A New Mother for Dominic and Eugene

img023Dominic and Eugene sat side by side on the piano bench in the front room of the strange lady’s house. Their father, Nick Renzi, had come into town to find a new mother for them. The woman who met them at the door was old and her stern expression frightened them. Surely this woman wasn’t going to be their new mother.

A woman with dark hair and round glasses came down the stairs. She gave them only a fleeting glance then looked at their father. She never smiled at him as she shook his hand. Would this woman would be their new mother?

They sat as still as two rambunctious boys of 6 and 10 could sit, crowded together on the narrow piano bench, their dangling legs swinging back and forth, not touching the floor. The tight collars of their dress shirts made their necks itch and they pulled and tugged at their sleeves. From across the room their father gave them a stern look and motioned for them to be still. He pulled his shoulders back to show them how they should sit.

Soon the adults went into the kitchen and continued talking in Italian. The woman with dark hair and round glasses never said a word. Did she even have a voice? They only heard the voices of their father and the older woman. It seemed to take forever before their father came back in the room and said it was time to go.

As they left the house, their father turned to the woman with dark hair and round glasses and said – “Boys, this is Lena George, she will be your new mother.” They looked at Lena and didn’t know what to say or do. She stared back at them with a blank expression. “Say good-bye to your new mother,” their father prompted.

“Good bye mother,” Dominic said, not sure whether he was supposed to hug her or shake her hand so he did neither. The woman stared at them as if she were in a trance – she was looking at them but didn’t see them. She didn’t look very happy about being their mother. Dom and Eugene crowded close to their father, one on either side, as they went down the front porch steps out into the bright September sun.

The next week one of their uncles brought Lena’s suitcases and trunks to the farm and carried them up to their father’s bedroom. Two of their mother’s sisters came to the farm and packed up all of her jewelry, dresses and shoes that had been in the wardrobe and carried everything away.

“Aunt Jennie and Aunt Amanda will take good care of you while I’m away, their father said that night as he was packing his suitcase.

“But Papa, we want to go with you – where are you going.”

“Lena and I are going on a trip to Washington, DC, New York and Canada. That’s what people do when they get married.”

“Can’t we go with you?” they pleaded.

“No, you’re not old enough. It will just be Lena, her nephew Harold and me.”

“Why does he get to go with you on your wedding trip – that’s not fair!” shouted Dominic. He’s only 13 and I’m 10 – that’s not fair!”

Nick sighed and shook his head. He didn’t know why he agreed to let Harold go on their honeymoon. Of all the things Custode demanded when she agreed to let Nick marry her only remaining daughter, this was the most unreasonable. A 13-year old boy going on their honeymoon! He would never hear the end of it from the guys he worked with on the railroad.

But his boys needed a mother and Alverda thought Lena would be a good match. At 33 it was unlikely Lena would ever find a husband on her own. Maybe if they had time alone together she would warm up to him. But that was unlikely to happen on their honeymoon with Harold in tow. Everything Nick had heard about Custode was true – she called the shots. Whether out of love, respect or fear, her grown children did whatever she demanded. And now she was controlling what would happen on his honeymoon. How humiliating!

As their father drove down the hill, his car vanishing into a cloud of dust, Dominic realized this was the first time since their mother died in May that their father had been away for more than a few days. Their aunts had taken turns staying with them at the farm over the summer so why did they even need a new mother? Couldn’t things just stay the way they were?

When Nick came home three weeks later, Lena was with him. They ran to hug their father and he kneeled down and hugged them both –one on each side – his blue eyes twinkling with joy at the sight of his sons.

“Give your new mother a hug,” he said, pushing them toward Lena who stood there with the same blank stare she had when they met her at Custode’s house in Dunbar.

Eugene being the youngest and eager to please his father ran over to Lena and reached up to hug her around her waist. Lena stiffened and pulled away but Eugene clung to her, looking up with his trusting brown eyes, his wide happy smile beaming up at her. He was glad to have a new mother, he didn’t care what Dom said.

Lena looked down at Eugene, and with what Dominic would later describe as her other expression –  eyes squinted and nose wrinkled up as if a most horrible smell had suddenly filled the room – Lena firmly grabbed each of Eugene’s tiny wrists and pushed his arms away, twisting out of his embrace.

Dom ran over and grabbed his younger brother’s arm, “Come ‘on Gene – let’s go outside and play.” He glared back at Lena – trying to match her cold, icy stare. He didn’t care what his father said, this woman was nothing like their mother. Their mother was pretty and always smiling – even near the end when the goiter made her neck bulge out. Dom could still remember his mother’s soft hands as she stroked his forehead when she tucked them into bed at night.

Dom never want Lena to touch him or his brother Eugene. He was too old to be tucked-in anyway. He didn’t want this new mother and no matter what his father might think, he could tell that she didn’t want them either.

 

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November 8, 1928 Wedding of Nick Renzi and Julia Giordano

 

 

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Tuesday Tidbit – Renzi Family Home in Italy

Genealogical Tip – Talk to your oldest living relative – get all the information and family stories you can. You’ll have time to sort it out after they’re gone.

I’ve been blessed with many stories from older relatives on both my husband’s and my side of the family. Including my mother who is 82. In today’s tidbit I hope to give back to one of those relatives who has always wondered where in Italy his father was born.

Domenic Renzi grew up with the Giorgio relatives from the Dunbar/Connellsville PA area. He lived on the Renzi Farm on Limestone Hill and that is where Lena George moved in 1939 after she married Dominic’s father – Nick Renzi. Domenic knew that his father was born in Italy and came over as a young child.

Nick Renzi was born in 1895 and had one older sister named Rose. The rest of his siblings were born in PA. Nick’s parents were Domenico Renzi and Terese Vinci (sometimes Vinch or DiVinci) but none of the records I’ve looked at for them indicate their home town in Italy.

While perusing the PA birth certificates that are on line at Ancestry.com last night, I thought I would find one for some of Nick’s younger siblings since the records are digitized for the years 1906 – 1908 and Terese and Domenico were having children during those years. But I know from searching for other family members that the records are hit or miss and last night was no exception – no luck. Whether that is from lost records, mistakes in the digitization process or unreported births, I don’t know, but more often than not the birth record I’m looking for is not there.

But I did find the following record for the first child born to Carmine Renzi (37) and Rosina Corrado (26) born in Dunbar on 11 Jan 1908 and named Carmine Antonio Renzi. As you can see, Carmine the father is from a town that is hard to make out but with the aid of Google, I’ve determined it is Prignano Cilento – a town in Salerno in the Campania region in southwest Italy. It looks like it is on the coast.

CarmineRenzi.birthcert.1908

I quick text to Dominic to see if he had any relatives named Carmine Renzi brought this response –

Strange – Dad’s brother was called Antonio Renzi and the 1908 could be Dad’s brother because Dad always said his brother was about 15 years younger. Boy – this could be because the farm was located in Dunbar – not the borough but the township.

From the parents’ names on the birth certificate – Carmine and Rosina – I’m pretty sure this is  not the birth certificate for Dominic’s uncle Tony but if there is a family connection between Carmine and Dom’s grandfather Domenico (brothers maybe?) finding Carmine Renzi’s place of birth in Italy would be a could starting point to infer that Domenico was also from that town

I checked the Connellsville Daily Herald for the dates that Domenico Renzi and Terese Renzi died, and though I found these articles, they didn’t help much in determining where in Italy they were from:

DomenicoRenzi.obit.12.8.1918

Connellsville Daily Herald – 8 Dec 1918

TereseRenzi.obit.7.22.1936

Connellsville Daily Herald        22 July 1936

But a bit more searching revealed this information from the Find-A-Grave website and though it’s not enough to conclude Prignano Cilento is where Nick Renzi was born, it’s a step in the right direction because it suggests that his mother Terese was from that town.

Terese Renzi.findagrave.info.6.20.16

Here is the ship’s log for Teresa Renzi arriving in New York from Naples on 30 April 1895 with two children. It is hard to read the two year old’s name but Dominic confirmed that his father had an older sister named Rose. The 2 month old seems to be Nicolina (even though he is incorrectly identified as a girl) and if that child is two months old, he would have been born in February 1895.

TereseRoseand NickRenzi.arrival.30Apr1895

Sure enough, three sources for Nick Renzi list his birth day as 12 Feb 1895. I’m confident that this is his arrival record. I think it is a good assumption (but not a 100% certainty) that he was born where his mother came from in Italy.

And one last bonus record – a place of birth, reported by Nick Renzi himself on his WWI Draft Registration:

Nick REnzi.WW1.Draftregistration

Friday Foto Feature

 

Dominic Renzi as a cute little baby!img027

 

And now for a picture from our visit to New Jersey in March 2016. What a fun day we had with Dominic and what great memories he has of growing up with the Giorgios when his father – Nick Renzi – married Lena George in 1939.

Dominic&Kalen.3.30.16

Tuesday Tidbit

It’s hard to believe that a week ago Rick and I were at breakfast with Dominic Renzi and his friend Diana. After breakfast we went back to his apartment and he shared enough stories to inspire Tuesday and Thursday tidbits for a long, long time.

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Grandmother Renzi in front of the farmhouse on Limestone Hill

As a “self-taught” genealogist, one thing I’ve read over and over, is that you should  start with your oldest living relative and get his or her stories before it’s too late. Yes Dominic, by my calculation, you are the oldest living relative but thankfully I don’t think you’re going anywhere too soon. I hope that I will have half the energy (physical and mental) that you do when I’m your age.

Just to update anyone who isn’t familiar with the family tree, Dominic is part of the George family because Lena George was his step-mother. His mother Julia Giordano  died in May 1939 after what should have been a simple operation to remove a goiter. Apparently the surgeon did not properly suture the incision and she bled to death the night before she was supposed to come home. According to Dominic, the doctor responsible was never seen again, perhaps hurrying out of town because of the reputation of the Giordano brothers who were none too happy with the tragic death of their sister.

The Renzi family lived on a farm on Limestone Hill but Nick Renzi had a full time job on the railroad. Although his sisters took care of the boys immediately after Julia died, Nick needed a wife to be with the boys since he was often gone for days at a time. Dominic remembers that his father visited a few other ladies before he chose Lena as his wife. Although he didn’t come right out and say it,  I think one of the earlier candidates would have been Dominic’s choice (he even remembered her name!) Thankfully for us, we get the benefit of Dominic’s memory because, for whatever reason, his father chose Lena.

Carole Ann has mentioned the story of Dominic and his younger brother Gene sitting in the parlor while his father and Custode negotiated the terms of Nick’s marriage to Lena – in Italian. When the negotiations were over, Nick and the boys left and on the way home, he told them, “I think you just met your new mother.” This was only three months after Julia died.

A few things stand out from what Dominic told me about his father’s marriage to Lena. First of all, Lena did not participate in the negotiations. She was in the room but never said a word. She sat in silence and never expressed any affection or warmth when Nick and the boys left.

Secondly, even though Lena was an accomplished pianist, Custode refused to let her take the piano to the farm. Apparently this was out of spite because from what Dominic remembers, Custode did not play the piano, she just didn’t want Lena to have it. In her view, such a refined item had no place in a farm house.

Finally, and perhaps most shocking of all, (although at this point, nothing I hear about Custode surprises me) Custode insisted that  Nick and Lena take her grandson, Harold Galand on their honeymoon. Harold was 12 (just two years older than Dominic) when he got to visit Canada and the New York World’s Fair.  A great opportunity for Harold, but what a damper on any chance for romance between Lena and Nick.

Even though Lena was not a good mother to Dominic and Eugene, the combination of her brother Gene and Aunt Rosie made up for it. According to Dominic, Lena was mean to Aunt Rosie and often made her cry but Rosie did her best to shield the boys from Lena’s fury. Many times during our visit last week, Dominic shared a story of Uncle Gene’s kindness and generosity. Uncle Gene loved the farm and would often stop by to visit Aunt Rosie and to soak in the fresh smell of newly plowed earth. On leaving he would always admonish his sister to be good to the boys.

Nick Renzi died in 1949, ten years after he married Lena. Although he left the farm to Lena and the two boys in equal shares, Lena refused to leave and also refused to let the boys live there (not that they wanted to.) Eventually, Gene arranged for the boys to “buy out” Lena. He got Lena a job at the hospital in Connellsville and convinced her to move to an apartment there.

Dominic lived on the farm and was making repairs to the house which had fallen into disrepair while Lena lived there. On one visit when Gene saw that Dominic had converted the back seat of his car to carry loads of materials needed for the repairs, he commented that Dominic needed a pick-up truck.  A few days later, Gene called and asked Dominic to meet him in town.  When he got there Gene was parked near a truck and as the two men talked, Gene asked what Dominic thought about the truck. Dominic thought it was nice and Gene said – “Good – because it is yours.”When he asked what he owed him, Gene said nothing – it was a gift. Dominic needed a truck and Gene got it for him.

Just one example of Uncle Gene’s many acts of kindness, which are perhaps a big part of  why Dominic is not unhappy about his father’s choice of his replacement mother.

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Nick Renzi on a visit to Canada (probably before his honeymoon)

 

 

Tuesday Tidbit – Meeting Dominic Renzi

img023Rick and I spent today with Dominic Renzi at his apartment in Brick, New Jersey. He and his friend Diana picked us up at our hotel this morning at 9:30 and took us to breakfast. He brought us back to our hotel at about 9:00 pm tonight after dinner at a Chinese buffet. We spent the hours in between at his apartment learning more about life on Limestone Hill in Dunbar Township in the 1930s and 1940s while I scanned several of his photos using my newest “toy” – a portable scanner.

Dominic was ten when his mother Julia died after what should have been a simple surgical procedure to remove a goiter. When his father went to the hospital to bring her home the next morning, he learned that she had bled to death during the night after the surgery. Within four months, his father married Lena George and she moved out of Custode’s home in Dunbar to the Renzi farm on Limestone Hill. According to Dominic his father had visited at least two other women in his search for their next mother. Since his father worked on the B&O railroad and regularly traveled from Connellsville to Pittsburgh, he needed someone at home with the boys.

In many respects Lena fit the model of the evil stepmother. She was mean to the boys when they were young and once they started working she demanded part of their pay. Dominic does give her credit for teaching him and his brother table manners. Aunt Rosie lived on the farm with them and Dominic remembers his father and Aunt Rosie singing songs in Italian to records his father played on the Victrola. Aunt Rosie was loving and kind to the boys and shared in their misery, as Lena was also mean to her.

Renzi.DomandKalen.3.29.16

Dominic and Kalen at Chinese Buffet for Dinner

Renzi.DomandRick.3.29.16

Rick and Dominic at his apartment

Dominic has nothing but praise for Uncle Gene (Lena’s older brother) who loved to spend time at the farm and was very close to both Dominic and his brother Eugene.  Dominic often turned to Uncle Gene for advice after his father died.

I have lots of stories for future posts, but its been a long day and I need to rest up for our three-day adventure in the big city that starts tomorrow. Rick is going to brave the NYC traffic to get to our hotel in mid-town Manhattan and Sarah and Will arrive very early on Thursday. We’ll have two full days with the kids before we drive home on Saturday.
I’ll close with a few photos from today and one or two of my favorites from the ones that line the walls of Dominic’s apartment.

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Dominic and his father, Nick Renzi

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Dominic Renzi circa 1930