed. And then, as a result of that, they lost whatever crops they had put in. Our grandmother and grandfather decided, Letâ€™s go ahead and borrow, which they did, in order to come over with some of the family, not all of them.
AH: And then when they sailed, they left debt behind that they had to pay, right?
VG: Yes, thatâ€™s right. Thatâ€™s right. So they came here, and no matter what work you gave them, it was not the work that they had there. And so thatâ€™s why they were able to work at the factory. My grandfather used to start his job at one or two in the morning, to wet the tobacco leaves, to prepare them for the workers that stripped, like my grandmother. So they were kind of on different kind of shifts. And once that happened, he would get off at two oâ€™clock or even earlier, well, he was out doing other stuffâ€”working on the railroad, where, you know, if it was certain days of the week, would go to St. Cloud and work there as a farm laborer. So this wasnâ€™t work to themâ€”God bless themâ€”even though it was, with like two or three jobs.
AH: Right. And the other thing that had struck me, with your dad describing life in Sicily, is just like the young girls. The first thing you had to do when you woke up in the morning was fetch water in these big five-gallon clay jars and everything. So that everybody worked, and everybody worked very hard. And he also talked about how everyone stuck together and stayed very close together, and that the same thing happened here. And itâ€™s just so interesting, you know, in Tampaâ€™s history as having that one source in Sicily, that that single village provides so many of our people, and that, you know, so many of those namesâ€”the Licatas, the Lazzaros, Giuntasâ€”are still with us today, except now theyâ€™re pillars of the community. Itâ€™s really dramatic.
Obviously, your parentsâ€”there wasnâ€™t a lot of the kind of photo brideâ€“type thing. There was a lot of that earlier on, where people would send a photograph back to Sicily so that the mother or a matriarch in the family could pass it around and try to get aâ€”but when youâ€”was there anyone left? Did you have likeâ€”I mean, I guess youâ€™d still have plenty of relatives in Sicily when you grew up, is that right? Did you stay in touch with them?
SR: Tessie and Vicky can tell you more about that, but it was just a few years ago that one of the second cousins came over and spent a whole month here with them.
AH: Oh wow.
SR: Yeah, and theyâ€™re the same family that our sistersâ€”and my mother was also able to make the first trip to Italy with my dad and my sisters. And so theyâ€”thereâ€™s still a lot of family. And, in fact, this one, you know, they stay in touch by phone all the time.
AH: Okay. I mean, and it also strikes me that fromâ€”you got such a limited pool. Did you have to do a little research before people got married to make sure they werenâ€™t related somehow?
SR: Actually, I'll comment on that. This is Sara again. On my motherâ€™s side of the family, my motherâ€™s parents were first cousins. My grandmother said that although they were first cousins, they rarely saw each other. There was kind of a feud between my grandmotherâ€™s mother and my grandfatherâ€™s mother, so they kept their kids all apart. And I guess maybe that drew them together more. So in this situation, in my grandmotherâ€™s house at that timeâ€”this is another family, not the Giuntaâ€”but it was very hard because my grandmother was brought over here when she already three or four years old, and she felt like her mother didnâ€™t love her. She always felt that the mother loved the other children more.
AH: Now, is this because she came over separately or something?
SR: Yeah, yeah becauseâ€”
AH: Oh, she did come over with themâ€”
SR: â€”they couldnâ€™t afford to bring everyone over, so they left her with an aunt.
AH: Oh, I understand.
SR: And she cried because she thoughtâ€”she always called the other lady â€œmama.â€ And so it was very difficult, and she didnâ€™t feel loved. So by the time sheâ€™s 14, my grandfather asked her to get married. And she told me she did not love him, she just did it to get out of the house.
AH: Oh, I see. So she never actually immigrated then? She stayed in Sicily?
SR: No, no, she came over.
AH: Oh, she did?
SR: But they sent for her, butâ€”when she wasâ€”
AH: Yeah, how old do you think?
SR: Well, she came over when she was like three or four.
Unknown: Or was she about six at that point? Possibly six years old.
AH: Because, yeah, I thought you said she was three or four when they left.
SR: Yeah, yeah, soâ€”
AH: So waited about three years? But those are really important years. Yeah.
SR: And so thatâ€™s why sheâ€”she told me she didnâ€™t love him, but thatâ€”by the time she was 19, she fell in love with him, and they were married 72 years.
AH: Okay, so she grew to love him.
AH: Okay, over time. But yeahâ€”
SR: But at first, it was just a way to get out of the house.
AH: Of course.
SR: Because she figured, â€œIf I'm going to work in the cigar factoriesâ€â€”and she started working [when] she was 11 or 12 years oldâ€”â€œand give all the money to my parents, Iâ€™ll have nothing. I might as well get married andâ€”for myself and my husband.â€ And they made the marriage work.
AH: Right. Well, and also, it wasnâ€™t unusual for really young people to work in the factories, too, especiallyâ€”when do you think this would have been when she was working in theâ€”started to work in the factories at a young age?
SR: Well, it would have been in the early 1900s, right?
AH: Right. Yeah, that sounds right because I think, around 1910, about a quarter of the cigar industry was minors. Soâ€”and, shortly after that, the child labor laws were passed, so that sort of got phased out over time.
SR: Butâ€”this is Sara againâ€”I've talked to girls who recentlyâ€”my high school graduates, friends, and we would discuss the fact that most of them were Sicilian or Cuban. And they said it was very common in Sicily to marry first cousins, because you didnâ€™t haveâ€”
AH: You have a limited dating pool, right?
SR: So it was very, very common. And my husband has always made fun: â€œOh, your firstâ€”grandparents were first cousins,â€ but it was just a common thing.
AH: Right. Understood. Because, I mean, Iâ€”thatâ€™s what I figure. When youâ€™ve got such a small dating pool, and then everyoneâ€™s dating each other, it gets very complicated, pretty quickly.
SR: Yes, it does.
AH: Yeah, very interesting. So letâ€™s talk about after high school. Well, before we leave Sicily and all that, any other stories of immigration? I thought that was fascinating because thereâ€™s got to be a million stories like that, of someone being left behind. Because you always hear about chain immigration, but what does that do to a three-year-old girl? Any other stories?
VG: Thisâ€”Vicky hereâ€”similar to what Saraâ€™s saying, on the Giunta side of the family, my grandmother had to leave behindâ€”and my grandfatherâ€”one of their sons, amongst the children that they left, and his name was Frank. And so, Frank was maybe three years old, Tessie? About that?
BG: I believe so.
VG: Yeah. So when he came overâ€”when they went back a fewâ€”four years or so later and got the rest of the family, and he came here, there was an adjustment period. He had an older brother that had worked in the cigar factoriesâ€”this was Angeloâ€”and since his father was working out of town a lot, and all of that, Angelo would be the big, the eldest, brother, and would guideâ€”he was like a father to my father, Don, and to Jimmy, the youngest son.
And so, he would tell Frank, â€œOkay, you have to do this and this. This is the way you do it.â€ And Frank would tell him, â€œNo. Youâ€™re not going to tell me what to do.â€ And here he was, just a little kid talking over, â€œYouâ€™re not going to tell me what to do. Youâ€™re not my father, you know. Youâ€™re not my father.â€ And this was alwaysâ€”he was always pushing it to the brink, then he would give in, and he would do it. But itâ€™s the same story, like what Sara has said, you know, that adjustment. Theyâ€™d been awayâ€”he was raised by his grandmother over there, and it was a difficultâ€”and this is not just one or two families, everybody had this experience. Andâ€”but yet, somehow or other, they unified, they reunited, and they were always one family.
Iâ€™d like to sayâ€”just skipping back to the neighborhood and growing up, something thatâ€”earlier we were talking about culture, religion, the church. And amongst the religious holidays, one of them is St. Josephâ€™sâ€”San Giuseppe. And itâ€™s a Sicilian tradition that they prepare a very large, beautiful altar with all kinds of food and breads. And itâ€™s allâ€”everything is handmadeâ€”that whoever sponsors it, is usually asked toâ€”asking Christ, or the Lord, for assistance in some way: health, a sick child, or an improvement in their life, or whatever.
And I remember going to grade school, and we have a picture of an earlier oneâ€”a San Giuseppe feast that took place across the street. And because these were all very small apartments, they couldnâ€™t set up the altar inside the house because you invite the community to come in. Â Certain people are representing the apostles and the Christ child, so they are seated at a table, but you canâ€™t seat everybody.
And so, we have a picture from way back whenâ€”from Dadâ€™s collection, because we donâ€™t even remember itâ€”but it shows the altar set up right there, where now we have a sidewalk. It was just dirt. And it was right on the street side, and itâ€™s all of the food and everything. That wasâ€”itâ€™s kind of taking it far back. Different from that, then, when I was in grade school, about the fifth or sixth gradeâ€”Sara mentioned the Lazzara family that lived here, and they had a St. Joseph feast celebration.
And at that time, our brother Don was the Christ child. In other words, he was the baby Jesus at the table. And an old man who was a farmer here with cows, he was St. Joseph. And each one has different titles. And we were at schoolâ€”I didnâ€™t see itâ€”but Mom took Don because he was involved in it. And the whole neighborhood had turned out, Mom said. It was just spilling over, you know, because it was just a very important thing. And of course, they would have the mass to celebrate it and all that, and the priest would come and bless everythingâ€”the affair. But thatâ€™s one of the things that I think always brought the immigrant community together, these celebrations, you know, like that.
AH: Right. Yeah, I mean, there areâ€”whatâ€™s interesting is that there were so many feast days in the Sicilian calendar, but then the Sicilians often went hungry in Sicily so often. I think it wasnâ€™t unusual for people not to have meat. You might have meat two or three, four times a yearâ€”on certain feast days. You were talking about how one of your relatives wasâ€”rebelled in Sicilyâ€”and as far as you understand it, tell us about why that happened. And also, I guess it wasnâ€™t unusual for experiences like that to radicalize people, politically, so Iâ€™m also interested in what you heard about radical politics. It sounds like your father was not a fan, but itâ€™d be interesting to know, like within the family, et cetera. So how do you understandâ€”was it your grandfather who was imprisoned?
VG: Okay. Vicky here. The story we were told by Dad, was that his father, Salvatoreâ€”he married my grandmother when herâ€”she was a widow, and she had three girls, three young children, and he was a farm laborer. And so it was a marriage that was perfect for the both of them. He needed someone, and she needed someone to help with the land, and both of them farmed it. But it just got to be impossible with the taxation, and they worked so hard, and the bad weather, and theyâ€™d lose their crops, and they had no backâ€”nothing to fall back on. And they borrowed and so forth.
And so then there was this individualâ€”I think he was an educatorâ€”Panepinto, that was very, very, I guess, radical to some, not radical to others because his ideas seemed like they might work, and also to make it fair for the classes. And so Nanno, my grandfather, joined the force, the group, and then there was some kind of a massive confrontation, and some were shot, I think, and even killed. Others were injured. He wasnâ€™t, but he was jailed. And stories are that it was several months to the majority of the year. I donâ€™t know exactly what, but that threw everything in a bind for my grandmother. Sheâ€™d lost everything, and they wereâ€”he was completely disgusted, so they decided to move, and they had to move to America. That was the only answer because they had heard, from correspondence and stuff, that things were better if you were willing to work, and there were jobs.
And thatâ€™s the thing. Youâ€™re asking about jobsâ€”to this day, unless itâ€™s changed, but you go into the town, the banks will have some women working there or whatever, but there were very few jobs. And the one company, I believe, we visited when Rosetta cameâ€”she said that the NestlÃ© company has a spring water company in Santo Stefano, but thatâ€™s it, thereâ€™s no other. So Nanno, when he got out of prison, he and Nonna decided that would need to move. And thatâ€”
AH: Do you know what year that would have been about?
AH: Okay. Right.
VG: Nineteen oh-seven. And itâ€™s interesting because she had a brother and two other sistersâ€”my grandmotherâ€”and all of the three of them, she came over, and then the othersâ€”one stayed behindâ€”
Unknown: Then one brother and one sister came to the United States.
VG: Also came. But one did not, and those are the ones weâ€™re in touch with.
AH: Oh, okay. Right.
VG: Yeah. So, through that choice, that they came here, it amounted to a lot over here for this family that started up. But thatâ€™s the history of what weâ€™ve heard, that Nanno was very involved. And yet, over here, he wasnâ€™t. I mean, itâ€™s not thatâ€”he was just a hardworking man. With Dad, I think his thingâ€”once he got to Tampa U [University of Tampa], his mind just exploded. He just loved literature and the music, the fine arts, and just exposure to everything he never had before. And he was, in my estimation, a brilliant man. He really was, like Tessie said.
So there was, in Tampa at that time, a lot of dealingsâ€”political thingsâ€”in running the city and stuff like that, and he didnâ€™t like that, and so thatâ€™s why he was leaning towards that, and finally decided, Iâ€™m going to run for mayor. And he was such an idealist. Here heâ€™s a, quote, â€œnobodyâ€â€”God bless himâ€”and he wanted to run for mayor. Family supported him, and so forth, but the big names of Curtis Hixon and somebody else that was running made it a very biased, or whatever, kind of race.
But I think it was good because at that point in time he was just so filledâ€”first, he had tried to help, in the social service area, people that needed it. He saw that aspect at the roots level, then he saw what was going on in the cityâ€”wanted to make that right. So after that, thatâ€™s when he decided, Thatâ€™s it. I got it out of my system. I tried. And he really focused then on education, that was his thing. And he loved it anyway, that was really his calling. So he had such a happy life, he never regretted the otherâ€”that he didnâ€™t win. It was just meant to be.
AH: Was it in the 1940s that he ran?
VG: Yes. Yes.
AH: Was it around there? Yeah? I thought so.
VG: About â€™47, or thereabouts.
AH: But you know, I think he probably came to the conclusion [that] you can make a lot of the changes you wanted to make just through education. I mean, he might not be the one to make the change, but maybe one of his students would.
VG: And whatâ€™s interesting is that his campaign flyerâ€”platform, I guess you would call itâ€”it lists various points that he wanted to bring about. And some of those things have come about, like he wanted a public radio station for the City of Tampa, and here we have the closed-circuit TV of the City of Tampaâ€”that the bolita would be legalized, and that was a controversial thing. That really didnâ€™t make any friends, and now we see the lottery is in place. So there are things like thatâ€”itâ€™s an interesting read, because things have come about as a result.
AH: Well, and you â€”does someone else have something before Iâ€”
SR: Well, I wanted to mention something. This is Sara. All of thisâ€”we keep on bringing up education. Itâ€™s like almost a theme here. The uncle that we were talking aboutâ€”no, Â Â Â Â Â Â (??), which is Frank, my dadâ€™s older brotherâ€”he was one of the owners of the cash-and-carry stores. So back years ago, when he was already a millionaire or close to that, he was in his â€™50s, and he went to high school to get a high school education. He had all the money he could have, but education was so important to him andâ€”because he had gone just to the Italian school as a youngster and never finished any type ofâ€”so he was aâ€”he learned on his own.
AH: What was his name?
SR: Frank. Frank Giunta. And when he went to work at cash and carry, he had a suit and tie on, and from work, he would go straight to the high school, to night school. And all of the other workmen there, in their plumbing clothes or whatever to get their education, to get ahead, and here was the man with all the money, and they said, Why? Why are you doing this? He wanted the high school education, and he got it.
AH: Wow. Yeah, thatâ€”
SR: And thatâ€™s how much education was an important part of the family.
AH: Right. Wow, that says a lot. Iâ€™m also interestedâ€”you guys have brought up holidays, the feast days. I'm also interested in howâ€”you talked about also how Cuban and Sicilian culture and some Spanishâ€”and itâ€™s sort of bleeding together a bit. So were there other influences? Like, for example, what would you have done normally on Christmas Eve? Or did you do like Noche Buena stuff, or was it strictly Italian? Whatâ€”
BG: For my recollections for our familyâ€”
AH: This is Tessie.
BG: Iâ€™m Tessie. We did not do the Noche Buena. It was more of like a Sicilian-type of observance. I remember having lasagna, that type of thing. Either it was Christmas Eve or for Christmas Day. We would always go to Mass. When we were older, it would always be Mass on Christmas Eve, the night before Christmas, andâ€”
AH: Did everyone in the family go to Mass?
AH: I mean, always?
BG: And we would have a beautiful, wonderful Christmas celebration. We were always taught thatâ€”Mom and Dad would always say that you get one very nice gift, something that you wanted, and then other things that were smaller. It was not this thing of just giving you toys that then you would just put aside because you had so much. But we were rich in the wonderful family life, the food, the celebration, the decorations, and thatâ€™s what I remember. And what can we share?
VG: Vicky here. My thinking was that that barrier of Twenty-Second, Twenty-First, that had that Spanish communityâ€”on that side, the factoriesâ€”had made a lot of changes in the way that those individuals grew up, they spoke the language and so forth, and because of that, they accommodated the cultureâ€”the Spanish cultureâ€”these Sicilians. The ones over here were different.
Likeâ€”our grandmother worked at the factory there. We used to call it Regensburg, but the Newman factory with the clock. That was one ofâ€”and I'm sure there were Spaniards there too, but that was reallyâ€”a lot of Sicilians worked there. So there wasnâ€™t this sharing of recipes and cooking. My grandmother, on the Giunta side, I never remember her cooking anything Spanish or Cuban. Isnâ€™t it true? It was just a unique community, so they did not open up to new ideas. And also, I think, that thatâ€™s something thatâ€™s inherited, that love of food and exploration. And I donâ€™t think that they had it. I think our nonna on that side had it. Itâ€™s notâ€”itâ€™s just a thought I had, because that never happened here.
AH: Yeah. Well, letâ€™s talk aboutâ€”as weâ€™re leading up to lunchtime, letâ€™s talk about food. It seems like an appropriate time. So tell us about, you know, we heard lasagna on holidays, but was the typical dinner like?
SR: Well, I would tell youâ€”this is Saraâ€”my dad said that because his mother was working, his father was out of town, that mainly they had lentil soup almost every night during the week. A lentil bean is very small, and it cooks rapidly, so it was something you could cook after getting off of work and having time for dinner. Plus, they just didnâ€™t have the money for any kind of meat. That was always reserved for Sunday at noon. And Sundays, traditionally, were always spaghetti and spaghetti sauce. If you walked through the neighborhoods on a Sunday morningâ€”the Italian neighborhoodsâ€”youâ€™d smell the spaghetti sauce cooking, because remember, back then, there were no freezers. Now, when I make spaghetti sauce, I make a giant pot and I freeze it. But they had to cook it every week. And if you wanted more during the middle of the week, you cook it again.
AH: Well, and it has to cook for a long time.
AH: So, typically, you put it on maybe even before Mass, right?
SR: Yeah, yeah. And soâ€”
AH: And then what typically was in the sauce then? Usually, youâ€™d have meats, right?
SR: Yeah, most of the time they would make meatballs, or you can make meat sauce. Itâ€™s just about browning the meat and throwing it in. Or sometimes it would be like beef chunks, or pork chunks, or things like that.
VG: Iâ€™m Vicky. I remember Dad saying that they used to have pigeons. He raised them, and they used that also in the sauce, I believe, sometimes when he was growing up as a boy.
SR: When he was growing up, but my mother never did.
VG: Yeah, we never did.
SR: Just like my grandmotherâ€”this is Saraâ€”on my motherâ€™s side, theyâ€”my grandfather would hunt, and he would bring home rabbits, and she would cook those in the sauce, but my mother never cooked rabbit.
AH: Okay. Interesting. Yeah, because I remember your father did talk about eating a lot of lentils and pasta, beans and pasta, and thatâ€”the ritual of picking all the stones out of it because there was so many stones.
SR: Thatâ€™s very true.
AH: Yeah, thatâ€™s very interesting. So we talked aboutâ€”last time I was here with you guys, we talked about the parlor and about having the instruments set up in the front room. So, typically, what, the parlor was for after dinner, and thatâ€™s where you guys would hang out? Is that where you spent most of your time as a family?
BG: I would say theâ€”Iâ€™m Tessieâ€”and I would say the parlor was primarily our receiving room, and in the front and atâ€”originally, our parlor was a parlor and dining room, and the two rooms were separated by bookcases that had an opening in the middle. And as the family grew and we all began taking music lessons and learning a musical instrumentâ€”and my brother played the drums, so he had a trap setâ€”we needed room, so the area that was the dining room became the music room. And we had the piano that Vicky played, we had the marimba in there, my brotherâ€™s trap set, and Sara would have her clarinet. And so, we had the family band there, and that was the room.
As far as where we would maybe hang out, or spend a lot of timeâ€”of course, the kitchen has always been the number-one place. Weâ€™reâ€”weâ€™ve always been in the kitchen, but then we have the back room, and thatâ€™s where in later years, of course, we had a television when they came about. And we would sit back there and more of aâ€”I guess the family living versus the more formal parlor or receiving room.
AH: Are there any recordings of when you guys played?
BG: I donâ€™t believe any exist. I know that many, many years ago we tried out for what was called the Ted Mack Amateur Hour at the University of Tampa. I donâ€™t know if that still exists, but we didnâ€™t make it. But it was an experience, and we enjoyed it.
AH: I bet.
SR: I wanted toâ€”this is Saraâ€”I wanted to add on to what Tessie was saying about the living room and all that area. I have recollections of the back room. Maybe Tessie doesnâ€™t even remember this, but remember, my dad was one of eight children, and the family alsoâ€”like my uncle Angelo, when he got married, he lived here for a while. The two rooms upstairs were bedrooms. We had a house full of people. And I remember the back room had a long, long table, and thatâ€™s where the meals were eaten. Breakfast was here in the kitchen, on a small table, depending on the hours or time that people had to leave, but the long table was in there, where everybody would eat. And I also rememberâ€”do you remember the wood stove in there?
Unknown: No, that was before my time.
SR: Is it before your time? Well, I remember a wood stove on that wall. And my grandmother, Victoria Giunta, would, in the wintertime, make big pots of soup and actually cook on it, soâ€”
VG: Andâ€”this is Vickyâ€”that â€œback room,â€ quotes, because thatâ€™s always what weâ€™ve referred to that room as being, was like Sara saidâ€”it was multipurpose. It was like an informal dining area. When we were of school age, that was the area we did our homework, and that way we could be under the watchful eye of my mom. Sheâ€™d be cooking here and peek around the corner, and see that we were doing things. Because we didnâ€™t have air conditioning, so the windowsâ€”and there were no blinds or drapes. It was wide open except for screens, so we would get distractedâ€”somebody was walking by or some child on a bicycle, and that kind of thing. But that was the homework room, till, in later years, the two rooms upstairsâ€”two bedrooms are combined into a large library, multi-purpose room, and then we did it upstairs.
AH: Okay. So letâ€™s see hereâ€”I donâ€™t want toâ€”Iâ€™m not sure I want to get into post-high school yet. I think that might be another session, but is there anything else that we havenâ€™t talked about about the old days?
VG: Wellâ€”this is Vickyâ€”I forgot one thing in talking about the back room. Thatâ€™s the room that used to be used to make the bread, because my grandmother made a lot of bread. She had a big family. And it was an old method where they had, like, a thing that was a paddle and then a device that clamped onto the table that had, like, a spindle. And on that big paddle wasâ€”there was a hole, so this big, heavy board was placed on it, and then a child would go at the other end and hit it back and forth, back and forth, to knead the bread, and the dough was made and put in theâ€”on the table. And this was done, and then it was turned over. The child was too heavyâ€”it was too heavy for a child to turn, but it would be flipped over, I remember from seeing.
AH: Right. But then you could use the children to helpâ€”help knead the dough.
VG: Yes. And Sara said about the dining area thereâ€”itâ€™s true, because I remember also Dad saying, â€œWe have one chair remaining.â€ But cane-back chairsâ€”they had cane-back chairs, theyâ€™re very small. And after they ate, theyâ€™d hang them on the wall back there. Yeah, so we have just one now that remains in the front room.
AH: Now, what about your mother? Did she bake bread often, or did she get Cuban bread?
VG: She baked. She was a real baker. Every week, weâ€™d usually have something, and that tradition is still carried on by Sara. Sheâ€™s an excellent baker and cook. She takes the award for that.
SR: I wanted to say something. This is Sara. One memory I have with my Nonna Victoria, was thatâ€”just like the German people make sauerkraut, she made a brine. And she would take the Italian fennel that we grew in the gardenâ€”she would clean it and put it inâ€”do you still have that bigâ€”
Unknown: Yes, itâ€™s like a crock.
SR: Itâ€™s a crock.
VG: It looks something like that, but real big.
SR: But very, very large. And she would fill it with Italian fennel and then put her special brine in there, and it would go under the stairs, here. And usually, the fennel was picked by Februaryâ€”January, Februaryâ€”so she would leave it there for several months, until the summertime. And then for lunch, especially, she would love to scoop it out, and I loved it. To this day, I still love it. When I cook Italian fennel, normally I put salt and pepper and olive oil on it, and eat it as a vegetable, but the next day, at noon, I put vinegar to make it taste like my grandmotherâ€™s big crock pot.
AH: Right. So, I mean, is that pickled fennel then, basically?
SR: Yeah. I donâ€™t know of anybody else that did it.
AH: Now, did you eat it, like, straight out of the jar or did you cookâ€”
SR: Yeah, yeah, she would take it out of the jar and drain off, like, the brine that she had, and I think she would put a little olive oil when you were going to eat it.
AH: Okay. So have you ever tried doing it yourself?
AH: Probably just donâ€™t have enough fennel. Youâ€™d have toâ€”
SR: No, I grow the fennel.
AH: Oh, okay.
SR: But I donâ€™t have a giant crock pot like that.
VG: Vicky. I think part of the problem now is that the weather has changed. Thatâ€™s why it would always be kept under there, in the dark, and it had to be cool. But now we have air conditioning, but before then, we didnâ€™t andâ€”before now. And thatâ€™s a problem, because it starts getting bad. It turns whiteâ€”fungus. It didnâ€™t use to then because the weatherâ€”they had warm weather and all that, but itâ€™s different. It was not as hot as it gets now.
SR: Yeah, I remember myâ€”Saraâ€”I remember my motherâ€™s older sister, Mary, telling me that all the years when she was growing up, the winters were very mild. The most you needed was maybe a sweater. You didnâ€™t need any heavy coats or anything during that time.
AH: Thatâ€™s still true, aside for maybe about a week, you know, through the year. Thereâ€™s maybe 10 days a year where you need a coat. Well, at least me. So, yeah, and what other kind of cooking things have been passed on to you guys? So, Sara, youâ€™re still the baker in the family? Do you still make some of the old breads and pastries that your momâ€”
SR: Yeah. One thing, in particular, that I remember is Italian fig cookies that we call cuccidati. I make the dough, and then theâ€”I buy the dry cookies. They usually come in a ring. The Italian stores or even Publix sells them in the produce department. And I have the same old grindingâ€”little hand grinderâ€”and I grind up all the figs and put all ofâ€”I also grind up the nuts and some raisins. I have the recipe for that. And I usually try to do it a few days before I make my dough, so all the flavors are mixed in well, and then I make the cookies andâ€”
AH: Now, what aboutâ€”thereâ€™s another iconic dish that I've heard it has someâ€”at least a Sicilian contribution: the crab enchilau? Now, was that something that you grew up eating?
SR: Oh yes, yes.
AH: So tell us aboutâ€”for the uninitiatedâ€”tell us what it is.
SR: Well, in the first placeâ€”this is Saraâ€”we would go crabbing and catch our own crabs. We used to go to the causeway. And you know those big, galvanized tubs like this?
SR: One night, we have such luck, we had it full of crabs, and soâ€”
AH: And these are blue crabs, right?
SR: Yes, the blue crabs. And thenâ€”
AH: Now, how would you prepare the dish then?
SR: Well, the sauce you do, basically, like the regular spaghetti sauce. You chop up garlic and onion, and for theâ€”with the crabs, green pepper adds a certain flavor. So they would fry that up with the sauce, and then you put in the crabs. Of course, you clean them andâ€”
AH: Because, yeah, typically, you wouldnâ€™t haveâ€”like, in a Sunday sauce, you wouldnâ€™t have green pepper necessarily, right?
SR: Correct. Right. Once in a while, I do it because it adds a certain different flavor, butâ€”
AH: Right. But itâ€™s interesting because thereâ€™sâ€”but itâ€™s a very sensitive thing. Like, a lot of families, like, they wonâ€™t do sausage. Or if they do it, theyâ€™ll do it in a separate pot because they donâ€™t want it to sort of flavor everything. Itâ€™s reallyâ€”kind of purist about the tomato flavor and everything, it seems like.
VG: Vicky here. The thing is that growing up in Ybor, you have all these wonderful cultural experiences with food, and so you always can enhance your cooking. And I find that I put the sweet red pepper and the green peppers, sometimes, in the sauce. And yet, when our cousins came over from Sicily, ooh, you donâ€™t do that. Now, they instead put carrots to sweeten their sauce. And itâ€™s justâ€”we never have cooked with carrots in spaghetti sauce. Itâ€™s just not part of us. So itâ€™s a little interesting. Itâ€™s just part of the culture.
AH: So then you take those crabs, though, for the enchilau, and simmer them in the sauce, right?
VG: Yeah. Right.
AH: And then you just serve them over pasta, spaghetti?
VG: Yes. Itâ€™s delicious.
Unknown: And the crabs would be, of course, cleaned and the claws taken off and all that. Thatâ€™s the difficult part, the cleaning and the messy part, but itâ€™s a deliciousâ€”
AH: Right. But you can put all the kids to work after your crabbing, right?
AH: You split those open and get all the guts out and everything.
VG: Right. Yes.
AH: And then, of course, itâ€™s notoriously a very messy dish, right?
AH: You would typically wear clothes they didnâ€™t care too much aboutâ€”or maybe a swimsuit?
SR: Well, what we did wasâ€”this is Saraâ€”when we ate crabs, we would, instead of the table cloth, we would spread newspapers so that way any crabs that Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â (??), we could just roll up newspaper and throw it away.
AH: Right. Because every time you crack one of those claws open, you got sauce flying everywhere.
SR: Right. Yes. So itâ€™s good memories.
AH: Right. Absolutely.
VG: And thenâ€”Vickyâ€”the other thing that Mom used to make, and Sara makes them sometimes too still, is the deviled crabs.
AH: Oh, right.
VG: Homemade. Those are very, very delicious. Itâ€™s good. So, here, Nonnaâ€”our Nonna Victoriaâ€”I donâ€™t think that she ever ate a deviled crab, you know what I mean? Itâ€™s just not their culture.
AH: Oh, right, yeah.
Unknown: Well, it evolved.
VG: It evolved, yes. And then they couldnâ€™t afford to go and buy it. It was not done, and then this money came in. Youâ€™d go and buy it from the man on the stand, on the bicycle. So itâ€™s a lot of changes in such a short timeâ€”relatively short, you know.
AH: Right. Well, and itâ€™s true that some people are more food adventurous than others, but I guess there is a certain, you know, that old-fashionedness or whatever. So, in terms of, you know, you mentioned deviled crabsâ€”Iâ€™ve got to ask about the Cuban sandwich. Obviously, that was a thing when you were growing up, too.
VG: Yes, because we would buy them here in Ybor City. There was the Casa Biancaâ€”Blancaâ€”
VG: â€”on Twenty-Second.
Unknown: For deviled crabs.
VG: Yes, and there was the Silver Ring sandwich shop.
AH: Right. Run by an Italian, right?
VG: Right. And we grew up with Cuban sandwiches, and then, of course, our own homemade Cuban sandwiches.
AH: Okay, so you would make them at home, sometimes, too?
SR: Wellâ€”this is Sara. Unlike todayâ€™s world, where so many people with their jobs have to go out to eat all the time, my recollection was that everyâ€”pretty much Friday nights, if we didnâ€™t make our own deviled crabs, my dad would buy them. Because back then, we had toâ€”we couldnâ€™t eat meat on Fridays.
SR: That was changed later on.
AH: All the restaurantsâ€”none of the restaurants served meat, either.
SR: Yeah, so that was the thing. Andâ€”Iâ€™m forgetting what I was going to say.
AH: Deviled crabs on Friday.
SR: Yeah, andâ€”
BG: Saraâ€”Iâ€™m Tessieâ€”do you remember that on Friday nights, also, when we bought those deviled crabs, that would be the musical?
SR: Oh yeah.
BG: I would have my music lessons on those evenings with myâ€”with our brother, Don.
BG: We would have the music teacher come. So it was like a fast meal, because the music teacher would come in the evening for music lessons.
BG: I remember that.
SR: So allâ€”excuse me. This is Sara again. Iâ€™ll go back to when weâ€”darn it. Iâ€™m forgetting. Go ahead.
VG: Itâ€™s just that we have so much that weâ€™re sharing, itâ€™s difficult. This is Vicky. The restaurants in Ybor were in existence when we grew up, I mean, you know, during the years, but we never went to a restaurant until many years later. It was just not something we did, because first of all, we had our grandparents that taught thrift and all that, and then Dad and his salary as a teacher. We couldnâ€™t afford it. So I thought it was a neat thing on Fridays.
Iâ€™d look forward to going to Casa Blanca, because they had those high stools at the bar where they wouldâ€”and I would climb up there and sit there, and I felt so big, like I was a big girl, because it was a restaurant, and it was special. But those simple things like that were so important, and we looked forward to them. And then, Mr. Singer, her music teacher, or whoever was hereâ€”they would be included. You know, he would comeâ€”and the Sicilian table is always open to everyone. And thatâ€™s one thing, and those were good days. And heâ€™d talk about music and his experiences, and that kind of thing.
AH: So letâ€™s talk about drinks for a second, too. Obviously, thereâ€™s probably a lot of wine in the household, is that right? Did people drink wine growing up? Did you drink wine growing up?
BG: This is Tessie. My dad made homemade wine, so I would say after drinking motherâ€™s milk and growing up on just drinking milk, yeah, we would have wine with our pasta. That was something that we would have at an early age.
AH: As children?
BG: Yeah. You get used to it.
AH: And did you haveâ€”was it wine or was it watered down, or it justâ€”
BG: It would be, I think, the regular wineâ€”a little bit for what we wanted.
VG: Vicky, to share something about the winemaking here. Dad got together with his brother-in-law and his brother and our nannu, our grandfather on my motherâ€™s side, and they allâ€”this group of guys got together and they were going to make wine. So Dad bought the special grapes from California. They were delivered. Everything was ready, because you have to be ready to start smashing grapes when they arrive. And we did that, and everybody kind of took turns with whatever we had to do. So he stored it in a hundred-gallonâ€”a big, wooden vatâ€”whatever you callâ€”
VG: Barrel, yeah. And itâ€”he put it in the shopâ€”in our shop. And they were waiting for it to mature or whatever it did. They would use their special recipe. Theyâ€™d put apricot leaves and fig leaves and things like that in the wine, and then those were taken out later. But then, months and months later, Dad noticed that there wasâ€”it was wet in that corner of the shop, and he couldnâ€™t figure it out. Later on, he realized that the termites had eaten a hole in the barrel. He lost most of the wine, and what remained turned to vinegar, which we had until a few years ago.
AH: You had the vinegar still?
VG: Because we couldnâ€™t stomach it. It was so bad, and finally, we had to get rid of it.
AH: I mean, how much vinegar did you end up with? A lot?
VG: Gallons and gallons.
AH: And you finally just got rid of it, huh? That isâ€”that is a funny story.
VG: So that was the end of dadâ€™s winemaking days. He never did it again.
AH: And what aboutâ€”was thereâ€”probably not muchâ€”no spirits, huh?
AH: And no grappa or anything like that?
VG: No. No. Just the wine.
AH: Right. And then what about tobacco? You stick to your familyâ€”did people in your family typically smoke or no?
VG: I think Dad, in his early years, he justâ€”
Unknown: Early years, he did.
VG: Mostly it was just social.
Unknown: Yeah, a little bit.
VG: Men would always offer each other. â€œHere. You want a cigarette?â€ I remember this as a child, because I thought that was the neatest thingâ€”why? Vicky here. But Dad would take a cigarette and start, and then he would justâ€”it would be thrown away. It wasnâ€™tâ€”he just wasnâ€™t a smoker.
Unknown: And none of his brothers smoked, and none of the women smoked.
AH: So there were no cigars in the house then, at all?
VG: Did Nannu Â Â Â Â Â (??) smoke?
Unknown: I guess on my motherâ€™s side, my grandfather smoked.
VG: Yeah, he smoked cigarettes. As far as cigars, no. We had them all over the house because the Sicilians that worked in the factory always were able to take some home, and so they would give them to Dad, and then Dad would hold onto them and give them to people he knew were smokers and things like that. It was sharing, back and forth.
AH: I wouldnâ€™t be surprised if that was just part of that ethic of, like, this is a waste of money, right?
VG: Yeah. Right.
AH: I mean, if youâ€™re only using one kerosene lamp to save money, cigars must have seemed likeâ€”forget it, you know.
VG: Thatâ€™s very true.
AH: Well, I want to thank you for spending this time today. This is really a lot of fun, exploring the world of Ybor City through your eyes and your memories, and I hope that weâ€™ll be able to get together again to conclude our oral history. But thanks again for being with us.
Unknown: Thank you. Youâ€™re welcome. Thank you.
AH: It is November 17th? Eighteenth.
AH: November 18th, 2019, and this is Andy Huse from the USF Tampa Library, and Iâ€™m returning with Tessie, Vicky, and Sara Giunta. Thank you so much for being with us today. Whatâ€™s your last name now? Is itâ€”
SR: Itâ€™s an Italian name. Rametta.
AH: All right, very good, very good. So letâ€™s talk aboutâ€”I want to finish up with you guys, but letâ€™s talk about your folks, too. So when you guys wereâ€”I mean, I know that youâ€™re kind of a far ways apart. So you guys are getting out of high school. What are your parents kind of doing at this time? I mean, I know thereâ€™s a long period between you two. But what would you say, you know, I mean, as theyâ€™re getting older, whatâ€™s going on? What are they up to?
BG: Well, my fatherâ€”
AH: This is Tessie, by the way.
BG: Yes, Iâ€™m Tessie. My father continued teaching until he was 61 yearsâ€”63 years old.
AH: And this is at UT [University of Tampa] still?
BG: No, he wasâ€”
AH: Oh, wait.
BG: â€”a public school teacher.
AH: Right. Iâ€™m sorry, youâ€™re right.
BG: And he also taught adult school, as well.
AH: Okay. Right.
BG: And while this was going on, he continued to do a tax-filing service from our home. He was a notary public, and he planted and kept up the entire farm each year. And he was just always a very busy man, full of energy, a hard worker. And my mom was a homemaker. Helped him with the tax business, and kept up the house, and assisted with the vegetables on the farm, and cleaning them, blanching them for the off seasons, and just being aâ€”just the maker of the home in a beautiful way. And so this continued, and he continued to work until he retired and was able to live with my mom forâ€”enjoy two years of retirement, prior to my mom passing away. She passed away at age 63, in 1980, from pancreatic cancer, and soâ€”
VG: And as far asâ€”
AH: This is Vicky, by the way.
VG: Yes, Vicky.
AH: Please, if you could, it would really help our transcribers.
VG: But Mom was the epitome of a housemaker. She loved the home and did everything that she could to make it welcoming to guests, to family. There was justâ€”and as you can see, with this kitchenâ€”itâ€™s a lived-in kitchen, because you donâ€™t entertain in the parlor, itâ€™s always in here with coffee and refreshments. And I have to say, you know, she was such a fantastic cook and baker, and Saraâ€”my sister Saraâ€”inherited all her genes on that. She wasâ€”sheâ€™s blessed. And she continues all this beautiful cooking and baking, always. And shares with the family. But Mom enjoyed her role, which in those daysâ€”because she was a trained beautician prior to marriage, but the pay was very, very poor. The hours were terrible. So my father said, â€œLook, stay home and just be here for the whole family, because thatâ€™s what we need. We need you here.â€ So it was wonderful because she loved that. She loved being a homemaker.
And she was instrumental in things being done here, as far as the farm. Because when Dad would take orders, she would be the one that would respond with calls, or call people. She would handle them, as far as â€œIâ€™m coming and picking them up from the storesâ€ and things like that, because he was at work. So she was a part-time secretary and distribution chief for the vegetables. She was just his right hand, you know. And loved gardeningâ€”nature. That was just her thing. She married into a situation which was just ideal for her and my dad. They were just a perfect match. It was just really something.
AH: Well, and it sounded like when you had mentionedâ€”Tessie, you know, she was blanching and stuff like that, and preparing vegetables for, like, preservation, right?
VG: Yes. Freezing.
AH: Right. Okay. So tell us, Sara. Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ve got some more to say about your mother and your dad.
SR: Well, besides what my sisterâ€™s already mentioned, I remember my mother. She sewed a lot. And there wasnâ€™t an Easter, Christmasâ€”always a new dress, because we went to Mass and they dressed up fancier back then. You didnâ€™t go in jeans. And soâ€”and she would sew a lot of our clothes, being we were girls and it was easier. I guess she never sewed for my brother, but she was really good at sewing.
VG: This is Vicky. Saraâ€™s very right about the sewing. She had all these skills. She also crocheted, and she did that thatâ€”a lot of things. And then, the other thing I was about to forget is that prior to freezingâ€”before we got the freezers, I think, Sara, Mama used to canâ€”thatâ€™sâ€”put up things like that. And they used to store a lot of the things here and in the pantry, and thatâ€™s why you see the holes in the doors. Dad made that so it would have aeration.
AH: Right. So it could breathe.
VG: Because the heat was tremendous, and that kind of thing. So it was like an ongoing thing. Vegetables grew. She had a tight deadline to get them at the freshâ€”the peak of freshness and do these things, and then haveâ€”prepare them for the next season, and fruits, as well. I remember she used to do that with some pears and things like that, too.
AH: So, Sara, since youâ€™re the one who inherited the genesâ€”the cooking genesâ€”tell us a little bit about some of those things you learned from your mom and some of her, I guess, most iconic dishes, and oneâ€”some of the dishes that you have allowed to live on.
SR: Well, I guess the greatest memory would be Sunday morningsâ€”making spaghetti sauce. You could smell that smell throughout the house. And naturally, I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s a person that doesnâ€™t love spaghetti and spaghetti sauce. And sometimes the sauce would have meatballs in it. Other times, there would be shredded pork or beef or something else. And the other thing was that I guess, being the oldest, came though many more changes than my sisters. Especially, like, Tessie, being the youngest, because I can remember when we had no washing machine. There was a black lady [who] lived a few blocks away, and she went to everyoneâ€™s house and washed with a big tub outside. Andâ€”
AH: Oh wow. Okay.
SR: But by the time Vicky was born, which was three years after me, then my dad decided, with all the diapers, plus we hadâ€”my grandmother was still living. And up to that time, we had one of my dadâ€™s sisters, and her husband lived here, so we still had quite a few people in the house. So it was decided to buy a washing machine, which was great. And like Vicky said, a freezer came later on. But thatâ€™s why, in those days, spaghetti sauceâ€”everythingâ€”had to be made the day that you were going to eat it. Of course, it could be refrigerated, but it wasnâ€™t like a freezer, so you had to plan ahead.
AH: Understood. Right.
VG: Vicky over here. Sara mentioned about the big tub. The laundry tub and the boiling water, and theyâ€™d stir it in a witchâ€™s pot. And I remember the washboards. We still have them here. Theyâ€™re made of wood. They really used those, and those things, with the clothes.
AH: Right. Soâ€”
SR: Well, I have one thingâ€”this is Sara. Youâ€™re talking about the washboard, and I was just talking to my husband, Danny, the other day about it. Something brought it up. When we got married, he decided thatâ€”he bought this old concrete tub. It was like aâ€”for the utility room. But it had a washboard built into it. And so he says, â€œWeâ€™re going to do things the old-fashioned way, and youâ€™re going to wash clothes by hand.â€ Well, see this? I lost my diamond ring because of all thatâ€”all that concrete tub.
AH: Oh my.
SR: And so that brings back memories, because he said, â€œWeâ€™re going to do everything the old-fashioned way,â€ but you realize that itâ€™s really hard.
AH: Right. Absolutely. Yeah, of all the things, thatâ€™s one thing, I think, we could leave to the machine, right? I make pasta by hand, but the laundry can go through the machine, right? So Iâ€™m sure thereâ€™s got to be some other dishes besides red sauceâ€”
SR: Well, she cooked everything. We cooked a lot, not only Italian food, but Spanish, Cuban food. But, like, lasagnaâ€”we had lasagna a lot, and stuffed shells, and spaghettis of all different kinds. Yellow rice and chickenâ€”my mother was just wonderful at that. Black beans and rice and pork, and the pork was marinated in a lemon juice or sometimes sour orange, and you put a lot of garlic and oregano, and that cooks slowly in the oven for hours.
AH: And what about some of the vegetables? You had all these vegetables to use. Were there any kind of special dishes or ways you prepared things?
SR: Well, yeah, one thing that my dad grew was called carduna in Italian. It is the artichoke plant. But the only thing is, in Florida, it does not make the artichoke. The artichoke is the seed of this particular plant. But we used the leaves. They were like celery stalks, but only very bitter. So you had to take all the leaves off and cut them in pieces and boil them until they were cooked, and then we would make a batter with bread crumbs, eggsâ€”youâ€™d put garlic, salt, pepper, Romano cheese, and make little patties with those and fry them. And I still make them now, because I love it. And I grow them in the garden. And it was a special dish that we especially had on St. Joseph Feast Day, along with the other foods.
AH: Okay. Was there a significance, or was that just when it was ready to eat?
SR: Yeah, thatâ€™s pretty much when it was ready to eat.
AH: Right. So doesâ€”how much of that bitter taste doesâ€”
SR: You didnâ€™t taste the bitterness anymore.
AH: Anymore after youâ€”
SR: You boiled them and cooked them. Yeah, and the batter gave it a good flavor. And the other thing we grew was Swiss chard. In Italian, itâ€™s Â Â Â Â Â Â (??), and the special dish that we made with that was a Â Â Â Â Â (??) pizza. And I still make it, and my sisters make it. And it has no meat in it, just the Swiss chard and garlic and Romano cheese.
AH: Right. But it doesnâ€™t have mozzarella, right?
AH: Yeah, okay. Yeah, the Swiss chard really takes the center stage, right?
SR: Yeah. But I didâ€”my daughter-in-law, sheâ€™s not crazy about it. So one day, when my son was coming over for some reason, I said, â€œLook, I just made pizza,â€ and he saysâ€”I said, â€œI put mozzarella on this one, so Jessica would like it.â€ And she loved it because the mozzarella was on it.
AH: Right. That is funny. I mean, for most people today, itâ€™s not a pizza unless thereâ€™sâ€”but if you look at old pizzas, theyâ€™d didnâ€™t allâ€”a lot of times it was meat or cheese. I mean, even after War World II, the Italian food was so popular, the Columbia [Restaurant] was even selling pizzas, and it was meat or cheese or crab, but not mixed together. Soâ€”and then any other Sicilian specialties?
SR: Well, weâ€”what we call â€œItalian fennelâ€ or â€œwild fennel.â€ We used to eat it as a vegetable. And also, itâ€™s really good in lentil soup, which I make all the time. The Italian fennelâ€”I freeze it whenâ€”so I have, you know, all year-round in the freezer. And whenever I'm going to make lentil soup, I chop it up and throw it in there.
SR: Most people, theyâ€™re not used to that smell. It has a very strong smell. And so once when my brotherâ€”some ofâ€”one of the boys in the band from high school was going to pick him up, came by, and he says, â€œWhat are those fumes?â€ Because you can smell them all through the house. Soâ€”can you girls think of any other vegetable thatâ€”
VG: Vicky here. Saraâ€™s right, the wild fennel was used in the Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â (??)â€”that was veryâ€”it was so important. Without that wild fennel, it wasnâ€™t lentil soup.
SR: Yeah. Itâ€™s not the same.
VG: Itâ€™s a Sicilian thing, yeah.
SR: It gives it a strong flavor. And another thing that Dad grewâ€”Sicilians like vegetables that have sort of, like, a bite to them sometimes. They use them in saladsâ€”the arugulas and things like that. But one in particular is scarola, or escarole, and some can be very sweet. Buy it at the store, itâ€™s not bad at all. But this is a variety that you pick the leaves off ofâ€”itâ€™s a long stalk, so you have it throughout the season. But I remember at Christmas, after all the holidays and all that, it would be tradition. Here, weâ€™d always eat scarola the day after Christmas because itâ€™s very good. Itâ€™s medicinal for your stomachâ€”not that youâ€™re sick, but you tend to overeat.
AH: Youâ€™ve been eating a lot, right.
SR: And itâ€™s the best thing. And it just is very good. Itâ€™s healthy. Itâ€™s tasty with olive oil. And I'd say that a lot of the vegetables that the Sicilians grew, itâ€™sâ€”at least for us hereâ€”it was just a basic thing. Itâ€™s very Mediterranean dietâ€”the olive oil, the garlic, maybe some bread crumbs, according to how you prepared it. And a lot of these thingsâ€”not the finocchio [fennel], but like the rapini [broccoli rabe] and things like thatâ€”even mustard, what we call the â€œcracker vegetables.â€ You fry them, kind ofâ€”a stir fryâ€”and theyâ€™re very good in, again, those same basic ingredients. Different variations, but a lot of it is like that. Just from the earth to the pan, and in the tummy. And thatâ€™s what I was thinking of. The scarola was something special like that. Sara mentioned the cardoon [carduna], and certain other things just didnâ€™t do well because of the growing season here, so we never had them on the farm as such. For instance, asparagus. We tried that years agoâ€”Dadâ€”but that never worked here.
AH: Never worked, right? Yeah, and then theâ€”did you grow the spaghetti squash here at all?
SR: No, they grew the long Italian squashes. Cucuzza.
AH: Right. Cucuzza, right?
SR: And the other thing I remember is mustard greens. To this day, thatâ€™s one thing I have to freeze, because my husband is crazy about it. Thatâ€™s his favorite vegetable. But onlyâ€”you boil it, and you drain the water out, you chop it up, and then you add seasonings to it. You add a little bit of bread crumbs, salt, pepper, garlic, Romano cheese, and then you flatten it in the frying pan and make, like, a Spanish tortilla out of it, and you flip it until itâ€™s brown on both sides, you know, toasted.
AH: That does sound good.
SR: And he loves that.
AH: Okay, yeah, I can see that.
SR: So I still have mustard greens from last year in the freezer, because my new planting is still not quite ready.
AH: Right. Nice.
VG: Vicky here again. And itâ€™s so strange, but from just the basics of vegetables thereâ€”basic things, like, letâ€™s say radishesâ€”one doesnâ€™t think of it as being such, but they make a wonderful sandwich. Just radishes, and salt and pepper, and vinegar and oil, and itâ€™s so tasty. And the same thing is true. What Sara is saying with this frittata, you know, cold because you cooked itâ€”itâ€™s leftovers from yesterday, put it in the fridge, cut a piece, put it between two slices of bread and you have lunch. And when you think about it, thatâ€™s what they did in the factories. They didnâ€™t take ham sandwiches. They didnâ€™t even know what ham was. It was just these simple things that they just put together and took to the factories.
SR: Andâ€”this is Sara againâ€”one thing I remember about my dad wasâ€”my mother passed away, like we said, young. And I was 37 when she passed away. And after that, when he retired, or even before, he would always give me a call. â€œSara, can you use a lot of fennel? Because itâ€™s ready.â€ And I mean, weâ€™re not talking about a little bunch, weâ€™re talking about bushels. Or heâ€™ll call, â€œI have a bushel of fava beans, can you use them?â€ I always said, â€œYes,â€ because my garden was notâ€”we ate everything out of my garden, almost, because it was a family of eight, you know, it got eaten. And my brother gave me some vegetables from his garden also, but with Dadâ€™s garden, I could freeze them, or preserve them in some way. So I never refused anything he grew.
VG: Vicky here. The one thing we didnâ€™t mentionâ€”we mentioned it nowâ€”the fava beans. That was always a big crop for Dad. They froze very wellâ€”they keptâ€”and they were very, very healthy, a lot of iron. In fact, when you clean fava beans from the podsâ€”if theyâ€™re older, you know, more mature, because people pick them at different stagesâ€”your fingers end up being darkened or brownish, and thatâ€™s from the, I guess, tannic acid or iron in it. I donâ€™t know. And the same thing is true of certain vegetables. Isnâ€™t it true of the cardoon?
Unknown: Yeah. Yeah.
VG: It has a lot of thatâ€”
SR: Yeah, my hands are always blackened. One other vegetable that I rememberâ€”well, I still grow itâ€”are kohlrabi. Itâ€™s trunzu in Italian, and I still grow it because I love it. Itâ€™s so good just raw. A lot people cook them with carrots, and thatâ€™s good. But I have so many things that I can cook that I'd rather use the trunzu in the salad, for instance, or just cutting it up and eating it. Itâ€™s great.
AH: Now with the fava beans, wereâ€”thatâ€™s the same beans as that used for favata? Like the Spanish favata, the stew?
SR: No, I donâ€™t think so.
AH: Okay, right. They use really big beans in that, but it might be a different kind.
Unknown: Itâ€™s bigger than a lima.
SR: They call them â€œhorse beans,â€ fava beans.
AH: Right. Okay. Interesting.
SR: Theyâ€™re very large. And usually, you eat them by taking off the outer shell. You eat them in the shellâ€”the bean itself, you take out. If theyâ€™re tender, you can eat them, but theyâ€™re otherwise kind of tough.
AH: So I imagineâ€”was your motherâ€™s sickness a quick one?
SR: Yeah, she only lasted a few months.
AH: Usually, pancreatic cancer can be pretty fast.
VG: I took a leave of absence from HCC [Hillsborough Community College]. I was working there at the time and was able to care for her. And Dad was, of course, retired at that time, and he was helpful too, very helpful. But I was being likeâ€”well, to give her the care, and with Dadâ€™s help, we got her to the doctor. In those days, they didnâ€™t haveâ€”maybe hospice had started around that time, but we did not have hospice.
Unknown: No hospice at that time.
VG: So it was a blessing to have her here till the very end.
VG: She was very close to all of us. Each one of us, you know, it was just wonderfulâ€”as well as my brother. There was always a very close relationship with my brother and my mom. He just was a very gentle spirit, and he took after her in a lot of ways, and Dad as well. He was the sweetest man in the world. But itâ€™s funny for usâ€”itâ€™s strange, sometimes, for sons to have that kind of bonding, and he did. Each of us had that with Mom.
AH: It seems more common in Italian families, though, donâ€™t you think?
VG: I think so. Yes.
AH: There are a lot mamaâ€™s boys in Italian families, right?
VG: Right. Right. And so, she was just the spirit of the whole household here.
VG: I think that the condition of the house and how things areâ€”no, she didnâ€™t take out hammers and nails and repair it, but she kept it up. It was constantly, you know, â€œWe need to improve this,â€ or whatever. She cared for things. We still have a trunk of things that when she got married were given to her. And, like, some of the old-fashioned spreadsâ€”bedspreadsâ€”that are like velvet or velour, very unusual things. And when Sara got married, Mom gave her a few of things. So itâ€™s just a lot of traditions that we, I guess, hung onto over the years. And we didnâ€™t think it unusual, we justâ€”it was part of our life to treasure the things, because they worked very hard to get to where they wereâ€”parents and grandparents. And so these things that were important to them were important to us, and it just continued on through the generations, so far.
AH: Well, the other thing thatâ€™s so interesting is you have this house, too, which is such a great link to the past and a reminder of all the people who came before you, and the fact the house was so full when the family first got here and everything, and then everyone kind of went off on their own and became their ownâ€”successful, you know? Thatâ€™s really special. You must know and feel that.
AH: Especially it being your childhood home, too. So letâ€™s talk aboutâ€”letâ€™s talk about you guys a little bit. We got you guys through high school. So, Sara, you came first. What happened after high school?
SR: After high school, I went to the University of South Florida. I was in the charter class, or first graduating class. And there were only 1,500 students at that timeâ€”very small group, but you know. And so I went into education, so Iâ€”my last year, I had to do an internship. I was sent to West Tampa Junior High School.
AH: Okay. How old were you? You wereâ€”were you fresh out of high school, basically, orâ€”
SR: When I went to university, yes.
AH: Yes. Okay.
AH: So just thatâ€”
SR: So I was 17 when I entered, and then my 21st birthday was in January of the year I graduated. So I graduated [when] I was 21. When I graduated, Iâ€”well, we graduated back then, I think, the last weekend of April, so there were quite a few months before I could start teaching. So right away I went to find a job. And I wanted, originally, to teach in high school, but I went to Chamberlain High School and Hillsborough High School, and it was aâ€”very young, you know, youâ€™re only 21. So I said, â€œForget it.â€ I went to down the street, to Sligh Junior High, and I had an interview. By the time I got home, 10 minutes later, I got the job.
AH: Oh wow.
SR: So I was set to start in August, so what was I going to do the rest of the time? And I was not one to sit on my behind at home. I had to do something. So it so happened, one of my cousins told my mother that she had been working part-time, in the evening, at Sears. So I went over there, got an interview, I got the job, and I worked in the credit department.
AH: So whereâ€”which Sears was this?
SR: It was the one on 22nd Street, where the Erwin Center [Erwin Technical College] now is. That was the old Sears. I worked at the credit department.
AH: Yeah, on Hillsborough Avenue.
SR: Yeah. So at the beginning of the school year then, I met my husband. He also taught at Sligh. He taught science, and I was teaching math. So he started building the house then, byâ€”before Christmas, and thenâ€”
AH: So in your first school year? So you guys hit it off right away.
SR: Yeah, we knew. He was for me; I was for him. And right away. So the ladyâ€”my boss told me, â€œWhy donâ€™t you continue after you start teaching? You know, you can work nights.â€ At first, I said, â€œNo.â€ But then I thought it over, and I saidâ€” teaching just came very easy and natural to me. I remember my brothers and sisters and neighbors, they used to get tired of me because I wanted to play school and teach all the time. Thatâ€™s a weird habit. Thatâ€™s enough.
So I decided I might as well, so I worked nights. I would teach all day, work nights. Saturdays, she would give meâ€”usually, I had to work from 12 noon to nine at night, but once a month, she would give me a Saturday evening off. Of course, stores would close back then, so I always had Sunday off, so that was good. So that was it for that year. By the time March came along, of the following year, it was just a few months before we were getting married, and my husband, Danny, saidâ€”well, at that time, he wasnâ€™t my husband yetâ€”but he said, â€œYou need to help me with the roof on the house now,â€ because Iâ€™m at that point. So he said, â€œYou need to quit your job.â€
So I would go withâ€”well, my future husbandâ€”to the house and we would work till late at night. And back then, when I was teaching, I would take my brother to high school and drop him off. And so the days that Danny would take me to work at the house, my brother would drive my car, because he had a driverâ€™s license, so he would drive my car home or whatever. So that was it, and then we got married a year later, in 1965, and then soon after that, we started with ourâ€”having our family.
AH: Okay. And thenâ€”your dad lived for quite a while after your mom passed, right?
AH: Yeah, because she passedâ€”what year was it?
SR: Nineteen eighty.
AH: Okay. And then when did he pass?
BG: This is Tessie. He died in 2007.
AH: Right. Okay. So then after you built the house and everything, did you just stay teaching after that, Sara?
SR: Yeah. I taught inâ€”
AH: You didnâ€™t take any second jobs after that?
SR: No. No.
AH: Right, because by then you were thinking about having children.
SR: Yeah. Well, I got pregnant right away withâ€”my very first baby was a boy. He was stillborn. He was strangled by the cord. So my husband said, â€œStay at home.â€ But I said, â€œNo, I will go crazy,â€ because I always wanted a big family and that was a heck of a way to start off a big family, so I went back to teaching. And back then, the rules were that a husband and wife could not teach in the same school, so we had to separate. So Dan stayed at Sligh, and I went to West Tampa Junior High. And so I worked there, and then when I had my first daughter, then I stayed at home. And the girls were bornâ€”they were only 14, 15 months apart, soâ€”
AH: There was no time to get back to work.
SR: That kept me busy. And then we waited to have the last two boys then, because Dan says, â€œTheyâ€™re going to all be in high school together. All in college together.â€
AH: Oh right, yeah.
SR: Because the girls were a year apart.
AH: Okay. So how many girls did you have then?
SR: I had four girls in a row.
AH: Okay, and what are the names?
SR: Maria, Angela, Laura, and Gina.
AH: Okay. So thenâ€”so you were determined to have boys, though, too, right?
SR: No, I was ready to have two more girls, because the nurses at the hospital said, â€œOh, if you already have four girls, youâ€™re definitely going to have more.â€ But it so happened that I had two boys then, which are Ted and Tim. Soâ€”
AH: So you had a strategic gap so that they wouldnâ€™t allâ€”
SR: Yeah, well, we knew thatâ€”we had them in Catholic school. Very expensive. Everything went to paying the tuition, so we knew they would be in high schoolâ€”four girls in high school at the same time, then they were all four at USF at the same time, so we waited. It was six years after the last girl that the boy was born, you know, the first boy. And the boys were 14 months apart, so they were close in school, tooâ€”one year after the other.
AH: Okay. And tell us a little bit about your husband.
SR: Well, my husband was a teacher, and we farmed at home. We had our own vegetable garden, but we didnâ€™t sell anything, we justâ€”it took everything we grew to eat. We raised beef cattle. We had a number ofâ€”we had chickens and turkeys andâ€”
AH: Yeah, where isâ€”whereâ€™s the house again?
SR: Itâ€™s right on State Road 54.
AH: Is itâ€”
SR: It isâ€”
AH: What would you call it? Lutz or what?
AH: Farther north than that.
SR: Officially, I'm in Land Oâ€™Lakes, but they have a dividing line. Since Iâ€™m on the south side of the road, our mail goes to the Lutz post office, so I have a Lutz address, but officially Iâ€™m in Pasco County, in Land Oâ€™ Lakes.
AH: Interesting. Okay.
SR: And from the intersection of State Road 54 and 41â€”big intersectionâ€”you head west about a mile, and our farm is right on the highway.
AH: Youâ€™ve probably seen a lot of changes up there, havenâ€™t you?
SR: Oh yeah. Yeah.
AH: So then, basically, thatâ€™s the rest of your story, right, is youâ€”and how manyâ€”so you had six children? Did you go back to work?
SR: No, I never did. What I did do wasâ€”when the boys were finally toddlersâ€”I took care of several children, and they would be dropped off. I usually tried to get teacherâ€™s children, because they were off during the summer and holidays like I was, because I wanted my time with my family.
AH: Of course.
SR: But it worked out well, because the first children I took care of were my brotherâ€™s twins. And my sons were four and three, and my brotherâ€™s twins were two, and they were two little boys. So I had four little boys at the same time, and they had a really, really good time together.
AH: I bet. Yeah.
SR: And then my sister-in-law was pregnant with her little girl then, so she stayed at home for a few years. So then I took on anotherâ€”two other children, a little boy, a little girl andâ€”
AH: Right. And your husband continued to teach? Did he retire from teaching orâ€”
SR: Yes, he retired after 31 years.
AH: Right. Good for him. So moving on to Vicky, if thatâ€™s okay? Do you have anything to add for the moment?
AH: If you think of something later, please let me know.
AH: So, Vicky, after high schoolâ€”
VG: For me, after high school, I too went to USF. I attended there. And because of the fact thatâ€”the way our birthdays workâ€”correct me if Iâ€™m wrong, Saraâ€”but, like, Sara got out [after] four years, and she was 21, like she said, and graduated. In my case, because my birthdayâ€™s in Aprilâ€”well, I would beâ€”by the time I got out of college, my fourth year, my brother Don would be in college. So it was going to be an added burden, even though each of us, including Don, always worked a part-time job during college. We were lucky enough to work with Tampa Wholesale, that wasâ€”my uncle was involved with as one of the kind ofâ€”what do you call them? Officers, I guess?
SR: Yeah, he was a secretary-treasurer.
VG: So we worked.
SR: They were the operators of the cash-and-carry stores.
AH: Right. Right. Yeah, very big.
VG: Right. So we worked at Tampa Wholesale. And, again, it was a part-time job, so I did that while I went to college, but I decided to go ahead and do my college education in three years. I'd shot for thatâ€”which I was able to accomplish that. So I graduated in â€™67 and myâ€”because they were not accredited by ALA [American Library Association], my majorâ€”it was a like a double major at that time. It was English literature and library. It just had that heading: library education or something. And then I decideâ€”you know, my whole thing was thing to get out and get to work and earn money. Like, when youâ€™re in college thatâ€™s the first thing you want to do, get out, put your stamp in the sandâ€”your foot in sand. Well, the teachers decided to do a walkout andâ€”
AH: Oh, right.
VG: You remember?
VG: And so, this was â€™67 and into â€™68. Sixty-eight I wentâ€”I really wanted to go work in the school system.
AH: It was a statewide teacher strike, right?
VG: Yes, it was.
AH: This is probably the first in Florida.
AH: Right. Okay.
SR: So history kind of repeats itself, and you learn lessons from it. So there were some teachers, people being hired, and call it whatever it was, strike or non-strike, they went to work. Dad didnâ€™t want me to go because of the history in this family of theâ€”his sister that was sent to work in the cigar factory when there was a strike and theyâ€”the family always believed it resulted in her death, ultimately, however it happened. So he said, â€œNope. No. No. I donâ€™t want you to break strike. Weâ€™re educators, we have to support it,â€ and all this.
AH: So a little bit of background is probably in order for those who donâ€™t know, kind of, about Yborâ€™s Cityâ€™s history. But in a non-union state, it was very much a union town. And the unions were very influential, especially before World War II, but even afterwards they were. So that the idea of breaking a strike is sort of anathema. I mean, thereâ€™s probably family members who didnâ€™t speak after people broke strikes, you know, somebody was striking and someone else broke the strike. I mean, it is the kind of thing thatâ€™s hard for people toâ€”I think for people today to imagine howâ€”just how powerful it was. So I just wanted to make sure that we inserted that, so that we understood how much baggage came with this. So Iâ€™m sorry, Vicky, please.
VG: No, thatâ€™s okay. So because of that, I was very, very disappointed, because we were just a family of educators. We allâ€”thatâ€™s been our whole thrustâ€”all of us. And Dad always encouraged us in that way. So then, the next best thing was to go to work with the public library. And as it had happened, when I started my internship, because I was pulling the 16 hours a semester to get through in three years, I didnâ€™t have much time during the day hours anymore because of my internship, and I did it at Robinson High School, because Tampa Wholesale was closed at night. So I got a job with the public library, and this was the old downtown library, and soâ€”Carnegie library, right? That was one of the original Carnegie libraries?
AH: Mm-hm. Yeah, I believe so, yes.
VG: And so, I worked there and I got a job where I was working on a bookmobileâ€”very interesting experience. And it started a tradition in our family, because, after I left that job, because then I went to the public library as a young adult librarian for one yearâ€”because I could not break the strikeâ€”and I was employed there. And when I left, finally, the public library system, Don was the next one. He was in college at that point. So we were trying to getâ€”because he was going to start college and I was just finishing, so it was perfect timing on that. So they asked me at work, â€œAre there any others like you? Because you all do great work.â€ So I said, â€œWell, I have a brother.â€ So he said, â€œGood, have him come in.â€
So he became the bookmobile driver. They sent him to get his special license or something, and he used to drive the bookmobile all over the county on Saturdays and after his classes at USF. He loved it because it allowed him to sit there, behind his little counter, check out books, and read. Because of that, he went to things likeâ€”that we had never had in this family, like beekeeping. He started the bees over here. He had a fish pond with various kinds of special koi fish and things, and maintained the pond and its healthiness, and things like that. So he was just always a go-and-do-stuff kind of guy. And asâ€”I wasnâ€™t a librarian on the bookmobile. They didnâ€™t have a librarian, but they had, likeâ€”well, because of my background, I had a degree, almostâ€”I was about to graduate. So they hired me and I went, you know, helped students and adults, and such, find materials. So that was a wonderful experience, going all over the county. And then, from there, when I went with the library system for one year, that was very worthwhile because I was a troubleshooter. If somebody was out, and it could have been way out there in Sun City, then they would take me there with the van or whateverâ€”deliver me there and then pick me upâ€”and so I would substitute there.
So I've been in most of the libraries, like the West Tampa library. That one, to me, was the most unusual. Itâ€™s so beautiful, the way they had those pictures in the bottom floor. And it was justâ€”blew my mind. The old Ybor City library with termite doo falling in, in those days, because this is before the one on Nebraska. This was right next to the Italian Club. It was there. Â So I was all over the place, including the main library. And also helped moved the library from Tampa Streetâ€”the old libraryâ€”to the Ashley Street library. I was there for the opening and dedication, and that was kind of exciting. So after that, I went and got a job in the school system, and I was the librarian at Plant High School. And I loved my worked there. I was a media reference librarianâ€”did a little bit of both. The library itself was not new, it was just classrooms it had extended, so it was real long and with stacks in between there. Because I went to Plant, and Tessie then wasâ€”Don was in college and working on the bookmobiles, but Tessie was then about to startâ€”had started high school, right, Tessie, at that point?
BG: Yes, thatâ€™s right.
VG: So then she was idealâ€”just like Sara had given rides to Hillsborough High School to my brother, Don, so it was ideal that I do the same thing with Tessie. So Tessie attended Plant while I was there, so I could give her a ride, and then she can tell you more about her studies.
AH: Would this have been like 1970-ish or something? Orâ€”
BG: That wouldâ€”it would start in 1968.
BG: To â€™70. Because I graduated in â€™70.
AH: Okay. Gotcha. All right.
VG: And so then I was at Plant High, and then thatâ€™s when they decidedâ€”they built a new library, so weâ€”that was another thing. It looks like wherever I went, they packed up books and then we moved into a new building, because this happened downtown and it happened at Plant. So we moved into the new library there, and then from there I went to HCC. First, because it was part-time and that was niceâ€”working in the eveningsâ€”and they had a temporary campus on the high schools of Hillsborough and Plant, and at the airportâ€”the old airport. The baggage counter, where you would put your baggage in, thatâ€™s where they used thatâ€”for the checkout desk. And so we used to have that, and it was spacious and all this. So they had that, and then they had the two high schools. The school library closed at four, and then I would report downstairs to a portable unit that was the library of HCC, and that started at four to 10 oâ€™ clock at night. And then I worked Saturdays also. So I was kept plenty busy.
And then from there, they told me, â€œWhen are you going to think about coming full-time to the college?â€ And I put that off because I loved my work with younger studentsâ€”high school students. But then, at one point, I said, â€œYou know, I've had enough of this.â€ Itâ€™s about eight years, I thinkâ€”eight or nine years that I was at Plantâ€”so I said, â€œYeah, Iâ€™m interested.â€ I put in a resumÃ©, and there was an opening, and because of my media background, it really gave me the push to the front of the line. And I got a job with HCC at Dale Mabry [Highway] and remained there for a number of years untilâ€”because someone had passed away, and I took a leave from Dale Mabry.
Then Dad was getting up there in years, and so I thought itâ€™d be an opportunity for me. When there was an opening here, I took itâ€”at Ybor, Ybor City campusâ€”so that I could run home for lunch and check on him, take him to doctorâ€™s appointments, and things like that. And that was pretty much it. My education after USF wasâ€”I went for a masterâ€™s. It was not the masterâ€™s in library science that they would offer now, because it was not accredited, but it covered, I think, all the bells and whistles and gave me a good scope to my profession.
AH: This is at USF?
VG: Yes. At USF. Excellent teachers all the way around.
AH: Yeah, what year did you go back?
VG: Once I finished, in â€™67, I went back. I finished in Aprilâ€”I think I graduatedâ€”and I started in September into the masterâ€™s program, right away. Did it part-time. Oneâ€”a couple of courses, I think it was two courses a semester, and then working and all that. So I finished itâ€”
AH: One quick question before we move on from that. In â€™67, â€™68, when you first were at USF, was it the quarter system then?
AH: See, I just wanted toâ€”the quarter system was considered for many to be really onerous. It was like the classes were 10 weeks instead of 16 weeks.
VG: Or evenâ€”it might have beenâ€”I think it might have been the trimester system.
AH: Okay, because yeah, right around that time there was the quarter system and it wasâ€”I think it was in place for only a year because it was so unpopular. But it just sounds like that you may have coincided with that period and had wanted to finish faster. It would have just been very difficult, because students who were just doing normal studies at that time were complaining anyway. I was just curious.
VG: I can attest to that because I said how crazy I was, you know. And then literature major, too. All the reading and reading and reading and readingâ€”just unbelievableâ€”just drove me crazy. I didnâ€™t think I'd make out of it. But you donâ€™t know these things. Youâ€™re not an educator before you go into education, so you make these decisions that maybe were not to your advantage. But it did help the family, in that Dad didnâ€™t have to pay for insurance and cars and all the expenses for three people or whatever. And the other things that theâ€”and you were right, it was a trimester system. Iâ€™m pretty sure, because then I remember going back to USF, and that would be in the fall. And so, I went into courses, and then I graduated like sometime in â€™69. I think it wasâ€”like, I finished in December and participated in graduation at the end of â€™69. And by that time, the school system was A-okay, so I could get a job in that.
And I think I did mention, after my masterâ€™s there, I went ahead at Dadâ€™s encouragement. He always encouraged us to better ourselvesâ€”have your diploma in your back pocket in case you ever need it. Just have the training. And so I went ahead with his guidance and enrolled at Nova [Southeastern] University. And that worked for me because I was working part-time at the college and full-time, and they did Saturday classes.
AH: Okay. And what were youâ€”what did you major in?
VG: And that was on higher education. Thatâ€™s with the community college then. I tied in. And that was about it, and then retiredâ€”happily retired. And we always were very involved with the garden and the field and all that, and so itâ€™s not like I retired. Iâ€™m even busier, it seems, today than I was then.
AH: What year did you retire? Was it before or after your dad passed?
VG: Was it? No, it was before he passed away. And it was 1998, yeah, â€™98. December of that year.
AH: Right. Nice. Okay, well, if you think of anything let me know.
VG: Thatâ€™s it. Thatâ€™s enough of me.
AH: But weâ€™ll move on to Tessie nowâ€”young Tessie.
BG: Okay. Well, after high school, I, like my sisters and brother, went to USF. And I worked part-time while going to college at the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System. As Vicky said earlier, they were always looking for Giunta family members. They would ask, â€œAre there any others at home that we could, you know, hire?â€ So I worked part-time. I started at the main library on Ashley [Drive], and I really enjoyed it while I was going to college. I majored in education, and at that time, when I started college, for about my first year, my brother was still in college as well, so he and I would always arrange our classes so we could ride to and from school together as much as possible.
And I enjoyed my college years and my working at the library part-time, the work we did as book shelvers or checking out books. I worked in closed stacks. Other college students were hired for those positions as well, so we were a young group and it was enjoyable. Forâ€”after graduation, I got my first teaching job at Blake 7th Grade Center in West Tampa, and I worked there for three years, and afterâ€”
AH: Now what year would that have been?
BG: I began working in 1974.
AH: Right. So everythingâ€”well, had already been integrated and everything, right?
BG: Thatâ€™s correct.
AH: Because Blake traditionally was a black high school.
BG: That is correct. And when I started there, it was a seventh-grade center, and I did work three years. And so in 1977, my father retired. So I had been working three years in â€™77â€”and he was also still teaching. In â€™77, he retired, and I was able to get the math position of teaching that he held at Franklin Junior High School, which meant a lot to me because my dad not only taught at Franklin, he was a student there. And my brother had been a student there, and I was a student at Franklin, and then I got to teach there as well. And I taught at Franklin for another seven years, and it was inâ€”around 1978, around the fall, I began a masterâ€™s degree in educational guidance and counseling while I was working.
My mom became ill in 1979. It was around the fall that she became very ill, and we discovered her illness of pancreatic cancer, so I laid out of the masterâ€™s program, and I continued teaching. I, too, wanted to stop teaching to help care for my mother, but as a family we all agreed we wanted to try to keep things as normal as possibleâ€”make it look like a usual routine. So I wanted to come home each day after work, and I would help take care of her and assist with whatever care she needed, and that meant a lot to me to be able to help in that way.
After my motherâ€™s passingâ€”she passed away in March of 1980. In the fall of 1980, I resumed my masterâ€™s program, and I finished my degree a year later. And I wasnâ€™t sure I wasâ€”I wanted to leave the classroom. I enjoyed teaching. I think, like Sara said how she enjoyed it, I really think education is in our blood, in some way, in teaching. So the step to leave the classroom made me uneasy. Then it was around 1983â€”one of the classmates I had in my masterâ€™s program informed me that there was an opening at King High School for a part-time math teacher, part-time guidance counselor.
And I thought, if ever there was a time to try for a position, this would be it. Because Iâ€™d still have one foot as a math teacher in the door, and one foot in guidance, and that would give me the experience. And so I took that job for one year, and I really enjoyed the guidance and counseling aspect of it. And the following year, because of the opening of Armwood High Schoolâ€”and at guidanceâ€”several guidance openings that year then opened up at King High School because several counselors from King went to Armwood, and I was hired full-time as a counselor. And so I completed my career as a guidance counselor. I taught about 10 years math, and then 20 years as a guidance counselor.
And I worked for 14 years at King High School, and my brother wasâ€”at the timeâ€”was a guidance counselor at Ben Hill Middle School. And Ben Hill was turning into a middle school at the time, because it had been a junior high, and thatâ€™s when the county was switching schools over. So my brother informed me that there was going to an opening in the guidance department where he worked at Ben Hill, because of the change of going to a middle school. And he said, â€œWhy donâ€™t you think of coming and working with me? And weâ€™ll be together in the same office?â€ And though that was quite a distance from my home, I couldnâ€™t resist not [sic] working with my brother in the same department.
So I ended my careerâ€”the last seven yearsâ€”working as a guidance counselor at Ben Hill Middle School with my brother, and then I retired in 2004. And so my retirement, like Vicky shared, has just been so fulfilling and so wonderful because itâ€™s been a retirement from education, but we are so busy running our farm, keeping up the homestead, the yard, the fruit orchard. Weâ€™re continuing to work, but in a different capacity, and one which we really love.
AH: Absolutely. Yeah, thatâ€™s great. So this is probably a good time for a quick break.
AH: All right, Iâ€™m back with the Giunta sisters. So weâ€™ve gotten to postâ€”kind of at the end of all your careers and everything, so letâ€™s talk aboutâ€”I mean, first of all, losing your mother must have been really devastating for your father. They were very close. Tell us about your dad after your mother was gone.
VG: Dad has a very, very difficult time now.
AH: This is Vicky.
VG: Yes. And I think the salvation for him was that he had the farm. He kept extremely busy, just like he had before whenâ€”before mom became ill. And so that allowed him that outlet of just working his anguish out. It really helped a lot. And then, because he was always very close with natureâ€”though we were all working. We were not in the house. Tessie and I were working, Don was already married, so he was out of the house. But even though we were not here, he had a lot of comfort.
Weâ€™ve always had petsâ€”dogs. There was one dog in particular that just really favored him, that he would sit on a cement bench out there, and when heâ€™d take a break, heâ€™d kiddingly would talk to him like, â€œRex this and thisâ€ and â€œRex look at me here,â€ and the dog would turn his head. Not that Dad was talking to the dog as such, but he just got a kick out of that trick. And when dad was in the field and at the farm, no matter where he was, the dog was in the farmâ€”in the fieldâ€”with him. Right there, in the rows. And they knew not to get on top of the row, but it would lay down in a parallel way, just right into the row, nice and sunny. The sun would bake them and keep them warm if it was cold. So he was very engaged with that.
Nature, for him, also just enlightened each day. Like, for instance, the chicken yard always has these pigeonsâ€”not pigeons, doves, the dovesâ€”that would land and this and that. Well, he wouldâ€”we have pictures of him, just with the doves landing on him on his arm, and heâ€™s feeding them on his shoulder. They just wereâ€”he was one with nature. He really was. So I think that that kind of gave him a healingâ€”a power of healing that most people donâ€™t have. Besides just working, working, working, he just had an enjoyment of that aspect of life in nature.
And then, of course, the other thing is that Sara, with her beautiful, large family always has engaged him. She used to come here and spend time with him every week. She took sewing classes. If she didnâ€™t, she still came with Danny, when Danny was retired. And she even cooked and brought stuff over, so he enjoyed those meals because, â€œOh, Saraâ€™s coming today.â€ So that was very important, and so she constantly was there with him, with the children, as much as her schedule allowedâ€”and the distance. And heâ€™s always engaged us and theâ€”as a family, always.
AH: Question. Did you guys move out of the house, or did you guys stay?
VG: No, we remained here. Yeah.
AH: Okay. So he had that too.
VG: Â Yeah, right. And it helped, because running the farmâ€”it took a lot. And even when I was working and Dad was well, I would do all the mowing and all that kind of thing. And problems that occurred at that time in the neighborhoodâ€”drug dealers parking on your frontâ€”on the lawn there and things like that. I was kind of the law and order, you might say. They knew that I meant business, because Iâ€™m a firm person. Butâ€”
AH: Yeah, because the neighborhood did change in a really big way. Whenâ€”I guess, when did you guys first start to notice kind of a decline? When would you say that it first started kind ofâ€”
VG: Well, let me startâ€”Vicky hereâ€”let me start by saying the decline was such that there were revolvers and guns being discharged in the middle of the night. There was a bar situation here on Seventh Avenue, just a few blocks from us, where they would be speeding cars, loud music. But itâ€™s more than just loud music. It was the shootings that were going on. In fact, so much so, that Dadâ€™s bedroomâ€”itâ€™s the first bedroomâ€”and we found bullet casings all in the driveway and in front of the house, many a night, you know, after a weekend.
So those kinds of things just kept onâ€”kept on the neighborhood, and drug use, very public drug use, and alcohol and all that, prostitution. But then, it looks like when the east sideâ€”I'm sorry, the west sideâ€”started their civic association because some of what they called the â€œpioneersâ€ were starting to move in, young people that had a commitment to the history and all that. And they were instrumental in getting, I think, the ball rolling. The other thing that would have been good for Ybor in generalâ€”weâ€™re talking about that to hereâ€”was the artist colony that existed at one time. But City of Tampa kind of squelched thatâ€”didnâ€™t give enough, I think, of a help or aid to them.
AH: Yeah, that colony was during the â€™70s and the â€™80s, right?
VG: Yes. And that was the starting point of maybe good things to come, and then that was squelched. So then thisâ€”the newâ€”we called them the â€œpioneers,â€ the young people thatâ€”younger people that were coming in. They started that organization, which we belonged to and we were very cohesive in trying to get the law toâ€”
AH: Which organization are we talking about?
Unknown: It was the neighborhood association of the west side, west of Twenty-Second Street. It was a neighborhood association for that side.
AH: Okay. I understand. Right.
VG: And the officers were allâ€”I say â€œyoung people,â€ they were not in their â€™20s. Iâ€™d say more likeâ€”young compared to us. They were professionals and nonprofessionals that were moving in, but just really gung-ho about the history and wanting to clean it up. So with that movement, it started kind of like a tumbleweed effect, and it even helped us, because even though they adopted us, because we were on this side really, they were very nice about it. We would get the police presence and things like that when we needed. Then we started our own organization because people started moving in and all of that, and that became the separating point from east of Twenty-Second, west of Twenty-Second.
AH: Okay, so you have an East Ybor neighborhood association now?
VG: Yes. Because there are different needs that we have. But there was this attitude, or whatever you want to call it, about the neighborhood, I'd say, until maybe about 10 years ago, huh? Wouldnâ€™t you say?
BG: Iâ€™m Tessie. As I think about the neighborhood when I would come home from work, and seeing gangs in the streets, and they would refuse to get out of the way while you tried to drive down the street. That was a period of time for me, when it was inâ€”from the early â€™80s to, I'd say, the late 19â€”in the 1990s, the late 1990s. And a lot of shootings, killings, a lot of gangs. So and then we slowly began to see change, like Vicky said, an improvement. As the other neighborhood association took off and would hear of our problems, they would send more police in this area and things wouldâ€”began to change.
VG: Vicky here. The other thing is, weâ€™re not only talking about the prostitution, the drugs, and all that, but child welfare. There were a lot of rentals in this area, and I remember when weâ€”I would work with Don, putting up fencing in the back lot here, near the orchard. There would be a whole slew of children from a home where there were known to be two or three prostitutes, so it was a group kind of thing. And the children were so young, and they wouldâ€”had nothing to do. They didnâ€™t have many toys, and theyâ€™d come over and talk through the fence, and weâ€™d talk to them as we were working. And then they would do thisâ€”and itâ€™s just abandonment, you knowâ€”where they would lay in the street, and at that time there were still semis that would go by, and they would make snow angels. â€œLook, Iâ€™m making a snow angel.â€ Thereâ€™s no snow.
But they just did things thatâ€”â€œNo, no, no. Get out of the street. Trafficâ€™s coming.â€ And there was that kind of just abandonment of the whole area. Why werenâ€™t the police or peopleâ€”so we started raising Cain about things like that, simple things. Maybe somebody else overlooked it, but we didnâ€™t. And that really, I thinkâ€”not only the children, but all the issues. And then, I think Iâ€™d like to share this. I think you have to put your foot down sometimes, and these kidsâ€”I donâ€™t feel intimidated by individuals like Tessie described. I donâ€™t look for a fight, but Iâ€™m going to stand my ground. And sometimes that can not work out, but sometimes it does.
Like, for instance, these same childrenâ€”the people that would visit the mothers, the men, would leave all kinds of trash and this and that, even syringes and stuff. Horrible. So I would pick that up every morning before the kids came out, if I could. But sometimes they would be there, and theyâ€™d see me pick it up. Iâ€™d even tell them to pick up trash, you know, wrappers and things of whatever, paper, food and stuff. So they wanted to help, and they would get their things and their little bags and collect trash with me, all up and down Tenth Avenue. And not only on our property, all the property.
And so then this happened several times. And then I noticed, no sooner we cleaned it all up, it was all trashed again. So I asked the kids, â€œWho did this?â€ And they said, Well, so and so. â€œWhere is he?â€ Over there, you know, in that house. They pointed out to a house down the block. So I was so enraged, because here it is, these kids cleaning up the messes of other people, and that was it. You can do anything to me, but donâ€™t do it to a child. So I went marching down the block with a big garbage can. And I mean, I was strong in those days, and I got the trash and I scattered it all over their porch, in the steps and easement. And they were all hanging on the porch, half-drugged and all this, and then I said, â€œDo this again after those kids clean up that lawn for you, because you all are just a bunch of pigs, and Iâ€™m going to come again and do the same thing.â€
That was the last timeâ€”I never found another piece of paper or a syringe or anything in our lawn or across the street. And it wasnâ€™t the kids, it was them. Because itâ€”in other words, they get by with it, but you put your foot down, and it was an honest thing. Iâ€™m just asking you to do your part, you know, donâ€™t trash it. So I became infamous in the neighborhood, to say the least.
AH: Go, Vicky. But it sounded likeâ€”that theâ€”probably the early â€™80s seemed to be like a real low point, because it seemed like there was a lot of mugging, there was murders happening here. So it was a kind of thing where, even today, there are older people in the community who are like, Just donâ€™t go to Ybor City. Just donâ€™t go, you know. And I tell them that thatâ€™s a very outdated point of view. And that if you want trouble, you can come to Ybor after midnight and you can find it, but itâ€™s not like it used to be.
VG: Thatâ€™s right. Definitely. Thatâ€™s changed.
AH: So you think the â€™90sâ€”the late â€™90sâ€”is when it started to change and get a little, I donâ€™t know, a little more friendly?
BG: I would say so, and I would like to add something interesting that has happened recently.
AH: This is Tessie.
BG: There are young people that have moved into this area, and in the past, in the old days, no one would be out in the streets after dark. So each evening when I take our dog out, prior to bedtime, it usuallyâ€”there would be no one out. And nowadays, with young people moving into Ybor because they enjoy the restaurants and the night life, theyâ€™re coming home from the business district of Yborâ€”11:00, 12:00, 1:00. So one evening, it was about 11 oâ€™clock at night, I was with the dog, and I was just almost dumbfounded by seeing these young people walking to their homes, late at night in Ybor. And I just couldnâ€™t stop looking at them, and I noticed the young people turned around and kept looking back at me, like, Why is that lady looking? I said, â€œThey have no idea what I've seen and what I've experienced.â€ And I'm just happy and amazed at this, you know, the trend and the changes in the neighborhood.
AH: Right, because the urban-renewal age was this idea that the federal bulldozers would come in and clear someâ€”clear out some bad buildings, and then somehow everything would be magically restored and thatâ€”but it takes people to do that. And itâ€™s interesting that itâ€™s taken so long forâ€”but itâ€™s happened, that people are moving back into the inner city. And some people call it â€œgentrification,â€ but other people would say â€œrestoring a neighborhood that was once really nice.â€
VG: Vicky. And Iâ€™d like to add thatâ€”Tessie, and you recall thisâ€”as we had the drug heads and people like that, I donâ€™t want to list them as a class, but then there were the other individuals who lived in the communityâ€”a lot of blacks, Cuban blacks. You remember, Daddy would see them go by, â€œHi, buddy.â€ And they would wave. â€œHi, Mr. Giunto,â€ theyâ€™d call him. You know, itâ€™s almost like, where do these people come in fromâ€”theseâ€”the negative element, because that wasnâ€™t the original element when we were hereâ€”young, younger. The neighborhood was different, and maybe these people died out. Even when the bar was open, right there on Twenty-Second and Eleventhâ€”used to be a bar, right there at the cornerâ€”and youâ€™d see them walking, staggering, and all that. But drunksâ€”casual drunksâ€”but no harm coming to them or would result by them, but it changed. I donâ€™t know what brought in that other element, becauseâ€”
BG: I think that what Vicky is saying is very true. We hadâ€”I think when many of the Italians started to die, their children had already married and moved away. The homes were either rented or sold, and that was to a group of black people who were hard-working, and they owned their homes, and they lived here until they became too old to live here. Others bought the homes, started renting them, so that created a decline.
AH: Right. So it wasnâ€™t instant. It wasâ€”
BG: Correct. Yes. And we, having lived here all these yearsâ€”our familyâ€”we became very close to the black community and were very loved by them. And I remember an instant, in the 1960s, when there were the race riots.
AH: Right. 1967, right?
BG: Right. And my father was working in the field, and a black man pulled up in the car, and he said, â€œListen, I donâ€™t want you to worry. I donâ€™t want you to be afraid, because weâ€™re not going to let anything happen to you.â€ And it was so beautiful, because thatâ€™s the way we felt about them and they felt about us. And having lived hereâ€”and my father taught at Franklin, and I taught at Franklinâ€”we taught children from this community, so we were known not only as neighbors, but their teachers and mentors and that kind of relationship we had. Until, unfortunately, some of these bad elements started to come in. And I think that happened as the homes deteriorated, you got a different element coming in.
AH: Right. So things are starting to look up these days though, now.
AH: So since the late â€™90s, now weâ€™re in the late 2010s, so itâ€™s been about 20 years. In your judgment, things have been improving?
BG: Oh yes.
VG: You can measure themâ€”this is Vickyâ€”you can measure them, at least I can, by way of when Iâ€™m on the mower, the kind of stuff I find on the lawns. Because Iâ€™d find crack bagsâ€”there used to be a lot of crack bags all over the place. And now itâ€™s very rare that I see it. Youâ€™ll see beer and some whiskey bottles or liquor bottles here and there, but not like the crack and that kind of thing. Itâ€™s something thatâ€™s changed.
AH: Right. Yeah, because the crack came in early to mid â€™80s and made a bad situation even worse, right?
AH: So what are your prospects for Ybor City going forward? You thinkâ€”Iâ€™m curious, what did you think when they were thinking about moving the Rays to Ybor City? Iâ€™m curious as to what you thought.
VG: You want me to start? Well, itâ€™s not because we donâ€™t want changes in Ybor, because you have to accommodate change or you wonâ€™t survive, period. Weâ€™ve seen this in little, minor details on the farm and other things that weâ€™ve had in our lives. But it seems like thatâ€™s such a very, very large entity to come inâ€”people massâ€”to Ybor. Here, weâ€™re trying to protect [Richard] Gonzmartâ€™s Columbia [Restaurant], which should be, because the trucks were plowing down all his establishmentâ€”all the columns and all that. And how many years he had to fight to get something done and other entities to get this deal to change itsâ€”
AH: I know, but I still see the semis going by there all the time, so yeah.
VG: Yes, they do. So if thatâ€™s the case, and weâ€™re handling our history here and the structures with such love and tenderness, and then, okay, you build this thing, itâ€™s a mass of humanity coming into a very small area. Already there is, from what I seeâ€”we donâ€™t go party at night, but when we drive through there, it is packed. Theyâ€™re doing well from what I see. During the day, I see people there. So theyâ€™re thinking greedily about money, money, money, but at some point, thereâ€™s a point of no return. And just like you said, peopleâ€”and I hear it tooâ€”Oh, Ybor? Donâ€™t go there. That kind of thing, because it has that reputation.
Now, when will that die? I donâ€™t know. Maybe not in our lifetimes. But the same thingâ€™s going to happen to the stadium, I think. It would be a moneymaker and all this, [but] the quality of life is going to diminish, because as it is now, we canâ€™t even use the interstate. We canâ€™t use inner-city streetsâ€”thereâ€™s construction going on. And the streets are narrow and small, and one lane toâ€”there used to be two lanes. Yes, traffic is helped by that, but it causes problems. And I donâ€™t think theyâ€™re thinking enough into what kind of a mass of humanity is coming in and leaving. Thatâ€™s my concern.
AH: Right. Interesting. Well, also it seemed like theyâ€™reâ€”they treat it as a business district and not as a neighborhood, and itâ€™s still a neighborhood. People live here. So, what havenâ€™t we covered? Your dad passedâ€”was it in â€™04?
BG: He died in 2007. This is Tessie.
AH: Oh, 2007?
AH: So tell us aboutâ€”get us to the end of his life.
VG: Iâ€™d like toâ€”Vicky hereâ€”say this. As you heardâ€”last time, I think we talked about itâ€”my brother Don died as a result of a drowning accident. When Dad was informed of that, and the wayâ€”it was very sad the way it was informedâ€”we were informed of it. Sara heard it on the radio, because it happened in Dunedin, and we were not even told. Friends of ours came and picked us up and took us to Dunedin.
BG: Butâ€”this is Tessieâ€”we didnâ€™t even know why we were going to Dunedin.
AH: Why you were going.
VG: Right, we werenâ€™t even told that. But anyway, when Don passed away in 2004, my dad was already suffering for a lotâ€”from a lot of ailments because of his age but able to maintain his usual self, but with limitations as far as farming. But he would go out there and do small tasks and sit down and rest, and all that, and that kept him kind of aware. But with Donâ€™s death, it looks like there was complete deterioration. He got the onset of Parkinsonâ€™s shortly after that, and deteriorated from that for several years until his passing. He was able to understand, to function. He couldnâ€™t speak, really, very much. He understood whatâ€”everything was going on, but it was sort of like he was put into this vacuum. And itâ€™s very sad because he was very, very close to Don, and Don was close to him.
Don used to come here time and time again, to help out with projects. They would always plan. â€œDon, when you have a chance, letâ€™s work on this and this.â€ And then Don would come over on the Saturday, and have lunch with us and work with Dad on whatever it was. And likewise, Dad did, like, electrical work. I think he did some for Sara and Danny when they built their home and showed Danny some electrical things, which he still does today, andâ€”because he was a trained electrician on the side.
So those last years for Dad, you know, it was just very dismal for him, Iâ€™d say, in my opinion, fromâ€”after Donâ€™s death. And he was very limited, and at thatâ€”when one gets that ill and all that, you can try to involve them socially with other groups, but we found there was more pressure from that because people often expect the old Domenic Giunta to come out and be the conversationalist he was, and heâ€™s just not able to. He hears and all that. So it made itâ€”it closes you into this vacuum. Itâ€™s so sad. And people donâ€™t realize that that happens. Like, for instance, we had one visitor that came once, and Dad at that point had the Parkinsonâ€™s and was in his wheelchair and all that, and he said, â€œYou knowâ€â€”this other manâ€”he said, â€œYou know, Don, who Iâ€™m talking about,â€ so and so, â€œthat heâ€™s 94, and he plants a garden, and he does this.â€
And that was, I thinkâ€”they donâ€™t realize it, but that hurts. Hereâ€™s my father in a vacuum. He understands whatâ€™s going on. He canâ€™t verbalize, but he canâ€™t do that and hear that some other guy is doing it. Thatâ€™s human nature, that isnâ€™t there that wanting, that longing? So as far as putting him in social situations to see if that would relieve some of that loneliness from his illness, it didnâ€™t help. But Sara was always here for himâ€”she wasâ€”and the kids, her grandkids would come. Some worked at that pointâ€”by that point in time, in this area, and would visit. And thatâ€™s the one thingâ€”and Sara and Danny visited frequently, but we couldnâ€™t get him out that much anymore with the wheelchair.
AH: Well, it sounds likeâ€”I mean, thatâ€™s probably the best therapy you can have, having a family. Sara?
SR: This is Sara. Weâ€™re talking about my dad, and one memory thatâ€™s so always on my mind, and I never forget: Dad, in his last years, was hospitalized quite a bit, and at that time my brother had already passed away. So the three of us would take turnsâ€”eight hours shifts in a hospital. We never left him alone. And one time, this particular time, he was hospitalized at Tampa General, which was not normal. The other doctorsâ€”we went to St. Josephâ€”but this night, said Danny, my husband said, â€œSara, I'll drive you two guys to stay with him tonight, and Iâ€™ll visit your dad, and then Iâ€™ll come back. Drive back in in the morning, visit Dad again, and then we can leave when one of your sisters takes over.â€ And I tried to do the night shift because my sisters living with him knew more about his life and his condition, so they could talk to the doctor better, even though sometimes the doctor would come early and I would handle it.
Well, this particular night, it starts getting dark. You could tell heâ€™s getting antsy. Heâ€™s looking out the windows, outâ€”he says, â€œAll right, Sara, itâ€™s time to go. Itâ€™s getting dark. Now, you go home before it gets too dark now.â€ And that was his common thread all my life. From the time we got married, it was always, â€œDanny and Sara, itâ€™s getting dark, you better leave. Get home before it gets dark.â€ Or with the children, â€œTake the children home.â€ So that night, he saysâ€”and I said, â€œWell, no, Dad. Remember Danny was here visiting? He brought me with a car. Iâ€™m going to stay here overnight with you, and then tomorrow morning, Dannyâ€™s coming back to visit again and I'll go home.â€ And so then he starts shifting around in the bed. I said, â€œWhatâ€™s the matter, Dad?â€ â€œYou could sleep right here.â€ And I said, â€œNo, Dad, you see this chair? Itâ€™s a recliner. I have a pillow and a blanket. Iâ€™ll sleep right here, next to you.â€ And he says, â€œOkay.â€ In other words, I was safe. I wasnâ€™t going anywhere. And thatâ€™s the way he always was, so considerate all the time.
AH: So how old was he when he passed?
SR: Ninety-three. It was just a few months before his 94th birthday, soâ€”
AH: Okay. Well, he did have a long life.
SR: Yes, he did.
AH: And it sounds like he was quite a guy. I mean, Renaissance man is what comes to mind, especially after seeing his writing and everything. So lately, you guys have been trying to get a kind of historic status for the house. So tell us a little bit about that, and how far does this go back, when did it begin? And, well, you can tell us about the progress.
BG: Well, I would say evenâ€”
AH: This is Tessie.
BG: Yes. Back when my father was still alive, and even my brother, we would talk about the future and what would become of our homestead and farm here someday as each of us passed on. And a lot of talk would go on, and after my fatherâ€™s death in 2007, Sara and Vicky and I met with our sister-in-law, Peggy, and Saraâ€™s husband, Danny, to talk a little bit about ideas for the future. And in some way, we wanted to preserve, definitely, the history of this community and of this homestead and farm, but also, hopefully, maybe someday, actually preserve the farm and home in some way, to be used for future generations. And we felt that getting some type of special designation to at least preserve the history, and the farming history, and the early Sicilian community that lived here, would be very important. So we met with Dennis Fernandez and explained our goals for the future, and that we have a farm trust in place.
AH: Tell us about Dennis Fernandez. He works in theâ€”
BG: Dennis Fernandez is manager for the City of Tampa historic preservationâ€”office of [Architectural Review and] Historic Preservation. And so he met with us and said he would think about it, and eventually, a few months later, he brought up this idea of applying for a City of Tampa local historic landmark designation. And as far as what it meant for the preservation or keeping up the property, there was going to really be no difference. We are in the Ybor City Historic District, and the house and part of the farm is in the national district.
So being under the auspices of the Barrio Latino, they always overâ€”would oversee theâ€”any construction, painting, anything that you wanted to do to the faÃ§ade. So this designation would justâ€”this would just be continued, but it would restore or preserve the history. And as of our speaking right now, it has passed through the Historic Preservation Commission, through the Planning Commission, and we are awaiting meetings with Tampa City Council. And, Vicky, would you like to add to any of that?
VG: Yes, I would like to say that when individuals have visited us here at the farm, thereâ€™s always this kind of, Oh, this place is lovely. Oh, itâ€™s so special. Itâ€™s this, itâ€™s that, and all these descriptors. And itâ€™s wonderfulâ€”one on one, or one to a friend, and a friend to a friend. But we feltâ€”at least I feltâ€”there has to be more of an acknowledgment of what this property is. Itâ€™s more than just the house. Itâ€™s about the farm. Thatâ€™s why we went through all this trouble, because the farm wasnâ€™t included. They felt our house was like many other homes here, and itâ€™s true, there are better, there are other examples of architecture for the area, but the idea of the farmâ€”and itâ€™s so unique because of the area that itâ€™s locatedâ€”and the early history of it made it very important.
But why is it of any importance if others donâ€™t see it as important? Youâ€™ve got to share that. And we thought that that would be a first good step, because if itâ€™s acknowledged by the city, at least itâ€™s saying, â€œOh, itâ€™s more than just you who are coming here and saying, â€˜This is nice. This is a nice place.â€™â€ Itâ€™s saying, â€œYes.â€ And the credential behind it is that the city has given its stamp. You see what Iâ€™m saying?
AH: Right. Of course.
VG: That kind of thing. Itâ€™s not self-aggrandizement; itâ€™s acknowledging what was. We were always disappointed when they couldnâ€™t include the farm, but we could understand it because it was an inventory of houses and structures, and so we didnâ€™t qualify. So Dennis did a lot of beautiful work, working with people who did it in Tallahassee or someplace, to see how we could go about it, and they finally did itâ€”this way, hopefully. But weâ€™re hoping that the whole history of the Sicilian community could benefit from it.
AH: Right, because itâ€™s not just about the house but what it represents.
VG: Right. The farming community here, like weâ€™ve talked about, Andy, there were six or eight cows right there, half a block from us. Youâ€™d look at it now andâ€”that was a dairy? Yes, and he sold the milk. The lady behind us had goats, and she harvested the milk, and it was special because it wasâ€”I donâ€™t know what it is. It doesnâ€™t have fat, or not as much fat, and people wanted it because of the asthma. We bought it from her, for Tessie. And then the watercress growing not only across the street, but there were a couple of other areas that had that, from the oak springs that trickle down, and they were deep, deep areas that had beautiful watercress. And that was a very popular thing withâ€”I donâ€™t knowâ€”with Italians and others, maybe, but they all came from miles around to buy it. So the area was so unique, and this would be such a wonderful way of promoting the whole area. Thatâ€™s our thinking.
AH: Right. Well, and itâ€™sâ€”just for most people, thereâ€™s no idea that there was so much of an agricultural legacy here. Everyone thinks itâ€™s just all cigar factories. And since East Ybor sort of got industrialized, especially along Seventh and everything, everyone just thinks itâ€™s all part of, like, one mass.
VG: Sara, what about you? Any thoughts on that, with regard to the historic thing? From what you remember, like the farms that were around here, you know, the little things, plots and stuff.
SR: Well, yeah. I mean, like you say, I remember Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â (??).
VG: Those cows.
SR: The cows walked. They didnâ€™t walk in the street usually, because they came and ate our grass, our lawn, and we would walk them to empty lots. And of course, they farmed across the street. There were three brothers that farmed there.
VG: But everything changed, as far as the farming community, because, of course, they found jobs that led to good pay compared to relying on the land. And a lot of these farms, they were not just full-time farmers. It was just a part-time thing, just to supplement the income.
AH: Well, and thatâ€™s the other thing, why thereâ€™s this kind of, like, history is forgotten, is if you look up this place, probably, in 1950, it doesnâ€™t say anything about a farm. It just says, yeah, there was a house there and these are the people living there. So it doesnâ€™t actually give you an idea of what was actually happening on the property. So Iâ€™m sure you could go through the whole city directory in 1920s and â€™30s, and all those people would be farming, but you wouldnâ€™t know it. Thereâ€™s no documentation at all, soâ€”
VG: Yes, exactly. Thatâ€™s very true.
AH: The other interesting thing isâ€”I donâ€™t know if you could comment on thisâ€”is that, I had read before, like, long before World War II, that the city didnâ€™t want the Italians selling their milk because it wasnâ€™t pasteurized, all this other stuff. Did theyâ€”was there anyâ€”ever anything like that? Was there any, I guess, effort to regulateâ€”
VG: If it wasâ€”maybeâ€”could it have been the larger farms? Because, like, this lady never pasteurized it, nor did Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â (??). It wasnâ€™t pasteurized.
AH: Right, which is not legal.
VG: Right. Right.
AH: So itâ€™s just aâ€”itâ€™s an interesting thing becauseâ€”but I think, I suspect that people were just selling it to a friend. Friends, neighbors, you know. No one ever got sick, so there was never anyâ€”authorities didnâ€™t have to be aware of it, but if you were selling it in, like, Publix or you were taking it to Winn Dixie and selling it, it would a much different thing. But this was all sort of, you know, itâ€™s Ybor City. Itâ€™s a handshake and, you know.
SR: Excuse me. Sara. We milked our cow, but I had a thermometer, and we pasteurized it. I pasteurized the milk.
AH: Oh, back in Lutz, you mean?
AH: Yeah, okay, right. Very interesting.
VG: Theâ€”we were talking aboutâ€”I lost my train of thought here.
AH: Pasteurization? Orâ€”
VG: Oh yeah. Do you remember, Sara, that elderly lady that used to come and visit? She wouldnâ€™t get on the porch because she was walking, and she was always dressed in black and she had a little black hat sometimes, and she had a black bag with the tuma cheese. Or ricotta cheese or something.
SR: I remember a lady like that. She would come here, and she had one of those little wagons, like the old days. They used to sell ice cream. Itâ€™s insulated. And Mamaâ€”we used to buy tuma. She used to sell ricotta andâ€”I donâ€™t know if she sold milk because Mama didnâ€™t buy milk from her.
SR: But the cheeses and all that, she would buy.
VG: Yeah, I remember that she would walk in the heat of the summer and sell these cheeses, but they were good. Because, see, they knew when they made them, they made them for their own table, and then they sold the excess. So it was quality stuff. And she would just haveâ€”the one I'm thinking of, it must have been the same ladyâ€”got tired of pulling the wagon.
SR: Yeah, maybe. Yeah.
VG: But she was elderly and she had a little black bag, and sheâ€™d dig in there and get it out. And didnâ€™t have many, you know, sheâ€™d carry it. But thatâ€™s the thing. When they did these things, they only sold what they would putâ€”consume themselves or put on their table. And everything was fresh.
SR: Yeahâ€”that cheese, to this day, it was the best. I love that cheese. I try to look for stuff like that in the Italian stores, but itâ€™s just not the same.
VG: Are you familiar with it, Andy? Tuma is a cheese thatâ€”itâ€™s very rubbery, and itâ€™s almost like a mozzarella. Correct me if Iâ€™m wrong, Sara.
VG: Like a mozzarella, but unlike other cheeses, this doesnâ€™t have a lot of salt. Itâ€™s very bland because you add the salt to it, correct? And that is so goodâ€”itâ€™s so good. It must beâ€”is it goat cheese? I guess so.
SR: I donâ€™t know, because I donâ€™t know what kind of animals that lady had.
VG: Yeah, I donâ€™t know. Because sheâ€™s come out from that way. Yeah, but itâ€™s called tuma, and itâ€™sâ€”
AH: Yeah, weâ€™ll look it up.
VG: It spoils quickly, so even the specialty stores donâ€™t have it all the time. And when they do have it, they used to call Dad to say, We have some in. You know, Cacciatore would call in, because there would just be limited amounts. Of course, that wasnâ€™t like the one that the lady made, that would last longer, just like the bread that they used to make in the old days. That lasted for a whole week. They ate it here. Iâ€™m sure it got hard by that time, but it wasnâ€™t like the bread now, that you have it spongy and soft for two weeks, four weeks because of all the additives and stuff.
AH: Right. Well, and that wasnâ€™t Cuban bread youâ€™re talking about, because that gets hard overnight.
VG: These were breads that wereâ€”call them â€œSicilian breadâ€ or whatever. This old lady used to make it in big, heavy loaves like this. And sheâ€™d call us, and Tessie would run over there, and itâ€™d be hot right out of the oven, and Mom would slice it and put olive oil and salt and pepper, and weâ€™d all enjoy it the minute she gave it to us.
AH: Mm. Sounds like a treat. Well, is there anything that we didnâ€™t cover? Feels like we did pretty good.
VG: I think we did, yeah. We've been as thorough as we can in filling in the gaps for each other, because we are different points inâ€”
AH: Right, well, thatâ€™s whatâ€”one of the things thatâ€™s been kind of interesting is talking to you, because you each have different sets of memories, slightly. So itâ€™s interesting to kind of see it all through your eyes. But I really want to thank you for spending the time with me this week and the last time, and good luck with the house and everything else. And, of course, if thereâ€™s anything that I or the library can do, you just let us know.
Unknown: Thank you very much.
VG: Thank you. Weâ€™ve enjoyed it also.
AH: Thank you so much.