The following excerpts from an interview with Peirina Giunta of Sanbornton were submitted by contributors Rita and Larry Pelland. Our sincere thanks to the Pellands for their efforts and also to Mrs. Giunta for allowing us to share her story with our readers.
In 1921, my father, Pasquale Passi, then a single man, sailed to America to live with his married sister in Dedham, Mass. He finds employment in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. He becomes ill with tuberculosis, and his doctor urges him to return home to the dry climate of Italy to regain his health. Upon his return he is conscripted to serve in the Italian army. He never returns to America.
In 1923, he marries my mother, Anna Parisse and they live in the farmhouse of his parents in Preturo, Italy, located in the Province of L’Aquila. Two years later I was born in the farmhouse which was made of stone and concrete, with no running water, electricity, and merely a fireplace for heat in the cold winter months. The farmhouse was built on the side of a mountain. We didn’t even have the convenience of a clock to tell the time of the day or night. To say the least, we survived only with the bare necessities of life. It was tough love for my parents and me, but our spirit brought us through these difficult times.
My brother Ulderico is born in 1927, and my family continues to live a typical agrarian Italian lifestyle, until sadly my father dies of tuberculosis at the age of 39. My father’s death brings on a time of crises for my mother, as she faces the Italian tradition that when married to the youngest son, the new bride and her husband move in with her husband’s parents in their home. It came with the understanding and obligation that the young couple shall live and assist his parents for the rest of their lives until they died.
As fate would have it, after Pasquale’s passing, my mother would receive no assistance from his family members. The welfare of my mother, brother and myself was no longer a concern of theirs. We were completely on our own to find our way in life.
Following a brief period of time, poverty brought on additional hardships, forcing my mother to search for firewood in the countryside to keep two meager rooms warm during the long harsh winters. Food supply came from leftover garden harvests in the fields of the surrounding countryside. Fruit was foraged from leftover nearby orchards and vineyards.
Wheat sheaves that were left in the fields were gathered, with the hope of preparing the next scant meal. Whatever we could find was looked upon as our life line and survival. We had to make everything stretch to last three meals every day. A house candle had to be measured so that it would last the week.
My mother had no formal education and therefore had to accept subpar work, taking in laundry for the wealthy. She would walk over one mile each way with a basket of laundry on her head to be washed and returned. Lunch by the employer’s family was considered her wages. She never consumed it, but rather put it in her skirt pockets to later feed my brother and I. As young as 6 years old, I learned from my mother how to make spaghetti over the hearth fire. There was little time for playing, only when we had company on rare occasions.
My brother Ulderico and I went to the same village school until I was 13 years old. I remember how the time of the day was determined, as the train passed through our tiny village every day at the same hour. The time for school was known by the local church bells chiming in the early morning. One day we were told that the benevolent Mussolini (dictator of Italy) would be visiting our school. Dressed in white blouse and black skirts, and the boys in white shirts and black pants, we awaited his arrival. We were told that the school uniforms had been paid for by Mussolini. After the display of his charismatic personality, he promised us better health care and other political pledges. He kept his word to the families, especially concerning help on medical issues, until such a time when another ambitious tyrant, Adolph Hitler of the Third Reich, influenced his allegiance.
Coming to America
At the tender age of thirteen, Peirina Passi (that’s me) came to America to start a new life. My mother received a letter from my father’s sister who lived in Dedham, Mass., asking her to consider sending me to America to live with her and her husband. My mother assured me that I would have a much better life with many opportunities for the future. After days of heart wrenching agony, with the best for her child, my mother begins preparing me for my departure. She realized that I would be leaving behind me all that I knew — school, church and my beloved Italy — for an unknown country, with endless miles of ocean to cross before my arrival to America, where my life would change forever.
With broken hearts and hands tightly clasped together, we waited at the local train station for the locomotive’s arrival that would separate us forever. Tearfully I boarded the train for the beginning of my journey that would bring me on board the “Rex” ocean liner, where I would spend eight days on the turbulent Atlantic ocean, taking me away from all that I have ever known and loved. As I stood on the ship’s deck, looking over the railing, tears flowed uncontrollably from my eyes, flowing down my cheeks, falling into the swirling waters of the ocean below.
Destination: Ellis Island — Once again I was left alone in the midst of an immense crowd of immigrants at Ellis Island. The confusion, uncertainty and mix of foreign languages being spoken by people from different parts of the world was hugely frightening to a young 13-year-old Italian girl. I had no idea what my aunt and uncle looked like, as I had never seen a picture of them. Finally out a sea of unknown faces my name is called, “Pierina Passi”? It is my aunt and I am somewhat put at ease. We exchanged greetings and I was told to get my suitcase which held one change of clothes, with the only pair of shoes on my feet.
Home in Dedham, Mass. — There before me was a home as fine as a castle. This indeed was America, for no one lived like this in Preturo, Italy. My uncle was very kind to me and taught me to speak English. He bought me a two-way radio so I could listen to it and have a feeling of home. To this very day I tenderly remember his goodness. My uncle is diagnosed with a cerebral hemorrhage and dies soon thereafter. The loss was almost too much to bear. I had not yet gotten over the loss of my father, and leaving behind my mother and brother back home in Italy.
Guy Giunta Sr. — Guy is an acquaintance of my aunt. Whenever his mother receives a letter from her son Guy, who at the time was serving in the United States Army in the horrific ‘Battle of the Bulge’ during World War II, his mother would ask me to read the letters to her as she could not read English. After the war he is honorably discharged from the army and returns to Dedham, Mass., to live with his parents. I might add, it is quite a coincidence that Guy Sr. and I came to America at the age of 13.
Fate, Destiny, and Love — It was meant to be that I meet Guy. I soon realized that he was a very intelligent young man, worldly because of his difficult years in many battles during WWII, and his wonderful sense of humor and kindness to me. That kindness turns into a love that cannot be denied. We marry at St. Mary’s Church in Dedham and honeymoon at Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Out of our love came four wonderful sons, Louis, Joseph, Guy Jr. and Tony. Guy retires after 45 years employment at Westinghouse Electric.
Tower Hill Farm Inn : Our new home in Sanbornton, N.H.
An unexpected turn of events takes place in our lives when my son Guy Jr. and his wife Marie visit Sanbornton, N.H., for a family reunion. They return to Dedham filled with zeal and enthusiasm, urging Guy Sr. and me to come and see the beauty of the area, and consider the possibility of retiring in Sanbornton. We are given a tour of Tower Hill Farm Inn, a former Coach Trail Inn frequented by travelers passing though the area. I come to life with great excitement! Before my eyes I see a place of beauty that reminds me of my former mountain region of Preturo, Italy. No other place could I find that would be closer to my heart. I knew that God had heard my prayers over all of these years, and chose this place as home for Guy and me. A home we could honestly call, “Home Sweet Home.” We felt blessed by the rich farm land, magnificent mountain ranges, clear night skies and pure air. We sat together on the porch night after night, marveling over what we now called home! Guy often said to me that he would one day be waiting for me near the moon, and I, being his bright star, would travel swiftly to be with him. “Dear family members, remember the tears I shed on the ocean liner? They turned into little pearls of wisdom for you and yours.”
No two years remain the same, and time brought on changes in Guy’s health, especially following a car accident. His seemed to be fading quickly and the family began to discuss plans when our worse fears came to be. Throughout his illness I was the caregiver, promising to remain at his side day and night for as long as he shall live. It was my final act of unconditional love for him.
Guy Sr. passed away at the age of 89. He was looked upon as bigger than life itself. His love of God, church, family, friends, and country were the cornerstones of his sterling life. He was an exemplary model of what being an American is all about. His funeral mass, military ceremony and burial in the family cemetery brought his life to a fitting close, as he was honored by soldiers from the 78th Infantry Division, firing salvoes from cannons brought in especially in his honor, followed by a 21-gun salute, and a bugler playing taps, overlooking the Belknap Mountain Ranges. Honors well deserved for one who served his country so gallantly in the ‘Battle of the Bulge.’ It was truly America’s Greatest Generation.
The Second World War was so huge and complex, it remains far beyond our human comprehension. Only those who fought in this world war can fully understand the greatness of these extraordinary men and women. Guy Giunta Sr. was one of those soldiers whose time has come to be recognized as an American patriot. “My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty!"