Under the Surface
It was a Saturday night and my sister and I were at my mom’s parents house. We had just finished watching Scorpion and I was sitting on the couch next to my grandpa, who I call Papa because he is Italian. I was going to interview my papa, Vince Fonte, but I was procrastinating. My sister, Chase, and my grandma, Nona, wanted to listen to my interview so they were sitting in lounge chairs. My Nona turned off the TV and told me to start my interview, so I could be done before my parents picked me up.
He was sitting really deep in the couch almost falling asleep, like he usually does. His feet were up on the coffee table and he looked very relaxed. He was sick, so he was coughing a lot. He was wearing blue jeans with a blue pull over jacket that has a zipper that goes part way down from the top. He always takes his shoes off but keeps his socks on. He still has a lot of grayish brownish hair because he Italian. I don’t think he’ll ever go bald. He has thick glasses that are square but round. He was smiling and he was happy to get some special attention. His smile isn’t very noticeable but it gives you a good and warm feeling inside.
I turned toward him, sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the couch. There was a dim light on, just enough to see the paper. I started off by asking an easy question, so he would get warmed up. “What was it like when you were little? What did you do?”
“I lived on a street with a lot of kids, and we usually played football in the street. I was around 13 or 14 then. ” He looked like he was picturing it in his head as he talked. He told me they played hide and seek, kick the can, and they would use firecrackers to shoot cans in the air. They would go to the park and play baseball and basketball. They also played a lot of card games, mostly canasta. He joined the YMCA club and went to the dances the put on. The YMCA then, sponsored clubs and held parties at different people's houses. They would have Halloween parties (costume parties) too and he would go with his friends and dress up.
My second question was, “How many brothers and sisters did you have and what do you remember most about them?” He said, “Well… I had two sisters and they were both older than me.” I could tell he liked answering my questions. (Deceased) Nunziatina Corsi, he just called her Tina, was 15 years older than him, and (living) Rina Zitella was 10 years older than him. Those are their married last names, before they were married it was Fonte. His strongest memory about them was that they were all great cooks, including his mom Elvira. They cooked homemade pasta, raviolis, and a lot of other Italian food. Rina was the one who took care of him mostly. Because they were so much older than him he said “It’s like I had three mothers!” He didn’t see Tina that much and doesn’t remember a lot about her because when they moved to the USA she stayed in Italy.
The next question I asked was, “If you served, what did you serve in, how long, and what were some memories about it?” He served in the army from 1959 to 1962 in Frankfurt, Germany. He said he was there when they built the Berlin Wall. Then my Nona added in that my mom went to Berlin after they took the wall down and she got a piece of it. One of his memories was that he went to Italy and got to visit his mom and family.
I was very interested in what he wanted to be when he grew up, so I asked him. He laughed at this and repeated my question to himself as if he was trying to remember. I knew he wasn’t laughing at me, but more like, “why would you want to know that?” He said that he wanted to be an engineer, and then I asked why. He thought for a second and said, “because I was really good at drafting, math, and building things.” I probably got my skills from him.
I knew some of the answer to the next question I was going to ask but I wanted him to tell me the whole story. I asked, “Where have you lived and how did you get here?” He replied with, “Umm, let’s see… first I lived in Riano, Italy then Chicago, Illinois then uhh… Oregon, and Venice, California, and then finally San Luis Obispo, California.” He said he got from Italy to USA on a boat. It was more like a crew ship, it was a big boat, and it had a lot of food he had never eaten before. He remembers eating a lot of hot dogs and jello.
My nona said, “Didn’t you sleep on bunks.”
Then my papa replied with, “I don’t remember, but I know we didn’t sleep on bunks.”
They started arguing back and forth about whether or not he slept on bunks. But, my papa obviously won because he was the one who actually on the boat. He was nine years old when he came here, in 1945, and he didn’t speak any English.
Then my nona added in, “That's the year I was born.” It took nine days on the boat to go from Naples, Italy to New York, New York. When he got to New York, they took a train to Chicago.
I was wondering if I was missing something. So I asked my nona and papa if I should ask another question.
My nona said, “you know, the one thing you didn’t ask is, what he ended up becoming.” So, my last question was, “What is your profession now?” He said he is a contractor. His first contract was before he was officially a contractor. He built a 12 apartment/condo complex. He also built Victoria Square, downtown. He has built office buildings, apartments, houses, and more. Overall he has built and sold 20-30 houses. They are living in my nona’s mom’s house right now that my papa remodeled. It’s funny because he built that house in the first place a long time ago and now he basically built it again.
My papa is a wonderful person that is so fun to be around, even when he is sick. He is funny and kind-hearted, and he can always make me laugh. I am glad I picked him to be the one I interviewed because I got to know more about him and his life. The last thing he said was very interesting, he said, “Did you know I was born an american citizen?” What?!? I am even more interested in his life now.