Beatrice, Victoria, and Sara Giunta oral history interview

Beatrice, Victoria, and Sara Giunta oral history interview

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Beatrice, Victoria, and Sara Giunta oral history interview
Uniform Title:
Ybor City oral history project
Huse, Andrew Thomas
University of South Florida -- Library. -- Digital Scholarship Services - Digital Collections. -- Oral History Program


Oral history ( local )
Online audio ( local )


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Full cataloging of this resource is underway and will replace this temporary record when complete.
Statement of Responsibility:
interviewed by Andrew Thomas "Andy" Huse.

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Source Institution:
University of South Florida Library
Holding Location:
University of South Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
Y10-00096 ( USFLDC DOI )
y10.96 ( USFLDC Handle )

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text Andrew Huse (AH): Okay, my name is Andrew Huse. I’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 it’s October 3rd, 2019. We’re in their home on Eleventh Avenue—their ancestral home, you could say. And thank you very much for being with me today.
All: You’re welcome. We’re happy to be here with you.
AH: So we’re going to try to avoid confusion by going a little sequentially, beginning with the eldest and going by theme.  So let’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 dad’s mother, lived with us.
AH: What would her name have been?
SR: Victoria Giunta. And I remember her asking me, “Sara, do you want to go to Mass with me and church, rosary?” And I would say, “Yes.” I would accompany her, and just being with her was wonderful. So I was so young, I don’t remember what exactly—if it was a Mass or rosary, but I enjoyed walking with her. The other thing—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 didn’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, and—
AH: So your grandmother is really featured heavily in your earliest memories.
SR: Oh yeah, yeah. I remember sometimes, I would—I don’t know what I would do—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, “Come here.” 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, the—was it the 8th? Oh, the 12th, that’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 birthday’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 mother—when we were young, we’d stand at the back gate, and she would walk us—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 who’s an eighth grader, and she’s the one that walked me to school when I was in kindergarten. So it was nice. I mean, it was like a—I felt so special, you know, this—in fact, I named my second daughter Angela because of her. And Most Holy Name was—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 didn’t have that many students, you know, so—
AH: And what was the—what about church life?
SR: Well, we had Mass every morning before school. It wasn’t—we’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 different—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 had—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, so—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, she—and I spoke Italian—she asked me questions in Italian, and the one thing I remember was she said something about “What do you do?” or “What does your father do to get ready for work?” or something. So I started telling her in Italian, “Oh, he gets up in the morning and he shaves, and then he goes and dresses up, and he has breakfast.” All Italian, and she thought that—oh, it was funny.
AH: Right. So, and so you—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 you’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 know—and, of course, the Sicilian that we speak now is called the “antique Sicilian” because it has changed so much. Because the language has changed. Also, at the time that my grandmother came over—all the grandparents—at that time, they didn’t go to school. So there wasn’t—they didn’t follow the written language. But nowadays, they have schools and you know—
AH: Now, would you consider yourself second- or third-generation immigrants?
Unknown: We are the first—we’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 yeah—but you’re—it’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 that’s just starting out, and the second that’s really building up capital and things like that. So—because what’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, something—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 don’t think we’ve started with this—when were you born?
SR: In 1943, so I'm 76 years old.
AH: Okay. So—and tell us—tell us a little bit about your earliest memories of your parents.
SR: Well, my earliest memories—I remember sleeping in their bedroom. My crib was in their bedroom until I was three years old. And I remember—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 it’s—it was light outside. But then Vicky’s three years younger than I am, so when she was born, they needed the crib. So that’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 dad’s name was Domenic, but he went by Don. And my mother’s name was also Sara, like me.
AH: Right, okay. And so—and were they both born here in the United States?
SR: Yes.
AH: Okay, so your—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 so—and your mother was born here too?
SR: Yes.
AH: Was she born here in Ybor City?
SR: Yes.
AH: Okay. Do you know how they met?
SR: Yes. Do you want to cover that?
AH: Okay, so Vicky’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 would—my mother was a beautician. And so she would fix Nora’s hair. And Nora was asked by my dad, “Do you know of anybody that I could take to a date—on a date to a”— I think it was a college fraternity dance or something. And so she said, “Yeah. I just have the perfect girl for you.” So he set it up—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 1941—December of 1941. So that was a very happenstance kind of thing. And this brother, Jimmy—it was his nickname—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? Let’s get through to high school, and then we’ll cover the other stuff later. But so you went—you started with—
SR: Junior high—back then it was called “junior high” and not “middle school”—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, and—yeah—
AH: So how was that—was that an interesting adjustment for you, or did you just kind of—just rolled off, or what was that like? Do you remember?
SR: Yeah, I mean, it was—I don’t know—I didn’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, and—
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 was—
SR: Well, I was—I enjoyed high school because I was—well, middle school—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 games—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 “Scholarship Incorporated” that was just for high grades, the Math Club, the Future Teachers.
AH: So yeah, it was all academic-oriented.
SR: Yeah.
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 you—when we get back to you, if there’s anything we forgot, please jot it down and we’ll talk about it.
SR: Okay.
AH: So let’s move on to you, Vicky. Tell us when you were born.
VG: I was born in 1946—April 2nd, 1946.
AH: That’s my mother’s exact birthday.
VG: Really?
AH: Yes.
VG: Oh, coincidental. And as far as my earliest memories, it’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 wouldn’t do anything until I saw Sara again in the afternoon. So my mom decided, “Good. You want to go to school, go to school.” 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 didn’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. I’d say that a lot of them in those days were from Italy. That was my feeling because, though they didn’t speak Sicilian or Italian to us, they were that caliber. The culture was there and they understood it, and so forth. It’s kind of interesting—Sara mentioned Phillip Shore, which we—I also attended. And that man was originally an Italian immigrant, and they named the school after him. And it’s interesting that it’s the closest school here in the Ybor area, with the Sicilian immigrants that did come here. It’s just a sideline, but that’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 don’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 junior—I attended Phillip Shore. There, I don’t recall any club activities or things like that. It was just academics and the—what did go on a lot at Phillip Shore, my father—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 certain—it would be Thanksgiving, or it may be just an issue like “What is scholarship?” And he would have different students speak about “What does it mean, scholarship?” And they’d have different aspects and how it can be beneficial in the future—
AH: So they’d be assigned to, like, do research to give a talk, right?
VG: Yes, and then they’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 got—everybody felt, hey, this is important because it’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 recollections—and I think Sara also remembers this, because we’ve talked about it—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 year—a sort of hot dog, wiener roast.
Unknown: Yep. Barbecue.
VG: Barbecue. And it was held right there. We still have the old—not the original pit, but the cement is there. And all of his classes were invited. He’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 night—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 just—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 they’d misbehave and misbehave, he said, “Okay”—and nowadays you can’t do this, but in those days you did— “do you want me to, you know, send you to the principal’s office, or do you want a”—I guess you call it a “lick,” or whatever Daddy would call it. And, “No, no, Mr. Giunta. Give me that,” so he’d do that. And it was, I guess, the embarrassment of it and all that. And they didn’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 didn’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, “Mr. Giunta, they misbehave, you give it to them. Whatever it is, you give it to them, you know. Don’t feel that you can’t.” And that’s the environment that it was in, because in West Tampa, wasn’t it a Sicilian and Italian community and Spaniards?
Unknown: It’s Spanish. Cubans, too.
VG: Yes, so that was over there. But that’s my—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 Sara—or clubs—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 going—coming and going. I did that, and that was interesting. I used to look forward to the bus rides and coming—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 to—
AH: Okay, wait, we’re going to stop there.
VG: Oh yeah. Good.
AH: Because we’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 we’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 “Phoebe Beebe.” 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: That’s awesome. That’s great.
BG: So that monkey is what? Oh, well over 60 years old.
AH: Right. If monkeys could talk.
BG: And I remember the—we met in the parlor. I remember seeing the gentleman, and my father always remembered—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 was—he was born April 19th, 1949—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 and—
AH: What was his name?
BG: Domenic. He was named Domenic after my father, we called him “Don.” And I remember one—several summers—we would go out to what was called the “orchid tree.” It was a large tree that made blossoms of orchids, and it was at the end of the field on Twenty-Fifth Street—near Twenty-Fifth—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 probably—he was born in ’49 or ’50?
BG: Forty-nine, so he was between Vicky and me. And so home life here was always wonderful—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 bus—and I don’t remember visiting Seventh Avenue very much, but I do remember going downtown, visiting Kress’s with her, and things like that.
My—I would like to say that, at an early age, my parents began giving us—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 that’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 band—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 hadn’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 told—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 that’s political, you dress a certain way and she had to dress like that. I remember—
AH: She was French, not Sicilian.
BG: I remember—for the assassination of President Kennedy—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 just—I'll never forget that day, how everyone was crying and crying, and the nuns were very upset too. And that’s—those are thoughts that I remember. And I remember, it just—the warmth that I felt at home, the love, the discipline, but it was always there—it continued at school with the Salesian nuns. They were such wonderful teachers at the time, and still are today.
My—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. As—when my father was growing up, all of the Italians, Spanish, and the Cubans considered themselves Latin, and that’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-Latins—there were non-Latin children at Most Holy Name—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, “What’s a dumpling?” And you know, from being a Sicilian girl, and the food we ate and the culture I was used to, I didn’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 flute—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 like—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 in—I couldn’t have grown up in a more loving, wonderful environment. And I think I was always the luckiest. Being the youngest, I got the advice—I had two big sisters, a big brother. It was—I had the best of all worlds. So for me, it was just—it’s just been wonderful.
AH: So let’s, before we move on with your—the rest of your lives, let’s talk about your parents. They’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 was—well, intellectually, I’d say gifted, but—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? Let’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 that’s where—then it came down to our generation, that education was important to us. And it—with me, it’s the same thing. All my six children are all university graduates, you know.
AH: Right. So that explains how you’re more like a third-generation, because you father was really jump-started by the rest of the family, when it comes to education.
SR: Yeah.
AH: That’s impressive. And what else? Tell us more about your dad. I mean, we know a lot about him professionally, but obviously, you—we also want to talk about the farm too. So he did a lot of stuff besides—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 that—I guess the farming community, how your dad saw it, how it all fit in.
SR: By the time I was growing up, I don’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 from—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 the—at the shipyard, at MacDill. Yeah, MacDill.
AH: So he just gave up his position teaching or—
SR: He went—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 was—he knew electricity. He also—every summer, teachers, naturally, don’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?
SR: Yeah.
AH: Did he run—was it for city council or what?
SR: Mayor.
AH: Oh, it was for mayor, right. Okay.
Unknown: Against Curtis Hixon.
AH: Okay, right. Interesting. I wonder—I don’t think we were having honest elections yet, at that point. So yeah, and what else about your dad and the farmstead? So I’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 was—had a wonderful sense of humor. He was a very loving individual. He always—he never—everyone was a friend. He didn’t have enemies. And he always saw the best in everyone.
AH: This is Tessie, by the way.
BG: Yes, and he’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 always—he would know the answer to everything. He was just a brilliant man. He really was. And he could’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 dad—
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 couldn’t say no to a lot of the individuals. So I remember that something they told him, No, you can’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 real—a giver, and so genuine. He’d help you in any way possible. And that’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 Sicilian—at least this Sicilian family—if one in the family advances, you all advance. It’s not me-ism, you know. If you get a job and you earn a wage, you don’t get that money and put it in your pocket. It’s shared. It goes to the coffers of the family. And so with mom, she attended Ybor School, that’s still functioning today in a different capacity as a school. And she loved school. She did well, but she came from a family of—my grandparents on that side had three children. It was Mary, a sister—an older sister—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 young—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, which—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, That’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, “No.” And it was—in the Sicilian families—a matriarch type of setup. And it’s not that she was being cruel, but because of the history she had with two children abandoning the dream of education, she said, “No, you’re going to go work. You’re going to get some training and go to work. I’m not going to waste time—look what your sister did, your brother did.” So Mom never felt that, Oh, my mother has shortchanged me, but she felt denied.
And so, often, people sometimes—forms, questionnaires would come up, “What was your highest level of education?” And she would check high school. And I'd question, “Mom, you went to high school?” She said, “Well, I was promoted to the 10th grade.” So she wanted so much to be able to be part of that, so she was given the opportunity to get—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, “For what you’re making, you know, it’s really not helping the family. You just stay home.” And then they had a family shortly after that. Going back into some of the other things—
AH: Well, before we—before that—it makes a lot of sense now, your parents and how they fit, right?
VG: Yes.
AH: And that your dad, even though—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 you’re very right, she had that.
AH: I’m sorry, you were going to—
VG: I just was going to say our mother was always here for us. In other words, she was here—the guts and bones of the household, so to speak. And I remember one of the things—the first thing that I'd come home from junior high, or high school—sometimes I'd walk home because Dad had meetings at Shore, and I'd—before I even put down my purse or whatever, I'd be there, “Mom, you know what happened today?” And it’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, “Well, and how did you do on that test?” and give me feedback, and it was always a constant thing.
And then it was funny because Daddy would come later, [and] he’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, “Dad, do you know what happened?” And so there’d be conversation there, sharing, and he’d stop, “Really?” 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 didn’t have for us. In other words, Sara—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 wasn’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 that’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 thing—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 was—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, “Oh, run home, run home.”
So in the middle of the afternoon, my mother said, “Why are you here?” I said, “Sister said to come home and wash this.” So that was so great. She was always here. There were no—we were not ever—I never knew what the word “latch[key] kid” 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 doctor’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 about—
SR: Yeah, this is Sara. Our grandparents and aunts and uncles—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 the—all the women learned Cuban recipes. So I don’t think there’s a household—a Sicilian household—that doesn’t know how to cook Cuban food, along with the Italian, and it’s such a blessing. I really didn’t realize until I got married and I'm cooking all these different foods. I didn’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, like—because you married an Italian, right?
SR: He’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 Tommy’s Restaurant and it’s—it was on Dale Mabry [Highway], near the Bucs’ [Buccaneers] training facility and all that. And they sold the land to, I think, Buick—Royal Buick or something—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 that’s about all I knew. But my husband said—I guess it was opened maybe in the early ’50s. Because I know when he went to high school, all his buddies and everything, you know, they went to Tommy’s. Everybody said, You haven’t heard of Tommy’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 how—and just the family—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 it’s more like a division of labor—whereas, because, you know, I don’t think there are a lot of—well, I don’t know, you tell me. First of all, like, we’ve heard in your—your father mentioned in his oral history, that the man was the ruler of the household, right. But in practice, I’m sure it didn’t always work that way. So, I guess, tell us about your grandparents and how you understand that give and take.
BG: Okay, well, I’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 home—everyone loved her and respected her, and she did a lot for the family.
And for—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 mother’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 places—the cigar factory as well.
But as far as a strong matriarch or patriarch, I wouldn’t say that I saw either of them. I know—but the mother is always—because it’s all about the home, and the warmth of the home. There’s always something cooking on the stove. There’s that warm matriarchal vibe that goes on, and—but I wouldn’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 later—almost 40 years now. So that’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 one—Vicky—Tessie, you recall that you told me over the years, like, your music background and you’re always—you love music. And at one time, you had considered going into it as a profession, and mom and dad discouraged you because of—you want to explain that? That’s shows role.
BG: Yes. We were very family oriented, all of us—not then—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 knew—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 that’s the way I went with my music studies?
So I knew I wanted to stay here, and that’s why I thought about and was encouraged into education. And I remember being young, and I remember telling my mom, “But I don’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.” And my mom said, “Well, that’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.” So we always got that kind of advice of looking ahead, always being prepared, and have choices available—don’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 know—follow your dream, drop everything—family, you know, “I’m going to California.”
VG: Yes. Right.
AH: And so, it’s interesting that that was kind of inculcated in you enough that you made that decision of—a strategic decision to be with the family. Interesting.
SR: It’s funny—this is Sara—it’s funny that without realizing, I can’t—I realize how much I am like my mother. Because my younger son, who’s 41, when he was in high school, he wanted to be a—what kind engineering is Pierre in? Mechanical. He went—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 that’s what he wanted to be, and he was a junior in high school.
So I said, “Tim, you should rethink that, because if you’re going to be like Pierre, you’re going to have to move away. I don’t want another child gone,” because I already had two out of state at that time. And so, I said, “Think of something else, you know, there are—” besides, he loved hunting, he loved fishing, he loved the beach. And so—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:  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.
AH: Great.
SR: One other thing I wanted to say—this is Sara again—the women, you were talking about the Sicilian women—very few women at that time were driving. My mother never drove. My—none of my grandparents ever drove. And also, they used—my mother, I don’t think, ever wrote a check. My dad wrote the few checks that had to be written, but everything we had—he would cash his check—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 him—he came to the door. We belonged to Centro Asturiano for medical, and she paid that—everything.
AH: So that’s interesting. You didn’t get those benefits from the Italian Club? No? Interesting.
VG: Because they had hospitalization—this is Vicky—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 didn’t have that.
VG: The Italian Club was a social organization. The Centro Asturiano—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, but—
SR: I don’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 didn’t do that by the time you were going.
VG: That must have been in his earlier days—maybe as a teenager, maybe in college years, but—
SR: But they didn’t offer things for children, that I remember, or teenagers, like they do now. It was a different kind of thing.
AH: They didn’t have dances or stuff like that anymore?
SR: I don’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 don’t have that population adjacent to a club, it starts dwindling. People have cars, and they could get there, but everybody in those days didn’t have a car like now. It’s kind of different. And they’ve done so much now to try to promote the culture, and it’s wonderful what they’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 more—I’m Tessie—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 stripper—of stripping the leaves in that—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 what—do you think that that’s true, that the cigar factory sort of helped break down that wall?
VG: It definitely did—Vicky—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 wasn’t like they just worked right there—the village was here, and they would travel, and sometimes they would—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. It’s ugly land to farm.
AH: Yeah, for the uninitiated, it’s very rocky, it’s kind of mountainous there, right?
VG: Yes, and so they would sleep in something that they still have today—sometimes you can see them in the Sicily. I have a picture of one. It’s called a                  (??), and it’s like a hut—looks like some kind of an Indian hut. And it’s made of mud and grass and hay, and they just pack it, and they just go in there. And that’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 only—they didn’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, Let’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, that’s right. That’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 that’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 o’clock or even earlier, well, he was out doing other stuff—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 wasn’t work to them—God bless them—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 it’s just so interesting, you know, in Tampa’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 names—the Licatas, the Lazzaros, Giuntas—are still with us today, except now they’re pillars of the community. It’s really dramatic.
Obviously, your parents—there wasn’t a lot of the kind of photo bride–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 a—but when you—was there anyone left? Did you have like—I mean, I guess you’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 they’re the same family that our sisters—and my mother was also able to make the first trip to Italy with my dad and my sisters. And so they—there’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 from—you got such a limited pool. Did you have to do a little research before people got married to make sure they weren’t related somehow?
SR: Actually, I'll comment on that. This is Sara again. On my mother’s side of the family, my mother’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 grandmother’s mother and my grandfather’s mother, so they kept their kids all apart. And I guess maybe that drew them together more. So in this situation, in my grandmother’s house at that time—this is another family, not the Giunta—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 didn’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 because—
AH: Oh, she did come over with them—
SR: —they couldn’t afford to bring everyone over, so they left her with an aunt.
AH: Oh, I understand.
SR: And she cried because she thought—she always called the other lady “mama.” And so it was very difficult, and she didn’t feel loved. So by the time she’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, but—when she was—
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, so—
AH: So waited about three years? But those are really important years. Yeah.
SR: And so that’s why she—she told me she didn’t love him, but that—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.
SR: Yeah.
AH: Okay, over time. But yeah—
SR: But at first, it was just a way to get out of the house.
AH: Of course.
SR: Because she figured, “If I'm going to work in the cigar factories”—and she started working [when] she was 11 or 12 years old—“and give all the money to my parents, I’ll have nothing. I might as well get married and—for myself and my husband.” And they made the marriage work.
AH: Right. Well, and also, it wasn’t unusual for really young people to work in the factories, too, especially—when do you think this would have been when she was working in the—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. So—and, shortly after that, the child labor laws were passed, so that sort of got phased out over time.
SR: But—this is Sara again—I've talked to girls who recently—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 didn’t have—
AH: You have a limited dating pool, right?
SR: So it was very, very common. And my husband has always made fun: “Oh, your first—grandparents were first cousins,” but it was just a common thing.
AH: Right. Understood. Because, I mean, I—that’s what I figure. When you’ve got such a small dating pool, and then everyone’s dating each other, it gets very complicated, pretty quickly.
SR: Yes, it does.
AH: Yeah, very interesting. So let’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 there’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: This—Vicky here—similar to what Sara’s saying, on the Giunta side of the family, my grandmother had to leave behind—and my grandfather—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 over—when they went back a few—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 factories—this was Angelo—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 guide—he was like a father to my father, Don, and to Jimmy, the youngest son.
And so, he would tell Frank, “Okay, you have to do this and this. This is the way you do it.” And Frank would tell him, “No. You’re not going to tell me what to do.” And here he was, just a little kid talking over, “You’re not going to tell me what to do. You’re not my father, you know. You’re not my father.” And this was always—he was always pushing it to the brink, then he would give in, and he would do it. But it’s the same story, like what Sara has said, you know, that adjustment. They’d been away—he was raised by his grandmother over there, and it was a difficult—and this is not just one or two families, everybody had this experience. And—but yet, somehow or other, they unified, they reunited, and they were always one family.
I’d like to say—just skipping back to the neighborhood and growing up, something that—earlier we were talking about culture, religion, the church. And amongst the religious holidays, one of them is St. Joseph’s—San Giuseppe. And it’s a Sicilian tradition that they prepare a very large, beautiful altar with all kinds of food and breads. And it’s all—everything is handmade—that whoever sponsors it, is usually asked to—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 one—a San Giuseppe feast that took place across the street. And because these were all very small apartments, they couldn’t set up the altar inside the house because you invite the community to come in.  Certain people are representing the apostles and the Christ child, so they are seated at a table, but you can’t seat everybody.
And so, we have a picture from way back when—from Dad’s collection, because we don’t even remember it—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 it’s all of the food and everything. That was—it’s kind of taking it far back. Different from that, then, when I was in grade school, about the fifth or sixth grade—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 school—I didn’t see it—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 everything—the affair. But that’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 are—what’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 wasn’t unusual for people not to have meat. You might have meat two or three, four times a year—on certain feast days. You were talking about how one of your relatives was—rebelled in Sicily—and as far as you understand it, tell us about why that happened. And also, I guess it wasn’t unusual for experiences like that to radicalize people, politically, so I’m also interested in what you heard about radical politics. It sounds like your father was not a fan, but it’d be interesting to know, like within the family, et cetera. So how do you understand—was it your grandfather who was imprisoned?
VG: Okay. Vicky here. The story we were told by Dad, was that his father, Salvatore—he married my grandmother when her—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 they’d lose their crops, and they had no back—nothing to fall back on. And they borrowed and so forth.
And so then there was this individual—I think he was an educator—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 wasn’t, but he was jailed. And stories are that it was several months to the majority of the year. I don’t know exactly what, but that threw everything in a bind for my grandmother. She’d lost everything, and they were—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 that’s the thing. You’re asking about jobs—to this day, unless it’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 came—she said that the Nestlé company has a spring water company in Santo Stefano, but that’s it, there’s no other. So Nanno, when he got out of prison, he and Nonna decided that would need to move. And that—
AH: Do you know what year that would have been about?
Unknown: 1907.
AH: Okay. Right.
VG: Nineteen oh-seven. And it’s interesting because she had a brother and two other sisters—my grandmother—and all of the three of them, she came over, and then the others—one stayed behind—
Unknown: Then one brother and one sister came to the United States.
VG: Also came. But one did not, and those are the ones we’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 that’s the history of what we’ve heard, that Nanno was very involved. And yet, over here, he wasn’t. I mean, it’s not that—he was just a hardworking man. With Dad, I think his thing—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 dealings—political things—in running the city and stuff like that, and he didn’t like that, and so that’s why he was leaning towards that, and finally decided, I’m going to run for mayor. And he was such an idealist. Here he’s a, quote, “nobody”—God bless him—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 filled—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 city—wanted to make that right. So after that, that’s when he decided, That’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 other—that he didn’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 ’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 what’s interesting is that his campaign flyer—platform, I guess you would call it—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 Tampa—that the bolita would be legalized, and that was a controversial thing. That really didn’t make any friends, and now we see the lottery is in place. So there are things like that—it’s an interesting read, because things have come about as a result.
AH: Well, and you —does someone else have something before I—
SR: Well, I wanted to mention something. This is Sara. All of this—we keep on bringing up education. It’s like almost a theme here. The uncle that we were talking about—no,             (??), which is Frank, my dad’s older brother—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 ’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 and—because he had gone just to the Italian school as a youngster and never finished any type of—so he was a—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, that—
SR: And that’s how much education was an important part of the family.
AH: Right. Wow, that says a lot. I’m also interested—you guys have brought up holidays, the feast days. I'm also interested in how—you talked about also how Cuban and Sicilian culture and some Spanish—and it’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? What—
BG: For my recollections for our family—
AH: This is Tessie.
BG: I’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, and—
AH: Did everyone in the family go to Mass?
BG: Yes.
AH: I mean, always?
Unknown: Mm-hm.
AH: Okay.
BG: And we would have a beautiful, wonderful Christmas celebration. We were always taught that—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 that’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 community—on that side, the factories—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 culture—the Spanish culture—these Sicilians. The ones over here were different.
Like—our grandmother worked at the factory there. We used to call it Regensburg, but the Newman factory with the clock. That was one of—and I'm sure there were Spaniards there too, but that was really—a lot of Sicilians worked there. So there wasn’t this sharing of recipes and cooking. My grandmother, on the Giunta side, I never remember her cooking anything Spanish or Cuban. Isn’t it true? It was just a unique community, so they did not open up to new ideas. And also, I think, that that’s something that’s inherited, that love of food and exploration. And I don’t think that they had it. I think our nonna on that side had it. It’s not—it’s just a thought I had, because that never happened here.
AH: Yeah. Well, let’s talk about—as we’re leading up to lunchtime, let’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 you—this is Sara—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 didn’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 morning—the Italian neighborhoods—you’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.
SR: Yeah.
AH: So, typically, you put it on maybe even before Mass, right?
SR: Yeah, yeah. And so—
AH: And then what typically was in the sauce then? Usually, you’d have meats, right?
SR: Yeah, most of the time they would make meatballs, or you can make meat sauce. It’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: I’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 grandmother—this is Sara—on my mother’s side, they—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 that—the ritual of picking all the stones out of it because there was so many stones.
SR: That’s very true.
AH: Yeah, that’s very interesting. So we talked about—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 that’s where you guys would hang out? Is that where you spent most of your time as a family?
BG: I would say the—I’m Tessie—and I would say the parlor was primarily our receiving room, and in the front and at—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 instrument—and my brother played the drums, so he had a trap set—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 brother’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 time—of course, the kitchen has always been the number-one place. We’re—we’ve always been in the kitchen, but then we have the back room, and that’s where in later years, of course, we had a television when they came about. And we would sit back there and more of a—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 don’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 don’t know if that still exists, but we didn’t make it. But it was an experience, and we enjoyed it.
AH: I bet.
SR: I wanted to—this is Sara—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 doesn’t even remember this, but remember, my dad was one of eight children, and the family also—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 that’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 remember—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, so—
VG: And—this is Vicky—that “back room,” quotes, because that’s always what we’ve referred to that room as being, was like Sara said—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. She’d be cooking here and peek around the corner, and see that we were doing things. Because we didn’t have air conditioning, so the windows—and there were no blinds or drapes. It was wide open except for screens, so we would get distracted—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 upstairs—two bedrooms are combined into a large library, multi-purpose room, and then we did it upstairs.
AH: Okay. So let’s see here—I don’t want to—I’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 haven’t talked about about the old days?
VG: Well—this is Vicky—I forgot one thing in talking about the back room. That’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 was—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 the—on the table. And this was done, and then it was turned over. The child was too heavy—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 help—help knead the dough.
VG: Yes. And Sara said about the dining area there—it’s true, because I remember also Dad saying, “We have one chair remaining.” But cane-back chairs—they had cane-back chairs, they’re very small. And after they ate, they’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, we’d usually have something, and that tradition is still carried on by Sara. She’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 that—just like the German people make sauerkraut, she made a brine. And she would take the Italian fennel that we grew in the garden—she would clean it and put it in—do you still have that big—
Unknown: Yes, it’s like a crock.
SR: It’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 February—January, February—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 grandmother’s big crock pot.
AH: Right. So, I mean, is that pickled fennel then, basically?
SR: Yeah. I don’t know of anybody else that did it.
AH: Now, did you eat it, like, straight out of the jar or did you cook—
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?
SR: No.
AH: Probably just don’t have enough fennel. You’d have to—
SR: No, I grow the fennel.
AH: Oh, okay.
SR: But I don’t have a giant crock pot like that.
AH: Okay.
VG: Vicky. I think part of the problem now is that the weather has changed. That’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 didn’t and—before now. And that’s a problem, because it starts getting bad. It turns white—fungus. It didn’t use to then because the weather—they had warm weather and all that, but it’s different. It was not as hot as it gets now.
SR: Yeah, I remember my—Sara—I remember my mother’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 didn’t need any heavy coats or anything during that time.
AH: That’s still true, aside for maybe about a week, you know, through the year. There’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, you’re still the baker in the family? Do you still make some of the old breads and pastries that your mom—
SR: Yeah. One thing, in particular, that I remember is Italian fig cookies that we call cuccidati. I make the dough, and then the—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 grinding—little hand grinder—and I grind up all the figs and put all of—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 and—
AH: Now, what about—there’s another iconic dish that I've heard it has some—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 about—for the uninitiated—tell us what it is.
SR: Well, in the first place—this is Sara—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?
AH: Mm-hm.
SR: One night, we have such luck, we had it full of crabs, and so—
AH: And these are blue crabs, right?
SR: Yes, the blue crabs. And then—
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 the—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 and—
AH: Because, yeah, typically, you wouldn’t have—like, in a Sunday sauce, you wouldn’t have green pepper necessarily, right?
SR: Correct. Right. Once in a while, I do it because it adds a certain different flavor, but—
AH: Right. But it’s interesting because there’s—but it’s a very sensitive thing. Like, a lot of families, like, they won’t do sausage. Or if they do it, they’ll do it in a separate pot because they don’t want it to sort of flavor everything. It’s really—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 don’t do that. Now, they instead put carrots to sweeten their sauce. And it’s just—we never have cooked with carrots in spaghetti sauce. It’s just not part of us. So it’s a little interesting. It’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. It’s delicious.
Unknown: And the crabs would be, of course, cleaned and the claws taken off and all that. That’s the difficult part, the cleaning and the messy part, but it’s a delicious—
AH: Right. But you can put all the kids to work after your crabbing, right?
VG: Yes.
AH: You split those open and get all the guts out and everything.
VG: Right. Yes.
AH: And then, of course, it’s notoriously a very messy dish, right?
VG: Yeah.
AH: You would typically wear clothes they didn’t care too much about—or maybe a swimsuit?
SR: Well, what we did was—this is Sara—when we ate crabs, we would, instead of the table cloth, we would spread newspapers so that way any crabs that                  (??), 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 it’s good memories.
AH: Right. Absolutely.
VG: And then—Vicky—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. It’s good. So, here, Nonna—our Nonna Victoria—I don’t think that she ever ate a deviled crab, you know what I mean? It’s just not their culture.
AH: Oh, right, yeah.
Unknown: Well, it evolved.
VG: It evolved, yes. And then they couldn’t afford to go and buy it. It was not done, and then this money came in. You’d go and buy it from the man on the stand, on the bicycle. So it’s a lot of changes in such a short time—relatively short, you know.
AH: Right. Well, and it’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 crabs—I’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 Bianca—Blanca—
Unknown: Blanca.
VG: —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?
VG: Yes.
SR: Well—this is Sara. Unlike today’s world, where so many people with their jobs have to go out to eat all the time, my recollection was that every—pretty much Friday nights, if we didn’t make our own deviled crabs, my dad would buy them. Because back then, we had to—we couldn’t eat meat on Fridays.
AH: Right.
SR: That was changed later on.
AH: All the restaurants—none of the restaurants served meat, either.
SR: Yeah, so that was the thing. And—I’m forgetting what I was going to say.
AH: Deviled crabs on Friday.
SR: Yeah, and—
BG: Sara—I’m Tessie—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 my—with our brother, Don.
SR: Yeah.
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.
AH: Nice.
BG: I remember that.
SR: So all—excuse me. This is Sara again. I’ll go back to when we—darn it. I’m forgetting. Go ahead.
VG: It’s just that we have so much that we’re sharing, it’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 couldn’t afford it. So I thought it was a neat thing on Fridays.
I’d look forward to going to Casa Blanca, because they had those high stools at the bar where they would—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 here—they would be included. You know, he would come—and the Sicilian table is always open to everyone. And that’s one thing, and those were good days. And he’d talk about music and his experiences, and that kind of thing.
AH: So let’s talk about drinks for a second, too. Obviously, there’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 mother’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 have—was it wine or was it watered down, or it just—
BG: It would be, I think, the regular wine—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 mother’s side, and they all—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-gallon—a big, wooden vat—whatever you call—
Unknown: Barrel.
VG: Barrel, yeah. And it—he put it in the shop—in our shop. And they were waiting for it to mature or whatever it did. They would use their special recipe. They’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 was—it was wet in that corner of the shop, and he couldn’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 couldn’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 is—that is a funny story.
VG: So that was the end of dad’s winemaking days. He never did it again.
AH: And what about—was there—probably not much—no spirits, huh?
VG: No.
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 family—did people in your family typically smoke or no?
VG: I think Dad, in his early years, he just—
Unknown: Early years, he did.
VG: Mostly it was just social.
Unknown: Yeah, a little bit.
VG: Men would always offer each other. “Here. You want a cigarette?” I remember this as a child, because I thought that was the neatest thing—why? Vicky here. But Dad would take a cigarette and start, and then he would just—it would be thrown away. It wasn’t—he just wasn’t a smoker.
Unknown: And none of his brothers smoked, and none of the women smoked.
VG: No.
AH: So there were no cigars in the house then, at all?
VG: Did Nannu           (??) smoke?
Unknown: I guess on my mother’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 wouldn’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 you’re only using one kerosene lamp to save money, cigars must have seemed like—forget it, you know.
VG: That’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 we’ll be able to get together again to conclude our oral history. But thanks again for being with us.
Unknown: Thank you. You’re welcome. Thank you.
AH: It is November 17th? Eighteenth.
Unknown: Eighteenth.
AH: November 18th, 2019, and this is Andy Huse from the USF Tampa Library, and I’m returning with Tessie, Vicky, and Sara Giunta. Thank you so much for being with us today. What’s your last name now? Is it—
SR: Rametta.
AH: Rametta?
SR: It’s an Italian name. Rametta.
AH: All right, very good, very good. So let’s talk about—I want to finish up with you guys, but let’s talk about your folks, too. So when you guys were—I mean, I know that you’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 there’s a long period between you two. But what would you say, you know, I mean, as they’re getting older, what’s going on? What are they up to?
BG: Well, my father—
AH: This is Tessie, by the way.
BG: Yes, I’m Tessie. My father continued teaching until he was 61 years—63 years old.
AH: And this is at UT [University of Tampa] still?
BG: No, he was—
AH: Oh, wait.
BG: —a public school teacher.
AH: Right. I’m sorry, you’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 a—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 for—enjoy two years of retirement, prior to my mom passing away. She passed away at age 63, in 1980, from pancreatic cancer, and so—
VG: And as far as—
AH: This is Vicky, by the way.
VG: Yes, Vicky.
AH: Please, if you could, it would really help our transcribers.
VG: Yes.
AH: Sorry.
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 just—and as you can see, with this kitchen—it’s a lived-in kitchen, because you don’t entertain in the parlor, it’s always in here with coffee and refreshments. And I have to say, you know, she was such a fantastic cook and baker, and Sara—my sister Sara—inherited all her genes on that. She was—she’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 days—because she was a trained beautician prior to marriage, but the pay was very, very poor. The hours were terrible. So my father said, “Look, stay home and just be here for the whole family, because that’s what we need. We need you here.” 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 “I’m coming and picking them up from the stores” 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 gardening—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 mentioned—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. I’m sure you’ve got some more to say about your mother and your dad.
SR: Well, besides what my sister’s already mentioned, I remember my mother. She sewed a lot. And there wasn’t an Easter, Christmas—always a new dress, because we went to Mass and they dressed up fancier back then. You didn’t go in jeans. And so—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. Sara’s very right about the sewing. She had all these skills. She also crocheted, and she did that that—a lot of things. And then, the other thing I was about to forget is that prior to freezing—before we got the freezers, I think, Sara, Mama used to can—that’s—put up things like that. And they used to store a lot of the things here and in the pantry, and that’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 fresh—the peak of freshness and do these things, and then have—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 you’re the one who inherited the genes—the cooking genes—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 one—some of the dishes that you have allowed to live on.
SR: Well, I guess the greatest memory would be Sunday mornings—making spaghetti sauce. You could smell that smell throughout the house. And naturally, I don’t think there’s a person that doesn’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 everyone’s house and washed with a big tub outside. And—
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 had—my grandmother was still living. And up to that time, we had one of my dad’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 that’s why, in those days, spaghetti sauce—everything—had to be made the day that you were going to eat it. Of course, it could be refrigerated, but it wasn’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 they’d stir it in a witch’s pot. And I remember the washboards. We still have them here. They’re made of wood. They really used those, and those things, with the clothes.
AH: Right. So—
SR: Well, I have one thing—this is Sara. You’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 that—he bought this old concrete tub. It was like a—for the utility room. But it had a washboard built into it. And so he says, “We’re going to do things the old-fashioned way, and you’re going to wash clothes by hand.” Well, see this? I lost my diamond ring because of all that—all that concrete tub.
AH: Oh my.
SR: And so that brings back memories, because he said, “We’re going to do everything the old-fashioned way,” but you realize that it’s really hard.
AH: Right. Absolutely. Yeah, of all the things, that’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 I’m sure there’s got to be some other dishes besides red sauce—
SR: Well, she cooked everything. We cooked a lot, not only Italian food, but Spanish, Cuban food. But, like, lasagna—we had lasagna a lot, and stuffed shells, and spaghettis of all different kinds. Yellow rice and chicken—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, eggs—you’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, that’s pretty much when it was ready to eat.
AH: Right. So does—how much of that bitter taste does—
SR: You didn’t taste the bitterness anymore.
AH: Anymore after you—
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, it’s            (??), and the special dish that we made with that was a           (??) 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 doesn’t have mozzarella, right?
SR: No.
AH: Yeah, okay. Yeah, the Swiss chard really takes the center stage, right?
SR: Yeah. But I did—my daughter-in-law, she’s not crazy about it. So one day, when my son was coming over for some reason, I said, “Look, I just made pizza,” and he says—I said, “I put mozzarella on this one, so Jessica would like it.” And she loved it because the mozzarella was on it.
AH: Right. That is funny. I mean, for most people today, it’s not a pizza unless there’s—but if you look at old pizzas, they’d didn’t all—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. So—and then any other Sicilian specialties?
SR: Well, we—what we call “Italian fennel” or “wild fennel.” We used to eat it as a vegetable. And also, it’s really good in lentil soup, which I make all the time. The Italian fennel—I freeze it when—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.
AH: Lovely.
SR: Most people, they’re not used to that smell. It has a very strong smell. And so once when my brother—some of—one of the boys in the band from high school was going to pick him up, came by, and he says, “What are those fumes?” Because you can smell them all through the house. So—can you girls think of any other vegetable that—
VG: Vicky here. Sara’s right, the wild fennel was used in the                (??)—that was very—it was so important. Without that wild fennel, it wasn’t lentil soup.
SR: Yeah. It’s not the same.
VG: It’s a Sicilian thing, yeah.
SR: It gives it a strong flavor. And another thing that Dad grew—Sicilians like vegetables that have sort of, like, a bite to them sometimes. They use them in salads—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, it’s not bad at all. But this is a variety that you pick the leaves off of—it’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, we’d always eat scarola the day after Christmas because it’s very good. It’s medicinal for your stomach—not that you’re sick, but you tend to overeat.
AH: You’ve been eating a lot, right.
SR: And it’s the best thing. And it just is very good. It’s healthy. It’s tasty with olive oil. And I'd say that a lot of the vegetables that the Sicilians grew, it’s—at least for us here—it was just a basic thing. It’s very Mediterranean diet—the olive oil, the garlic, maybe some bread crumbs, according to how you prepared it. And a lot of these things—not the finocchio [fennel], but like the rapini [broccoli rabe] and things like that—even mustard, what we call the “cracker vegetables.” You fry them, kind of—a stir fry—and they’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 that’s what I was thinking of. The scarola was something special like that. Sara mentioned the cardoon [carduna], and certain other things just didn’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 ago—Dad—but that never worked here.
AH: Never worked, right? Yeah, and then the—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, that’s one thing I have to freeze, because my husband is crazy about it. That’s his favorite vegetable. But only—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 it’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 it’s so strange, but from just the basics of vegetables there—basic things, like, let’s say radishes—one doesn’t think of it as being such, but they make a wonderful sandwich. Just radishes, and salt and pepper, and vinegar and oil, and it’s so tasty. And the same thing is true. What Sara is saying with this frittata, you know, cold because you cooked it—it’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, that’s what they did in the factories. They didn’t take ham sandwiches. They didn’t even know what ham was. It was just these simple things that they just put together and took to the factories.
SR: And—this is Sara again—one thing I remember about my dad was—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. “Sara, can you use a lot of fennel? Because it’s ready.” And I mean, we’re not talking about a little bunch, we’re talking about bushels. Or he’ll call, “I have a bushel of fava beans, can you use them?” I always said, “Yes,” because my garden was not—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 Dad’s garden, I could freeze them, or preserve them in some way. So I never refused anything he grew.
AH: Nice.
VG: Vicky here. The one thing we didn’t mention—we mentioned it now—the fava beans. That was always a big crop for Dad. They froze very well—they kept—and they were very, very healthy, a lot of iron. In fact, when you clean fava beans from the pods—if they’re older, you know, more mature, because people pick them at different stages—your fingers end up being darkened or brownish, and that’s from the, I guess, tannic acid or iron in it. I don’t know. And the same thing is true of certain vegetables. Isn’t it true of the cardoon?
Unknown: Yeah. Yeah.
VG: It has a lot of that—
SR: Yeah, my hands are always blackened. One other vegetable that I remember—well, I still grow it—are kohlrabi. It’s trunzu in Italian, and I still grow it because I love it. It’s so good just raw. A lot people cook them with carrots, and that’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. It’s great.
AH: Now with the fava beans, were—that’s the same beans as that used for favata? Like the Spanish favata, the stew?
SR: No, I don’t think so.
AH: Okay, right. They use really big beans in that, but it might be a different kind.
Unknown: It’s bigger than a lima.
SR: They call them “horse beans,” fava beans.
AH: Right. Okay. Interesting.
SR: They’re very large. And usually, you eat them by taking off the outer shell. You eat them in the shell—the bean itself, you take out. If they’re tender, you can eat them, but they’re otherwise kind of tough.
AH: So I imagine—was your mother’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 like—well, to give her the care, and with Dad’s help, we got her to the doctor. In those days, they didn’t have—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.
AH: Absolutely.
VG: She was very close to all of us. Each one of us, you know, it was just wonderful—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 it’s funny for us—it’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, don’t you think?
VG: I think so. Yes.
AH: There are a lot mama’s boys in Italian families, right?
VG: Right. Right. And so, she was just the spirit of the whole household here.
AH: Absolutely.
VG: I think that the condition of the house and how things are—no, she didn’t take out hammers and nails and repair it, but she kept it up. It was constantly, you know, “We need to improve this,” 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 spreads—bedspreads—that are like velvet or velour, very unusual things. And when Sara got married, Mom gave her a few of things. So it’s just a lot of traditions that we, I guess, hung onto over the years. And we didn’t think it unusual, we just—it was part of our life to treasure the things, because they worked very hard to get to where they were—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 that’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 own—successful, you know? That’s really special. You must know and feel that.
Unknown: Yes.
AH: Especially it being your childhood home, too. So let’s talk about—let’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 time—very small group, but you know. And so I went into education, so I—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 were—were you fresh out of high school, basically, or—
SR: When I went to university, yes.
AH: Yes. Okay.
SR: Yes.
AH: So just that—
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, I—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 a—very young, you know, you’re only 21. So I said, “Forget it.” 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 where—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, by—before Christmas, and then—
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 lady—my boss told me, “Why don’t you continue after you start teaching? You know, you can work nights.” At first, I said, “No.” But then I thought it over, and I said— 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. That’s a weird habit. That’s enough.
So I decided I might as well, so I worked nights. I would teach all day, work nights. Saturdays, she would give me—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, said—well, at that time, he wasn’t my husband yet—but he said, “You need to help me with the roof on the house now,” because I’m at that point. So he said, “You need to quit your job.”
So I would go with—well, my future husband—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 driver’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 our—having our family.
AH: Okay. And then—your dad lived for quite a while after your mom passed, right?
SR: Yes.
AH: Yeah, because she passed—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 in—
AH: You didn’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 with—my very first baby was a boy. He was stillborn. He was strangled by the cord. So my husband said, “Stay at home.” But I said, “No, I will go crazy,” 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 born—they were only 14, 15 months apart, so—
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, “They’re going to all be in high school together. All in college together.”
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 then—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, “Oh, if you already have four girls, you’re definitely going to have more.” But it so happened that I had two boys then, which are Ted and Tim. So—
AH: So you had a strategic gap so that they wouldn’t all—
SR: Yeah, well, we knew that—we had them in Catholic school. Very expensive. Everything went to paying the tuition, so we knew they would be in high school—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, too—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 didn’t sell anything, we just—it took everything we grew to eat. We raised beef cattle. We had a number of—we had chickens and turkeys and—
AH: Yeah, where is—where’s the house again?
SR: It’s right on State Road 54.
AH: Is it—
SR: It is—
AH: What would you call it? Lutz or what?
SR: Well—
AH: Farther north than that.
SR: Officially, I'm in Land O’Lakes, but they have a dividing line. Since I’m on the south side of the road, our mail goes to the Lutz post office, so I have a Lutz address, but officially I’m in Pasco County, in Land O’ Lakes.
AH: Interesting. Okay.
SR: And from the intersection of State Road 54 and 41—big intersection—you head west about a mile, and our farm is right on the highway.
AH: You’ve probably seen a lot of changes up there, haven’t you?
SR: Oh yeah. Yeah.
AH: So then, basically, that’s the rest of your story, right, is you—and how many—so you had six children? Did you go back to work?
SR: No, I never did. What I did do was—when the boys were finally toddlers—I took care of several children, and they would be dropped off. I usually tried to get teacher’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 brother’s twins. And my sons were four and three, and my brother’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 another—two other children, a little boy, a little girl and—
AH: Right. And your husband continued to teach? Did he retire from teaching or—
SR: Yes, he retired after 31 years.
AH: Right. Good for him. So moving on to Vicky, if that’s okay? Do you have anything to add for the moment?
SR: No.
AH: If you think of something later, please let me know.
SR: Okay.
AH: So, Vicky, after high school—
VG: For me, after high school, I too went to USF. I attended there. And because of the fact that—the way our birthdays work—correct me if I’m wrong, Sara—but, like, Sara got out [after] four years, and she was 21, like she said, and graduated. In my case, because my birthday’s in April—well, I would be—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 was—my uncle was involved with as one of the kind of—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 that—which I was able to accomplish that. So I graduated in ’67 and my—because they were not accredited by ALA [American Library Association], my major—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 decide—you know, my whole thing was thing to get out and get to work and earn money. Like, when you’re in college that’s the first thing you want to do, get out, put your stamp in the sand—your foot in sand. Well, the teachers decided to do a walkout and—
AH: Oh, right.
VG: You remember?
AH: Yes.
VG: And so, this was ’67 and into ’68. Sixty-eight I went—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.
VG: Right.
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 didn’t want me to go because of the history in this family of the—his sister that was sent to work in the cigar factory when there was a strike and they—the family always believed it resulted in her death, ultimately, however it happened. So he said, “Nope. No. No. I don’t want you to break strike. We’re educators, we have to support it,” and all this.
AH: So a little bit of background is probably in order for those who don’t know, kind of, about Ybor’s City’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, there’s probably family members who didn’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 that’s hard for people to—I think for people today to imagine how—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 I’m sorry, Vicky, please.
VG: No, that’s okay. So because of that, I was very, very disappointed, because we were just a family of educators. We all—that’s been our whole thrust—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 didn’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 so—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 bookmobile—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 year—because I could not break the strike—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 get—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, “Are there any others like you? Because you all do great work.” So I said, “Well, I have a brother.” So he said, “Good, have him come in.”
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 like—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 as—I wasn’t a librarian on the bookmobile. They didn’t have a librarian, but they had, like—well, because of my background, I had a degree, almost—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 whatever—deliver me there and then pick me up—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. It’s so beautiful, the way they had those pictures in the bottom floor. And it was just—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.  So I was all over the place, including the main library. And also helped moved the library from Tampa Street—the old library—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 librarian—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 was—Don was in college and working on the bookmobiles, but Tessie was then about to start—had started high school, right, Tessie, at that point?
BG: Yes, that’s right.
VG: So then she was ideal—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? Or—
BG: That would—it would start in 1968.
VG: Yes.
BG: To ’70. Because I graduated in ’70.
AH: Okay. Gotcha. All right.
VG: And so then I was at Plant High, and then that’s when they decided—they built a new library, so we—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 nice—working in the evenings—and they had a temporary campus on the high schools of Hillsborough and Plant, and at the airport—the old airport. The baggage counter, where you would put your baggage in, that’s where they used that—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 o’ clock at night. And then I worked Saturdays also. So I was kept plenty busy.
And then from there, they told me, “When are you going to think about coming full-time to the college?” And I put that off because I loved my work with younger students—high school students. But then, at one point, I said, “You know, I've had enough of this.” It’s about eight years, I think—eight or nine years that I was at Plant—so I said, “Yeah, I’m interested.” I put in a resumé, 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 until—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 it’d be an opportunity for me. When there was an opening here, I took it—at Ybor, Ybor City campus—so that I could run home for lunch and check on him, take him to doctor’s appointments, and things like that. And that was pretty much it. My education after USF was—I went for a master’s. It was not the master’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 ’67, I went back. I finished in April—I think I graduated—and I started in September into the master’s program, right away. Did it part-time. One—a couple of courses, I think it was two courses a semester, and then working and all that. So I finished it—
AH: One quick question before we move on from that. In ’67, ’68, when you first were at USF, was it the quarter system then?
VG: Yes.
AH: See, I just wanted to—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 even—it might have been—I think it might have been the trimester system.
AH: Okay, because yeah, right around that time there was the quarter system and it was—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 reading—just unbelievable—just drove me crazy. I didn’t think I'd make out of it. But you don’t know these things. You’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 didn’t have to pay for insurance and cars and all the expenses for three people or whatever. And the other things that the—and you were right, it was a trimester system. I’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 ’69. I think it was—like, I finished in December and participated in graduation at the end of ’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 master’s there, I went ahead at Dad’s encouragement. He always encouraged us to better ourselves—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 you—what did you major in?
VG: And that was on higher education. That’s with the community college then. I tied in. And that was about it, and then retired—happily retired. And we always were very involved with the garden and the field and all that, and so it’s not like I retired. I’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, ’98. December of that year.
AH: Right. Nice. Okay, well, if you think of anything let me know.
VG: That’s it. That’s enough of me.
AH: But we’ll move on to Tessie now—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, “Are there any others at home that we could, you know, hire?” 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. For—after graduation, I got my first teaching job at Blake 7th Grade Center in West Tampa, and I worked there for three years, and after—
AH: Now what year would that have been?
BG: I began working in 1974.
AH: Right. So everything—well, had already been integrated and everything, right?
BG: That’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 ’77—and he was also still teaching. In ’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 in—around 1978, around the fall, I began a master’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 master’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 possible—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 mother’s passing—she passed away in March of 1980. In the fall of 1980, I resumed my master’s program, and I finished my degree a year later. And I wasn’t sure I was—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 1983—one of the classmates I had in my master’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 I’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 School—and at guidance—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 was—at the time—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 that’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, “Why don’t you think of coming and working with me? And we’ll be together in the same office?” And though that was quite a distance from my home, I couldn’t resist not [sic] working with my brother in the same department.
So I ended my career—the last seven years—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 it’s been a retirement from education, but we are so busy running our farm, keeping up the homestead, the yard, the fruit orchard. We’re continuing to work, but in a different capacity, and one which we really love.
AH: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s great. So this is probably a good time for a quick break.
AH: All right, I’m back with the Giunta sisters. So we’ve gotten to post—kind of at the end of all your careers and everything, so let’s talk about—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 when—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 nature—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.
We’ve always had pets—dogs. There was one dog in particular that just really favored him, that he would sit on a cement bench out there, and when he’d take a break, he’d kiddingly would talk to him like, “Rex this and this” and “Rex look at me here,” 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 farm—in the field—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 pigeons—not pigeons, doves, the doves—that would land and this and that. Well, he would—we have pictures of him, just with the doves landing on him on his arm, and he’s feeding them on his shoulder. They just were—he was one with nature. He really was. So I think that that kind of gave him a healing—a power of healing that most people don’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 didn’t, she still came with Danny, when Danny was retired. And she even cooked and brought stuff over, so he enjoyed those meals because, “Oh, Sara’s coming today.” So that was very important, and so she constantly was there with him, with the children, as much as her schedule allowed—and the distance. And he’s always engaged us and the—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:  Yeah, right. And it helped, because running the farm—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 neighborhood—drug dealers parking on your front—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 I’m a firm person. But—
AH: Yeah, because the neighborhood did change in a really big way. When—I guess, when did you guys first start to notice kind of a decline? When would you say that it first started kind of—
VG: Well, let me start—Vicky here—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 it’s more than just loud music. It was the shootings that were going on. In fact, so much so, that Dad’s bedroom—it’s the first bedroom—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 on—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 side—I'm sorry, the west side—started their civic association because some of what they called the “pioneers” 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 general—we’re talking about that to here—was the artist colony that existed at one time. But City of Tampa kind of squelched that—didn’t give enough, I think, of a help or aid to them.
AH: Yeah, that colony was during the ’70s and the ’80s, right?
VG: Yes. And that was the starting point of maybe good things to come, and then that was squelched. So then this—the new—we called them the “pioneers,” the young people that—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 to—
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 all—I say “young people,” they were not in their ’20s. I’d say more like—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? Wouldn’t you say?
BG: I’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 in—from the early ’80s to, I'd say, the late 19—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 would—began to change.
VG: Vicky here. The other thing is, we’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 we—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 would—had nothing to do. They didn’t have many toys, and they’d come over and talk through the fence, and we’d talk to them as we were working. And then they would do this—and it’s just abandonment, you know—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. “Look, I’m making a snow angel.” There’s no snow.
But they just did things that—“No, no, no. Get out of the street. Traffic’s coming.” And there was that kind of just abandonment of the whole area. Why weren’t the police or people—so we started raising Cain about things like that, simple things. Maybe somebody else overlooked it, but we didn’t. And that really, I think—not only the children, but all the issues. And then, I think I’d like to share this. I think you have to put your foot down sometimes, and these kids—I don’t feel intimidated by individuals like Tessie described. I don’t look for a fight, but I’m going to stand my ground. And sometimes that can not work out, but sometimes it does.
Like, for instance, these same children—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 they’d see me pick it up. I’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, “Who did this?” And they said, Well, so and so. “Where is he?” 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 don’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, “Do this again after those kids clean up that lawn for you, because you all are just a bunch of pigs, and I’m going to come again and do the same thing.”
That was the last time—I never found another piece of paper or a syringe or anything in our lawn or across the street. And it wasn’t the kids, it was them. Because it—in other words, they get by with it, but you put your foot down, and it was an honest thing. I’m just asking you to do your part, you know, don’t trash it. So I became infamous in the neighborhood, to say the least.
AH: Go, Vicky. But it sounded like—that the—probably the early ’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 don’t go to Ybor City. Just don’t go, you know. And I tell them that that’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 it’s not like it used to be.
VG: That’s right. Definitely. That’s changed.
AH: So you think the ’90s—the late ’90s—is when it started to change and get a little, I don’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 usually—there would be no one out. And nowadays, with young people moving into Ybor because they enjoy the restaurants and the night life, they’re coming home from the business district of Ybor—11:00, 12:00, 1:00. So one evening, it was about 11 o’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 couldn’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, “They have no idea what I've seen and what I've experienced.” 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 some—clear out some bad buildings, and then somehow everything would be magically restored and that—but it takes people to do that. And it’s interesting that it’s taken so long for—but it’s happened, that people are moving back into the inner city. And some people call it “gentrification,” but other people would say “restoring a neighborhood that was once really nice.”
VG: Vicky. And I’d like to add that—Tessie, and you recall this—as we had the drug heads and people like that, I don’t want to list them as a class, but then there were the other individuals who lived in the community—a lot of blacks, Cuban blacks. You remember, Daddy would see them go by, “Hi, buddy.” And they would wave. “Hi, Mr. Giunto,” they’d call him. You know, it’s almost like, where do these people come in from—these—the negative element, because that wasn’t the original element when we were here—young, younger. The neighborhood was different, and maybe these people died out. Even when the bar was open, right there on Twenty-Second and Eleventh—used to be a bar, right there at the corner—and you’d see them walking, staggering, and all that. But drunks—casual drunks—but no harm coming to them or would result by them, but it changed. I don’t know what brought in that other element, because—
AH: Well—
BG: I think that what Vicky is saying is very true. We had—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 wasn’t instant. It was—
BG: Correct. Yes. And we, having lived here all these years—our family—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, “Listen, I don’t want you to worry. I don’t want you to be afraid, because we’re not going to let anything happen to you.” And it was so beautiful, because that’s the way we felt about them and they felt about us. And having lived here—and my father taught at Franklin, and I taught at Franklin—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.
BG: Yes.
AH: So since the late ’90s, now we’re in the late 2010s, so it’s been about 20 years. In your judgment, things have been improving?
BG: Oh yes.
VG: You can measure them—this is Vicky—you can measure them, at least I can, by way of when I’m on the mower, the kind of stuff I find on the lawns. Because I’d find crack bags—there used to be a lot of crack bags all over the place. And now it’s very rare that I see it. You’ll see beer and some whiskey bottles or liquor bottles here and there, but not like the crack and that kind of thing. It’s something that’s changed.
AH: Right. Yeah, because the crack came in early to mid ’80s and made a bad situation even worse, right?
VG: Right.
AH: So what are your prospects for Ybor City going forward? You think—I’m curious, what did you think when they were thinking about moving the Rays to Ybor City? I’m curious as to what you thought.
VG: You want me to start? Well, it’s not because we don’t want changes in Ybor, because you have to accommodate change or you won’t survive, period. We’ve seen this in little, minor details on the farm and other things that we’ve had in our lives. But it seems like that’s such a very, very large entity to come in—people mass—to Ybor. Here, we’re trying to protect [Richard] Gonzmart’s Columbia [Restaurant], which should be, because the trucks were plowing down all his establishment—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 its—
AH: I know, but I still see the semis going by there all the time, so yeah.
VG: Yes, they do. So if that’s the case, and we’re handling our history here and the structures with such love and tenderness, and then, okay, you build this thing, it’s a mass of humanity coming into a very small area. Already there is, from what I see—we don’t go party at night, but when we drive through there, it is packed. They’re doing well from what I see. During the day, I see people there. So they’re thinking greedily about money, money, money, but at some point, there’s a point of no return. And just like you said, people—and I hear it too—Oh, Ybor? Don’t go there. That kind of thing, because it has that reputation.
Now, when will that die? I don’t know. Maybe not in our lifetimes. But the same thing’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 can’t even use the interstate. We can’t use inner-city streets—there’s construction going on. And the streets are narrow and small, and one lane to—there used to be two lanes. Yes, traffic is helped by that, but it causes problems. And I don’t think they’re thinking enough into what kind of a mass of humanity is coming in and leaving. That’s my concern.
AH: Right. Interesting. Well, also it seemed like they’re—they treat it as a business district and not as a neighborhood, and it’s still a neighborhood. People live here. So, what haven’t we covered? Your dad passed—was it in ’04?
BG: He died in 2007. This is Tessie.
AH: Oh, 2007?
BG: Yes.
AH: So tell us about—get us to the end of his life.
VG: I’d like to—Vicky here—say this. As you heard—last time, I think we talked about it—my brother Don died as a result of a drowning accident. When Dad was informed of that, and the way—it was very sad the way it was informed—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: But—this is Tessie—we didn’t even know why we were going to Dunedin.
AH: Why you were going.
VG: Right, we weren’t even told that. But anyway, when Don passed away in 2004, my dad was already suffering for a lot—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 Don’s death, it looks like there was complete deterioration. He got the onset of Parkinson’s shortly after that, and deteriorated from that for several years until his passing. He was able to understand, to function. He couldn’t speak, really, very much. He understood what—everything was going on, but it was sort of like he was put into this vacuum. And it’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. “Don, when you have a chance, let’s work on this and this.” 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, and—because he was a trained electrician on the side.
So those last years for Dad, you know, it was just very dismal for him, I’d say, in my opinion, from—after Don’s death. And he was very limited, and at that—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 he’s just not able to. He hears and all that. So it made it—it closes you into this vacuum. It’s so sad. And people don’t realize that that happens. Like, for instance, we had one visitor that came once, and Dad at that point had the Parkinson’s and was in his wheelchair and all that, and he said, “You know”—this other man—he said, “You know, Don, who I’m talking about,” so and so, “that he’s 94, and he plants a garden, and he does this.”
And that was, I think—they don’t realize it, but that hurts. Here’s my father in a vacuum. He understands what’s going on. He can’t verbalize, but he can’t do that and hear that some other guy is doing it. That’s human nature, that isn’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 didn’t help. But Sara was always here for him—she was—and the kids, her grandkids would come. Some worked at that point—by that point in time, in this area, and would visit. And that’s the one thing—and Sara and Danny visited frequently, but we couldn’t get him out that much anymore with the wheelchair.
AH: Well, it sounds like—I mean, that’s probably the best therapy you can have, having a family. Sara?
SR: This is Sara. We’re talking about my dad, and one memory that’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 turns—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 doctors—we went to St. Joseph—but this night, said Danny, my husband said, “Sara, I'll drive you two guys to stay with him tonight, and I’ll visit your dad, and then I’ll come back. Drive back in in the morning, visit Dad again, and then we can leave when one of your sisters takes over.” 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 he’s getting antsy. He’s looking out the windows, out—he says, “All right, Sara, it’s time to go. It’s getting dark. Now, you go home before it gets too dark now.” And that was his common thread all my life. From the time we got married, it was always, “Danny and Sara, it’s getting dark, you better leave. Get home before it gets dark.” Or with the children, “Take the children home.” So that night, he says—and I said, “Well, no, Dad. Remember Danny was here visiting? He brought me with a car. I’m going to stay here overnight with you, and then tomorrow morning, Danny’s coming back to visit again and I'll go home.” And so then he starts shifting around in the bed. I said, “What’s the matter, Dad?” “You could sleep right here.” And I said, “No, Dad, you see this chair? It’s a recliner. I have a pillow and a blanket. I’ll sleep right here, next to you.” And he says, “Okay.” In other words, I was safe. I wasn’t going anywhere. And that’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, so—
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 even—
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 father’s death in 2007, Sara and Vicky and I met with our sister-in-law, Peggy, and Sara’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 the—
BG: Dennis Fernandez is manager for the City of Tampa historic preservation—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 over—would oversee the—any construction, painting, anything that you wanted to do to the façade. So this designation would just—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, there’s always this kind of, Oh, this place is lovely. Oh, it’s so special. It’s this, it’s that, and all these descriptors. And it’s wonderful—one on one, or one to a friend, and a friend to a friend. But we felt—at least I felt—there has to be more of an acknowledgment of what this property is. It’s more than just the house. It’s about the farm. That’s why we went through all this trouble, because the farm wasn’t included. They felt our house was like many other homes here, and it’s true, there are better, there are other examples of architecture for the area, but the idea of the farm—and it’s so unique because of the area that it’s located—and the early history of it made it very important.
But why is it of any importance if others don’t see it as important? You’ve got to share that. And we thought that that would be a first good step, because if it’s acknowledged by the city, at least it’s saying, “Oh, it’s more than just you who are coming here and saying, ‘This is nice. This is a nice place.’” It’s saying, “Yes.” And the credential behind it is that the city has given its stamp. You see what I’m saying?
AH: Right. Of course.
VG: That kind of thing. It’s not self-aggrandizement; it’s acknowledging what was. We were always disappointed when they couldn’t include the farm, but we could understand it because it was an inventory of houses and structures, and so we didn’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 it—this way, hopefully. But we’re hoping that the whole history of the Sicilian community could benefit from it.
AH: Right, because it’s not just about the house but what it represents.
VG: Right. The farming community here, like we’ve talked about, Andy, there were six or eight cows right there, half a block from us. You’d look at it now and—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 was—I don’t know what it is. It doesn’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 with—I don’t know—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. That’s our thinking.
AH: Right. Well, and it’s—just for most people, there’s no idea that there was so much of an agricultural legacy here. Everyone thinks it’s just all cigar factories. And since East Ybor sort of got industrialized, especially along Seventh and everything, everyone just thinks it’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                 (??).
VG: Those cows.
SR: The cows walked. They didn’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 that’s the other thing, why there’s this kind of, like, history is forgotten, is if you look up this place, probably, in 1950, it doesn’t say anything about a farm. It just says, yeah, there was a house there and these are the people living there. So it doesn’t actually give you an idea of what was actually happening on the property. So I’m sure you could go through the whole city directory in 1920s and ’30s, and all those people would be farming, but you wouldn’t know it. There’s no documentation at all, so—
VG: Yes, exactly. That’s very true.
AH: The other interesting thing is—I don’t know if you could comment on this—is that, I had read before, like, long before World War II, that the city didn’t want the Italians selling their milk because it wasn’t pasteurized, all this other stuff. Did they—was there any—ever anything like that? Was there any, I guess, effort to regulate—
VG: If it was—maybe—could it have been the larger farms? Because, like, this lady never pasteurized it, nor did                (??). It wasn’t pasteurized.
AH: Right, which is not legal.
VG: Right. Right.
AH: So it’s just a—it’s an interesting thing because—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 any—authorities didn’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, it’s Ybor City. It’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?
SR: Yeah.
AH: Yeah, okay, right. Very interesting.
VG: The—we were talking about—I lost my train of thought here.
AH: Pasteurization? Or—
VG: Oh yeah. Do you remember, Sara, that elderly lady that used to come and visit? She wouldn’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. It’s insulated. And Mama—we used to buy tuma. She used to sell ricotta and—I don’t know if she sold milk because Mama didn’t buy milk from her.
VG: Right.
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 have—the one I'm thinking of, it must have been the same lady—got tired of pulling the wagon.
SR: Yeah, maybe. Yeah.
VG: But she was elderly and she had a little black bag, and she’d dig in there and get it out. And didn’t have many, you know, she’d carry it. But that’s the thing. When they did these things, they only sold what they would put—consume themselves or put on their table. And everything was fresh.
SR: Yeah—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 it’s just not the same.
VG: Are you familiar with it, Andy? Tuma is a cheese that—it’s very rubbery, and it’s almost like a mozzarella. Correct me if I’m wrong, Sara.
SR: Yeah.
VG: Like a mozzarella, but unlike other cheeses, this doesn’t have a lot of salt. It’s very bland because you add the salt to it, correct? And that is so good—it’s so good. It must be—is it goat cheese? I guess so.
SR: I don’t know, because I don’t know what kind of animals that lady had.
VG: Yeah, I don’t know. Because she’s come out from that way. Yeah, but it’s called tuma, and it’s—
AH: Yeah, we’ll look it up.
VG: It spoils quickly, so even the specialty stores don’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 wasn’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. I’m sure it got hard by that time, but it wasn’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 wasn’t Cuban bread you’re talking about, because that gets hard overnight.
VG: These were breads that were—call them “Sicilian bread” or whatever. This old lady used to make it in big, heavy loaves like this. And she’d call us, and Tessie would run over there, and it’d be hot right out of the oven, and Mom would slice it and put olive oil and salt and pepper, and we’d all enjoy it the minute she gave it to us.
AH: Mm. Sounds like a treat. Well, is there anything that we didn’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 in—
AH: Right, well, that’s what—one of the things that’s been kind of interesting is talking to you, because you each have different sets of memories, slightly. So it’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 there’s anything that I or the library can do, you just let us know.
Unknown: Thank you very much.
VG: Thank you. We’ve enjoyed it also.
AH: Thank you so much.




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