The Grand Junction
When my grandfathers first traveled from Pedivigliano, Italy, to the U.S.A. around the end of the 19th Century, they were young - one still in his teens, the other in his twenties - penniless and fearless.
My paternal grandfather, Stefano Costanzo, worked on rail gangs (third from the left in the photo top, right) mostly in Pennsylvania, whereas my maternal grandfather, Felice Barbiero, headed for the mining towns of Colorado. They ended up in places like Johnsonburg, Philipsburg, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Pueblo, Mt. Harris, Grand Junction, Price, Helper, Salt Lake City, and other destinations unknown.
Like so many others, they would work for months, sometimes years and then return to their homeland with enough money to marry and start their families. And then it was back to the U.S.A. to earn more money and then home again to raise still more children. Nonno Felice was in America off and on between 1898 and 1947. In those years, he persuaded his two sons to join him in Colorado, leaving his wife and three daughters back in the Old Country.
One of his sons, my Uncle Fausto, (here with Nonno Felice, second row, right), arrived in Mt. Harris when he was sixteen. Had he stayed another year in Italy, he would have been ordered to serve in Mussolini’s army and, like my own father (third row, right), he probably would have been sent off to the Russian Front. Instead, three years later, Uncle Fausto was drafted into the U.S. Army and then, ironically, shipped back to Italy (bottom, right) with the 91st Infantry Division (Powder River Let ‘er Buck!). He was killed in combat in his homeland on April, 26, 1945 - five days before the German surrender in Italy - and his body was sent back across the ocean to the U.S.A. for burial.
With true stories like that, who needs fiction?
Well, since most of us don’t possess detailed, documented records of our ancestors’ lives, we are left to speculate about what their lives were really like. For example, I don’t know exactly what kind of work my grandfathers did, where they went, who their friends were, or how they spent their time away from work. I can only assume that since they were young, handsome Italians with families waiting for them back home, they must have in fact behaved themselves. Fiction allows me to imagine otherwise.
Also, fiction allows me to take an individual story and attempt to somehow find the universal aspects embedded in it.
With those thoughts in mind, I began to develop a “bird of passage” story that evolved into my latest novel, The Grand Junction, where it all comes together.
And with my grandfathers in mind, I’ve dedicated the book to them and to my uncle, Fausto, to whom fate was especially cruel.
© 2008-2017 Joe Costanzo. All rights reserved.
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