I just returned from an east coast stay after having experienced an earthquake, hurricane and a tornado created by Hurricane Irene. Having survived those rather dramatic events I began to think about, of all things, my heritage. One story which popped into my head was one which I was able to weave into the plot of my book: The Stone Cutter Genius. So I wrote a Heritage Article while hunkered down in the protected area of my sister’s house outside of Philly with my mother adding a memory here and there as I shared parts of the story with them. So here’s the final product.
Escape to America by Arthur Cola
Pietrocino Naninni arrived in Chicago in the early 1900’s and as was very typical for Italian Immigrants worked any kind of job in order to save enough money to bring over the rest of his family. My Grandmother, Ida Naninni accompanied her father leaving her mother, sister and brother back in Ponte Buggianese. In short order Pietro sent for his wife and the rest of the family. Cleopha Naninni arrived but left her children with Nona Doretti (her mother). She wanted to make sure that America was going to be their final destination. While living in Chicago she became pregnant and she and Pietrocino became the parents of John Naninni.
Cleopha soon became homesick for her mother and children. She was unable to acclimate to American culture. When John was two years old she returned to Italy with John and Ida, leaving her husband alone in Chicago. Soon afterwards Pietrocino returned to Italy to announce that he had a better job and wanted his family back with him in America. By that time World War I had devastated Italy economically and soon Mussolini would come into power and his Facist government would take Italy down a road to war and destruction. Pietrocino wanted his family safe in America.
My Grandmother Ida jumped for joy to return to America. Cleopha however refused to leave her mother and extended family. Thus did Pietrocino leave with his daughter Ida, leaving his wife, daughter and two sons in rural Tuscany. Upon arriving in New York they stopped at the Statue of Liberty where the ten year old Ida knelt down to kiss the soil and proclaim that she would never return to Italy. America would be her new home.
For years up to his death, Pietrocino sent money to his family, who struggled under Mussolini’s rule to eke out a living. King Umberto I of Italy had no choice but to accept him as Prime Minister. By 1939 World War II had broken out in Europe and Mussolini had allied Italy with Adolph Hitler’s Germany. Cleopha became hysterical with worry that if the Nazis found out that John was a natural born American, he might be sent to a concentration camp. Thus John worked in a tailor shop learning a trade which would eventually sustain him and his family to this very day in 2011 in the United States. Eventually, he had enough money to book a passage on a ship and be smuggled out of Italy before the Nazis took a firm hold on his family’s native land.
Only in his twenties, he embarked on a ship wearing a stylish suit which he created and with a new hat which he couldn’t afford but his Aunt slipped him a few lire in order to buy it just before he left. As he watched the Italian Coastline fade away a gust of wind took his hat and deposited it in the Mediterranean Sea. He entered the United States with $10.25 in his pocket and made his way to Chicago. Within months after arriving he was drafted and served in the United States Army and participated in the Battle of Guadalcanal in the Pacific theater on August 7, 1942. He also managed to be a groomsman for my father (Arthur Colaianni) when he and my mother (Wanda Nannini-Doretti) were married at Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica one week before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Today, my Uncle John still resides in Chicago at age 98 with his daughter, Linda. His wife Frances and son, John Jr. passed away several years ago. In all those years he has never forgotten his homeland and the tiny village of Ponte Buggianese in Tuscany. Every year he returns to the family home in August to visit. My wife and I had the good fortune to visit my ancestral home and dine with the children of Uncle John’s brother who came only once to America for a brief visit. As I stood in the ruins of the centuries old cottage from which my great grandfather immigrated now surrounded by lush gardens and brilliant flowers I understood why my Great Uncle John wants to return and replenish his sense of heritage and history in the new typically Tuscan home with the red tiled roof where the descendants of Pietrocino and Cleopha Naninni now live. In fact he is there right now as I write this article.
(Arthur Cola is a veteran educator and author of three novels: The Stone Cutter Genius,
The Shamrock Crown (Legend of Excalibur) and Papa and the Leprechaun King as well as three screenplays based on his books. In The Stone Cutter Genius, the story of John Naninni is woven into the plot of the tale which deals with the Life and Times of Michelangelo and the Legend of the Magi Ring widely believed to be true in Renaissance Italy. Make him your friend on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. Contact him at
email@example.com. Web site: http://www.arthurcolalegendarytales.com. Blog site: