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Through Carmela's Eyes

Through Carmela's Eyes

by Frank Palumbo Jr

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This is the story of a young girl, an Italian immigrant, who was brought to America in hopes of a better life. Times were hard and her parents were forced to take her out of school, at age twelve and send her to work in one of the woolen mills in Lawrence Massachusetts. While there, she endured a devastating accident that would forever alter her life and that of her


This is the story of a young girl, an Italian immigrant, who was brought to America in hopes of a better life. Times were hard and her parents were forced to take her out of school, at age twelve and send her to work in one of the woolen mills in Lawrence Massachusetts. While there, she endured a devastating accident that would forever alter her life and that of her family. The repercussions would extend far beyond anything that could be imagined. Carmela Teoli, after spending seven months in a hospital, would go on to testify to a Congressional Committee about the conditions under which she, and the other children, had been forced to work. Her words had the power to influence many people including the First Lady, Helen Taft , who had been in attendance at the hearings. Mrs.Taft quickly took Carmela under her wing to the extent of inviting her to spend the night at The White House. Clothing, a warm bed and a delicious dinner were all provided for her. Carmela conversed freely with The President and his wife that evening about everything that she and her family had been through. The next day she would meet with more congressional members where she could further relay her plight. Following the Congressional testimony, working people were entitled to better conditions. The Bread and Roses strike of 1912 had made an impact on labor regulations as had the testimonies of the children.

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Through Carmela's Eyes

The Life Story of Carmela Teoli
By Frank Palumbo Jr.


Copyright © 2012 Frank Palumbo Jr.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4772-5512-4

Chapter One


This story begins on May 15, 1901 in Rocca d'Evandro Italy. This story begins on May 15, 1901 in Rocca d'Evandro Italy where a twenty-four year old young Italian man named Gennaro Teoli and his wife, Camella, were living together with their two young daughters. They had four year old, Carmela, and one year old, Maria Nina who were fast asleep, dreaming of their bright future together. It was five o'clock in morning when Gennaro woke from a restless night's sleep, knowing that this was the day he would be leaving his family behind and taking his twenty-seven day journey to America. He did not have the financial means to take his beloved wife and two young daughters with him and this had been weighing heavily on his mind for the past week, but he knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity so that he could have a better life in the future.

Camella, that morning, found a way to pull herself up off the bed. She, like Gennaro, had not slept much that previous night. Many thoughts started running through her head such as wondering how was she was going to care for the children and herself without the love and support of her beloved husband. The little money they did have had been spent on Gennaro's boat ticket and most of the rest had been set aside for him to ensure that he had some means to live on once he arrived in America. Gennaro had finally come to the realization that he would have to leave his wife and daughters behind. Nevertheless, he knew from deep inside his heart that the United States of America would offer a better life for himself and his family then the town of, Rocca d'Evandro Italy could.

There was a better life ahead. With what little time Gennaro had left he made sure that every moment counted. As he played with his daughters, he turned to his wife, knowing of her trepidations and fears after he would be gone, and tried to comfort her by reassuring her that he would write often. When he found a job, he promised that he would send money back home to her to help with the girls. Camella, dreading his departure, packed familiar home-cooked meals along with some dry sausage and cheese for her husband to take on his long twenty-seven day journey. She knew that in less than two hours her beloved husband would be gone on The Tartar Prince, which would eventually take him from Italy to New York City, where he would find a better life for his family. Her sole consolidation was the fact that so many people had told them about the great abundance that was to be found in America. Other people that they knew had already made this journey and she was willing to do whatever it took to help her husband and her daughters.

The day of Gennaro's departure came and Camella had no realization of how painful it would be. As the ship left the dock in Naples, Gennaro waved to his wife and daughters trying not to show his deepest emotions and how much his heart was breaking inside. Gennaro looked upon his wife crying and waving with the one arm she had free from holding their one year old, Maria Nina, In addition, the one leg she had free, was being clung to tightly by Carmela. Camella and their little Carmela were not as strong as he was. Tears were streaming down their faces as Gennaro's image drifted away. As the ship disappeared from her sight, Camella felt herself more alone then she ever been in her entire life. Her life had been Gennaro and their girls up until now. Returning home, with her babies, the void of her husband weighed heavily on her. As the sun set that evening, her heart did too.

On the ship, Gennaro found a spot where no one could see his anguish. He suddenly broke down and cried. The hours slowly passed. The first night at sea for Gennaro was long and lonely. The mighty sea pounded the ship all night, much like the thoughts in his head about the family he had just left behind. That haunted him yet would carry him over until they could reunite. He knew that day would come. They were his life. As the powerful waves smacked across the hull, it caused the boat to sway from side to side. Gennaro had never been on a ship of this size and he became very sick from the movement. However, as the hours passed he finally fell into an uneasy, slumber as he reflected on all the events of that nervous day.

After a seemingly endless night, Gennaro awoke to find beside him the bag that his sweet, beautiful, Camella had made for him filled with her lovingly prepared meals for him to eat on his long journey. Gennaro set out to explore the ship that morning. As he was walking on the top deck of the ship, looking at the faces of all of the other Italian immigrants, like himself, who were seeking refuge and opportunity, he saw much of the same uncertainty that he felt. As the days passed, he befriended other Italians and began to engage in conversations with some of the men on the ship. He learned of a city called Lawrence in the State of Massachusetts where there apparently were an abundance of job opportunities for immigrants like himself.

Gennaro was intrigued. He knew little of job opportunities in the state of Massachusetts as he and Camella had intended to settle in the state of New York. Gennaro knew for sure that the one thing he was committed to was steady work; after all, he had been a farmer all his life. He had worked hard all his life from sun up until sundown and knew his work ethic would eventually reunite his family in America. He knew that hard work would bring his family back together again.

Knowing he had twenty-five more days before he reached the U.S. Gennaro made sure he packed away writing paper so he could begin writing the letters that he had promised to send Camella in his absence. Hoping to ease her mind, in his first letter, he told her about the town of Lawrence in the State of Massachusetts. He had learned that there was abundance of work there, especially for immigrants like himself. He and Camella had planned to find a home for their family and work for himself in New York City. He told her he was going to look moreover and see how far this town called Lawrence, in Massachusetts, was and what the chances might be there for him to make a decent living to support them in America.

He told her how much he missed her and the children and that not only did he think about them all day long but he also dreamt about his family each and every night As the endless days went on, Gennaro finally arrived in America. Passing by the Statue of Liberty, he was filled with hope. As the ship was steering through the Hudson River and finally reached Ellis Island, Gennaro softly whispered an uncomfortable prayer "God, I hope it's a long time before I ever have to make a long journey again." Waiting for the processing procedure for him to be admitted into the United States, he began to notice that some people and children were being sent to another line by the guards. He turned to the man behind him and he asked "Why is that line different over there? As he pointed the man replied, "That is the line for the sick". Looking at them, he could see clearly that not everyone in the line was looking sick. Thinking to himself, he realized that this was one thing he must add in the letter to Camella. When the time would come for them to arrive in the land of opportunity, she and their daughters would have to look their best and be in perfect health to avoid the segregation that appeared to take place upon the arrival of immigrants.

Now his thoughts were consumed with his family and all that he had left behind. He missed them desperately. Back in Italy, Camella awoke from an uneasy night's sleep. She had had so many sleepless and restless nights without her beloved Gennaro by her side in their, once warm, bed. For so many years, they had been side by side in every way and it now felt like so many pieces of the puzzle of life were missing for her. Grateful for their beautiful daughters, she took comfort in them and could see and feel her wonderful husband in them with every waking hour. There was reassurance in that. As time went on, she found herself walking to the post office every afternoon hoping against hope that there would be some correspondence from her husband. At this point she didn't even know if Gennaro had made it to America.

Random, worrisome, thoughts ran through her head with each, long, daily journey to the post office. Did the ship sink? Did he go overboard? He does not know how to swim. Was this good thing to do? As time went on, Camella found herself sick with worry but knew that she had to carry on for the sake of her little girls. She lived in fear that she might never see her precious Gennaro again.

One day a long time childhood friend, Sophia Porone came by to see Camella and the girls. She brought along with her a pot of homemade Italian gravy with meatballs that she had made the day before. Sophia wanted to make sure that her friend was doing as well as could be expected without her husband. Sophia, looking into Camella's eyes, could see the pain and anguish in her friend's heart. Camella told Sophia that she still had not heard from Gennaro.

Breaking down in tears, Camella expressed to Sophia, in an almost unintelligible, sobbing lament, how much she missed her husband and feared for his well-being. She confided, "I don't know if I will ever hear from him again". Camella tried to compose herself as Sophia attempted to reassured her that: "Gennaro will be fine ... just you wait and you will see." Camella knew that Sophia meant well but she had missed Gennaro so much even before the ship had set sail from the dock. Sophia tried to comfort her dear friend Camella as much as she could.

She extended a heartfelt invitation to her and her daughters to come for another home cooked dinner the next night. Maybe an evening out would distract her a little and the girls would certainly have fun as Sophia, who had no children of her own, loved the presence of little ones in her home. It could be a happy night for all of them. Camella found comfort in her daily routines. They were the only semblance of normalcy in her life as her husband was so far away. Her daily thoughts were filled with questions like ... Where is he? What is he doing? Did he find work? Is he safe? When will he write to us as he had promised? Has he forgotten about the children and me? Without fail, everyday at 11:00 am, she would get the girls together and make her way as fast as she could to the local post office in hopes of news from Gennaro.

One day was different from the others. Making her way out of her home toward the well beaten path to the post office, Camella saw that Sophia was running as fast as she could towards her. Camella could tell from the expression on her face as she approached that she had some urgent news to tell her. Sophia told her that the postmaster had a letter that had come from New York City, America for Camella Teoli. "CAMELLA ... CAMELLA ... THERE'S A LETTER FOR YOU!" she exclaimed, as she made her way to the front steps of the Teoli home. "Camella there's a letter for you ... go ... run now ... I have the children".

Camella took off running faster than she had ever run in her life. Making her way throughout the streets of Rocca d'Evandro, Camella sped as fast as she could. She was not able to control herself as she pushed through the post office door. Bursting through it, she spotted the postmaster holding the very letter that she had been longing for in his aging hand. Camella ran up to him, ripping the letter out of his hands in frenzy, all the while apologizing to him.

Minutes went by and Sophia, with the two girls, met up with her outside of the post office. She was as impatient as Camella. Sophia was urgently yelling at Camella "OPEN IT! OPEN THE LETTER CAMELLA!" This was the letter that Camella had waited so long for but now, faced with the uncertainty of what the letter's contents might reveal, she could not bring herself to open it. With trembling hands, she held the letter to her heart. The handwritten address to her was in her husband's writing yet she feared the contents. Finally, Camella handed the letter to Sophia. "You open it. If it is bad news I do not want to know." As Sophia began reading the letter silently, Camella was ready to burst with anticipation. "Ok Sophia read it to me aloud." As Sophia looked up at her with a smile from ear to ear. She exclaimed ... "He made it! CAMELLA, HE MADE IT! HE MADE IT! HE'S IN NEW YORK! And he's safe in your future country" Sophia wrapped her arms around Camella hugging her so tightly. Tears were rolling down both of their faces as Sophia continued to read on.

"My dear Camella as you now know I have made it to America. I hope you and the children are doing fine without me. Please give them lots of hugs and kisses from me and, if you can, one big one for you, my love, Camella. It is so much better here than we ever could have dreamed of. New York City is more beautiful then we ever heard about and the buildings are so abundant and tall! There are streets after streets of these gigantic structures. The Statue of Liberty is so beautiful, mostly because of what she symbolizes—freedom. I miss you so much and I know you miss me too. I have learned from talking to many men on the ship, during my voyage here, of work in a town called Lawrence, in the state of Massachusetts. These men all have families there and that is how they know of the work that will be available.

They all tell me that there are huge textile mills there, and their families know that the companies are all looking for good workers. I know we talked of living in New York City, but Camella, they all tell me that there are so many people where we are from there and that there is so much work at these mills. I need to work and make as much as I can so we may be together again. Please tell the children their Papa loves them so much and I love you my dear wife with all my heart. I have to get on a train this afternoon and I will write you as soon as I can and hope to be able to send you some money soon. With all my love, Gennaro

"See ..." Sophia said to Camella, "... He is just fine and it looks like he's finding out about work too". "Yes," Camella replied with an apparent sense of relief. Camella lifted her weary head up after hearing Gennaro's letter. "But we had talked of him finding work in New York City. Now he is talking about this other city where he thinks there is so much opportunity for him. I really hope he knows what he is doing and that it will be the right thing for all of us."

However, she had finally heard from her beloved Gennaro. He was well and was planning a life for their family in the United States of America. That night, at dinner, Camella re-read the letter she had just received to Sophia and her husband, Antonio. On hearing Camella's recanting of Gennaro's letter to her, Antonio attempted to mask his concern and tried not to let Camella see any evidence of his sense of worry and skepticism. He had promised Gennaro that he would look after Camella and their daughters while Gennaro was gone. He would always honor that.

Chapter Two


Gennaro found his way downtown in New York City to the Train station that would take him to this city called Lawrence, in Massachusetts. Perhaps this would be the landing place for himself and his young family. He had to try. As he made his way to the station, he passed several stores and many Italian men, such as himself, pushing wagons yelling in their native language. "Fresh vegetables here! Get your fresh vegetables!" How Gennaro missed the land where he had farmed and toiled over the succulent vegetables and the grapes he had grown to make his homemade wine back in his homeland.

This reminded Gennaro that the one thing that he was undoubtedly good at was growing. As he got to the train station, he was thrust back into reality. He learned that getting to Lawrence, Massachusetts would be more of an ordeal than hehad ever expected. He found out from the ticketer in the booth that he would first have to take one train to Boston and then get on, yet another, connecting train that would take him to this mystical city of Lawrence.

With his love and confidant Camella back in Italy, Gennaro found himself having numerous conversations with himself, both out loud and in his mind, for there was no one else he could talk to about all of the things going through his anxious and excited young mind. He hesitated for a minute, lost in thought and odd conversations in his head, knowing that he would have to find his way to the correct train. "I have come this far ..." he thought to himself, "to a country that I know nothing about. It started weighing heavily on him that he must learn to speak the English language. "I must go on. I can find work and then a piece of land ... No, a BIG piece of land where I can have my family, grow lots of vegetables, and grapes to make wine and then sell them ... but where? Where will I sell them? Lawrence is where! Camella and my beautiful daughters will be by my side."

Later that day Gennaro arrived in Boston. Looking around he started to observe that this city was very much like New York City and he wondered if Lawrence would be the same. Feeling lost and confused he did not know where he should go to purchase his next ticket to get to this town called Lawrence. Filled with uncertainty, he heard his native language clearly coming from a group of men at a distance on the same platform from where he was standing.

With trepidation, he approached them to ask them how he could purchase the ticket he would need to continue with his journey. One of the Italian men introduced himself as Gino from Naples. He inquired as to what part of Italy Gennaro was from. Responding back to Gino, Gennaro explained that he was from the town of Roccad'Evandro and had left behind his wife and children to make this journey happen.

In an enthusiastic voice, Gino told Gennaro to go around to the other side of the building to find the ticket window. Seeing the confusion on Gennaro's face, Gino offered to take him in the direction of where he needed to go to purchase the correct ticket. Gino, already knowing the ropes of life in America, stepped out of view of the ticket master so that Gennaro could conduct his business without the added influence of another immigrant. For the first time, Gennaro encountered evidence that he, as well as the other Italian immigrants, like himself, were not exactly accepted by some "so-called" Americans.

The red headed clerk at the ticket window was clearly of Irish descent. His green eyes and the celtic lilt in his accent clearly defined who he was. Given that they were one of the first arriving immigrants to America, some felt very uneasy and threatened by the arrival of all the new nationalities to America. Gennaro approached the window that had been pointed out to him. This was the first time he had attempted to speak the language of this newfound country the words would not come out as he intended them to.


Excerpted from Through Carmela's Eyes by Frank Palumbo Jr. Copyright © 2012 by Frank Palumbo Jr.. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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