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Settefrati - Early 1900's

"The civic administration (of Settefrati) consisted of the mayor, secretary, under secretary, municipal clerk, and warden. The post office was operated by the postmaster and one other man. There were five churches in the town and three priests. However, only three of the five churches were functioning at the time. There was also a shrine five miles away from town. It was the site of the Provincial Celebration, an event that took place each year in August. The town had one doctor, who had the last word in civic affairs. From the time I was a small boy I learned that he made great demands on everyone, but especially on the poor peasants.
There were two elementary schools in town. There is a fountain in the Piazza where everyone went to get their water. The road that enters Settefrati is four meters wide with black top. It is more than adequate since there is very little traffic. On one side of the Piazza there is a huge wall. On the opposite side there is the Palazzo di Ferdinanto Gramegna, which is three stories tall with wonderful and beautiful artistic granite stone which faces the entrance of the Piazza. Every year, at the same time, thousands of swallows return to build their nests with mud they pick up from a brook a half mile away.
There were no motors in the hillside village. Everything was done by the sweat of their brow and the strength of their donkeys. There was no plumbing, no electric. All water was carried from the fountain which was located in the center of the village; no gas, all cooking was done over wood fires. Laundry was done in the local streams and dried on bushes. Ironing was done without the use on an iron but by the flat hands of the women. Life was very primitive.
In Settefrati, at that time, before the law of God and man, it was mandatory for a father to give his son the tool of his trade to start his new family." Theodore's grandfather gave his son, Loreto, a hoe and told him to "go and make an honest living for yourself and your new family." All the landowners in Settefrati, like my father, cutivated their land year after year for centuries. They worked in the fields all day every day except for Sunday when they went to church. Every year one or two of the men would leave Settefrati and emigrate to the US for three to four years at a time. They would make some money then return home with with a few dollars. My father made eleven trips to America.
Almost every peasant owned a donkey. The merchants and the doctor owned horses and dairy cows.Four contadini families owned oxen to work the wheat and cornfields which were always a losing proposition. It either rained too little or too much at the wrong time, or it would hail and chop the fields to straw.
The fall was a very busy season for the contadini since it was the last harvest for the year. They had to harvest the grapes, make wine, dry figs in the sun to store for the winter, dry crushed tomatoes in the sun to make gravy for their pasta, bring in the ripe corn, but just the ears. These were piled up in a large room to be cleaned in the evening with the help of friends. We would sit and socialize as we worked.. Many storied were told and often the liberettos of operas. I remember I was only nine years old and as I walked with my donkey to do my chores I would sing different arias from Verdi, Puccini and Rossini. I am 89 years old and I can't remember what I had for supper last night, but I can remember singing those arias with my donkey. I can certainly remember them better than the "Hail Mary" that the nuns taught me.
We would call our friends to come help to "spagliare il rindina" which means to undress the corn. The corn was used to feed the animals while the trash was used to fill mattresses. They were the most comfortable mattresses ever.. Friends looked forward to these evenings. It was entertaining. Some brought instruments and often there was dancing.
The doctor in Settefrati had a great deal of power. There were hundreds of applications of honest, hard working people who wanted to go to America and they were denied because Dr. Cardone blocked their requests since he wanted them to work for him on his land, paying them just a few lire a day. But if any of the Settefratesi boys showed too much spirit or intelligence he would arrange for them to emigrate. to America.
The postmaster of Settefrati was hired by the doctor and he made certain that he didn't hire anyone from the community. He wanted to be able to censor all the mail that came into and went out of the community. He was determined to know everyone's affairs so that he could use the information to abuse the people.
My maternal grandfather lived next door tto the Doctor's Palazzo and they would meet each morning and though my grandfather disliked him intensely he would say, "Buon giorno Signor Docttore," and after he passed him in sotto voce my grandfather would say, "Al tuo culo!" (to your ass). Then one day the doctor called after my grandfather and in a strong voice the doctor responded, "Reciproco, Leopoldo." (to you too)