At Babe’s memorial service in Davenport, Iowa, Margie Kager – the eldest child of Violenza’s brother Silverio — gave me a copy of a letter she wrote to the Italian Bertozzis sharing her memories of Egisto. I think Bianca’s Vineyard readers will enjoy her recollections:
To our Bertozzi Family in Italy:
After reading the book “Bianca’s Vineyard” that Teresa Neumann wrote about you [the Italian Bertozzis] and my Nonno Egisto, I would like to let you know what I remember about him in America from the time I was born until his death.
I was born in 1940. My parents were Silverio and Ruth Bertozzi. I am Nonno’s first-born grandchild. Shortly after my father and mother were married, they moved into the house at 1044 Margaret St. in St. Paul, Minnesota — the same house Nonno and Armida lived in earlier. If I am correct, Dad and Mom did that to help take care of Nonno and my dad’s sister Violenza. Nonno passed on his loyalty to family to my father. I can remember many times when someone would ask my dad why Nonno lived with us, his reply was: “He is my father and it is my duty and honor, love, and care for him.”
My first memories started on Margart St. Nonno worked in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota at Drake Marble Company. He was a master at his art of carving. Every once in a while he would get a call from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Every time one of the doctors who worked there died, Nonno would travel by bus to Rochester to carve their name on a big marble wall. As I recall, he did that even afgter he retired from Drake Marble Company; until his hands would not work any more.
He was a very quiet, gentle man with very strong hands. His fingertips were very big and callused. He gave me piano lessons when I was very young. I don’t know how he could play so well, because his fingers were wider than the piano keys. He played a lot of songs from memory. Whenever our parents would go out for the evening, he would play the piano for us until we fell asleep. His favorite song was Rigoletto. It was beautiful, until he reached a certain spot where he would struggle to remember the next note. We would hear him say “ach!” and then he would start from the beginning again. We never knew if he ever finished it because we would inevitably fall asleep.
My sister, Diane, was born in 1943. My mother told me the first time Nonno saw her he called a Madonna. She had a lot of black hair. When Diane was about 3-years-old, her and I would run to the corner to meet Nonno when he got off the bus that brought him home from his job downtown. He would always have a big smile when he saw us. Sometimes, if he wasn’t busy at Drake, he would walk to a restaurant called Yarussos, which was about halfway between downtown and Margaret St. He played bocce ball in the back of the restaurant with his friends. When my father was done working for the day, he would pick up Nonno at Yarussos and bring him home.
My brother Kenneth Niles (named after Niles Giannachini – a man Nonno helped bring to America from Italy) was born in 1946. The house on Margaret St. was very small (2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom) so when Ken came along, my father made two more bedrooms in the attic for us: one for Diane and I, and one for Ken.
I remember Nonno eating peanut butter on toast every morning and dunking it in his coffee. Sometimes he would make some of us. He always cut it into 3 triangles so we could dunk it in our milk. If he was taking care of us at night when Mom and Dad were out, and we didn’t feel well, he would make us a drink of a hot milk with sugar and 1 tsp. of Brandy. It tasted good and helped us to sleep.
My brother Steven was born in 1953. We had outgrown the Margaret St. house so my father bought a big house outside St.Paul. Nonno moved there with us. At first, Dad would drive Diane, Ken and myself to school every morning and nonno would ride along and then Dad would drop him off at Drake Marble. Soon Nonno discovered that, because of his age, he could ride the bus free into downtown and back home. He would smile and get a happy laugh when he would tell people he was riding the bus for free.
Every Sunday, Mom would make a big dinner for after church. Mom, Dad, Diane, Ken, Steve, and myself would go to church – but never Nonno. At church we would sit with my mother’s father, Otto, and my mother’s two sisters. We would invite the three of them to our house for dinner afterwards, and family games. My Mother’s dad (being a very strict Lutheran) would often have very serious discussions with Nonno about religion. (Nonno read the Bible very many times, but would not believe all of it). Sometime they would get very angry with each other because neither one of them would change their minds about what they believed to be true. I can remember Nonno saying, “When God comes down to earth and tells me face-to-face that He is really God and the Bible is true, then I will believe it.” They always finished by saying, “Okay. That’s enought of that. Do you want to play a game of cribbage?” Egisto and Otto became very good friends.
Some Sundays, we would all go out to eat at a little Italian restaurant named Rocco’s instead of Mom cooking a big dinner. Nonno would always order “spaghetti with-a one meatball,” because the meatballs were so large. When his plate would come, he would measure the plate with his hands and then place his hands on his stomach and say, “I don’t-a think it’s going to fit-a” and we would all laugh.
As we got older, we children went to school closer to where we lived and Nonno didn’t work as much anymore. He would still ride the “free” bus to downtown and go to the big library there and read books all day. I got married in 1959 and Mom, Dad, Diane, Ken and Steve went to Italy for one-and-a-half years because of my Dad’s work with 3M.
Nonno always loved having little children around him. Diane and I supplied him with a “little one” every couple of years or so.
Nonno’s eyes started failing, so he couldn’t read or watch television any more and his health got worse. When he died at the age of 88, he left a big hole in all of our hearts.
With sincere affection!