Author: Henry P Gravelle
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 4
A story of having heart and those who kept it through it all.
Pug is the story of compassion, friendship and having heart through the eyes of a young immigrant boy surviving life's obstacles on the road to manhood.
I was eight when the storm hit New England. Back then, they did not have names, just called it the Hurricane of '38. It traveled so fast up the east coast, building wind and speed, we called it the Long Island Express.
It roared across the sound onto the mainland and devastated southern New England, left a path of destruction all the way up to Canada. We were not ready for it. No warning, no idea what was headed for us. But it was the deadliest hurricane in almost a century, taking seven hundred lives.
A few months earlier, my parents decided Mussolini's fascist Italy was too much to bear. War was approaching with neighboring countries and the time to flee was at hand. They gathered my younger sister Maria and me and all the belongings we could carry and boarded a steamer destined for the land of milk and honey.
I was too young to recall all the legalities we went through at the immigration station in Boston, but I remember my mother, sister and I waiting for Pop to return to us after standing in lines for hours and having x-rays taken of our lungs for tuberculosis. It was then I really took stock of Momma.
She was crying; tears streaked down her eyes, scared and nervous. This adventure she and her husband had taken their family on, a new cold, impersonal land without the numerous gifts so many claimed, frightened her.
It was that afternoon as we sat on the immigration station floor waiting for Pop that I first saw my Momma's beauty. She had long, coalmine black hair gathered under a scarf, framing her face. I remember as a young boy learning at that moment what was attractive in women; beauty and grace. Momma had both.
Her olive flesh glowed even in the despair of humanity of the immigration station or two weeks crossing the great ocean. Her eyes always held love. The focal point of her features, over high cheekbones and unpainted lips with a thin jaw. I heard her state to the immigration man she was twenty-five.
Momma cradled Maria on her lap, rocking slowly to aide in calming my sister's cries for food. Our stomachs were empty and hunger gnawed constantly. Momma noticed I was staring at her and she smiled, patting me on the head, then ran the back of her fingers across my cheek, "Amore Mio."
I whispered back I loved her, too.
Soon Pop returned with a smile spreading his thick and long mustache. I could see it was a nervous grin rather than the usual cocksure grin Pop had. He was just as frightened as Momma of this new land with its uncertainties and like Momma, tried to whitewash the anxiety with a brave face. He spoke excitedly.
"I was told of housing at another place," he hesitated, trying to recall the name, "we go to a place called State of the Road Island. I have tickets for a train tonight."
Momma looked worried, as usual, "Carlo, is there no shelter or work in the state of Boston?"
Pop shook his head, looking back at the men in uniforms sitting behind wooden desks at the tip of the long immigration lines. "No, they say we have to go to this Road Island for work. There is nothing here for us."
Pop took Maria in his arms, held my mother by the waist and led us out of the building. I instinctively grasped his dark gray waistcoat and followed him out of the building, across Summer Street, to a local diner where we shared a plate of spaghetti Al dente.
As hungry as we were, we had to force this food into our stomachs. We looked at one another and grinned, knowing nothing tasted like Momma's, nor did any of this taste Italian, as advertised on a sign taped to the diner window. Shortly after, we boarded a train to another place in America.
I was asleep by the time we arrived in Providence. Momma carried Maria, and Pop carried me to our shelter, a tenement building like all the others on the street; row after row of brick front buildings with copper-edged flats roofs.
Out front of every building gathered the unemployed, the newly arrived and downtrodden to gossip and listen to each other's tales of woe and perhaps gain useful information on a job or factory that might be hiring. The stoop led to stairs of concrete, which led to double front doors; solid, chipped and never locked.
Ours was a one-room walk up on the second floor; damp and dreary, facing the front where trucks and buses traveled back and forth, rattling the windows with every pass.
We had no electricity, but did have water and a stained, cracked, leaky toilet. A beat up icebox with no ice, stood near the toilet. In the center of the room was a chipped and wobbly table surrounded by four wooden chairs with arched backs.
The walls displayed several layers of paper, peeling and torn. A splintered and peeling door was the only entrance and exit to our new home, with a worn latch to secure the room. Pop and Momma surveyed the room then smiled, hugged and kissed. They had arrived.