Monday, February 15, 2016


The hardest thing about coming to America for the poor peasants who emigrated here was of course the lack of money and the language barrier.

Grandma Frances was a port of haven for cousins and relatives as well as paisanos who came from her hometown in Italy to America to start a new life.

One such individual was Carmelina. Carmelina was now in America about 6 months becoming acclimated to everything but the language. Suddenly a job opportunity opened up! Carmelina would work for a friend of Grandmas, an Italian business man dealing with imports, and he needed someone to talk to customers who spoke Italian. Carmelona was trilled, she was getting an ideal job, Grandma was thrilled she got Carmelina out of the house! Everything was fine, Carmelina would work in Manhattan, in a fancy building and would commute everyday on the subway.

One problem.

Carmelina could not speak English, and this problem posed the problem. How would she know when to get off and find the stop? The subway station was across the street from the building she would work, and she could recognize the Italian name on the outside. What to do? Then lightening struck Grandma.

Giving Carmelina 16 pennies, one for each stop: when she put the last of the pennies in her pocket after each stop, she would be at her final stop! The reverse would occur when she came home. Carmelina excitedly put on her coat for her interview, and Grandma counted out 16 pennies, one for each stop, to Manhattan.

Carmelina went to the subway station during the rush hour, onto the crowded platform she went, among her fellow riders. The train pulls into the station, Carmelina holding her 16 pennies in her hand, gets carried into the car as the crowd jostles and squeezes for position, the doors close and Carmelina gets all 16 cents knocked out of her hand!

Carmelina would miss her appointed time, she would not return home at the expected time, Carmelina was lost in the vast subway system of New York City.

Somewhere there is a guardian angel for each of us. Sometimes I think there were more for Italian Americans who could not speak English. Carmelina went to a policeman and stated to cry while she explained her predicament. Perplexed, the cop could not make heads or tales of her story or the language she was using. Fortunately for Carmelina, standing nearby was an Italian speaking woman who overheard the one-sided conversation. She explained to the cop the problem and somehow, and I don’t remember how, got her in the right direction to get home.

Yes, she did get the job, grandma personally took her to her destination the next morning.


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