Page 1

The Journal of Alfonso Renato Veneto Self-Proclaimed Last of the Pianistas

(Transcribed from the hand-written original)


To the Attention of: Director of Art Art Institute of Chicago Alfonso Renato Veneto died in his sleep on December 25th, 1959, his 88th birthday. My mother and I lived next door to him in our duplex on North Mohawk Street in Chicago for many years, since I was a young

boy.

My

mother

would

help

him

occasionally since his wife was long dead, and had what my mother called "a nervous condition." We became concerned when he did not come over for dinner as planned that day back in 1959, and as he had been having many health problems in those last weeks of his life. My mother discovered him in his bedroom and told me to call the ambulance, which

I

did,

although

the

driver

said

later he seemed to have died peacefully in his sleep. We tried to contact his only living relative, Anna Maria Laviolette (neĂŠ

Veneto)

who

was

staying

at

a

convalescent home on the other side of the city, but she had died a month before.


After the funeral at St. Alphonsus, my mother and I spent several weeks cleaning out

his

apartment.

We

discovered

many

unusual things in the basement, as well a journal

on

his

bedside

table.

After

donating most of his belongings to the church, local antique stores and the Field Museum,

my

mother

painstakingly

translated the sometimes difficult-to-read hand-written pages as I typed them out on my

Olivetti

typewriter.

We

kept

the

journal and those typewritten pages in a box along with a few boxes of some of his "artifacts." My mother died ten years afterwards, in August of 1969. Mr. Veneto was like a father to me, since my own father had died in the war, shortly after I was born. I have no family, and continue to live in the house and work at a print shop in downtown Chicago. I have set down Mr. Veneto's words in this printed version of his

journal

in

honor

of

him

(and

my

mother), in the hopes that one day his story

can

be

told

qualified than myself.

by

someone

more


Included with this book is a small box of Mr. Veneto's creations, along with a few of the photographs and other documents we found among his things after his death. I believe they are worth looking at by some experts. Anthony Kovacini Chicago, 1974

Note: there are some mistakes in this transcript that I have not had time to fix, though some of the misspellings are Mr. Veneto’s, and, as I said, his handwriting was sometimes hard to read.


Index of Journal Entries

June 23- My secret is that I make things out of pianos. June 24- After sailing to New York from Venice, I moved to Chicago. June 28- Maybe it's OK to tell a story in bits and pieces, like pieces of things you find on the floor. June 29- The sun would cross her face and the bird would make a nest on the Lord's head and would sing. July 4- I think that that kick in the head still makes things a jumble especially now as an old man. July 7- I wish that I did not lose all those notebooks in the fire. July 9- I think I will stop writing and lay on the couch for a while. July 10-That was the first time I had seen the inside of the piano July 12- I remember again the gondolas on the Lake


July 13- I dreamed about the time we almost saw Mr. Cody perform in Verona when I was a young man. July 18- Each one of those words is like a book in my mind July 21- Like me it's missing a few bits July 22- Then they began to form into different objects, like toys and masks, and then birds. July 23- I just couldn't help myself. Like a hungry dog dragging a bone. July 24- Sometimes I see visions. July 25- I left for America with Giovanni in 1892 July 27- The grass keeps growing and they cut it and it grows and they cut it and it grows and they cut it. July 28- Another dream last night. It was the steamship dream... Two dolphins had saddles on their backs, so Giovanni and I climbed up. July 31- I think maybe it was from eating that sausage too late. And a little too much wine.


Aug 1- Just the fact that I can write these words down in English shows how much I have learned. Aug 2- Pictures on the piano were strangers. Aug 3- Only one dream; my bird dream. Aug 4- I(f) you are the only one awake, it sometimes seems like the same morning, day after day Aug 5- I was not always an old man writing about being an old man. I was once a young man writing about being a young man. Aug 6- Did I see those buffalo out in Wyoming? Aug 7- It was so hot that it seemed that things were about to burst into flame. We young men all slept on the roof Aug 8-"This is the 20th century limited – the Dago train is over there." Sun, Aug 9-"Rough night?" the young man said. "Just like every night," I said. Mon, Aug 9- I remembered trips I took back then with the museum Aug 10- Karina never cared for my habit of picking things up off the street, so I would have to sneak them around until I could hide them in the basement


Aug 11- This pen from the goddamn Knights of Columbus? Aug 12- This pen remembers Robert Ripley from the ‘33 Fair. Aug 14- These lines of blue are beginning to look like water. Aug 15- That is the day I began to be two people. Aug 16- the body saves a little bit of all those years of work, a tiny slice of each ache and pain Aug 17- She said he died in his sleep the night before. Aug 18-"It is okay. God is Italian." Aug 19- My mother colored the day with her sewing and her cooking. Aug 20- he told her that God would understand and that maybe he could just spend summers in hell. Aug 21- Then the masks started to move like human faces and told stories Aug 22- I had a boiled egg and toast and some very strong coffee. Aug 23- The sun is shining: the birds are singing. I am not dead. Aug 25- This small moment is how it all began.


Aug 26- Went downstairs in the basement to look for some of things that I thought I had saved from the old days. Aug 27-"Wild, wicked and warlike deeds of man are struck down helpless and mute by the power of love." Aug 28- I was riding the Ferris Wheel in my dreams. Aug 29- The water was calm today. Sept 1- On Sunday I went to church, just to sit and listen to the music. Sept 2- I just walked around the Fairgrounds the rest of the day...I was transformed. Sept 3- That began a weekly ritual of trading with Walking Bear. Sept 4- My hand and I don't work the same Sept 5- I dreamt of animals last night. Sept 8- I guess I'm better at making things that killing them. Sept 14- I misplaced this book... It was in the refrigerator. Sept 15- I think that what makes me even more tired is the fact that the world is moving so fast. Sept 17- I will never forget that feeling of flying over the canyon in my mind.


Sept 19- I woke up confused again. Sept 20- Better today. Sept 23- the time our horse died outside of Prescott Sept 27- I prayed for spaceships. Sept 28- Then we crashed, right into Lake Michigan. Oct 3- The pictures sit on top of that old piano and maybe at night the people in them talk to each other. Oct 4- I'll go to sleep early. I don't know what else to do. Oct 5- It was the first time I had seen a bird so close up. Oct 8- "To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?" Oct 11- The wind over the Lake is so strong it blew the light of the moon out. Oct 18- I dreamed that my heart was beating very slowly Oct 19- How to Get On In The World Oct 21- Perhaps after a certain number of sins you can get a bulk rate on penance, like at the post office Oct 22- I dreamt of Karina again.


Oct 25- I am to(o) tired to make it makes sense Oct 27- These are young man's headaches. Oct 29-1893 was the page on my head, with a little blood stain near the 4th of July. Oct 30- I always find a funeral card in my pocket when I wear my overcoat. Oct 31- This face in the mirror carries all that time with me like a tarnished hide. Nov 1- I still remember that feeling, like a lost limb. Nov 2- I remember this water and wonder sometimes if it remembers me.

I

Nov 4-Nothing. Nov 5-Nothing Nov 6- I'm giving myself in a little credit for writing down anything at all. Nov 8- A very quiet Sunday. Nov 11- I'll never forget those open eyes. Nov 14- I have what I need. And memories make up the rest. Nov 15- Venice and girls and good summer food Nov 16- That pill sure helps.


Nov 19- Woke up with a terrible headache and I can't seem to see out of my right eye. Nov 20- PERSEVERANCE MIND AND BODY.

and

A

SOUND

Nov 21- My memory seems flat, like it doesn't extend much past my forehead. Nov 22morning.

Forgot

to

go

to

church

this

Nov 23- Just sat. Nov 24- While I was down there tripped over a box at the front of the stairs. Nov 26- Thanksgiving. I had completely forgotten. Nov 27- I just remember being a young man and that feeling of strength and promise and existence, especially coming to a new country. Nov 28- The moon was bright. I wonder what it is like there? Nov 29- Anyone who finds this and reads it will surely think I am crazy. Nov 30go through photographs and notes

that

box

of

Dec 1- My hand shakes a little too. Maybe it's just the cold.


Dec 2- I remember on the tour of Italy with Mr. Cody's show, I kept a journal in Italian Dec 3- That was how the Pianistas made it into the Field Museum in Chicago. Dec 4- I stayed up a little late thinking about those museum days Dec 5- Woke up with lamp on and a black ink stain on my shirt. Dec 6- The cut was pretty deep so it took me a while to stop the bleeding Dec 7- Did not do too much today. Dec 8- It was after I had brought in the artifacts from the Wild West tour Dec 9- It was in London where the people from the British Museum came to the show and were particularly interested in the Freak Show. Dec 10- Then I stopped telling that story when the headaches started. Dec 11- Ate something and watched TV. Dec 12- The foggy days remind me of being in that canoe that time just north of Seattle Dec 13-"Yes, I said. "I was at the Field Museum for about 40 years."


Dec 14- She said on Christmas Day it snowed that year, and she had a dream of snow of the angels sprinkling snow on my head. Dec 15- Baby Jesus fell on his head back in 1917. Dec 16- Images of memories seem to bubble up between the flashes. Dec 17- Don't get dressed today. My heart feels thick. Dec 18- I wish I had my journal about what happened then and when, but that one was lost in the fire. Dec 19- Went down to the basement and found the old trunk. Dec 20- At least I got to travel and do things when I was younger. Dec 21- We had everything wrong: wrong time of the year, wrong equipment, wrong maps and didn't know anything or anyone. Dec 22- Of course, she has been not quite right since the accident. Dec 23- I woke up and wondered what my life would have been like if I stayed there Dec 24- The biggest and longest lie has been the artifacts Dec 25- I am the Last of the Pianistas


Chicago, June 23, 1959 My name is Alfonso Renato Veneto and I was born in Italy. I am writing the story of what happened in my life to practice my English and my penmanship. I have done many things—at least enough to fill this small

book. I want to write down all the things before my 88th birthday because I can remember them now but I do not know if I can remember them forever. In my life I have wrote down many things but now they are lost or I cannot find them. I have some small notes in this box on my table and some pictures. I have drawn pictures too and I have some of them. It helps me remember when I draw things but I did not draw where the notes I have written so I will not remember where they are; perhaps one day someone will find this small book and will also find my other notes, but I cannot. I have looked. I have found many things in boxes, in bags; also many suitcases and other boxes; also in some large envelopes and some glass jars, some with lids and some without. I do not have not have enough lids

for

the

jars

and

they're

mostly

from

olives; I have many, many coffee cans: some are large. 2


I am 87 years old and I have been in America 63 years so my English is very good. My handwriting is getting better now that my broken hand is healed, thank the Lord.

You

cannot

do

anything

with

a

broken hand especially if you're an old man like me. I am writing all of these stories down because I have a secret to tell. Only my family knows the secret and a few of my friends and my cousin, and many of them are dead. I think my landlord knows. I live in Chicago in an old house not far from the Lake. It used to be a very nice place to live but it is not anymore.

My

neighbors

sometimes

steal

from

and

there's

dog

barks

me

a

that

almost all the time. One day I will kill that dog when my neighbors are away. My secret is that I make things out of pianos. I've done this for many years and many things are in my basement and in the house and up in the attic; some are buried in the backyard. I am the last of the Pianistas.

3


June 24, 1959 I was born in the Vittorio Veneto, Italy, which is in the north not in the south where the thugs are. This was in 1872: my mother told me as a young boy that was born on December 25, the Lord's birthday. I was born one month early. My mother said I was ready to come out early to meet my older brother Giuseppe and that I was her favorite Christmas present. My mother said many things. She said that I was conceived on the day Vesuvius erupted. My father did not remember. He said with six children a man cannot remember everything. We lived in a small village outside of town and moved to some land at the end of the Viale Galieo Galilei. Just after I was born my father

and

his

brothers

built

a

small

house for us there and my father added rooms after each of my brothers and sister was born. We were not far from the Lake and near the road that led to Venice and it was a very nice place to grow up as a child. I had four brothers and one sister: my older brother Giuseppe and my three younger brothers Antonio, Giovanni, and

4


Damiano. My sister Anna Maria was born seven years after Damiano. She is the only one of them still alive. My cousin Diviana is still alive but she is 85 years old and in a home for old people on the other side of the city and mostly talks to herself and drives the nurses crazy. I have been in this country for 63 years, as I have said. After sailing to New York from Venice, I moved to Chicago. Maybe I should explain. My brother knew a man who went to Chicago from Venice. He worked there as a carpenter and occasionally in the gondola shops patching the old boats and bringing them by cart to the canal. There was some work in Chicago in the stockyards and on the waterfront. There were

some

Veneto

and

men

who

some

moved

families

there as

from

well.

I

remember hearing about Chicago from a letter one of them sent to my father, with a picture of the Lake and it looked just like our Lake—Lago di Santa Croce, just to the

north

where

we

children. 5

would

swim

as


Too tired to write anymore today. My hand also hurts more lately. And my glasses are scratched. I guess I am just old. Being young was much better.

June 28, 1959 I'm feeling better after a few days rest my breathing is much better and my hands feel well enough to write. I found some pictures from those old days; a card from the Fair and Mr. Cody’s show; also one of Karina

from

our

honeymoon

in

San

Francisco. He’s been gone over four years now. She looks so young that was so long ago I was still young and strong. When the gangsters

ran

Chicago

that's

why

my

Italian is no good anymore when we tried not to sound like gangsters. Now there are no

Italians

left

in

the

neighborhood

except Mrs. Kovacini and her son. Maybe there are others but I don't walk to the market anymore so I don't know I remember the fruit seller Antonio and that girl who used to clean the park downtown.

6


All of this is a jumble like my room. Boxes and boxes and I don't know what is in them anymore. There is one box down stairs with the word “Save� on it. Maybe I should

look

inside

I

will

look

inside

tomorrow. I look back at what I have written and it doesn't make any sense. When I sit in my chair looking out the window I see all the pictures on my mind and hear all the stories and see all the faces one after another

but

when

the

pen

touches

the

paper it stops. Maybe some wine will help or coffee. Maybe it's OK to tell a story in bits and pieces, like pieces of things you find on the floor. I have many pieces of things on this floor what they are I do not know. Mrs. Kowalski used to clean this house for me but she died in 1947. Where did these things come from? There are many piano parts on the floor still. I thought I used them up long ago, but they come up like weeds or mushrooms. I've seen so many in my life; from my workshop in the basement of the museum 7


and my shed on E. Randolph St. Of course I remember the many times I saw piano in pieces on the floor of the shop on via Vespucci where I worked as a boy.

June 29, 1959 I am up early again because I cannot sleep. How can a person be so tired and yet cannot sleep? It is a mystery. I used to walk to the church in the morning when I couldn't sleep. But the church is closed since the fire. Sometimes I go in the back door where the hoodlums have broken the lock. It has been a long time since I have done that but I remember sitting in the back pew and looking at the portrait of the Madonna. It was so great before the city woke up. The sun would cross her face and the bird would make a nest on the Lord's head and would sing. I loved these mornings. Until I was found out those were my best mornings since Karina passed.

8


July 4, 1959 It is the 4th of July and very hot here in the city even this late at night. There were a few shootings as normal as the hoodlums shoot off their guns to celebrate. They always forget that a bullet always has to come down. The sounds of gunfire always reminds me of Mr. Cody. All of these shows we used to do. Especially on the Fourth of July -- it was there I met him here in Chicago back during the Fair while I was working with Giovanni

on

the

Anthropology

Building

laying the plaster. So much plaster. All those

Italians

working

on

all

those

buildings. Mr. Cody said we all looked like Indians

accept

for

all

those

thick

mustaches. Most of the men were too proud but

I

didn't

like

to

have

a

mustache

anyway. He needed men to be in the show because it was a big show that day and he ran out of Indians. He asked us if we could ride a horse and two or three of us said yes even though I had only drove our carriage

back

at

our

home

in

Italy.

Giovanni said I would lose my job on the work site if I left but Mr. Cody said he 9


would talk to my boss so I would not get in any trouble. I

don't

remember

much

from

that

day

except the pretty young girl putting on my costume behind the tent and the bald barber shaving me and cutting my cheek. That is why I have always had that small scar and the people in the market would call me “Scarface” when Mr. Capone was getting in all that trouble later with his band of hoodlums. I remember Mr. Cody coming behind the tents to tell us “Italian Indians” what to do. We were supposed to fall

off

the

horses

after

we

heard

gunshots but I heard some fireworks over by the Lake and fell off too early and the horse kicked me in the head. I woke up later when it was already dark. Some of the Indian women had put me on a bed of skin and were putting cold water and some foul-smelling poltice (sic) on my head. Mr. Cody stopped by to see if I was alright and gave me a drink of his whisky I was still in my costume and the smoke was very thick and the spit smelled of buffalo meat fat. And the fireworks were going off over the Lake. The Indian women 10


were

chanting

understand

something.

but

one

I

could

could speak

not some

English and called me “brother�. It was that week that I thought I was an Indian and

kept

that

backstage

with

costume the

on

women

and

and

stayed

children.

Giovanni came on Sunday and brought me to the boarding house and then over to the church. He said the priest could help me wash

the

dark

magic

from

the

filthy

heathens even though he was German. (We would go to St. Alphonsus just outside the city if we could borrow a horse in those days when we did not have one and before all

of

the

Alphonsus

automobiles.)

Maria

Di

It

was

St.

Ligouri

that

my

mother named me after hoping I would be a painter,

musician,

and

saint

(and

pious)

like him. I'm sure I was a disappointment as a piano tuner and carpenter. At least my sister Maria became a painter. And Giuseppe became a very pious priest until he ran off with that pretty young nun from Venice. I think that that kick in the head still makes things a jumble especially now as an old man. I don't remember some things at 11


all but some things I remember well and some things I think are happening still. Karina would help me when she was alive. She understood me so well but now she's gone. Today in the paper they said they now have

49

stars

on

the

US

flag

because

Alaska is now a state. I think there were only 44 stars on the flag when I arrived in Chicago but I can't be sure. I cannot be sure of anything, not even what I have had for lunch yesterday. It was probably Genoa because I always have a Genoa sandwich if I can get good Genoa. But you can’t always find good Genoa anymore since that butcher was shot. When I came to Chicago with Giovanni it was

hard

work

every

day

building

the

exhibits with the other Italians who came to the Fair to find work. That was a crazy time and most of it I cannot believe. Like piloting the gondolas on the Lake. It was so much like Venice when we would go there in the summer. Maybe I didn't even do it but I do have a photograph in the box in the person looks like me. But all the Italians back then looked the same. 12


I am remembering many things that I have not thought about it many years. Even though my hand is beginning to hurt I should write them down before they never return.

Maybe

it's

the

fireworks

and

gunfire outside. Every loud pop seems to crack open something in my head like the crack of a whip. Like those sled dogs in Alaska. When the gold was discovered in 1896, Antonio was sure he could be a rich man in America. When he arrived in Chicago after that very bad voyage from Italy he thought that the gold was on the other side of the Lake in Canada. We tried to talk him out of it but he was always full of schemes. When he found out it was 3500 miles to Alaska he said we could be there in three days. It took three months. Giovanni stayed and worked

for

a

construction

company

in

Chicago I forget the name but they were to build a new skyscraper and also to work on the St. Alphonsus. That was in 1898 I believe. It still seems like a dream even writing these numbers down; maybe it was 1899. 13


I am too tired to write about that trip with

Antonio.

We

didn't

find

gold

of

course. All that time to get there jumping on the train, then Antonio breaking his leg. If it were not for that Han-Kootchin family we would have died for sure. People are kind sometimes especially to those who seem to be confused and doing things that seem crazy. But I am here so I did not die on that trip or on the many others. I am not dead just tired. I will tell the story tomorrow. Fireworks are too loud and that dog is barking again at every bang.

July 7, 1959 I

wish

that

I

did

not

lose

all

those

notebooks in the fire. I know I have some in

boxes

downstairs--

the

ones

that

survived in that metal box-- but I have not seen them since Mrs. Kovacini helped me go through them well around. I don't remember when. After Karina died I think. Before

the

fire

there

were

so

many

notebooks. Sketches and notes and diaries from all those times. Some pages did not get completely burned. I put them in those 14


yellow envelopes I found on the street that time. I did my best then to mark them all with the date and place and some other notes numbers or letters. I can see those pages in my mind and I can see those notebooks before they burn and I can see the places. I bought those notebooks before they were filled with notes before I went to the places where I wrote down those notes. But I don't have those notes. I have to remember because there is no one else who knows what happened. Oh my hand is asleep again. There is so much to remember; how do I begin? 63 years in America; 24 in Italy 31,935 days have passed. I have been able to write since I was seven years old. And wrote poems for my mother. She taught me how to write and she wrote so beautifully. All those letters she wrote to me from Italy and the smell of her perfume on each page. My father would write sometimes though not often. Mostly about who had died

and

what

my

brothers

were

doing.

Sometimes I miss being a boy in Italy then sometimes I can't remember being anyone but this old man in this old house. 15


I was young man once and I did have many adventures. The young people on the street and at the market only see this old face but these same eyes have seen a lot. I remember

looking

at

my

eyes

in

the

reflection of crystals in the Pavilion at the Fair. I was 24 years old and my hair was still very black, my mustache thick. Smell of that new caramel popcorn and the horses and other animals. The Fairground still smelled a little of the swamp that was there before, and the smell of fires of the Indians in Mr. Cody's camp. The light was so bright with the white plaster and even at night with the new electric lights. I remember the midway and those dancing girls, the Chinamen, and the Turks. Those farm families in their clean white shirts and straw hats all the black bowler hats and umbrellas. If I could live one day over and over it would be that opening day at the Fair. It was like 50 days in one and seem to last forever. When I do remember it it does last forever. I wish that they had the new instant cameras then for all the pictures in my head. The view of the manufactures 16


building from the gondola behind the tent and on the field of Mr. Cody show the view of the planes from the top of the Ferris wheel those giant pigs and the big beers times that pretty girl I met under the arch of the Italian Pavilion who looked like

my

neighbor's

daughter;

that

old

Indian with the scar on his cheek who gave me the eagle feather; seeing the architects get their picture taken; those singers in the Great Hall. I forget it all now but it was maybe the greatest of day of my life.

July 9, 1959 It is Monday, 6:00 am. These days I have not been sleeping well. It is already hot – another damn Chicago heat wave. The trashman is making noise outside, still cleaning up the neighborhood from the 4th of July. They never clean it up when you want them to but early on a Monday morning they think is a good time. And my back hurts again.

17


I found some photographs earlier in the some of the boxes. One of Karina in a frame; one of Giovanni and me in front of St. Alphonsus. There were many more which I thought were lost, though most have been chewed on by the mice and some are hard to see

because

of

the

mildew

from

the

basement. But they will help me remember. I am just returned from the kitchen for a cup of coffee. The clock in the kitchen says it is 10:30. And the calendar says it is Thursday, not Monday. I think I will stop writing and lay on the couch for a while.

July 10, 1959 I forget things now. But some things I don't forget. Like when I was a boy in Italy my father would bring us boys into his workshop and let us look at his tools until. He was a carpenter by trade but could

also

lay

stone

(which

he

did

occasionally with his brothers, who were masons.) He worked as a blacksmith now and then when there was no carpentry work. He 18


used to find things and bring them home with the wagon so much so that mother would joke that the horse would try to run past anything they saw on the side of the road. Once he brought home an old piano he found

outside

of

Camigliano

or

some

village on the road back from Venice. It had been in the rain after falling off a cart and abandoned. His friend from the Army (Paulo, I think from Padua) came and worked on it for many days and got it to work. I helped him and I learned many things in one week. That was the first time I had seen the inside of the piano and from then on I wanted to play and also learn to build them or at least repair them. Later I would travel to Padua and work with him for a few days until he suddenly died. He was a kind man but his assistant who took over the business was a cruel fat man name Roberto. I did not stay that long after that. I left in the night I remember learning to play the piano by practicing

the

few

things

that

my

grandfather taught us. My mother refused to have the piano brought into the house but loved to hear it played out in the 19


workshop. My grandfather could play very well

and

sing.

It

was

a

dream

of

my

fathers to be an opera singer but he was a better carpenter than a singer, something his father would remind him of often. My grandfather Attilio had been a performer in Venice and as far away as Rome. He performed with small comedia troops and once was in an extra in a production of Rigoletto where he sang backstage as well. After he died we packed up his things, when Nonni came to live with us and found hundreds of masks and props from the many productions he had been in, most of them stolen. We sold many in Venice the time my father was without work for so long but we had many in the house and workshop. We made

our

own

papier-mâchÊ

for

Carnival

Mother

mixed

with for

us

some and

helped us paint. God I have not thought of those days for many years. Now I can see the long-nosed carnival mask that was in the room where the four of us slept. Its eyes seemed to follow us and Father said it was to keep an eye on us so we would behave. I wonder where it is now? The house was sold after 20


my father died and I heard burnt down. I miss those days especially those summer days when the family would pack up the wagon and ride to Lago Centro Cadre to stay with Uncle Ricardo. Those days really did

seem

to

last

forever

and

Aunt

Valentina cooking was so good and she was so beautiful and always young. My heart is pounding again. The doctor said not to worry too much it happens with the old. “Thank you for the help,� I told him. Sonofabitch. It's dark outside suddenly and I forgot to eat. Did I fall asleep? I must have because I thought I wrote for hours and there are only four pages from today. That Zanni mask from the Sons of Italy seems to be laughing at me more than usual. I should take that down. Maybe tomorrow.

July 12, 1959 It is Sunday morning and it's cool down a little. That

fan

of

mine

goes

out

and

starts up on its own during the night I think but still a little breeze is better 21


than no breeze especially in Chicago in the summer. The best breeze was off the Lake in Balogna at my uncles with the mountains in the distance. Chicago is so flat but at least it has a Lake. I remember again the gondolas on the Lake here during the Fair I paddled one for a while when not working with the cleanup crew

or

performing

with

Mr.

Cody.

Giovanni did too and many of the other men who came from Vienna to work at the Fair. It really did look like Venice in those months. They usually picked the man with the biggest mustaches and told us to sing in Italian while we took the people around the Lake. Sometimes you would hear a concertina play. I remember seeing

July 13, 1959 Must have fallen asleep. I woke up on the couch again. The dreams were very real last night. I dreamed about the time we almost saw Mr. Cody perform in Verona when I was a young man. It was one of my father's biggest disappointments. He had 22


heard about the show when he went to Venice and had seen the poster in the square. He had a book about him from a friend who had been to America and even though he could not read the English he looked at it almost every day. He had heard

that

Mr. Cody

had

been

a

brave

soldier in the American Civil War and reminded him of his own army days for independence from Austria before he met Mother. He thought because he was a parttime blacksmith with Uncle Dante he could help shoe Mr. Cody's horses for the show if need be. The show tour had begun in Naples and moved on to Rome and was to be performed in Verona at the amphitheater on April 15 which was at least a three day journey by carriage and we only had the one horse Gina to pull us. Of course there were eight of us and Anna Maria was only seven or eight. Father said he had two army amici who lived along the way who we could stay with and rest Gina for the night. We gathered together blankets and Mother prepared the food. Father said we could not bring everything we did not need and we 23


might need to walk part of the way to lighten the load for Gina. It was almost 180 km. He fixed up the carriage brought an extra wheel and some tools and said we would leave first thing in the morning. We were all so excited we couldn't sleep especially little Damiano who tied some chicken feathers to his head and howled like an Indian for most of the night until we hit him with shoes until he kept quiet. Anna Maria woke up crying saying she had a

dream

that

the

Indians

attacked

our

carriage on the way. We had traveled to uncle Ricardo's every summer that I can remember but we never traveled to a city like Verona although we always wanted to. I was 18 years old and was ready to go on an adventure after hearing about Father's war stories and Giuseppe's story of his trip to Rome. I thought maybe I could run away with the famous “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West”. That's what I dreamed about that night. The next morning we woke up before the sun and packed the last few things into the carriage. We were so excited we sang the few American songs we knew “Yankee 24


Doodle

Dandy�

and

some

others

I

can't

remember. Father sang some songs from the opera and mother sang “Ave Maria�. After many miles when the sun was up past the trees we stopped for breakfast and water Gina at the stream near the side of the road. We took turns walking along the carriage. Gina was a good horse but old and eight people and a carriage is a heavy load. Once Antonio stepped in a hole so we had to stop

and

put

him

into

the

carriage. I

remember things would fall out of the back of the carriage and once a wheel got loose so we stopped as Father and Giuseppe got out to fix it. It seemed we traveled forever on that road to Verona. In those days of course the road were dirt and usually in bad condition. It had rained that spring making it even worse. At one point

we

came

upon

a

bridge

that

had

fallen in and we went around and got lost. Giovanni saw a farmhouse and Father went in to ask where the road to Verona was. We were many kilometers away from it, the farmer said, but pointed the way and his

25


wife gave us some boiled eggs. It was just after we left that it started to rain. It rained for at least two days. When we finally found the road it was more like a river and as we walked along the carriage our shoes were filled with mud. The roof of the carriage leaked and even though my father tried to fix it with the piece of canvas the food and mother got wet. We finally arrived at Father's army friend and he let us in out of the rain. His house was so small that he only had one spare room where Father, Mother and Anna Maria slept. We boys slept out in the barn in a stable next to Gina. His friend had never married. Alberto

was

his

name. He

and

Father stayed up very late and we heard loud laughing from the barn then singing then what must have been fighting. When we woke up the next day it had stopped raining. Father was in the kitchen and there were many empty bottles of wine. Mother made a small breakfast for us and we all got ready for the rest of the trip to Verona. Father was very quiet as he always was after drinking so we were all quiet as well although Anna Maria asked 26


where Alberto was. He finally staggered out

as

we

pulled

out

of

the

yard

disheveled and with a black eye. He smiled and waved as some chickens ran around behind him. The rain had made the road very bad and we had to help push the carriage through some very large holes. It was very slow going but we all wanted to see the show so we all helped. No one complained and by lunchtime father had begun to feel better and began talking about all the things we’d seen. He even began singing and joking with us about how we would all make good Indian scouts and how we were all living just like the nomad tribes in America. Even mother began to smile, although she was quiet and cross all morning. It was at San Boniface that a pack of dogs jumped out on the road and spooked Gina who began to gallop with everyone on the carriage

except

for

Giuseppe

and

me.

Father tried to keep the carriage on the road but I watched as it careened over into a ditch. Damiano was thrown off and the carriage

was

slumped

with

one

wheel

broken. Father was quiet again for a long 27


time. Then mother told us all to pick up everything

that

had

fallen

off

the

carriage after we helped Damiano over to a tree and put his foot up on the log. The other boys and I helped Father get along sapling nearby to prop up the carriage as he got the spare wheel to replace the broken

one.

I

remember

there

was

something wrong with the axle so it took very long to fix and it was very hot that day. We finally got it fixed but it was nearly dark. Father told us we were going to continue and that we were only 20 or 30 km away. We ate and then father held Gina and pulled the carriage up a path toward the road as we helped push from behind. We managed to get it up the side of the ditch though we almost toppled at one point. Back on the road we headed for Verona. We drove

through

the

night

through

the

morning just stopping for water for Gina and to go to the toilet. When we arrived in the late afternoon the arena was empty except for the cleanup crew. We had missed it by one day.

28


July 18, 1959 I haven't thought about that story for years. To his credit my father kept a brave

face.

But

I

know

inside

he

was

crushed and would not talk about it for years after that. He didn't know at the time that it would eventually see the show in 1906 when he would return to Italy. He could never have imagined that his son would be one of the performers. His poster signed by Mr. Cody would be one of his most prized possessions when he died a few years later. Those years with Mr. Cody seem like a dream now. Looking out the window at all the cars and supermarkets the rock 'n roll music blaring and jet planes flying from the airport it's hard to believe a time like that actually existed and even more hard to believe that I was actually there. I wish I had some of those photographs to help me remember. I have just this old clipping from that newspaper in Rome and my face is torn in half. But I was there. I can still smell the horses and the old musty costumes. I still have that scar on my leg from that stray bullet in Milan. 29


When I came back with the show it was one of my father’s proudest moments. I was 34 years old and have been in America for 13 years. Many things I had seen and done by then a whole lifetime of things in the short time: the Fair, Mr. Cody’s show, the museum,

San

Hollywood,

Francisco,

the

trip

that

to

trip

Alaska

to with

Antonio, meeting Karina, staying with the Indian

family

people

from

in

New

Montana, York

meeting

when

the

the

train

broke down. And of course all those pianos. Those pianos. Each one of those words is like a book in my mind I don't know if I can write about it all. This old man is just tired thinking about it all. But also excited again.

July 21, 1959 Spend some time this morning plunking on the old Story and Clark piano of mine. I've had it since 1928, when it was already a few years old. Like me it's missing a few bits and is a little worse for the wear. Sometimes it doesn't sound all that good 30


and

creeks

a

little.

It

has

a

lot

of

scratches and cracks but is mostly good. It has been a good companion since Karina died. I used to say that a man's life was like the keys of a piano – the ones in the middle are the best strong clear and most used. I'll now I have 87 of them under my belt and it turns out to be true. I can barely remember my young life in Italy, and

the

past

few

years

seem

to

blur

together. But those years in the middle were so full. Full of adventure, full of new faces, full of stories. In fact, for me it was two lives being lived at the same time. That's a lot of life to remember.

July 22 I had another dream last night. It must have

been

from

playing

the

piano

yesterday. It was a blur of memory has dreams sometimes are. At some point I saw myself working on a piano in my father’s shed with Paulo, then at his shop in Padua, then Paulo began to swell and became a 31


large balloon but the balloon had the face of cruel Roberto. Then it became a large ball

that

rolled

around

the

village

crushing houses until I sharpened the end of the piano key with my knife and poked its great eye until it burst. I must have woken up then and heard the sound of a delivery truck backfiring. But I drifted back to sleep and continued to dream. In the second dream I was in the shop on Villa Puccini, working for old Gilberto. We were fixing an old piano when it began to float up in the air. I could see below as if I were the piano, then all of a sudden it came crashing down, but when it did the parts bounced up in the air and filled the workshop. Then they began to form into different objects, like toys and masks, and then birds. Then in a loud whoosh, the roof flew off the workshop and the birds flew off. I woke up to the sound of pigeons on the fire escape. It was Gilberto who taught me most of what I know about pianos, about art, and life. He had been another of my father's Army buddies in the war with Austria, and was

originally

from 32

Verona.

I

began


working with him a few weeks after I returned from Padua (it took me a week to return from Padua walking much of the way and getting rides from two delivery carriages) I was 13 or 14 and Father said I should

learn

a

trade.

Gilberto

was

a

cabinetmaker, but was known for puppet making for some of the traveling shows. He also made masks for Carnival and repaired pianos.

Since

very

few

people

in

our

village own pianos, he did not have very much business; but whenever a piano needed tuning they always called Gilberto. His shop was full of every kind of tool, and stacked with wood of every kind. In the back was where we would keep spare parts and it was my job to organize wire and hardware. A piano had been taking out of a house that had caught on fire, and the owners had called Gilberto to repair it. It was beyond repair so the owner gave it to Gilberto. We loaded it onto the carriage with great difficulty and brought it back to the workshop. It was my job to take it apart and I still remember the smell of charred cabinet of that old square piano. I also remember the sound of the strings as I loosen them with a wrench. I almost lost 33


a hand when the wooden frame snapped and I fell to the floor my heart pounding. Gilberto ran in to see if I was alright and

laughed

at

my

soot-covered

face,

streaked with sweat, my heart about to burst, the light streaming down through the cracks in the workshop walls. When I worked in his shop I often forgot I had a family, even though we lived just three streets away and I walked. He would tell me stories about the war, about his boyhood in Bologna, his trips to Florence to see the great work of Michelangelo, how he studied with a great master there for one summer and learned to build frames and carve wood and stone. When we did not have work (or often even when we did) he would teach me how to use the many tools in his shop and name them. Also I learned the different types of wood and

their

use.

He

would

let

me

put

together things from the leftover bits and that is when I first used piano parts to make a small puppet. It's legs moved and it would dance if you tapped it on the table. He would play his concertina while I made a dance show and sometimes a short scene 34


from a play. Those were such happy times and in my mind I pretended that he was my father and I was only one not one of six. He let me make more of the puppets and put them in the front of his shop for visitors to see. I made small, hinged boxes, two from the parts of that burned piano, with a kind of Jack-in-the-Box figure. Then when Carnival was coming I decided to make a little mask for myself with dark ebony eyes and many ivory teeth. When I wore it out to show him he was talking with

a

man

from

Venice.

The

man

was

asking Gilberto something when he turned and jumped a little at the side of me. He laughed at himself and asked my name and said he knew my father. He asked how much I would sell the mask for and I told him that it was not for sale, that it was for Carnival. The man pulled out many coins from his satchel and asked of this was enough

to

make

me

looked

at

Gilberto

change who

my

nodded,

mind.

I

and

I

nodded. I don't remember how much it was but I remember that it was more than I had ever held. Gilberto put the mask in a wooden box with some straw and the man 35


smiled, took the box and dropped the coins on the table. When he left Gilberto smiled at me took one of the coins and left the rest. He said I could keep making things in the back room as long as my other work was finished. He said save your money and some day you can travel around the world. It was then that I first thought about leaving Veneto and going to Rome, even perhaps to America. It was a great day and I was bursting with pride. I put the money in

a

small

box

and

remember

almost

dropping it in the stream on the way home. I arrived home for dinner and didn't say a thing to my family, not even Giovanni. It was my secret.

July 23 My back hurts again this morning. I went into the basement to look through some of the boxes and found the old trunk. It was covered with boxes, some boards, and an old Indian blanket, and when I tried to pry it off I must have turned around and almost fell. It took me a while to get up the stairs and back into my chair. 36


My back hasn't been the same since moving that

piano

into

the

basement

of

the

museum. That must've been over 30 years ago, 1927 I think. Back then I thought I could do anything even at 55 years old. So stupid. I'm paying for it now. But at the time

I

had

no

choice.

That

basement

workshop was hidden away for years but only because I knew the building so well and could keep things out of sight. When old Pete the museum janitor was alive, he would help me, in exchange for a little whiskey. But after he died I had to do the heavy lifting alone. And that day I hurt my back the service elevator was broken and I should have waited. But those days when I saw an old piano on the street, I just couldn't help myself. Like a hungry dog dragging a bone. Now it's all in my bones; every piece of wood I carved every steel frame every flight of stairs every box carried quickly down some alley. Cannot write with the pain shooting down my leg and up my arm. At least the ice feels good. It's supposed to be 90 again today. I'll write more later. Now I just need to lie down. 37


July 24 Woke up with another very bad headache. The doctor says not to worry but I do. Since that day long ago when I got kicked by the horse in Mr. Cody show, I have gotten these headaches. Usually they last only a few days, sometimes longer, always behind

the

right

eye.

Sometimes

I

see

light, sometimes sounds. Sometimes I see visions. I have not told anyone this, not even Karina. Objects floating, sometimes images from something in the ancient past. That is where many of the sculptures come from.

I

wrote

many

of

them

down,

and

sketched, but those notes are lost unless they are in the basement. I have to go back to sleep, I can't keep my eyes open. At least it is cooler with the rain last night.

July 25 The Lord is kind. My headache is gone. When the pain is gone you remember how beautiful life is. Everything is beautiful 38


and

sweet

and

precious.

When

the

pain

splits your head in two and your head is full of hot sand and you are surrounded by gray clouds you just want it to end. I feel so good! I will go for a walk to the market. Oh the joy!! The sky was clear blue and city was washed clean by the rain. The market was not too busy and I talked with Mr. Ceppetelli, the butcher. He told me to come by the Sons of Italy hall sometime, and I said I just might. I brought back some sausages and fresh bread and some tomatoes. On the walk back everyone seemed to be smiling. It's such a different world sometime. I saw some kids playing stick ball in the street, just like the old days. It reminded me of being a kid again back in Italy. We were supposed to go to school, which we did mostly, but if any of us got work we worked, because times then we're so hard. I worked

for

Gilberto

until

I

left

for

America with Giovanni in 1892 (we were like the new Columbus, we would always say) I gave the money I made from Gilberto working

in

his

shop 39

but

save

all

the


money from the masks and puppets that I made that Gilberto would sell to people in Venice, mostly and my father did not know this until I told him in a letter many years later -- a letter he never read because he had died before it arrived. But those days, many of them anyway, were happy

days.

After

our

trip

to

Verona,

father was sometimes drinking more, but mostly he smiled and laughed and would even play with the five of us and taught us things in the workshop. Giuseppe went off to study for the priesthood, like every good firstborn son, so I was free to do as I pleased, as long as I brought in some money. Antonio would help father with his carpentry and some ironwork, and Giovanni and Damiano would do the work around the house. Anna Maria would help mother with the chores and cooking, and took drawing lessons with our neighbor, who had been an artist in Florence for many years. We were a happy family and loved each other very much. Some others were not so lucky. Some fathers had no work or drink too much, or were cruel. Some mothers were lazy or ran off. And people then also died often – 40


disease, accidents, or just from working too hard. We were lucky, and we all knew it, so we all pitched in and helped each other. Leaving was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I knew it was time to leave. I can still see my mother's face.

July 27, 1959 Looking at what I just wrote yesterday – that was 70 years ago. I was 18 or 19 years old. It doesn't seem possible. I have read in a science book that we change all of

ourselves

those

days

every

as

a

seven

boy

in

years. Italy

I

Since have

changed my selves 10 times over. And this world has changed so much. Italy still had a king then. No telephone or airplane. Electricity Tesla.

was

Then

still

all

new

the

invented

wars,

then

by the

Fascists, the mob in Chicago, automobiles and the bomb. Radio and TV. Every day a newspaper full of stories; people die in the

neighborhood,

some

babies

are

born

pushed in strollers up the sidewalks then throw

a

ball

then

off

to

college

or

working on the road crew. All the trees 41


keep getting bigger until they get chopped down or get hit by lightning like the one outside this window. The grass keeps growing and they cut it and it grows and they cut it and it grows and they cut it. Clouds fill the sky and move

away

over

and

over

again.

The

buildings get taller, old ones torn down, stores

come

and

go

and

the

cars

keep

driving down the street changing color and style and the people get younger and then older than younger again. I need to lie down again.

July 28, 1959 Another

dream

last

night.

It

was

the

steamship dream. When Giovanni and I came over it took seven days, and the storm only lasted for two days, but in the dream the journey seemed to take many months, and the rain and wind spun the ship around like a top. The same characters were in the dream, as they were on the voyage: the pretty girls from Rome that we never saw 42


again; the businessman from New York City who called the thugs to drag us back down to

steerage;

the

artist

returning

to

America after his tour of Italy; the tall captain with the thick mustache; Frenchmen who we fought with; the old woman from Genoa and her four daughters, and many others. In the dream steerage kept filling with people until there was no room to move. Then many of them began to turn into animals until only Giovanni and I were left in human form. A bird landed on my shoulder and followed me up on deck. At sunset it turned into a beautiful woman but after a kiss she turned back into a bird and flew away. I looked into the clouds to follow her and it began to rain. The rain continued until the ship filled with water and refloated to the bottom of the ocean, where we saw all kinds of a large fish. Two dolphins had saddles on their backs, so Giovanni and I climbed up. We rode them for what seemed like days until they lept out of the water onto land and

turned

into

horses.

We

rode

very

quickly, city after city passing us by, sun 43


until we rode over the service of Lake Michigan until they turned into gondolas. We paddled to shore which we knew was Chicago, but we saw the domes of St. Mark's then

the

winged

Lion.

As

much

as

we

paddled we never seemed to get closer, and the city stepped further and further away, until all we could see was the horizon. We seem to drift in the dark for days but could see the stars above us until the bright lights came from behind us. On the horizon the land came closer and it was New York. We were back on the ship, and heading into the harbor. I have had this dream or something like it about four or five times a year, for the past 60 years. It's like a movie that is always playing at the cinema. Also much of it is like our actual voyage, over from Italy, except for the Dolphins with saddles which turn into horses. Our voyage over is also imprinted on my mind,

but

also

seems

like

a

movie

of

someone else's life because it is so hard to believe it happened to me so long ago.

44


The ship was the SS Fulda, a ship from Germany,

and

one

of

the

first

with

electric lights. Of course the lights didn't work so well in steerage, so we were often in the dark. He would often hear babies crying and the sound of a woman slapping the hand or face of a man trying to take advantage of the darkness. It was a miracle we were on the ship at all.

I

had

been

saving

money

from

Gilberto's shop work, but I didn't know how I would ever be able to get onto a ship. But Giovanni had met a girl (on the way to a job in some country village outside or on the way back from Genova) she was beautiful (I think her name was Guiseppa but

he

always

called

her

Ginni.)

I

remember her last name was Pieruccini and her father had gone to America to find work. She was going to join him. Along with her mother and brother and sister, who were all still living on the family farm. He had gotten work on a farm outside of Chicago and was one of the lucky ones who also had work in the stockyard. He saved enough money to send the family to live with him. 45


Of course Giovanni was heartbroken. At 18 (and an insufferable romantic) he vowed to follow her to America. We all smiled and nodded, my father chuckling and shaking his head. For months the two would meet on Sunday afternoons after church. Giovanni taking Gina our horse along with some bread my mother had baked and would do a little work for Ginny's mother repairing things around the house or farm. This went on for nearly a year. He was so determined that he had mother help him with his writing and also asked his former teacher to help him learn English. He had that book

by

his

bedside

table

and

read

it

every night, over and over by candlelight. He would often talk in his sleep with English words and phrases like "How much for a train ticket? "And my favorite "I am from Italy – please excuse me. I think I may have learned English from hearing him all night. He would keep us all up until someone threw a shoe at him, usually Giuseppe. (We all the five of us slept in one long room at the time in two beds on either side.

46


Even

though

mother

would

gently

tell

Giovanni that he was too young and he should wait for another girl who would stay

there

in

Italy,

he

was

very

determined. I remember the day he told me his plan. We were fixing the old fence in back of the barn. I was asking him about Ginny while moving a new rail into place. He dropped his end and it landed on his foot. As he cursed everything under the sun, it all began to spill out. He was going to save his money to get a steamship ticket and enough money to live in America. He knew two men in the next village over who were going to Chicago. They were a little older than us (same age as Giuseppe) and worked on a farm there. They said there was work there in the stockyards and also they had heard about the World's Columbian Exposition that was happening the next year. Friends of theirs had gone to work as laborers and masons for the building the Fairgrounds and they were looking for more because they were very far behind schedule. I had heard about this Fair in Chicago from Gilberto. His friend from 47


Florence

was

to

work

on

the

Italian

Pavilion Giovanni was as earnest as I have ever seen him. He had fallen in love many times before, and would follow them around writing

letters

and

poems,

and

talked

about running away to Rome or Venice. This time he said he was serious. And I believed him. It was then I decided that the time had come: fate had spoken. I was going to America.

July 31, 1959 Another

dream

about

the

voyage

to

America. This one was a quiet dream – no flying

Dolphins.

memories

sleeping

Mostly

it

down

in

was

cloudy

steerage.

I

would wake up no now and then this old self still here in this old body, here in Chicago. Then I would drift back to sleep in my bed in steerage on the Fulda. It was almost as if I was waking then dreaming of myself

now,

but

of

course

that

isn't

possible. But it seemed so real. I think 48


maybe it was from eating that sausage too late. And a little too much wine. I

remember

shipboard.

the

That

people

young

we

met

on

mother

with

the

three children who seem too old to be hers. Those seven brothers headed for New York. The old man and his accordion his wife

dancing

with

their

grandson.

The

artist, the writer, and all those young farmers headed for Chicago. Giovanni's two friends Attilio and Quintilla. And the two seamstresses Maria and Magenta. Magenta. I have not thought of her in a very long time. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was seven years older than I was with that short dark hair and stylish clothes she made herself. I always thought that if I was not so shy and awkward I could have spoken to her more than that once. But at least she would always smile at me when she caught me looking over at her. I have never seen a smile like that until the day I met Karina. I remember years after that I saw her walking down State Street, all dressed up 49


and

walking

with

an

American-looking

businessman. At the time I was on the opposite side of the street unloading a carriage, and I believe I had just stepped in horse dung, so I thought it was wise not to say hello. Oh I am tired after that fitful night. I think I will go to sleep now. I hope I wake up in steerage.

August 1 67 years ago today I arrived in America. That summer day so long ago was just the beginning of a long stream of adventures. I do not remember every day of those years between then and now but somewhere in the old head they are still rattling around. Just the fact that I can write these words down in English shows how much I have learned. When I got off the boat I could maybe say seven or eight things in English, mostly from hearing Giovanni say them in his sleep.

50


I have not written about how we made it to the ship in the first place; or all those days aboard the ship; the storm; Giovanni's argument with Ginny's mother and those crazy first hours getting off the boat the hot days in New York and the long journey to Chicago. Too much. My head hurts and my hand. Perhaps tomorrow.

Sunday, August 2 I woke up this morning in a pool of sweat. I did not remember where I was. I had a dream I could only speak Italian. No one could understand me and when I looked into the mirror I spoke in Italian and I could not understand myself. Then I woke up. I saw this book by my bed and began to read. The handwriting did not look familiar. I did not remember any of the stories. I did not remember writing them. I called out for Karina but she was not there

51


I walked around the house but it did not look familiar. Pictures on the piano were strangers. I saw the picture of the Virgin above the TV and began to pray, but I forgot the words. I didn't even remember what prayer was. I remember now. I looked at the name on TIME Magazine and some envelopes on the table. Then I read the first page of this little book. I saw my name and said it aloud. "This is who I am", I said

Monday, August 3 Finally

a

good

night

sleep.

Only

one

dream; my bird dream. Since I was a boy I have had this dream. I think

it

began

after

I

saw

a

rabbit

hopping behind our barn. I must have been six or seven. I remember watching it hop around and I thought "What would it be like to be a rabbit?" At that moment a Hawk swooped down grabbed the rabbit by 52


the neck and flew off. As it flew in circles above me I began to see through its

eyes,

circling

I

felt

around,

myself and

in

looking

its down

body, and

seeing myself below. I remember my head felt very large and then very small and the sun very bright. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder and I quickly came back into my body. It was Mother’s hand. She had been calling my name for several minutes she said and came out to find me staring up at the clouds. I was going to tell her what had happened but I could not explain. And I never did.

August 4 Woke up hungry this morning at 6:30 so made myself two soft-boiled eggs. Still mostly

quiet

around

the

neighborhood

except for the delivery trucks and the sound of the train. When we were growing up I was always the first one up. On early mornings, i(f) you are the only one awake, it sometimes seems like the same morning, day after day or from year to year. I 53


think it has to do with the sun. I would always remember when my mother said one morning when she found me awake early looking at the sunrise that it was the same son Jesus saw the morning of the Resurrection. thinking

about

I

lost that

a

lot

when

I

of

sleep

was

seven.

Thank you mother. It was the same with the moon. One of those sleepless nights waiting for the sun to rise, I was staring at the full moon and realized that it had come out every night for the last hundred million years. The dinosaurs saw that moon. Then I thought, "Why can't I be a little boy who just thinks about what is for breakfast? " It is hot again this morning already, and the fan is making a loud clacking sound like the ticking of a clock. Now that I am awake I cannot believe I slept through that: but without it I am afraid I would melt. It ticks away like a reminder that my life is passing, moment by moment. I turn it off for a while, but the air turns thick with heat, so I turn it back on. Now with the tick-tick-tick my memory skips from year to year with every tick: now I 54


am a boy in Italy: now I am back in Chicago; now a young man in Alaska; then in

Mr.

Cody’s

show

in

Wyoming,

then

Venice; then the World's Fair; then the ship; then a boy; then an old man. Now my heart beats in time with the sound of the fast tick-tick-tick. Now I remember I have to take my medicine. It took a little while to calm myself down. I just had to lie down on the couch for rest. It is still hot but I had to turn off that damn fan. A wet, cold towel with ice was better, until the ice melted. When I slept I dreamed about hot places. On the beach on the Lake at uncle Ricardo’s; lying in my bed in steerage, with a fever; that time when we had to walk the dusty trail in Arizona; in the kitchen in the hall of the

Sons

apartment

of with

liberty; no

and

that

furniture

but

hot a

mattress when Karina and I were first married. Karina That seems like 1000 years ago. And now I am here. And she is gone.

55


August 5 I slept very late this morning. I am an old man and I realize that I don't have to get up out of bed if I do not want to. And I

do

not

have

anyone

to

wake

up

to.

Getting old is very hard. It is hard to get around;

the

everything remember

aches difficult:

things.

But

and

pains

often that

I is

make cannot

not

the

hardest part. The hardest part is that no one cares if you get out of bed or not. The world has other things to do. I look out through the window, a window I have looked out of every morning for the last 45 years ( 45Ă—365 = 16,425 ) and see a young man unloading the truck. I remember that I was a young man once. I was not always an old man writing about being an old man. I was once a young man writing about being a young man. I wish I had those old notebooks Again. Of course, most of those early notebooks were in Italian. If I saw them today I probably could not even read them, it has been so long since I read Italian. Maybe it would come back to me. 56


Sometimes when you read your own words years after you find yourself back at that time and place. Who knows, maybe I would turn into a young immigrant boy again. I remember after Giovanni and I arrived in New York, we didn't have any idea where Chicago was. And after Senora Pieruccini caught him and Ginny up on deck amongst the lifeboats and forebade her to see him again. Giovanni had no interest in going to Chicago anyway. His two farmer friends (especially Attilio) and I were able to talk him

into

going,

broken-hearted

mess

afterwards.

"Love

grandfather

used

protects

you,

but

he

was

for is

to

a a

say.

sometimes

it

a

mopey

long

time

sword,"

my

"Sometimes

it

injures

you.

Mostly it makes you stronger. But pray it doesn't kill you." On the ship we found out that most of the passengers in

steerage were staying

in

New York but a few were going out to Chicago. We first had to go through the long ordeal of inspection when we arrived. (I had heard stories of others who arrived and it sounded like a Fairytale. But I do not remember it that way.) 57


We were worried because of the way we came to be on the ship (we had bought these tickets from the man who pretended to be a ticket agent in Genoa, but when we arrived

Our

names

were

not

on

the

passenger list. We only were able to sneak aboard when that handrail collapsed during a fight between two men on the deck. (Did I already write about that story?) We

did

not

see

the

Statue

of

Liberty

coming into New York – there were too many people rushing to get up on deck. I think I may have seen the back of her head. We were headed off the ship onto another ship in the harbor; a barge. It took us to Ellis Stories

Island, of

circulated

after

a

very

what

would

through

the

long

wait.

happen

next

crowd

of

us

steerage passengers and there was much crying and some were still sick from the voyage. We held tight to our papers and our few belongings. Once we were landed at Ellis Island (although we did not know where we were at the time) we were herded off this barge like cattle into a very 58


large room of thousands of others in long lines. We were told to have our papers ready and separated into lines for men and women

for

the

medical

examination.

Children were crying and women were too, worried

they

would

never

see

their

husbands again; it was a mad house and few of us spoke any English, so there was much confusion. Stories of those who were taken away

because

of

sickness

were

in

everyone's mind as we got closer to the front of the line. I remember they would look us over and if they saw any problem immediately would take a piece of white chalk and place a mark on the person's clothes. I did not know it at the time but we thought that perhaps being marked by a piece

of

chalk

as

you

entered

a

new

country was not a good sign. One older man was marked with a big “X� on the front of his coat, and was dragged away screaming. It was the symbol for madness. As Giovanni and I got to the front of the line we stood with Nichola, the Shoemaker, who we had met on board. He was also a poet, and he would read to some of us at night as we drank some of the wine we 59


would steal from the dining room up on deck. He was our father's age, and was traveling to America alone. He had big plans

to

become

a

famous

writer

or

playwright, and he also painted. He told us of his plans during the hours we spent in line. He had saved some money, but had not much else except a gold watch, which his father had given him before he died. He held

onto

it

as

a

remembrance

of

his

father, even in the years he had no money. He thought he might need it one day; if he was ever in a difficult situation he could not get out. He is the only reason that Giovanni and I did not get sent back to Italy that day. When we got to the head of the line, the officer asked us for our papers

and

the

name

of

our

ship.

I

remember that everything got quiet in my head as I handed him my papers. As he read them over I stared at his small blue eyes and large red nose, surrounded by that large square head. Our names were not on the passenger list, he said. I looked at Giovanni and wondered if his head was noisy as mine was. I tried to think of something to say but nothing came out. Time seemed to stand still and there was a 60


kind of clicking sound in my ears, like crickets or the creaking of the door. Then I heard the sound of someone speaking in English

"The

captain

said

to

give

you

this." It was Nichola nodding as he handed the gold watch to the agent. The agent looked at him, then at us then back at him and then nodded himself, placing the watch in his breast pocket. He motioned for the two of us to go to the left and for Nicola to go to the right. We never even shook his

hand,

it

happened

so

fast.

I

just

remember him smiling and tipping his hat, and

then

he

vanished

into

the

sea

of

people. It was an act of kindness I have never forgotten. And one (that) began our lives in the new world.

August 6 This morning I read what I had written yesterday. I have not thought about that story for about 20 years. I used to tell it almost every day in those first few years and it still gives me a little chill: and I 61


might be an old sentimental fool but I still get a tear in my eyes thinking of it. What ever happened to Nicola, I wonder? What poems did he write? Where are those poems? And where is that watch? Where are the shoes that he made? Where did that leather come from? Were those cows out west? Or were they Buffalo? Did I see those buffalo out in Wyoming? Or did I see those

cows

here

in

the

stockyards

of

Chicago? Did he ever see the Wild West show when it was in New York? Did he ever see me his shoes? Why do I think of these things?

August 7, 1959 Muggy again. Of course not as hot as those first days when we arrived in New York. It was so very long ago and I used to remember more of the details of those few days (four or five?) that we spent trying to adjust to the strange new world. It was the first week in August, 1892.

62


After the experience at the immigration office we felt lucky to just have arrived in the first place. It had been a mad house and stories were being told of those who were

sent

medical

home,

subjected

examinations

and

to

grotesque

even

a

story

about immigrants who were kept in some hidden jail and then used for dissections. The fact that there was an outbreak of cholera in Europe seemed to put everyone in the panic state. There were bonfires on the street with clothes and rags and the smoke was everywhere. It was already hot, maybe

100°.

We

were

lucky

to

have

somewhere to stay in New York while we waited to find a train to Chicago. We were so young, we knew nothing. If it were not for the Angelino family we would never have

known

what

to

do,

where

to

go,

anything. They lived in a tenement on Delaney Street and had been in America for 10 years. I believe they were aunt and uncle to Quintilla or one of those others that came over on the ship They had four children, including a new born baby and there were eight or nine of us staying with them. It was so hot that it seemed that

things

were

about 63

to

burst

into


flame. We young men all slept on the roof, and it was always hot from the day until almost just before we woke up with the sun. But it was a magical view of the city and we could see for miles. All the filth, the

stench,

horse

manure,

garbage

and

things were far away. At home we lived in a quiet village and everyone knew each other. Here we knew no one.

Even

strangers,

the

other

especially

the

Italians

were

Sicilians,

who

were always looking for a fight on the street. Also there were no trees or fields. The parks were full of gangs or people sleeping in makeshift tents. There were stories of murders and also beatings by the

police

immigrants

who (and

were just

ruthless less

to

than

a

generation of having arrived themselves.) Still, the food markets were lively: street musicians

played,

children

played

and

people from all over – the Poles and Jews, Germans and Irish would come together in temporary

moments

of

the subject of food.

64

peacefulness

over


I remember seeing newspapers with big headlines

I

couldn't

understand,

and

immigrants shouting and carrying signs I couldn't read. I paid close attention when I heard the word "Chicago" The

Angelinos

(was

it

Antonia

and

Camellia?) Could speak what seemed like a lot of English, so at night they would teach us a few sentences, which we wrote down,

and

would

read

some

of

the

newspaper. It was usually a horror story of

train

wrecks,

Indian

rampages

and

murders by recently arrived Italians. I remember

also

stories

of

steamship

sinkings, immigrant beatings and the story of

a

little

girl

who

had

killed

her

parents with an ax. If this was that the New World we had discovered, we knew that we had better look out for ourselves. I only found out later that New York City was not America, or maybe it was more like a

concentrated,

fermented

version

of

America. But for us, coming from our little village of

stone

streets

and

slow

talking

shopkeepers, and NY was a spectacle, full

65


of murder, music, madness and mayhem. And we were ready for an adventure.

August 8, 1957 I

caught

myself

this

morning

writing

today's date. I began writing "1892" after reading over what I wrote about yesterday. I remember writing that date back then, because I kept a diary of those first few weeks. It was mostly an Italian but I would also write down phrases that I would hear, to practice my English. It was in a red covered ledger that I had found on the street and tore out the pages that were written on. There have been many more like that – all gone, or as far as I know. I know that journal is gone because it flew out of my hands on the train ride to Chicago. In New York, with the help of Mr. and Mrs. Angelino, we found what train would take us to Chicago, Giovanni never saw Ginny again: her mother made sure of that after what happened on the ship. Then right

before

we

left, 66

Giovanni’s

two


friends Quintilla and Attilio went out to celebrate.

Attillio

came

back

the

next

morning all bloody, saying that they had been drinking with some others who led them down an alley and we're jumped by a couple

of

friends

thugs

of

who

their

might

drinking

have

been

companions.

Atillio got away and he thought Quintilla was still behind him. We never saw him again. We packed up our a few things and walked to the train station. Mrs. Angelino had packed us a lunch and their kids had given each of us a little card saying goodbye. At the station there were so many people we could barely see the numbers of the trains I almost got on our train but was pushed off by the large man taking the tickets. I remember

he

said

"This

is

the

20th

century limited – the Dago train is over there." I did not know what any of it meant but I knew I should probably not try to get on that train. They packed us into the "Dago" train like sardines, and it smelled about like that as well. 67


The

train

was

called

the

Pennsylvania

Limited (that's why I was confused in New York)

on

board

there

was

first-class,

second-class, third class and separate cars for immigrants. It was likes steerage but at least there were windows. The journey took two days because of an engine problem and some debris left on the track. It seemed like weeks, as everything was new to us. This new world was so large and everything strange. We traveled with other

immigrants,

mostly

Swedes.

They

mostly stuck with their own but when we would mix there was stripes of blond hair and black hair. There were many arguments and many hands of black haired men were slapped by blond-haired women. Language mixed over the sound of the train whistle and, clack, clack, clack: scenery passed and people slept when they could. Even if I could sleep I would not have. I was too excited and slightly frightened. There was much to see and more lay ahead. It is later in the evening and I cannot sleep.

Dark

out

but

still

loud.

These

Saturday nights are no fun for this old man. I hear their laughter, the sound of 68


speeding

cars,

and

occasional

gunshots,

music. The music I don't mind. The sound from the blues club around the corner; it is jazz tonight; mostly a piano, soft base, brushes on drums. I used to play more; now the piano collects mostly photographs.

Back

when

dust and old

Giovanni

and

I

arrived in Chicago, we stayed in the South Side in the Negro section. The only one we could afford. I remember learning ragtime from some of those men in a club there. We called its "Alla Zoppa" that beat was so strange, it took a very long time to learn it. I remember those hot nights with wine and warm homemade beer and that music and laughing and dancing. I remember thinking "This is the sound of America." It was.

Sunday, August 9, 1959 I fell asleep on the couch again as I listen to the music from down the street. Maybe it was 3 AM when I woke up and walked over to the bedroom, I don't know. I made it over in the dark-my feet and 69


hands

know

this

house

very

well.

My

father went blind at the end of his life but was still strong so could get around the old house pretty well. Even out to the yard. He couldn't build in the workshop anymore

but

grandchildren,

still telling

helped

with

the

them

stories

and

singing them songs. My mother sent me letters

back

then

and

even

sent

a

photograph of Father and all those kids, grandchildren

and

others

from

the

neighborhood. She said it reminded him of when we were all young, living at home, those five boys. "Five little Indians" he used to call us. I thought Karina and I might have a few, maybe not five. But of course she had the trouble. "God's will," the priest said. I went to church this morning. The walk there was quite quiet as it was loud last night. I saw the refugees from the bars limping home. One saw me walking slowly, with

my

own

limp.

"Rough

night?"

the

young man said. "Just like every night," I said. I sat in the back row. I never want to talk to anyone, now that all my friends have 70


died. I just like to listen to the mass and look at the light streaming through the stained

glass.

The

scene

of

John

the

Baptist that Giovanni helped to put in. He and those other workers held that window into place over 60 years ago. I can still remember he almost fell off the scaffold waving down at me. He's gone – they're all gone. No one knows who put in that window but me. Sometimes that image of the Holy Spirit above the altar fills with so much light I think back to that time as a child. I always imagined the dove is set fire by the sun, bursts through the window shining down on all the old and afflicted in beams of blinding light. Then the Dove comes to rest on my shoulder. The light fills the room and the Dove becomes my mother’s hand. It always brings a tear to my eye, as it did

this

morning

in

church.

I

looked

around and was all alone, mass had ended and the young organist had her hand on my shoulder, asking if I was alright. I swear to God when I looked up and saw her face 71


with the light behind her I thought it was Karina. "You played so beautifully I was overcome," I told her, which was mostly true. I went over to the window of St. Alphonsus praying to our Lady of Perpetual help and said a little prayer. For some reason I could not make myself go home, so I walked to the Lake. It has been a while and it was

longer

then

I

remember.

After

12

blocks I was there. I sat on the bench and stared out at the water. I was very hungry and luckily there was a sausage vendor on the

sidewalk.

My

doctor

says

no

more

sausage and I told him "No more sausage, no more doctor." I made a deal with him. I said if he let me have sausage and bacon once in a while I promised not to die in his office. It was delicious; I can still taste a little on my mustache. While I was sitting there thinking about the first time I saw that Lake, and all the times I had seen it since then, a young man stopped by and sat down. His two young children were playing on the beach. We got to talking when my cane slipped off the

72


end of the bench and he picked it up for me. "It's not easy getting old," I said. He said he was in town visiting his wife's family, that his own father had passed away the year before. I was out of practice talking with people; he asked me if I had lived here for a while. "Quite some time, "I told him. What was it like back then? "He asked. So I told him.

Monday (sic) August 9, 1959 Slept late. All that talking must have worn me out. It took me a while to go to bed last night, all those stories stirred up again in my brain. I wished I'd had one of those tape recorders rolling because it was all flowing out. The young man's name was Saul or Paul – something Jewish. He would keep asking questions and I would keep answering him. I didn't make anything up – like the old days –although I guess sometimes I made things sound a little more exciting than they were. In my mind 73


these stories are more exciting than maybe they were at the time. Actually your life is pretty boring most of the time, when you think of it. But a slow day working at the Wild West was still a pretty good day. I told Saul or Paul all about our trip here to Chicago and some about being a boy in Italy; the ship over and my work with Gilberto. I was lucky I had been writing all this down for the past few weeks. It was much easier to remember. He asked me many questions about the time and history and all that, but I didn't read the paper all that much then, first because it was hard then to read English, then when I could read well I was always busy working on my "projects". Some things I remember, like seeing Pres. Cleveland at the Fair. Big

events

like

when

the

Mayor

got

murdered on the last day of the Fair, when all the skyscrapers went up over the city. The Titanic, the Wall Street Crash and things like that. When it happens when you are alive, sometimes right in front of you, you don't know what is happening. Afterwards he read about it and it is history, but then it is just one of many 74


things that happen. A war can sometimes mean less to you than what you're having for lunch. Now I can't remember all that I told him. I think I told him about working at the Fair. Of course I did. I told him about my job at the Field Museum and my work with all those Indian artifacts that were on display at the Fair. I remembered trips I took back then with the museum, to get artifacts and take pictures of Indians. I hadn't thought about that in years, and all the trips kind of blur into one. I think it was back in 1900, but I think there were some before and after. I remember the first time I saw the Pacific Ocean and those trips in Washington and into Canada with the bird masks as big as a man is tall. It's funny to me that all of the pictures of those things and those days are black and white, or even sepia tone and ragged edge. But we who lived through it saw

it

all

in

color.

And

for

a

boy

basically just off the boat, it was like a crazy dream come true. As I talk to Saul or Paul, I remembered that I had lived at a time in the city 75


when many things had happened. When I arrived it was the first time the “L� was built (I also found out it was the first year Ellis Island was used, which we didn't know what the time, but explains the chaos when we arrived.) There

was

the

Pullman

strike

and

all

those other strikes and riots with workers of the train. They reversed the Chicago River

at

the

time,

1900

and

we

were

convinced Americans were all crazy. I told him about coming home from the Wild West tour of Europe in October of 1906 only to miss

the

only

Chicago

World

Series

in

history. I remember my friends at the time, especially those bastards White Sox fans, tormenting me for years for missing the

whole

Queen

of

season.

Somehow

seeing

England,

climbing

the

the

Eiffel

Tower, and riding alongside Buffalo Bill didn't compare to seeing Mordecai Brown getting his ass kicked. It's sometime after 9 PM and the lights went out a little while ago. It was one of those

bad

thunderstorms

and

Mrs.

Kovacini's son stopped by to see if I was alright. He said there was a power line 76


down and did I need anything. No I didn't need anything. When he got here I was staring into a candle I finally found. That drawer in the kitchen is so full it is a miracle I can ever find anything. Because I don't smoke anymore (another one of my doctor's orders) I

don't

have

any

more

matches

laying

around. But I found a book of matches with three left and it took two to light this candle. The matchbooks said "ELECT DALY� on

it.

I

remember

meeting

that

little

prick on the South Side when he ran with that Irish gang. He's the mayor now and some say he's a criminal. Well, at least he's Catholic, so he's our criminal. There is barely enough light to write, and I only

have

my

scratched

up

a

pair

of

glasses. I should really go to sleep but I can't. Ever since talking to that young fellow I started to remember things again. This candle reminds me of reading when I was a boy. When I couldn't sleep I would go to the kitchen and cut a piece of cheese and bread and light a candle to read. It was the only quiet time I can remember, with so many children, and of course boys. 77


I remember reading the story of Pinocchio in the newspaper my father got from a friend in Rome. There were two or three stories and I read them over and over when I couldn't sleep. The man who wrote it was a friend of Gilberto, or so he told me. When I read it the Geppetto character always reminded me of Gilberto, especially the workshop and his puppets. I sometimes thought maybe I was a wooden puppet that became

a

boy,

so

different

from

my

brothers. When I saw the illustrations in the book later on I was convinced that it was me, especially with the nose. I also have a very good imagination and made up stories,

especially

when

I

got

into

trouble. My father would tell me my nose would grow like Pinocchio's, and to lie was a sin. He never beat us, which was very good, since he was a strong man, but he would get so red in the face when he got angry, like mother’s tomato sauce. I could only make him laugh once in a while with one of my stories, but when he did he became a different person, his face soft and

his

eyes

almost

in

tears.

I

loved

seeing that face. Now I have his face, but not

the

soft

face 78

of

laughter.

But


sometimes, I see that face in the mirror. Usually

it

is

Bob

Hope

or

the

Three

Stooges. Or sometimes it is a memory from when I was young, and I could not contain the joy of being young in this new world.

August 10, 1959 The power is back on this morning. Now the clocks are all set at different times. I collected clocks for a while so there are many of them, mostly old but some of them new ones that look like the sun. I found most of them on the street and tried to fix them up. Karina never cared for my habit of picking things up off the street, so I would have to sneak them around until I could hide them in the basement of the first apartment, or in the shed when we married over near the Lake. Now that she has passed on, it doesn't matter. That is why this house looks like it does. I also have many calendars on the walls that I have

never

scattered

taken

down,

everywhere.

I

the

years

are

still

have

the

calendars of the year we were married, 1912 when we used to write down what 79


happened each week in the news or where we

went.

Wednesday.

Our

wedding

It

was

day

was

on

February

a

14th,

Valentine's Day, and we went down to the town hall with Giovanni and Lilly with us. I remember it was a sunny day and warm enough to take off my jacket by the Lake. I was 39 years old and she was 29, and so beautiful. We had a long honeymoon and when we got back from San Francisco we decided to keep going living up in Canada for

three

weeks

then

a

week

in

the

Catskills. She was so easy going and so was I, at the time. We could do anything and did. When we finally settled back home in Chicago in that small apartment we talked about

all

the

things

we

might

do

the

places we would go. The museum would send me to places and she could go with me, if I paid her way. We were so happy. It was that April that we heard the news that the Titanic sank. That was a sad day. Worse, 17 years later on our anniversary was the Valentine's Day massacre. After that Karina changed. She was sad, and then got sick. Not like when she lost the baby, but frail and quiet. She got very pale 80


later on but was no longer sad like she was before. Just smooth white skin and that beautiful face, like an angel, like a Botticelli.

She

almost

glowed

in

the

candlelight in those first electric lights in the second apartment I still see her in front of the mirror, surrounded with those glowing round lights like the marquee at the movie theater. I remember when she died. The bedroom filled with light. I had to shield my eyes. All those candles, and the sun coming in from the Lake. It was like the Assumption. She always seemed to touch lightly on the earth and then seemed to float away up to heaven. That is how I remember it. That is how I will always remember it. Bright, glowing light. Then darkness.

81


August 11, 1959. Some of the pag e s‌ My pen is broken and I have to use this ballpoint. It is thick and dull but it seems to come out on the page like my thoughts. I will have to fix my writing pen today. I hate this pen. It is after dinner and I cannot think of one thing to write about. I should not have written about Karina yesterday. It always makes me sad. How am I ever going to fill this book? Especially with this pen? This pen from the goddamn Knights of Columbus? When I was younger I could not work if I had on the wrong pair of shoes and if I lost

a

favorite

hat

(which

I

did

many

times) it would sometimes like me years to get over it. This is the story of a crazy person. I am throwing this pen out the window. It is very late and I should go to sleep. And this pain is not much better. But I 82


cannot sleep. It is too late to play the piano, but that is what I would like to do. I touch the keys very lightly here in the dim light and it barely mak e s

a sound

Aug 12, 1959. I still cannot fix my pen and I am out of my black ink. I went down in the basement and looked through my box of pens (the small

one

with

the

best

pens)

and

I

brought this one up from the 1933 World’s Fair. I thought it was going to be black ink. Most of the others do not work well anymore. You would think out of 500 pens one or two would work. How can I expect and old pen to work when this 87 year old brain cannot most of the time? This blue ink maybe is a good change but I cannot get used to how it feels in my hand. This pen. My father had a favorite hammer for almost all of his life, because it molded to the shape of his hand he said, and also remembered everything he ever built.

83


This pen remembers Robert Ripley from the ‘33 Fair. I had this pen in my coat pocket and took it out to write down my address Museum

for

him.

when

We

he

met

came

at to

the

Field

visit

the

collection. I showed him the masks then, and the other artifacts. I told him I was an expert in the tribal collection he had come to see. The Pianistas. It was wrong, I know, but things in your life happen sometimes and you cannot take them

back.

He

was

looking

for

a

new

exhibit to display at the Fair, part of his "Odditorium", which he put together for the first time here in Chicago. Karina was three years gone and times were so hard. The museum kept me on there out of charity, since I had worked there for 40 years, but they paid me almost nothing. I was a good guide when I was younger, but I was beginning to forget things and so wandered around the museum and sometimes found myself in front of a display of dinosaur bones or shark teeth and not know how I got there. I spent much 84


of my time in the basement storage where I had made myself a little studio. No one knew where it was, or what I was doing, except for old Irish Pete, until he died. I set up a little area near the storage in the

West

basement,

not

far

from

the

elevator, away from my studio. I remember trying to decide among the artifacts that had

been

on

display

up

in

the

North

American wing when the museum opened, just after the ‘93 Fair. They had put most of the objects in storage after one of their

renovations.

I

think

in

1924.

I

pulled out about six masks, a few weapons and some jewelry. I brought out the wavy big fan and some of the games. And of course the pianolarians. I tried to get one of

the

totems

from

the

bottom

of

the

warehouse, but it was much too heavy. I layed them all out along with some of the wall text that were stored along with the photographs. When I brought Mr. Ripley down he was like a man possessed. He had seen a couple of masks in the Museum of Natural History in New York, the ones we brought on the 1918 trip and exchanged.

85


But he had never seen so many in one place. He bought them all. Paid me cash. I don't remember how much but I remember that that roll of bills lasted a very long time in that tobacco tin in the kitchen. It

took

us

upstairs.

I

a

while

got

that

to

get

young

the

cart

Hungarian

docent to help us with the hand truck. I was sweaty the whole time as we brought it past the back door guard. But we made it. Believe it or not.

August 14, 1959. Still cannot find any black ink for my writing pen, which is still broken, and the others are dried up or just don't feel right in my hand, which also hurts. Doctor says I may have used my hands too much and have arthritis. That young man has never picked up a hammer, and his are the hands of a woman. Use my hands too much? What else was the son of a carpenter to do? But these hands have done many things 86


and have paid the price. I remember after we

arrived

in

Chicago

I

would

keep

a

little notebook, in those days with a quill and ink. Or was it a fountain pen? I can't remember. But I was telling one of the other docents at the museum, about it in my broken English, and that it made my hand hurt. He said that I was suffering from author–itis and for years I thought that is what it was. Or maybe he made a joke. I don't know. These lines of blue are beginning to look like water. At least that is how I dreamed about it last night. I was writing and writing

and

the

blue

words

turn

into

waves and became all the water I have seen – Lake Michigan, the ocean on the journey over

from

Italy,

the

Lake

at

uncle

Ricardo's, the coast of Washington on the trip to Alaska when we saw those killer whales, and back to Lake Michigan then splashing back on the page. I woke up and had

to

go

to

the

toilet.

I

made

it,

thankfully, but at my age that is not always the case.

87


When we arrived here in Chicago, Giovanni and I stayed on the South Side, with eight or ten other Italian men in a kind of boardinghouse. We had no idea what to do but mostly followed the others who had been

here

for

a

few

months,

and

one

slightly older man, Tito, who had been in America for two years. It was through him that we were able to get work preparing the Fairgrounds. He taught us some more phrases in English and how to work on the crew and deal with the American bosses. Some of them were cruel or Irish, but he said

that

the

most

important

thing

to

remember was to always say "yes". Even if you did not know how to do something, always say yes and one of your Italian brothers would explain. He was very proud of Italy, and of himself, always making sure his hair was neatly combed, even if he was digging a ditch. He would wax his mustache in the morning; it was almost as big as a fox’s tail in my memory. He was the type of man who could grow a beard in an afternoon, so would sometimes need to take his straight razor and shave in the evening and again in the morning.

88


We would take the trolley to the worksite and walk to the Foreman's tent to sign in. It was late August when we began and very hot. We would work from 6:00 until sometimes 1:00.

We

were

lucky

that

they

would

sometimes give us some lunch to eat, one or

two

times

a

week,

mostly

soup.

Otherwise we would bring some bread and some

salami.

Mostly

we

needed

water

because it was so hot. I have never worked so hard in my life but I never complained and only said yes and nodded when the Foreman came around. We were young then, me almost twenty and Giovanni eighteen, and strong, him a little bigger than me. We'd worked twelve, maybe thirteen hours a day, go home on the trolley, and go home when it was almost dark. I remember Mrs. Manziti she would cook for all of us in the

boarding

husband

owned

house. the

I

forget

house

or

if

her

was

the

caretaker. She was maybe five feet two and about as wide. We tried to make her blush by complementing her cooking because when she did she looked like a big meatball. She

89


was a mother to all of us and took care of us. I

felt

at

home

with

all

these

new

brothers. We only knew Attilio, who came with us on the train, and we all got along. There

was

another

house

of

Sicilian

laborers around the corner, but we avoided them

as

much

as

we

could.

They

were

working on another end of the Fairgrounds and only dug and moved rocks. When the Foreman found out we had skills with wood, they had us working on the lath crew for the buildings and some on the plaster. For weeks we would come home covered in mud from the digging, but when we worked with the plaster we would come home covered in white. The Sicilians made fun and called us “white American boys�, but we didn't care. The work inside the buildings was better, and cooler. The first week was so hot that August that one of the boys from our crew passed out. We tried to pick him up but he was out like a light. We all thought that we would all get in trouble so we dragged him over to a tree near the area that was still being drained. The Foreman saw us though 90


and came over. We were already sweating with the heat but now we were sweating with

fear,

which

were

because

we

fired

heard

for

some

being

lazy

crew or

stealing. As he came over, Tito, with his perfect hair and waxed mustache walked toward him. It was Saturday and we were supposed

to

finish

one

part

of

the

foundation footings so the framers could put up the walls on Monday, and we were almost done when the boy collapsed. There was

a

lot

of

waving

of

arms

by

the

Foreman, as Tito politely nodded. Finally Tito came and said that if we could finish the job we could help Tony (the passed out boy) keep his job. We worked like dogs for two or three more hours as the Foreman watched us the whole time. When we were finished filthy

it and

was

nearly

bone

tired.

dark. I

We

remember

were the

Foreman came over and look us over and just nodded. He handed each of us our pay envelope and waved over a carriage from across the field. As it came closer we saw that it was the wagon. He reached up and handed each of us roll, sausage, and bottle of beer. I remember he patted me on the shoulder, because I happened to be close to 91


him

as

he

left.

We

didn't

know

much

English at the time and had never heard these words before on the job site, but we knew what they meant. "Good job," he said. We finished the bread and sausage there in the shade of the wagon and drank that beer.

I

still

believe

that

it

was

the

coldest beer I have ever had in my life. We walked over to the near side of the Lake, stripped down and dove in. I felt like the king of America.

August 15, 1959. Fixed my pen and got some black ink from a box down in the basement I can barely read my own handwriting in that blue pen, but at least I was able to remember some stories. No one will probably ever read this anyway, so I won't worry too much about what it looks like, or if it makes any sense. In a person's life things don't always make sense until maybe the end. 92


Maybe all this will make sense when I fill all these pages. I do not know. The

work

for

the

Fair

that

I

began

talking about was very hard, although, as I

said,

when

we

were

moved

to

the

carpentry crew things were much better. We were somewhere in the middle of the ladder of the work crews. On top were the artisans brought from Rome and Florence to work with the marble and sculptures. Then there were those who were making castings and details in the buildings; then us; then the men who dug ditches and moved stones; then those who swept and picked up garbage. We

mostly

worked

on

the

Anthropology

Building, although we went wherever they needed us. The hours were very long, and the

weeks

went

by.

It

was

very

hard

working in the winter. As we warmed our hands

near

the

fire

barrels

we

would

dream or wish that it was summer again. That winter it snowed a lot and of course was very windy. The buildings were not heated, except for a few. It is hard to do anything with cold hands.

93


As the Anthropology Building was finished we began to help bringing in the artifacts for the exhibits. That is when I began to see all the Indian artifacts and all the rest. The people from the museums would sometimes talk to us in Italian because they had been on the grand tour of Europe and had spent some time in Rome or Venice. Their Italian was terrible but we told them it was excellent. They were very friendly to us for some reason. I think they thought us full of culture and maybe all Italians were born opera singers or artists. I did play the piano for them as we were moving one one-day into one of the concert halls or pavilions. I played some Puccini I think. I remember that it was just a rehearsal piano and a couple of keys were out of tune. I opened the lid and tuned the off strings with a wrench one of the

workmen

impressed

and

had.

They

applauded

were

my

quite

performance

and tuning. Of course we should have been working but some days were not as rushed as others, and the Foremen were not always able

to

meetings

be

everywhere

with

architects

officials. 94

and or

were

some

in

other


That is the day I began to be two people. When the Stage Manager of the concert hall heard the small applause from the museum visitors, he asked what I was doing I was frightened that he would get me in trouble

with

the

Foreman.

I

looked

at

Giovanni who had been helping move the piano and he had the same look of fear that I felt on my face. I don't know what came over me, but in my best English I said, “I was told that you needed a piano tuner." Now, I have gone to church since I was a little boy, and was told many times that it was a sin to tell a lie. But I was also told that

God

perhaps

moves it

in

was

mysterious

the

way

the

ways. light

So was

streaming down from above, or the applause or the exhaustion, but I just blurted it out

and

Manager

after in

a

a

pause glance

from

the

around

at

Stage the

visitors, my feet, Giovanni, the streaming light and the piano I heard these words: "As a matter of fact I do."

95


If I'm not mistaken, I believe I heard the angels sing moments after. It turns out these voices were not angels, but singers rehearsing in the other hall, but I am still not too sure. It also turns out that one of the piano tuners stayed home sick that day, and that they were behind

in

getting

all

of

the

pianos

prepared for the exhibition and rehearsal for the opening of the Fair. God does move in mysterious ways.

August 16, 1959 Okay my back is killing me. For an old man who doesn't work, how can I feel like I have

been

breaking

rocks

and

lifting

pianos all day? I did dream about those things last night so maybe my body is beginning

to

remember

those

old

pains,

when we worked so hard to get the fair ready for the opening day. Maybe it is because

I am

87-year-old

and

the

body

saves a little bit of all those years of work, a tiny slice of each ache and pain. 96


Then they come to visit you when you are old like an old friend. A friend that comes to visit every day but does not know when it is time to leave and tells the same old stories. Maybe it is from bending over this notebook every day and writing about these old stories. I do not know. But I do not like it. Back then we worked like dogs for those months, especially when I created two jobs for myself. And two people. When I told that Stage Manager that I was the piano tuner he was looking for, he asked me my name. For some reason I made up a name. Maybe I thought I would get in trouble, maybe I wanted to sound like a more famous person. It was the first time I made up a name for myself. It would not be the last. “Antonio Vittorio is my name but you can call me Tony." Giovanni

almost

burst

out

laughing

standing there in that huge hall, and that 97


laugh would have echoed throughout the building. But I'm sure he was in shock and afraid we would get in trouble. He was only

eighteen, but he knew how to play the game in this New World. We went that day to the rehearsal hall he showed us the pianos that needed to be tuned. His name was Stanley Walsh or maybe Kowalski and he was thick-lipped and had skin like uncooked dough. Also short, fat

fingers. I remember because he seemed to be

pointing

at

everything

and

talking

very fast. "Got it??" He said. We nodded. We had no idea what he said, but I assumed that I would tune the pianos in the room. “Get your tools and come back quickly. " Tools. From the look on my face he must have known something was wrong. “I have borrowed my tools to another piano tuner," I said.

98


His dough white face turned a little red with anger. "Well look in the storage room. Maybe Schulz left his tools in there." He walked away quickly, breathing heavily, clutching onto his notebook. Schultz was the sick tuner. We went into the storage room and there were things everywhere. Against one wall there were a row of lockers and so we looked in each one. On one leather bag of tools was the name Schultz. It was full of tools, Gilberto’s shop. "What should we do now, Mr. Vittorio? Or can I call you Tony?" I punched him in the arm and we went back into the room full of pianos. We suddenly realized that we had been gone from our lunch break for quite some time and so Giovanni went back to the Anthropology Building and I began my new work. That began many weeks of running back-andforth,

telling

many

stories,

some

very

close calls of almost getting caught and

99


often trouble remember who I was supposed to be. The only reason I was able to continue was having those tools. And for that I have to thank God and Mr. Schultz, who I never met.

The

following

week

I

heard

that

although Schultz had gotten over his cold, he still could not come into work. He had been hit by a trolley on State Street. I felt badly for some time, but after a while I realized that, like Jesus, there is a place in heaven for those who give their lives for others. I

often

pray

to

the

martyr

to

Saint

Schultz.

August 17, 1959 Went to the market today because it was not too hot and I needed to walk. I was in the mood for some good bread and cheese, and some fruit. Mr. Rizzoli usually has very good peaches this time of year. But 100


they were a little bruised, so I went back to tell him a thing or two. I have been gently tormenting the man for almost 50 years. I would seem outraged and he would threaten to throw me out of his shop. Usually he would make fun of my hat, or suit and say that one cannot expect much more from a man from the north, him being a Neapolitan. When I went back to look I saw his wife. She was wearing black. She said he died in his

sleep

the

night

before.

She

was

alright, she said, her three sons would continue running the shop. The wake would be

on

Thursday,

she

said,

the

funeral

Friday. He would have wanted you to come, she said. “Some bread?" I am getting sick and tired of all the people dying. I am eating these peaches, even if they are a little bruised. These may be the last things he took from the truck, carried to the front of the store, placed on the old wooden

racks,

arranged

neatly

in

turning the small bruises to the back.

101

rows,


His name was also Alfonso.

August 18, 1959 Had trouble sleeping again last night. It was pitch black out and I did not know where I was. I struck a match to see the clock and it said 4 AM. It is 5:15 now and almost

light.

I

was

dreaming

about

Alfonso. First it was all the scenes I remember when we were both young when we first met at that bar on the South Side and almost fought. That was 1911. Then getting to

know

him

when

he

moved

to

the

neighborhood and began his shop. Then the day

when

the

gangsters

threw

a

brick

through his window when he wouldn't pay the protection money and I helped him clean up the glass. Then all the years of walking to the market. First with Karina. Then him and his wife at the funeral. Then me walking to the market door and the time he drove his truck to help me get those old pianos. It all moved together like a movie, one scene turning into the 102


next and the two of us getting slightly older, seeing my reflection in mirrors or shop windows. Towards the end, before I woke up it was a scene at the church. It was his funeral and I was sitting in the back. He sat next to me and sat quietly. We laughed greatly and he laughed when the pastor mispronounced his name. He said a few things in Italian, most

of

which

I

could

not

understand,

except "It is okay. God is Italian." When I woke up I did not know where I was or when it was. I nodded off to sleep again and was back at the funeral, but he was gone. I went to look for him, first at the church,

walking

up

the

aisle

and

then

choir loft as the service was going on, then out on the street. I finally saw him down by the Lake sitting on a bench. I sat next to him and we watched the sun come up. It was a blinding light, and the birds were in the trees, singing. I think we spoke, but it was that kind of conversation you

having

a

dream

where

your

mouth

doesn't always move. I remember he said he finally got that long vacation he had been wanting. He thought maybe he would take a 103


trip back to Italy, spend some time in Sardinia,

he

had

always

wanted

to

go.

"They say the wine makes you young." Then the light got even brighter and I was alone on the bench. I stayed until the moon came out and woke up with the light from my window.

August 19, 1959 Gray day today. Everything in the house looks gray on a day like this. Like I am living in an old black-and-white

photograph.

Looking

around I see that the edges are curled and worn and the image is full of dust and scratches. I lived in an old sepia-tone photograph back when I was a boy in Italy, with a fine dusting of rich brown dirt from the farm, and golden brown light from the sun. My mother colored the day with her sewing and her cooking. Spring would wash all the dust in the world would be all green and blue. Then fall would return and turn the world brown after the 104


bright

colors

of

summer.

In

winter

everything turned a dusty, old, gray. Death turns us all into poets.

Thursday, August 20, 1959 Alfonso's wake was today. A wake is a wonderful

old

tradition

when

you

get

another chance to stare death in the face. Al looked very good for a dead man. I had never seen him in that suit except to go to other funerals. He was always working at the store, even some Sundays, although his wife told him he would go to hell for it. He would go to church mostly in the winter, at Saint Peter’s, where the funeral will be. His wife was still not happy, but he told her that God would understand and that maybe he could just spend summers in hell. I have only been to a wake here at the Santoro family funeral home. Many of the same people have sat in the same chairs, looking down at their hands, at a rosary 105


or toward the front of the small room, where there is a different dead person in the casket. Often the grieving family are repeat customers. When it was my turn at kneeling before the casket to pray, I saw Al had his wedding ring. I remembered that night long ago when he had too much wine and ended up

with

that

young

Polish

girl

from

uptown. He was ashamed and the next day asked me to keep that secret, which I have for all these years. You cannot always tell your friends your secrets, but since I was a witness he trusted me. I have not had many friends, and although Al was not a close friend, he was one of the few, and the last one alive. Until now, that is. I never

told

him

my

secret,

about

the

Pianistas. Maybe I should have. He would have kept that secret. He was a good man. I must have been kneeling there for a long time, because my knees hurt and there was a long line behind me when a young woman gently put her hand on my shoulder. She also handed me a tissue.

106


I did not stay at the reception for long. Wakes are and funerals are all about food and folding chairs and there was plenty of both at the Rizzoli home, which I had not been to in years. Friends and neighbors had brought more food then could ever be eaten, even if all of Chicago were invited. I knew no one, except Mrs. Rizzoli and the boys. He had made a wonderful home and family. The board was set up with all pictures

from

their

wedding,

his

army

photos, and pictures he had taken in the service of his regiment in Italy. The boys’ baby

pictures

school

and

pictures

their

and

the

vacations

and

weddings

and

grandchildren photographs. An old woman, who appeared to be about 100 years old and must've

been

some

spinster

aunt

was

looking at the photographs along side me saying that it was a shame Alfonzo died and how important it was to have family at a time like this. Then she asked about my family. I nodded politely and made my way to the door.

107


Friday, August 21, 1959 Alfonso's funeral this morning. Although there was a thunderstorm last night, it was just gray enough and threatening to create the right mood for a funeral and give something else for people to talk about. Also today Hawaii officially became the 50th state – another subject for people to discuss if they were tired of talking about death. I sat in the back row of the church at St. Peter's. Al liked this church because it was right in the neighborhood, under

the

“L”.

He

said

it

would

be

convenient to catch an uptown train to heaven or if things didn't go well he could always catch one to the South Side. The “L” was brand-new when Giovanni and I arrived in Chicago in 1892. Everyone was afraid to go on for a long time, until it seemed like maybe it would not fall off its track. The sound of it rattled the church during the service – the priest was used to it and would use the rumble to create a dramatic moment here and there. His sons acted as pallbearers, along with some

cousins.

The

church 108

was

full

of


relatives,

but

also

customers

from

the

neighborhood and also the old women who came to church every day. They are in every church, but these regulars seemed to live there in the church, sitting quietly saying the rosary. They must have seen hundreds of funerals. Perhaps each one they attend keeps them from one of their own. I haven't been a pallbearer since Giovanni's

funeral.

Even

though

I

was

already old, I just had to. I was best man at his wedding. Then I remembered Karina's funeral. It was winter then, almost 30 years ago. All those long black overcoats, and fedoras. When

we

walked

out

of

the

church

I

remember pigeons were flying everywhere. They were lost in the cold. I left the funeral before the end of the service

–

I

know

Al

wouldn't

mind.

I

walked home and each step seemed to bring up a new memory. First it was every death, and there were many. Father and Mother, Giuseppe, Antonio, Damiano, and Giovanni. Then, all the places I have lived. Step, step, step, pictures in my mind changing 109


like a slide show. Then people's faces – Mr. Cody, Gilberto, all the performers in the

Sideshow,

then

back

to

the

boardinghouse working on the Fair, then all the things I have ever made. The masks flashing

one

after

another.

Step,

step,

step. Then the masks started to move like human faces and told stories, one at a time then

all

at

once.

There

were

so

many

voices in my head I could not hear the car as I stepped onto the street. The sound of the horn woke me out of my dream. I am not sure who was more frightened, me or the young mother in the station wagon. "Are you okay?" she said. "No." I walked slowly, until my driving finally slowed down. I climbed the stairs and Mrs. Kovacini came out of her doorway to say hello. I told her Al had died; she had heard. She touched my arm and asked if I was okay. I could not bring myself to say anything else, but nodded and went inside. I played the piano quietly for quite a long time. I did not want to go to sleep

110


but I stopped after I could not see the keys anymore. I slept like the dead.

August 22, 1959 I got up quite late today, it was nearly lunchtime. I had a boiled egg and toast and some very strong coffee. Ever since I was young I have always had to have breakfast before lunch, even if I wake up at noon. I had lunch an hour later, some salami and provolone. I told myself today I would only think about the good things. Funerals usually make me nostalgic for the old days and the old times. Like a part of me is dying. But at my age, I should probably just be glad that it is not me in the box. Still, would people come to my wake and make all that food? What pictures would they put up to look at? And who would put them up anyway? I only have Anna Maria left, the others are all gone. 111


I have not seen her since she went into the home after her fall, and she may not remember me. I guess I didn't do too well at thinking about

the

good

things.

I'll

try

again

tomorrow. Oh there is one good thing. The salami I got at the market last week is very good. I will have to get some more.

August 23, 1959 The sun is shining: the birds are singing. I am not dead. I was thinking of Anna Maria this morning after dreaming about her last night. When she moved here to Chicago and met Pierre, the French-Canadian. Her years at the Art Institute

and

her

gallery

shows.

Those

were good times. Karina was still alive and they were almost the same age and friends. I was lucky to have a younger sister and for some years she was like a mother to me and Giovanni. It was a shame 112


that Pierre turned out to be such a dog. Anna Maria never got over it and never remarried.

She

said

painting

was

her

companion, and although there were fights and tears with her paintings, they never cheated

–

her

they

were

always

there

waiting. When

she

made

the

paintings

of

the

warriors and shamans she said she felt like a new pioneer. From her studies at the Academy in Venice she brought the souls

of

Titian

and

Tintoretto

and

introduced them to Catlin and Paul Kane. At least, that is what she used to say. I must go see her.

August 25, 1959 Sore back; I had to move around slowly today,

that

is,

move

more

slowly

than

normal. I remember when I was a child. I thought I could slow down time by moving very

slowly,

and

speeding

it

up

by

running. At the time it seemed to work and it seems to be working again. This day has 113


seemed endless. Of course, when you are old, it is a good way to add more time to the amount you have left. I am not sure if a coma achieves the same good. This slowdown time has given me a chance to think about some of those stories that I have not thought about in a long time and some I have never told anyone. When I was working as a piano tuner at the Fair, we were also still working on the carpentry crew, Giovanni and I, and they also wanted some of the Italians to pilot the gondolas in the Lake. It was very busy, especially in April, as they got ready

for

supposed

the

to

be

opening on

May

day, 1.

which They

was were

rushing around because they were still behind

schedule

in

the

building

and

display of the exhibits. It was like trying to build Rome in a day we used to say. I

remember

when

some

workmen

were

rushing to get all the pianos in the Great Hall, where they would be judged. There was

a

last-minute

arrival

from

Philadelphia, I think, and a few of the men were having some trouble getting it 114


up onto the platform. Well it got loose and somehow it went rolling off the edge of the stage, crashed on the floor. We went over to see because of course it made the loudest sound, echoing through the hall. The Foreman was not there, and the work men, who were these young Italians, just arrived and just hired were sweating and crying and praying. Tito happened to be nearby and heard the crash and the Italian prayers. He calmed the young man down and looked at the piano. No one spoke for a while

we

just

heard

the

sound

of

our

breathing. Then Tito told us in Italian, "This piano never arrived." At first we didn't understand what he meant, but then he

asked

me,

"Alfonso

where

are

your

tools?" This small moment is how it all began. While the other man watched the doors, I, with the help of Giovanni, took that piano apart in about 20 minutes, putting all the parts in three crates that we then we'll go to the store room behind the stage. When someone from the piano manufacturer came and asked about the piano, workmen were conveniently not to be found, and the 115


Stage Manager who was very busy with a thousand other things, brushed him off and that was the end of it. Somewhere, down in that basement, I have felt hammers and two or three ivory keys from that original piano, the other parts are in many other places. Here in Chicago; some in New York and Berkeley, California. I think some of those first masks I made went to the Alaska Yukon Exposition in Seattle; some got sold to visitors to the Fair.

And

at

least

a

few

are

in

the

British Museum. I know because I sold a few to a very excited young curator when I was in London with Mr. Cody's show. Boy, time flies.

August 26, 1959 Went downstairs in the basement to look for some of things that I thought I had saved from the old days. I could not find parts from that original piano but I just know they are somewhere. There is only one light bulb working down there so it is hard

to

see.

Maybe 116

I

should

ask

Mrs.


Kovacini's son Anthony to help me clean up and organize down there. I am not sure that sounds like any fun for a fifteenyear-old but he is a good boy and is sometimes helpful. He puts up with my stories from time to time, especially if there is a dollar waiting for him at the end. I noticed that there has been some water damage down there, and it looks like some mice have made a nest in one of the boxes marked

"Ideas

for

future

projects."

It

looks like maybe they had been there for years, so I didn't clean it up. Those mice are full of ideas. At least they didn't go to waste. I did find a book down there I have not seen for years. It is called "Samantha at the

World’s

Fair."

I

remember

it

well

because I bought it when it came out, just after the Fair close, so I could practice English. It turned out to be helpful to learn many words, and also how to talk like an American. It did not help me learn to spell too well, since it use a lot of phrases like "s'pose I wary a-goin' and "way just ring up about the doings" it 117


must have been funny to hear this off the boat

mustache

dago

stumbling

over

his

words sounding like a Kansas farmhand. I didn't know it at the time, but he came in handy later on when I was in Mr. Cody's show

and

also

traveling

west.

After

a

while I could almost pass for an American. It

was

also

Italians

helpful

were

not

in

liked

the all

20s

when

that

much

because of Al Capone and all those other dirty mafia guys. I remember I got into some trouble because my name was Alfonso. (His

name

was

Alfonse)

so

went

by

different names depending on where I was. It was hard to keep track sometime. That is the way it was at the Fair. I think April 1893 might have been just a dream, but I do not think so, because I lived through it. At the same time I was working on the crew to set up for the Fair, got myself the job tuning pianos and piloting a gondola in the Lake. Then Mr. Cody

set

up

his

show

outside

the

Fairgrounds at the end of the month I started in with him then. Did I already tell that story? I don't know what I have already written down and I can barely read 118


my own handwriting. I had better look back to the front of this book to see what I already said. Or maybe not. Hell, no one is ever going to read this anyway.

August 27, 1959 I sit at this table every day and write something down. I sit in the same chair I have had for 40 years. Karina used to sit right across from me. Sometimes, when I am very tired and it is late, and I have had a little too much wine, I see her there. Maybe she is always there. I sometimes think that if something is in a space for a long time, and you take that something away, the space misses that something, like when the soldiers come home from the war with a missing leg. I

have

"Samantha

this

old

book

at

the

Fair.�

on

the

The

table

pictures

remind me of those days, close the picture of the Administration Building and the others. There is a picture I remembered of Pa

lying

down

with

his

head

bandaged,

being taken care of by a young woman and 119


looked at by a child. When I think back to that time when I got thrown off the horse during the Wild West Show on the 4th of July all those years ago, I have that picture in my mind. I haven't seen it for maybe fifty years mine was laying in the middle of the tent with that Indian woman bandaging my head, with her young son looking on; but in my head that scene and the

picture

have

stuck

together.

I

remember the words under the picture too. "The

world

is

full

of

miracles.

"Wild,

wicked and warlike deeds of man are struck down helpless and mute by the power of love." I

cannot

believe

this

book.

Flipping

through the pages I remember reading it then

and

looking

at

each

one

of

the

pictures; it's like the book takes me back in time every time I turn the page. There is a picture of a gondola on the Lake and I remember thinking that the pilot was me. I wore that same outfit and hat and had that same mustache. The picture of the Ferris Wheel takes me back to when they were building that then. It was so tall, the biggest thing we ever 120


saw, and we could see it from all over. None of us knew what it was, or what it was

for;

we

thought

maybe

a

weapon.

Someone thought they were going to try to travel

to

the

moon

with

it.

When

we

finally got a chance to ride on it we could see everywhere. I remember thinking that the wheel was going to fall off its axle and rolled all the way into the Lake, or out to California. But being stopped on top of that wheel, at sunset with all those people and the sound and smells coming up from the Fair made me thank God I was lucky enough to make it to America, the New World.

August 28, 1959 I

was

riding

the

Ferris

Wheel

in

my

dreams. I think I have had this dream before, where I am on the Ferris Wheel, which in the dream is even larger than it was, riding up into the clouds. It would make

a

great

turn,

with

all

of

those

people, up into the clouds and back down. As I looked around I recognize the people in cars – they were all the people I had 121


met,

first

there

at

the

Fair,

then

afterwards – Tito and all the Italian men at the boardinghouse, the rest of the work crew including those Sicilians, there was the Foreman and all the directors of the Fair; Stanley Walsh the Stage Manager, and others; then the whole troupe of the Wild West Show, Mr. Cody and Mr. Griffin from the tour, with Annie Oakley and some of the other stars; there were cars of Indians and Cossacks and Spanish riders; then there were cars and cars of folks from

the

sideshow,

complete

with

the

bearded Venus, the tattooed man and Tito Athobella's Italian Band; it would turn and reveal another group in another huge car, big enough for about fifty people. There were

cars

with

the

crew

at

the

Field

Museum; ones full of people out west from Seattle and the trip to British Columbia; then cars with my family in Italy, from the neighborhood now, Eskimos from the trip to Alaska with Antonio. --The faces kept coming as the wheel spun round and round, then it spun like an old movie projector until it was a bright white blue. I woke up to the fan spinning in front of the

window,

with 122

the

morning

sun


streaming through. I tried to go back to take another look but couldn't. Now that was something!! There will never be anything like that again – even if they fly to the moon.

Saturday, August 29, 1959 I walked to the Lake today, and just looked out at the water. I watched the boats. I have not been on a boat in a long time, maybe

20

gondola

years.

pilot

at

I

remembered

the

Fair;

being

seeing

a

the

replicas of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa

Maria

sailing

for

the

Opening

Ceremonies. I remember that replica of a Viking warship that they sailed over. I think many people thought we were being invaded. I made a little sketch of that boat when it was docked. I guess some of that old boat came through when I made the war canoe. Of course being on the Kwakiutl War canoe on one trip to British Columbia will never be forgotten. I almost fell

out

with

the

rising

123

seas

of

the


Pacific; luckily one of the men pulled me in. The water was calm today.

September 1, 1959 Have not written for a few days. When you get out of the habit of something it is hard to get back in. I also have forgotten what I was trying to remember. On Sunday I went to church, just to sit and listen to the

music.

The

young

organist

plays

beautifully and she practices after the services. She sees me sitting there and I think she stays longer than she needs to. Perhaps she feels sorry for this old man, perhaps she is showing off to her audience of one. I think she knows she hypnotizes me with Vivaldi. It reminds me of the music Hall at the Fair. Even as we were rushing at the last minute

to

finish

the

Anthropology

Building, the Music Hall was finished and that is where I built a little hidden studio in the back. I remember being alone 124


in the back as the musicians rehearsed. I love those days. As I made those first masks while the pianist filled the space with those glorious sounds – it was like a dream.

September 2, 1959 I couldn't get to sleep last night. I kept thinking of the days leading up to the opening of the Fair but it is all mixed up in my head. It was like a dream. I look back at what I have written and see myself writing these words, but I can't think of any other way to describe it. I had only been in this country for less than one year, and yet I was 20, in the middle of the

biggest

event

of

the

end

of

the

century, and the center of the world. As all the white plaster went on the building at the Fair and it began to reflect the bright sun off the canals, everything was illuminated to a real degree. And when they

powered

especially

those

the giant

electric

lights,

searchlights,

it

seemed as though the air around us was surging with energy. Add to that the chaos 125


of getting everything ready for May 1 – people running everywhere, horses pulling loads of exhibits, trains pulling in and out of the terminal with people and crates. It was magical and manic every day. I was trying to remember when Mr. Cody brought

the

Wild

West

to

the

Fair.

Actually it was outside the Fair, because they wouldn't let him in – they thought he was too low brow to stand beside all the high culture of the exposition. He told me later he was offended at first, but it turned out alright. He set up not far from the Midway near the train line and the “L” and people came by the thousands every day. When they were setting up I think it was in late April, the Foreman said to stay away,

but

of

course

we

were

curious,

especially Giovanni and I, since we missed seeing the show those years ago in Verona. And we had never seen Indians before. Seeing them set up their tents behind the big tent, the smell of cooking, and the sounds of chants and whoops would fill my

126


head all day and my dreams at night when I return to the boardinghouse. As I said I had been working in my little secret studio in the music hall, making some masks and little puppets from the parts

of

that

piano

that

had

fallen

offstage. When I went back near the Indian village, I saw all kinds of things that open my eyes wide. The costumes of the Braves

and

some

of

the

squaws

seemed

vaguely familiar and at same time like nothing I had ever seen. I only got close by accident one day. I was leaning up against a fence they had put up (I can't remember if it was to keep the Indians out of the Fair, or to keep us out of the Wild West) but leaning against to take a look I knocked over a section of fence and fell into the mud near the back of

the

tent.

The

Indians

laughed

and

laughed. I began to run but one grabbed me by the leg. I was terrified and thought I was about to be killed, but the brave had seen that I had cut my leg and through some sign language showed me that he only meant to help.

127


They sent me down and one of the women cleaned

my

wound

and

put

some

vile-

smelling paste on it. They spoke as much English as I did, so we struggled to be understood. They showed me their tee-pee, how it was built and where they slept. Inside with baskets and weapons, tools and blankets. I motioned to the back of one tee-pee where there was a kind of shrine set up. The brave who had pulled me in brought me back. (I think his name was Walking Bear and was proud to be my official guide, showing me off and introducing me to the others. I remember he pointed to our faces, showing others that we looked very much alike,

and

he

was

trying

to

pull

my

mustache.) In the back of one tee-pee where no one slept,

was

masks,

and

a

collection

figurines.

I

of

headdresses,

couldn't

quite

understand what he was trying to tell me at first, but slowly I realized that he was explaining some sacred ceremony that the headdresses and such were used for. Later, when I traveled with the show, I found out that

these

were

never 128

used

in

the


performance, but they were carried with the

show

for

protection,

having

been

blessed by a shaman. I will never forget that tee-pee. I think about it almost every day. Before I left that afternoon, after they fed me and

made

return,

me

understand

Walking

Bear

that

gave

me

I

could

a

small

mask, about the size of my hand. He had made it and was quite proud of it. I didn't know much, but I knew I should probably give him something in return. I searched my pockets and was afraid was about to bring

shame

on

myself

by

not

having

anything, but as luck would have it I had put three or four ivories that had fallen off the keys. I handed them to him and he gave me a special kind of handshake and held the ivories to his chest, then mine. I gave a weak little wave as I left, not knowing what else to do. I just walked around the Fairgrounds the rest of the day, and a kind of daze, staring into the reflection of the sun on the canals. I had that same feeling of floating above myself that I got as a child.

129


I was transformed.

September 3, 1959 It was cold this morning. I had forgotten where I had put my sweaters. I found one in the back of one of the drawers, worn at the elbows. My slippers I have had for about 25 years, worn through, but still warm. Fall is coming. I hope it doesn't get too cold too soon because I think I need to get the heater fixed. The fog coming off the Lake this morning reminded

me

of

those

Spring

mornings

leading up to the Fair. I would get up early to go to work and pass by the Wild West

encampment

remember

the

that

fog,

the

they smoke

set

up.

from

I the

campfires, the dust in the air drifting through

the

early-morning

shafts

of

light. Sometimes the Indians would chant in the morning, some prayer to start the day. I would get there and meet Walking Bear some mornings.

130


The morning after I had first fallen into the camp, Walking Bear came toward me and I could see he had made a necklace with what

must

have

been

bear

claws,

brass

bullet casings, and the ivory keys I had given him. I could see he was very proud of it, and in hand gestures and the few English words we both knew I told him "very good." I remember he pointed to the necklace and back at me, holding the keys out and holding out an open palm, and I figured out he wanted more. I didn't have anything in my pockets but told him in signs and gestures that I would come back later. (I cannot remember what he was – Crow I think – and I remember sometimes he would speak to me in his language as if I could understand and I would sometimes find myself speaking to him in Italian. If anyone was watching us I am sure it would have seemed ridiculous) I went back to the Music Hall studio and I got a few more ivory keys, but also some ebony,

some

brass

hardware,

and

some

copper piano wire, coiled small enough to fit

inside

a

small

satchel

I

had

back

there. I brought it back to him and he 131


looked carefully at each piece, smiling. He went into his tee-pee and brought out a small

medicine

carvings,

a

bag

small

with bird

some

skull,

bone and

a

bracelet made of rawhide, shell casings and feathers.

he

explaining

talked that

for

it

a

was

long a

time,

powerful

medicine, given to him by a shaman in Wyoming. I didn't understand any of this of course, but it was explained to me later when I was traveling out there. I kept that medicine bag for many years and I swear it kept me safe and made me lucky. I lost it the year before Karina died, when the wind ripped it out of my hand atop the Sears Tower. I watched it blow out of sight into the city and I almost jumped after it. That began a weekly ritual of trading with Walking Bear. I would bring him a few small parts; he would give me small masks,

baskets,

a

pipe

and

tomahawk,

beadwork, small figures, skins, blankets, and many other things. He took the wire, wood,

ivory,

jewelry

and

and small

other

parts

totems

he

and

made

said

were

dream spirits. I worked in my hidden Music Hall studio and began making dozens of 132


masks

and

headdresses,

then

jewelry,

inspired by the things he had made. I was supposed to be working during the day, of course, but would sneak off whenever I could, coming in early and staying late. I was caught by a Spirit. I felt like Paul must have felt on the way to Damascus, but in Chicago. The putting up of the Fair was happening all around me, and I continued to work with Giovanni on the work crew of the Anthropology repairman

Building,

with

the

as

a

Music

tuner

and

Hall,

and

occasionally as a gondola pilot, which was what I did much of once the Fair opened in May. To write about that Opening Day in weeks to come, with meeting Mr. Cody and the rest will have to wait until another day. It is late and getting cold again. I can barely feel my toes in my hand is asleep. But those days. That light. The smoke. I can feel it. I can feel where Walking Bear touched my chest in thanks. How can it be? How did I get in this chair? Where are my slippers?

133


September 4, 1959 Rain outside for most of the day. I had left some books near the window I left open

and

they

got

soaked.

Like

those

sketchbooks I lost that year of the flood. I wish I had those, though I can still picture them in my head. At night in the boardinghouse I would stay up late and sketch. Ideas for masks and head-dresses mostly. I did not make all of them but I was bursting at the seams with ideas. I would also sketch the Indians in the Wild West camp, especially Walking Bear. He wouldn't let me look at some of the sacred objects in the back of the teepee and I would try to sketch quickly because usually I would have to run off to work, or they would have to go off and rehearse for the show. I should try to sketch again, it has been years. My hand and I don't work the same and this is not the same fever to get those images on paper. These words will have to be enough.

134


September 5, 1959 I dreamt of animals last night. First deer, then buffalo. I think it was from watching that

Western

strange

to

last

see

night

made

on

up

TV.

stories

It

is

about

things you have seen in person. When I traveled in the West in the 1890s the frontier had been officially closed or something by someone in the government. What was it? I can't remember, I used to have it written down. But out there, there were still buffalo and antelope and mostly wide-open spaces. To see it for the first time from the window of the train when you are young man from a small village in a faraway country it is quite something. Seeing the Indians in their own land before they were moved

on

something. somewhat interesting

and But dire and

killed seeing

must

have

them

conditions inspiring

been

even was

to

me

in

still with

stories in my head from when I was a boy reading westerns.

135


September 8, 1959 I

heard

today

Eisenhower

just

protected

wild

remember

seeing

on

television

passed mustangs herds

of

a

that

law

out

that

west.

them

on

I the

first trip out to Wyoming. You could see them from the train and I remember some dandy from back East trying to shoot one. Of course he got knocked on his rear end from the kickback of a shotgun, but if he didn't I remember hearing that Mr. Cody was going to punch him in the mouth, for hunting

in

an

unsportsmanlike

way,

especially a horse. Even though some of those could never be broke to ride, there was something wrong with shooting one. Of course shooting anything else was alright and both Cody and the Indians I knew back then were good at it. I only shot one in my life, just outside of Butte, Montana. It was a young doe and I nearly blew its head off. I got sick to my stomach and never picked up a gun again. I guess I'm better at making things that killing them.

136


September 14, 1959 I am finding it harder to write these days. Mostly because I am tired, and also I am having

trouble

remembering.

Also

I

misplaced this book last week and just found

it

this

morning.

It

was

in

the

refrigerator. I will try to write again tomorrow.

September 15, 1959 So tired and coffee does not help. Perhaps I am sick: I do not know. One thing I do know is that I am old. Maybe that's it. I think that what makes me even more tired is the fact that the world is moving so fast. Just on television the other night they

said

that

the

Russians

sent

and

landed some object that they sent to the moon. How is it possible that the same morning I saw outside my window as a child and if he has on it something sent from this

earth?

Now

Kruschev

is

visiting

America. I suppose it is good so he and

137


Eisenhower

can

talk

about

how

to

get

along. Everything is moving fast and I am moving slow. I am going to sit down.

September 17, 1959 It said on the news today that there was a lunar eclipse. A jet fighter made its first flight. That Cuban Castro said some things I don't know what. Ads for new Cadillacs and soap. I don't know why I watch this television. This world is a strange one but I guess we just get used to it. I like to watch the Westerns; at least I can look at the landscapes. It was so beautiful out there and so big. I remember going to Arizona on a trip with Mr. Cody. We took the train from Chicago to Denver then into Flagstaff. We had to go the rest on horseback and coach. They kept mentioning some canyon, but at the time I did not understand what they were talking

about.

Then

we

arrived

at

the

South rim of the Grand Canyon. My head 138


felt light and some hawk flew overhead. I had

trouble

catching

my

breath,

like

trying to drink too much water at once. I began to weep, and I remember it was same feeling as visiting St. Mark's in Venice for the first time. God was responsible for both of these things and he knows how to put on a show. I will never forget that feeling of flying over the canyon in my mind. They had to shake me out of it, because it was about to rain, thunderclouds were moving in the distance. In the steamy air of a hastily constructed tent I felt like a different person. This New World has changed me. All that trip, visiting the Navajo people, I walked around in a kind of daze, feeling as though I had been there before. I wish I were there now.

September 19, 1959 I woke up confused again. It took until just now, the afternoon, to realize where I was. I called out for Karina and walked around the house. I went to the front 139


porch and called out. Mrs. Kovacini walked out and, with her hand on my shoulder she walked

me

back

into

the

house

as

she

sometimes does. The woman is a saint. She sat with me in the living room and talked to me. She reminded me of things. She saw this book on the table and asked what I was writing about and it took me sometime to

remember.

She

flipped

through

the

pages and told me I should keep it up every day, it would be good for me. When I came back to myself I offered her some coffee but she had to go. She could tell I was alright again. I told her thank you and said if anything ever happened I wanted her to have this book.

September 20, 1959 Better today. I just stayed in for most of the day after going to church. I needed that

light,

familiar listened

that

words to

the

music,

and

smiles.

choir

organist afterwards.

140

hearing

those

I

sat

and

practice

and

the


At home I looked at my photo album of Karina and held the sweater of hers I have kept. I said a few prayers before bed; I have not in a while. I am thankful I can remember who I am. At least I have that.

September 23, 1959 For the past two nights I have not been able to sleep. I wake up anxious, then stories pile up in my head. The night seems to take forever. It is fall now and colder but I wake up sweating. I dream of those trips in the desert, the time our horse died outside of Prescott, when we had to pull our wagon, then gave up. Then all of a sudden it's the fires down at the house on Lakeshore and it turns into the fires of the exhibition grounds when the Union set everything on fire after the Fair. Then the time I had a fever as a child

and

I

saw

those

visions

of

the

Madonna woke up and woke up mother who put that cool cloth on my forehead. I often think of that cloths and my mother's cool hand. Then I'm in the steerage of the steamship over, when we were drunk near 141


the boiler room. It felt like hell and so new and strange. And then the fires after Karina died in those days of wandering. I need

my

forehead. uncle's

mother's That cottage.

hand

cool

again

down

That

on

pillow

swim

in

my from Lake

Michigan after those hot days building the Fair. Where are they?

Sunday, September 27, 1959 I have no idea what I did this week. When you are old and retired, each day is like the last. I have not been writing in this book because sometimes I don't have the energy sometimes I can't remember things, and sometimes when I write down the past it makes me so sad that I am here now and not back there. Khrushchev has been visiting this week, I just saw that on the news. He is so proud of their rockets and satellites and talk about rocket ships. I'm sure Eisenhower is planning to catch up and we'll all be flying around space soon. If the two of them would get their scientists together 142


to work on a rocket ship that would go back in time, that would be wonderful. I would be the first to sign up although they may not want old men. First I would go back to when I was a boy in Italy, playing in the hills with my friend, not a care in the world. Then I would

go

back

to

Gilberto's

shop

and

learning all he had to teach me all over again

and

being

proud

of

my

piano

creations, like an inventor. Then to the ship crossing with Giovanni. That time was so

exciting

and

arriving,

the

trip

to

Chicago, working on the Fair, traveling with Mr. Cody, meeting Karina. Life was full

and

new

and

I

would

feel

like

bursting with joy sometimes. But there are no spaceships going back in time. There is only this house, this couch and these shoes. I got up the energy to go to church today. I listened to the choir and closed my eyes and prayed. I prayed for spaceships.

143


Monday, September 28, 1959 Woke

up

in

a

sweat

dreaming

about

spaceships. I was boarding the ship bound for America and as we left the Straits of Gibraltar

the

ship

upended

Titanic

but

instead

of

forward

and

up. It looked

like

the

it

shot

sinking like

it was

heading for the moon. Inside there were hundreds of steerage passengers, piled up toward the bottom of the ship. The crew was shoveling coal as fast as they could but we were losing speed. Then we stopped in mid-air and were motionless for what seemed

like

an

hour,

people

floating

weightless around me. Quintilla and the others

were

frozen

and

Giovanni

moved

past me holding Ginny in his arms. I saw a Magenta floating near the porthole in which you could see the full moon. Then we began to fall down back to earth and everyone was pushed toward the top of the rocket. All of our belongings were floating

around

us,

bags

and

clothing,

children's toys and papers. We could see America below and someone said they saw the Statue of Liberty. As we got closer 144


the rocket ship became hot and we saw the flames

shooting

vessel.

We

fell

through

clouds

daylight

on

from

the

and and

Earth.

sides

fell saw

We

for

that

were

of

the

miles, it

was

moving

so

quickly all the sound was a whistling in my ears. Then we crashed, right into Lake Michigan. I woke up, trying to catch my breath. When I finally got back to sleep, I dreamt that

they

released

the

lifeboats.

They

were gondolas. We paddled safely to shore. I should not watch TV at night.

October 3, 1959 Where are you Karina? I woke up again and forgot you were not there. I find myself staring at pictures at night, trying to make them come alive, if only for a few minutes. The pictures sit on top of that old piano and maybe at night the people in them talk to each other. Sometimes I hear voices, maybe it is them. Sometimes it's 145


laughter. I remember laughing so much as a

young

man

just

arrived

in

America.

Laughing in Gilberto's shop and his puppet shows. Laughing at Father as he told his stories at night in front of the fire. And Mother laughing until she had tears in her eyes. I

have

my

mother's

tears

as

I

laugh,

remembering her smiling face. And your face,

Karina.

We

did

laugh

back

then.

Thank God I found you. He has you now; I hope he knows how lucky he is.

Sunday, October 4, 1959 Woke up in the middle of the night again. Tried trouble

reading;

my

focusing

concentrate.

I

eyes and

just

sat

were I

having

could

there

with

not a

blanket on this couch. The smell of that blanket, Karina's smell, is almost gone. In fact, maybe it is just a memory of that smell that is left. I went to Saint Alphonsus' early, no one was there, but I sat in the back pew. The 146


sun had just come up and the light shone down on me. I assume it was Karina telling me everything was going to be alright. I felt a hand on my shoulder and the voice asking Mrs.

"Is Amato,

everything one

of

alright? the

"It

older

was

choir

members. I said yes. It was good to feel her hand on my shoulder. After church I took a walk to the Lake. I could not sit for long. I went home. On the news, the Russians had just landed some kind of space probe that would be able to look at the dark side of the Moon for the first time. I

don't

know

where

I

am.

Then

I

remembered. I'll go to sleep early. I don't know what else to do.

147


October 5, 1959 Had a dream that was really a memory from my boyhood in Italy. I had found a young bird, maybe a few days after hatching. It had fallen from its nest and was quivering on the ground on a pile of leaves. It was the first time I had seen a bird so close up. I was maybe five or six. I found a box in my father's workshop and covered the inside

with

a

piece

of

lace

from

my

mother's pile of linen scraps, then put some soft leaves on top of the lace and carefully picked up the bird with a flat wooden spoon. It cheeped and cheeped. I found a worm under a rock in the backyard and picked it up with two small twigs and held it over the small bird’s mouth. It ate it and I remember it smiling, but I don't know if that is possible. In the dream, it grew strong and quickly, like one of those speeded up Disney nature films. It flew off and disappeared into the sky. But when I was a boy, the bird died. I was heartbroken and ran crying to my mother. Crying on her shoulder, she told me that 148


all things in creation have to eventually die, it is part of God’s plan. But each of God's creatures enjoys the brief time they have on the earth. I asked her, "Mother, when will I die?" I remember she said, with a tear in her eye, "Not for a long, long time, maybe 80 years from now.� We buried the bird in the field behind the barn, the first of many burials of small creatures, each marked with a crudely-made cross for special stone. In my dream that field was covered with small crosses and stones, for as far as the eye could see. Light

came

from

each

small

grave

and

streamed into the sky all weaving into a sort of tornado that continued up into the sun. When I awoke I was staring up into my bedside lamp, which I had forgotten to turn off last night. It is a miracle I have not burned this house down by now. God must be shining down on me.

149


October 8, 1959 I

finally

got

a

good

night’s

sleep. It

might have been the slight chill in the room, what my mother would call "nice sleeping weather." My dreams were calm and peaceful and I woke up feeling like my old self. (Well, I am my old self, maybe I woke up feeling like a slightly younger version of myself.) I

went

out

and

took

a

walk

in

the

neighborhood and by the Lake. I don't know why – just to get out of the house, and it wasn't raining. As I walked I remember back to all the walking we did when we first arrived, and how strong I felt. Taking the train from the South Side, Giovanni and I would walk to the worksite at the Fair. Once the Fair had opened in May, we didn't have to rush like we did early in the spring, and they weren't keeping track of us, as they did then. I continued to work in my small studio in the basement of the concert hall, and found enough materials from the piano repairs to the occasional destroyed piano to build up a large collection of objects. I 150


still visited the Wild West encampment and traded with Walking Bear the things I was making. He especially liked the jewelry and small mask heads I would make out of the

many

keys.

He

called

them

"ghost

objects" and kept them in a special box. As it turns out, Mr. Cody stopped by the tee-pee one day and saw him wearing one of the necklaces with a small bird head mask

hanging

from

it.

Mr.

Cody

was

fascinated and asked Walking Bear where he had gotten it. "From the Pianista," Walking Bear said. (I had taught him a few words in Italian, and he

tried

to

teach

me

some

Lakota.

He

taught me a phrase that meant "I shake your hand with good feeling in my heart. "I tell you, when he did shake my hand that day, I felt a warm feeling I can't explain. My mother would say it was the feeling (?) of the Holy Spirit.) Mr. Cody wanted to meet this Pianista, who he assumed were from the Southern Plains. Walking Bear told him that they were a mysterious

people

and

looked

different

from other Indians and spoke in a language 151


hard to understand. (Walking Bear was a great storyteller, and by that I mean a beautiful liar, being taught by his father, a medicine man, dancer, and keeper of the oral history of his ancestors.) Mr. Cody would meet me that day I went to the Wild West show on the 4th of July. He rounded up a bunch of Italians to help fill out the number of Indians in the show. (I think I have told this story many times.) He said we look enough like Indians for the people of Kansas. We were dressed up backstage and put on horses. He told us we would each receive a dollar and all we had

to

do

Fairgrounds,

was ride

to

ride around

out in

into a

the

circle

around the stagecoach, and when we heard a gunshot fall off our horses. I did like he said when I fell off the horse I got hit in the back of the head. As they put me on a stretcher and brought me backstage, Mr. Cody made a point of coming over to me while the Indian woman treated my wounds. My head was spinning between the kick and the shot of whiskey they gave me for the pain.

152


"Good job" said Mr. Cody with his hand placed on my shoulder. "To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?" In my confusion and pain, all I could produce was the words "I am Pianista."

Sunday, October 11, 1959 I cannot tell what I did these past few days. They blur. Some eating, some reading, some working but not much. Mostly sitting. I did go to church today and that is where I find peace. I go a little early and stay until they politely ask me to leave. I stare into the light from the stainedglass windows and remember all the times I've done the same, year after year. The scientists say that the sun is moving, our solar system is moving. So the sun streaming

through

those

windows

is

shining from a new place. I am not moving. I am sitting still. I've been moving on my life and have seen many things. 153


Now I long for stillness. Still, late Sunday night. Cold outside and very

windy.

Seems

like

the

outside

is

trying to make its way inside. Reminds me of the cold night winter in Montana, staying up in the mountains with some Indian members of the Wild West. The first time out there, sleeping in a tee-pee that

seemed

to

lift

off

the

ground.

I

forget his name, but the young brave said his grandfather's people believe the wind was

the

dreaming, images

collected as

and

if

the

memories

spirits

of

movement move

those

of

along

those the

surface of the earth. Was it then? Where was that? I feel it now and wonder when I dream tonight, will the wind get stronger? The wind over the Lake is so strong it blew the light of the moon out. Later. Still up and can't sleep. The TV is just

snow

after

the

National

Anthem

played and the flag waved. Is it 2:00 AM?

154


I sat on the couch and the light in the lamp suddenly went out. It took me a long time to find a bulb after I found the light switch by the light of the TV. Blue light. Campfire light is so warm and orange. Have to get some sleep but how? The wind is getting louder. I think it's outside, but the trees are not moving. Wait, yes they are. I think they are. I'm going to lay in bed and say some prayers, that usually puts me to sleep. Tomorrow I will feel alright and write something worth reading. The wind has not blown away my memories, not yet anyway.

Sunday, October 18, 1959 Has it really been a week since I last wrote in this book? Where did those days go? I can't remember one thing that happened. I was up late not sleeping again. Some of these nights I try to read but my eyes 155


were so tired. I looked at Life Magazine, I remember that. An article about doctors. That was probably a mistake but I couldn't help myself. Oh, I went to morning mass this morning, early listen to the choir. Walk to the Lake. That's all. I just had dinner now I have to try to sleep again. Will I? I woke up and it was 2:00. I dreamed that my heart was beating very slowly and that I could hear it quite clearly in the room. It was so slow I felt as if it would stop at any moment. But it kept beating, slow and steady. 10 maybe 20 beats a minute. I heard the sound of my ticking clock and together they sounded like a waltz, 1– 2–3, 1– 2–3, the sound of my heart striking the first beat. All of this was happening in my room, so it was very hard to know if it was really happening. But as I saw myself in the bed and heard my heart and the clock marking the waltz 156


time I saw Karina dancing around the room, in the dress she wore at our wedding. Waltzing around the room, that got larger and larger, until it was a bed in the middle of the ballroom. It was the hall of the Sons of Italy and empty but for the two of us. She slowly reached her hand to me and lifted me out of bed, like she was floating. And we danced around that hall, dead disappearing and the wooden floor so smooth from years of dancing and weddings and

bachelor

parties

and

Christmas

pageants and bingo and card playing and our dancing slowly turned to water and we were floating above the surface. We could see our reflection so clearly, she was just as I remembered her on our wedding day and I was young too. Our dancing selves above the water were older, me as I am now, she as the day she died but glowing and beautiful. Then we seemed to disappear in the fall while our reflections kept dancing. Then water became a Lake and it was Lake Michigan. I could still hear my heartbeat but I was sitting on the beach. I sat as the waves crashed to the same beat as my heart, splashing on the shore and me falling asleep on the beach. The light of 157


the scene in the dream and then in my window woke me up – I had fallen asleep. Again.

Monday, October 19, 1959 Stayed in and looked at books all day, though

I

think

I

need

to

have

my

prescription changed. I found a stack of old, old books in the box

in

the

closet,

covered

with

old

sweaters. It was so cold this morning and the heat was not working well. One book I found was one I remember well. I

bought

it

soon

after

I

arrived

in

Chicago, at some Christian bookseller I think. I thought it would help with my English, though I could only read a few words at a time. Inside the front cover it had a picture of a Bible, which I thought was a good sign. I have it here and it reminds me of the first day I picked it up. Small red book with some gold decoration. I had to have the bookseller explain what the title meant. 158


It is called How to Get On In The World or A Ladder to Practical Success By Major A. R. Calhoun It was published by the Christian Herald, which I thought was another good sign. I carried that small book around with me for many years, and as I learned more English it became more and more clear. I opened to this page as I picked it up "A man must really be one he seems or pretends to be. " At this I have failed completely. Who am I? Which one am I?

159


Wednesday, October 21, 1959 This book keeps staring at me asking to be filled but I feel empty. Maybe just tired. I thought if I could not think of anything to say I would just write the words of others that have affected my life. Like Gilberto, my father, Mr. Cody, Giovanni, and all the others. Sometimes the words of others

rattle

around

in

my

head

like

echoes or cobwebs or like a woven basket that is filled with all those pictures of memories. I hear their words sometimes and see their faces and a feel their presence. All of them are dead and maybe the words of the dead have more power. They must if they survive beyond the grave. One quote from this book I mentioned whose title I have always loved: HOW TO GET ON IN THE WORLD. In it he quotes people who were dead even when the book was written seventy years ago. From page 262 from a man named Sharp: "Always appear endeavor to be really what you wish to appear." I have spent my life doing this, in many ways and many of those 160


ways have not been honest ways. It has been several years since my last offense, so I feel as though I should start writing down the long list of these deceptions. I have forgotten if lying is a mortal sin. I will have to ask the young priest at St. Alphonsus. Perhaps after a certain number of sins you can get a bulk rate on penance, like

at

the

stationary. sometimes truth

post

The have

from

this

office

problem trouble

or is

buying that

separating

interwoven

basket

I the of

things that aren't truth. I will start tomorrow.

Thursday, October 22, 1959 Could not get out of my room today until after 1 PM. Just did not want to get out of bed. I dreamt of Karina again. She used to be in this room long ago. Her brush is still on the bureau. I am still here. I am still here.

161


Sunday, October 25, 1959 Dreams, dreams, and more dreams. All the years are fighting to reach the front of my head it seems. A fitful night sleep. The dog across the way was barking most of the night, cold or hungry. I woke up so tired. I almost didn't go to church. But I did. I got to Saint Alphonsus later than usual (usually I am one of the first one there). But someone was in my usual pew. I didn't recognize them so maybe they are visitors from out of town. I didn't know what to do. I went outside but it was too windy, so came back in with a great door slam. The young priest asked if I was alright, "Yes," I said but my face said no. I went up to the choir loft. There were some seats not being used by the choir, off to the side, and the young organist nodded and

smiled.

I

closed

my

eyes

and

just

listened. I felt the light on my face from another direction. It was coming from the stained-glass of some figure with the Holy Spirit above his head. With the music so close I felt at times I was floating. That 162


has always moved me more than any words coming from the pulpit. Also up so high in rafters I felt slightly closer to God. It would be easier to pull me from up (t)here and a little less disruption if I had been in my usual pew. I looked down and saw them and still I was upset. I tried to breathe slowly but must have breathed too quickly so passed out, or fell asleep. I dreamed of the choir in our village church in Veneto; of the time we went to St. Mark's and heard that huge chorus for that feast day; I dreamed of the Recital Hall at the Fair; those voices above my workshop below like Heaven and Hell. I reached out to touch something and I guess slipped forward. A baritone picked me up and set me back down. Mass ended I stayed. I went down to my regular pew. I just sat there for a long time; I felt the edge of the hymnal

racks

and

held

the

hymnal.

It

opened to Ave Maria. My poor sister sits on the other side of Chicago. I thought of all those paintings she made for me, and then the ones I made myself. God, if I could

only

paint

again.

Or

make

those

strange figures. So long ago. I can barely hold this pen. I can’t see very well now. 163


It's after 10 PM and trying to prop myself up on pillows to get this down. I am to(o) tired

to

make

it

makes

sense;

the

old

chiefs from the Wild West show said that words were a drawing of the string of lies from the whites. Pull them and they fall apart. I don't believe that but the words I put down are only one old man's memory. One of my last drawings.

Tuesday, October 27, 1959 This headache has been going on for two days and Mrs. Kovacini he says I should go to the hospital. It reminds me of the ones I used to get, a long time ago, after that fall from the horse and the kick in the head in Mr. Cody's show on the 4th of July. Weeks later I remember having some kind of dreams or visions and saw color more brightly sometimes and had a very strong reaction to red wine, so I would always get sick

when

I

went

out

with

the

other

Italian laborers at the end of the week. I had one glass last night but I'm not sure 164


that would do it. These are young man's headaches. The visions that came from them back then gave me many of the ideas for the works that I made in the Music Building studio. Walking Bear said that some were born with visions, some got them near death. Others got to them from a sudden jolt or shock, others from long periods of prayer or meditation. And still others from drugs, like peyote, which I was always afraid to try, though in the one (of my) travels I had ample opportunity. The headaches are like heavy book covers that hold in the stories, as if they would escape otherwise. They are also like boxes holding pictures. They are solid things with strong magnets to hold these chains (?) in. These

visions

were

mostly

faces

that

turned into objects and objects that turned into faces. The pain is very intense but it is worth it to see the images for the first time in a long time. Some are starting to mix with 165


images from my apartment, the books I have read and images on the TV. They come too fast to write down or draw and I have not drawn for years.

Right now I am writing this even though this headache makes my right eye practically blind. I can still see mostly, like a movie screen on one side and seeing the world with the left. It's always the right eye – I think that's where I was kicked because I have below and see – sometimes I have in chase my eye to rest but this maybe text coming. I went person of the people before I did it.* * Illegible

Thursday, October 29, 1959 I can't remember writing that the other day and I can't even read it. In less than two months I will be 88 years old. I thought for a long time when I was young that I would love to be as old as my great-grandfather,

who 166

made

it

to

100.


Right now just trying to make it through the week. I

remember

a

little

of

what

happened

yesterday. I woke up early again after a night of dreams and wanted to write them down.

I

couldn't

find

this

book

and

searched the living room for a pen and paper: I could only find an old pad of sheet music and only a few pages. I got it in my head to write everything in order so I took the eleven pages that were left in the

notebook

and

tore

them

into

eight

pages and laid them out on the kitchen table. It looked like I might have left some olive oil on the table so some bled through. I tried to clean it off and lay them out. I started to write down all of the years of my life in order and had begun with 1872. But then I began to think my mother was wrong that maybe it was 1871 or maybe I could have been wrong this whole time and I will just be 87 in December. I tried not to think about it but laid out the sheets with dates and some of the facts I could remember. But a window was

a

through,

little and

open began

and to

167

a

breeze

blow

the

came sheets


around the room, the dates were flying by and I tried to grab them and they sailed by my head. One flew under the table and I found my slipper there but I must have bumped my head on the way back up because I woke up this morning in the kitchen on the floor. With some of these papers stuck to my arms and some on my head when I must have tried to stop the bleeding but there didn't seem to be any blood, well maybe just a little. 1893 was the page on my head, with a little blood stain near the 4th of July. Also there were many papers in the sink and around the walls that looked as if they

had

caught

on

fire.

I

remember

moving; I tried to make some coffee and the brown coil of the burner was on many pages. I must have put them in the sink and hose them down with the dish rinser. I am lucky I did not die, I guess. This morning I was too tired to clean up the kitchen, but after lunch I gathered up the wet

and

oily,

crumpled,

and

partially

burned years and put them in the sink. I have some lighter fluid left from when I smoked and decided it was good idea to get 168


rid of the whole mess. I guess that wasn't such a good idea because it burned a little of the underside of the hood where the grease has built up. I got some baking soda from the fridge to throw on it, so in the end

the

kitchen

looked

and

smelled

a

little like the inside of a tee-pee. After the fire was out I sat at the kitchen table and poured a glass of wine. That's where I am sitting at this very minute. I pulled out some general and cheese and some hard bread. I found the TV Guide from a few weeks ago. A new show called "The Twilight Zone" is on

now.

The

first

episode

was

called

"Where is Everyone?" about the last man on earth. I'd like to see that someday.

Friday, October 30, 1959 Cleaned up the kitchen after 11:00, when I woke up. Trash gets picked up Monday so I wanted to be sure I had it out of the house before then.

169


I couldn't find the mop so I used a sponge to clean up the ash and baking soda and lots

of

paper.

I

haven't

cleaned

the

kitchen for a long time so I kept finding things

that

should

not

be

there.

Afterwards it was so quiet in the kitchen. And cold. I want to get a haircut down the street so had to wear my overcoat. I always find a funeral card in my pocket when I wear my overcoat. When I got there at the barber's his son told me that Joe had died just three weeks ago. I hadn't heard. As young Joe cut my hair he told me about the funeral and all the people who came to the reception. Joe cut my hair for 45 years. Some people are not married that long. When I walked home, the wind blew. The house was cold. I did not read.

1 AM Saturday, October 31, 1959 Halloween when the ghosts appear. They have begun. I cannot sleep. Will they? 170


Some children bravely make their way up the walk wearing their masks and looking around. It has the appearance of a haunted house. Mrs. Kovacini has candy and greets them at the door. She decorates a little. Me I stay on my side of the house, yellow light eerily shining out. The neighborhood kids first thought I was dead, then when some noticed me thought I was a ghost. I'm not so sure sometimes which is true. The

masks

reminded

me

of

course

of

Carnival at home as a child, and also of the mask performers mostly in Alaska and the Northwest. And the Native American and African wings I walked through as a docent for all those many years. At night I would imagine the faces of the people that would have been alive under those masks now under glass boxes or hanging on the wall. So quiet but I remember the sound, and the smell of those Kwakiutl dancers carrying those huge masks and the smell and the intricate Yupik masks of the Eskimo exhibit at the Field Museum and seeing some for the first time at the Fair. Wearing a mask as a child at Carnival or making them at Gilberto's. Then of course 171


the

many

I

made

in

the

Music

Hall

basement then that warehouse for a while (When

was

that?)

Then

in

the

basement

hiding them from Karina. Now I wear this mask of an old man that on my best days I feel I could pull off to reveal the boy, the young immigrant, the traveler, the husband. This face in the mirror carries all that time with me like a tarnished hide. Laughing

outside,

broken

bottles

and

orange streetlights.

Sunday, November 1, 1959 All Saint's Day Sleepless night plagued by half played-out memories. Decided to go to the early mass early, to get my pew. The priest had a sermon about fear and God's plan to lift us out of fear. I slept I the pew a little the music was too serene to stay awake.

172


I dreamed I ascended and joined the other saints but could not find Karina, so I floated back down to my pew, tired. Long

walk

home.

Sunday

is

never

long

enough. It seems they were longer when I was

younger.

Still

waiting

to

wake

up

Monday with the whole world looking back at

me

smiling.

Instead

dry

toast

and

laundry, the paper, television. That spark in the eye (?) was like a lightning bolt. I still remember that feeling, like a lost limb. This sounds terrible. I've had a good life. Time to shut up and live what's left. God knows I try.

November 2, 1959 All Soul's Day Pray

for

the

faithfully

departed.

Oh

Karina, my parents, Giovanni, Alphonso the merchant, all my brothers, most everyone on that ship coming over, the workers at the Fair, the Indians in Mr. Cody's show, 173


most everyone I met on the street since I moved to America and back in Italy. They outnumber the living. They must be at peace, except those poor unbaptized bastard children and some Republicans. And they are in purgatory. I can feel them sometimes, like a cool breeze and a whisper. It's comforting in a way. Sometimes in my dreams it is more beautiful and poetic. The book of their lives has already been written. What is left of mine? Up early and writing by the glow of the TV. Don't want to sleep. Too many souls want to talk, and I'm tired.

November 3, 1959 Tuesday. I spent some time walking today. I felt like I needed to clear my head. I walked

by

the

Lake,

which

always

has

helped in the past. It was windy, but I remembered

to

bring

my

overcoat.

The

young people were wearing tee-shirts and jeans, and didn't think anything of it. 174


These

past

exhausting

few and

nights brought

up

have

been

so

many

memories. I thought of bringing this book with me to write some things down, but I figured that it would be too windy. Maybe I could have sat in a coffee shop, but I wanted to see the water. I

remember

this

water

and

I

wonder

sometimes if it remembers me.

November 4, 1959 Nothing.

November 5, 1959 Nothing.

November 6, 1959 Slept better last night, so when I wake up in the morning with some warm sunlight on my face I felt like a new man. Actually I 175


felt like an old man remembering what it felt to wake up as a young man. I'm looking at this book and I'm slowly running out of pages. There is more to say, more than could fill ten books, but it's not coming as easy as it did this summer. That's alright. I'm giving myself in

a

little

credit

for

writing

down

anything at all. Most lives go unnoted, stories untold. My father had a great life full of adventure as a young man and war and in love with my mother, working hard and raising a family. My few pages are all that are left of his story. Mr. Cody had had it different. So many books about him you can't count in other languages, and even the Wild West told his story (though all not true) and stage plays and comic books and short stories in papers and magazines. Nobody knows my story but me and now that I am old it is starting to slip away. In a way that's fine. In the Northwest after a ceremony all the masks would usually get burned, the act of living the ceremony was the important thing and what was left was 176


not

important.

Those

participants

those

dancers and holy men got to live those moments. That cannot be saved but in some spiritual way. I guess I always get philosophical when I get enough sleep.

Sunday, November 8, 1959 A very quiet Sunday. Mass, music, a very long

walk

past

the

Lake,

many

people

stopping to see if I needed a ride. Of course an old man needs a ride. There is something about walking into this warm room after a brisk walk into the wind. Time seems to slow down. I slowly move around the house stopping to look at this and that remembering some of the old times. You could hear the wind howling outside, but it was warm inside and I made myself a Genoa sandwich and sat down and ate slowly with a glass of wine. I planned to write about all the things I was

thinking,

all

the 177

old

stories

and


journeys, people I had met, stories about Karina. I was happy sitting on the couch, looking out the window and around the room

and

quietly

returning

to

those

moments. It was dark soon and I found myself still on the couch, with some books about the Fair and the Northwest tribes for a pillow. I woke up smiling and went to crash into my bed. A good day.

Wednesday, November 11, 1959 Veterans Day today. I never liked when they changed it from Armistice Day just a few

years

something something

ago.

Still

different for

50

hard

after

years.

to

call

calling

Well

at

it

least

they're doing something for the veterans even if it's just for the parades. I had friends who died in both those wars. I was always ashamed that I never got to serve, though my friends lied to get in changing their names and doing all sorts of things. I never wanted to kill anything and in fact fainted when I saw my first man get killed. 178


Mr.

Cody

shot

a

bandit

when

we

were

traveling in the West. Tried to board the train on horseback and Mr. Cody then shot him

off

the

horse.

I

saw

my

great-

grandfather's body when he died on a visit to our house when I was a boy in Italy. Giovanni and I saw him in his bed, all blue and stiff with his eyes still opened. We prayed and crossed ourselves and went to tell father but I'll never forget those open eyes. Actually I've been having dreams again. Only they are not always when I am in bed. They also continue when I wake up, like they did back a few years ago when the doctor

diagnosed

condition'.

That

me was

with a

a

couple

'nervous of

years

after Karina died. Mrs. Kovacini suggested that I go see the doctor, just in case, and that I looked terrible for not sleeping. I went this morning. It's funny looking around the room, wondering what everyone has. Many looked at me and gave me a kind nod, like I was a pinhead in the circus. The doctor asked a few questions and gave me two bottles of pills. A white one to help me sleep and a blue one when 179

I


started

having

what

he

called

"waking

dreams." I asked if I could still have a glass of wine now and then. "At your age," he said, "I would do whatever you feel like." What kind of advice is that? It's true, but to hear if from a doctor. There were a lot of veterans marching in the parade today, some who I knew, and many had a distant look on their face. I know they can't forget. Each had a secret inside, one that greets them at night and sometimes

during

the

day.

My

memories

visit throughout the day... Some are rude guests some beautiful dancing soft shapes like angels. I took the white one to help me sleep. Mrs. Kovacini is right. I do look tired-I think I'll save the blue pills until I really need them. I don't mind dreaming during the day. It passes the time. I think the white pill is working.

180


Saturday, November 14, 1959 Have been sleeping pretty well lately, and this morning slept in and read in bed, something I have not done in years. I was too cold I the rest of the house anyway, something wrong with the radiator again. In the early days in Chicago, we never had heat.

After

Giovanni

and

I

found

that

tenement apartment after the work on the Fair

ended,

it

never

had

heat.

The

landlord said he saved the hot water for the

white

people

and

the

laundry,

the

hard-working Germans, Poles, ad Swedes. I was fine we had plenty of blankets and I got a buffalo robe from Walking Bear in exchange for one of my masks, and some saddle

blankets.

There

were

some

old

Italian women who would knit sweaters and darn clothes. We were OK but the Sicilians always seemed to be really cold, the poor ones anyway. We got jobs doing this and that and I visited

the

Wild

West

nearby.

181

when

they

were


I can't remember how it happened but after the

arsonist

burned

down

the

Fair

building, things began to change. Things just fell into place. I'm having trouble remembering exactly but I remember an easy time for a while. When you are young, things seem easier anyway, and you get along more easily, even living on nothing. Today

was

an

easy

day

I

still

have

nothing, but it is okay. I have what I need. And memories make up the rest.

Sunday, November 15, 1959 I slept like a baby last night. I dreamt when I was a boy. I can't remember all the dreams, but they seemed like an endless stream, almost in real-time, reliving all those

moments

with

Mother

and

Father,

fishing, and walking down dirt roads and swimming and working with Gilberto and going to Venice and girls and good summer food and the Lake and the smell of grapes and the feeling of the sun on my face. 182


I woke up with the sun on my face and felt fully alive for the first time in a while. I went to church and thanked the Lord for this life of mine. As hard as some of it has been in many ways it's been a dream come true.

Monday, November 16, 1959 I had a nice long breakfast this morning after a good night’s sleep. Woke up tired but not too bad. That pill sure helps. I wonder when they came up with that one. My father could have used that back when we were kids. Not always, just sometimes when he couldn't get much work he would worry about not having enough money to feed us, so he would sometimes be up late and walk around the kitchen or sometimes outside if it was summer. I saw him once when I got up to go to the bathroom one night. He didn't see me, I was very quiet. That's when I was five or six. Later when we got older we could help out and work so he wouldn't worry so much. He 183


loved his family and we all knew it all the time. It must've been a lot of work and worrying for my Mother too. I never had one of my own. Karina and I never could. I wonder what it would be like to have a son. I went down in the basement after lunch to look for old pictures. It's such a mess down there of course but I found some. I found a picture of Karina and me sitting in

some

portrait

studio.

I

can't

ever

remember what it was from, I think it must have been here in Chicago. She was so beautiful and I was so lucky to find her. God took her to soon, but we certainly had a wonderful life when she was with us. Despite the hardships and everything. I look at that photo and remember the smell

of

that

room,

that

couch.

These

photographs are like wandering back in time. I need to find more. With all this sleep and looking at these pictures I am starting to remember more. I'll look through more boxes tomorrow.

184


Tonight it's time for my little white pill and hope to dream of the old days again.

Thursday, November 19, 1959 Woke up with a terrible headache and I can't seem to see out of my right eye. This has happened before and usually comes back in the afternoon. But this headache is very bad. I have to put a cold towel on my head and lay down to be able to take the pain. This and a little pill the doctor said to take only if the pain is too much to take. I can't write anymore. I'm going to listen to the machine. I hope the Story Hour is on. I can't stand the new music or the news. Just a soft voice reading a nice story. Like Greer Garson or some of those actresses. Reminds me of my mother reading stories. sometimes,

Karina her

would voice

smooth, like an angel. I miss her so.

185

was

read so

to

me

soft

and


Friday, November 20, 1959 Woke up very early and could not get back to sleep, but at least I could see out of my eye, although it twitches a little. Turn on the light to read a little, got tired and tried to sleep but couldn't. Went back and forth like that all night. It is now later in the evening and I feel much better after a nice supper. Maybe I need to cut down on coffee and red wine. It's

only

one

glass,

but

maybe

it

is

keeping me up and giving me headaches. I read some of that little red book, chapter entitled

SINGLENESS

OF

PURPOSE

and

PATIENCE and PERSEVERANCE and A SOUND MIND AND BODY. With a title like "How to Get On in the World" it is certainly full of advice and suggestions, most of which I am too old to take. Still it makes for good reading at 3 AM. Perhaps someone will read this book at 3 AM sometime in the future. Who knows?

186


Saturday, November 21, 1959 Nothing

much

happened

today.

I

looked

through some old books and photos, even found a letter downstairs in one of the boxes in the basement. I have trouble remembering things. I was going to write some things down but as soon as the came into my head they were gone.

At

night

in

dreams

many

things

appear and then move on quickly. It is the same

during

the

day.

My

memory

seems

flat, like it doesn't extend much past my forehead. I remember the feeling of having deep memories, especially looking back at some of the things I wrote in this journal during the summer. I can't hold a story together

for

more

that

(than)

a

few

seconds. Some images: a woman in a poster in Sienna; the back of an old truck when I was young; the cold apartment and seeing our breath; a birthday party as a boy when I got sick. Giovanni getting in a fight on the ship; getting dressed backstage and the tour of Mr. Cody's show and missing a boot; night

on

Lake

Michigan

light. That's all.

187

with

the

lamp


Sunday, November 22, 1959 Forgot to go to church this morning. Was puttering

around

the

house

until

afternoon until I realized it. Down for the rest of the afternoon. Didn't eat, didn't know what to do. Looked at some art books and National Geographic. Try to watch football. Straightened the utensil drawer. Just wanted for the day to end. Then had trouble falling asleep – that's why I am writing this at 10:30; just lying in bed I tell myself, and do. Will see what happens in the morning. Every day is an adventure now. Lord help me. Karina look out for me. Night comes eventually to everyone.

Monday, November 23, 1959 Sat in the house all day. It was very quiet and time passed very slowly. Didn't watch TV

or

listen

to

the

radio.

Just

sat.

Watched the light change. Had a little 188


something to eat. Got dark early and read a little before bed. That was all.

Tuesday, November 24, 1959 Woke up very cold – heat was off. Went downstairs to kick the furnace to get it started, usually works, and it did. While I was down there tripped over a box at the front of the stairs. It was full of old letters and cards and things I have not seen in years. I don't remember seeing it there before but I brought it upstairs to look at. It had pictures of all the brothers, and Anna Maria. One of Karina and I, sometime before the wedding. And letters from my dear Karina. Some were a little waterstained and mice had chewed some away, but I just looked at her handwriting and flew back in time. Before I knew it it was dark and I hadn't eaten. I ate some bread and Genoa and crackers. I wanted to stay up and look 189


through every letter over and over but I could not keep my eyes open. Tomorrow I can go back again. Tonight I hope I dream of those days. Those days I loved.

Thanksgiving Thursday, November 26, 1959 I woke up late and stayed in my pajamas and bathrobe for most of the morning. It was only after turning on the radio did I realize

it

was

Thanksgiving.

I

had

completely forgotten. Usually the Sons of Italy have a dinner for

widowers

and

others,

I

had

gone

sometimes in the past but it is always a sad event. I'm

not

sure

exactly

but

I

remember

getting dressed, but not knowing what to do. So I sat on the couch in my suit and overcoat. I sat and looked through my box of letters and photographs.

190


The heat wasn't working again so I'm glad I had my overcoat. Sometime after 4 o'clock there was a knock on the door. It was Mrs. Kovacini from next-door. (I had heard through the wall of our duplex but not clearly) she had her family over and asked if I'd like to join them.

"No

thank

you"

I

said.

She

understood. "How about a piece of pie?" She came back with a piece on a plate with whipped cream. I love pumpkin pie. Karina loved pumpkin pie "Thank you" I said. "Happy Thanksgiving Alfonso," she said. "Give my best to your family," I said. The pie was delicious. The room was cold and still, except for the soft murmur next door

softly

murmuring

music,

laughing,

toasts and good-nights. It was a beautiful sound to go to sleep to. I woke up on the couch about midnight. Went to my room. Had to pull out a few 191


more quilts, found one that Karina made. Some

of

the

fabric

still

smells

like

lavender, from that old chest. I gave thanks to God for all the years we had together. I put the photographs next to my bedside table. So lucky. A woman like K is one in a million. I wrote these words hoping to sleep dreaming about her again. Sleep, come free me.

Friday, November 27, 1959 Slept for a long time; I'm so tired lately. But I remember a few dreams, or at least parts of them.

I just remember being a

young man and that feeling of strength and

promise

and

existence,

especially

coming to a new country. Things happened, like

trips

and

travel

on

trains

and

working and laughing and singing. But that feeling – I just really felt that young feeling like it was a day ago. Some dreams just seem to last so long and this one was a whole morning worth of moments and 192


warm blood pumping through my veins and Karina and that feeling of young love and smiles and all those things. I woke up trying to dream it back, tried to grab it back to me but it left like a cloud. The bedroom was so still and cold when I woke up. I felt my face to see if I was still an old man, and I was. I am not sad. I'll always have that dream somewhere. I had to get out of the house so took a walk to the market. I haven't been there since Al died this summer. His wife and sons were working and doing okay "It goes on," she said. "I just keep going on." It was cold on the way home, but the wind felt

good

breeze

on

on the

my

face.

ship.

Like

Like

the

the

ocean

wind

in

Alaska that fall. Same face felt that wind. It keeps going.

193


Saturday, November 28 Wake up slightly dizzy, like I used to sometimes,

seeing

some

flashes

feel

my

breathing. Sit on the couch after getting out of bed. Woke up late afternoon, hungry but not dizzy anymore. Ate some dinner early and crawled back into bed. The night seems it's

heavy, cold

sometimes,

out.

The

moon

especially was

when

bright.

I

wonder what it is like there?

Sunday, November 29, 1959 Remember to go to church this week. The homily was about being thankful for God's gifts to us. At some point a few minutes into it I must have either fell asleep and dreamed

or

had

one

visions I used to

of

those

daydream

have. About all

the

people I have met and what they gave me, made me who I am. It moved from scene to scene almost in chronological order. Seeing my mother and father, my brothers and Anna Maria, Giovanni and the people on the Show, the man at Ellis Island that family in New York, all the workers in 194


Chicago at the Fair, Mr. Cody, all those Indians

I

met

and

performed

with,

the

people at the Museum and from all the trips

to

Washington

and

Alaska

and

Wyoming. Faces and faces and handshakes and smiles and waves goodbye and then all that was left was Karina. She said nothing but just smiled at me. I woke up to the choir singing "We Thank Thee Now our God" (sic) * * “Now Thank We All Our God� I walked home slowly and felt like I had just finished something, like the end of the movie and what was happening now was afterwards, much later. I don't know how to describe it or what it means. I realize my birthday is less than four weeks away. I need to finish this book of my life, but I have only been talking about each day. I have not written too well and I have missed a lot. I will try this week to write about all the things I missed, if I can remember. I know there is more but my head seems to be not as deep as it used to be. 195


I mean my memories is (sic) close to me, my head, around me not deep and far away. I don't know what I'm saying it doesn't make any sense but it feels, kind of flat on my fore head or right in front of my eyes. Anyone who finds this and reads it will surely think I am crazy. And maybe they will be right.

Monday, November 30, 1959 I woke up and was determined to get myself organized

and

go

through

that

box

of

photographs and notes and write something about them. There are also some old ball game tickets and mass cards, along with business

cards

various

bits

some of

old

junk,

postcards, or

some

'memorabilia'

depending on how you look at it. I tend to save anything and sometimes it becomes too much, then go through a period of purging and feel remorse. Throwing away the past does not seem like a good idea, but slowly it can surround you, then there is no more present left to live. So looking at these things brings me right back to the first 196


time I held it or saw it. Same hand, same eyes. I still find it interesting these objects passing through time. I don't know what the philosophers say but it ties us to the

past,

like

a

conduit

or

like

an

electrical wire. All the things here remind me of Karina. And 87-year-old man can be tired, Lord knows.

Tuesday, December 1, 1959 I

can't

even

read

my

own

handwriting

anymore, this hand hurts again and there has been a floating blind spot on my right eye. My hand shakes a little too. Maybe it's just the cold. I

remember

as

a

boy

we

would

begin

getting ready for Christmas on December 1st; Father thought before that was too early. Of course there were five of us boys and were excited when we were young. Since my birthday was also on Christmas it was extra special, but a little sad that I 197


didn't

have

my

own

day.

My

favorite

present was when I was seven, and my father

made

me

a

wooden

carriage

and

carved a small horse to pull it. I'm sure it was just a simple carriage, but to me it made

(?) me

think

of

journeys

I

would

dream up, I(n) Italy and America sometimes in the West when I was in a carriage I thought of that gift and me inside of it somehow holding a small carriage with me inside of it somehow. I was always having thoughts like that when I was that age, but

I

couldn't

tell

too

many

people,

because they always thought I was crazy. I would tell my mother my ideas and she would listen patiently with a smile on her face and always saying "Oh Alfonso, you have such an imagination. I don't know where you get it." I have thoughts like that all the time now with no one to tell. I'll tell this paper if I can get my hand to move.

Mrs. Kovacini dropped of(f) the recent Life Magazine cry manual are it (?) To(o) tired to write more. But must keep this up. This book will be a chance (?) I 198


will (?) myself. I deserve something (?)-I'm made of this. (?) * * Illegible

Wednesday, December 2, 1959 I should not try to write when I am tired, my handwriting is so terrible. I can't seem to be able to control my hand, but maybe it doesn't matter what I say but that I have said it. I am running out of pages at the same time I am running out of things I can remember, so maybe it will work out okay. It is funny to see myself writing all of this

in

English

when

I

can

remember

writing always in Italian when I was a child.

And

even

when

I

came

here

to

America. Everyone said to learn to write as soon as you can to appear to be a real American. These books I learned to read were children's books at first but were very

helpful.

I

remember

my

favorites

were the ones about cowboys and Indians and the history of the Revolutionary War. 199


After a while I could read the newspaper and magazine Life and some of the others. I tried only to speak it to practice, I have a feeling lately to want to speak and write in Italian once again, but it has been a long time since I did a lot of it. I remember on the tour of Italy with Mr. Cody's show, I kept a journal in Italian, but included words I was learning from the performance,

the

members

the

of

roustabouts, Freak

Show.

and I

the wrote

everything down there, knowing it would be lost forever if I did not. So many of those notes burned in the fire and some were lost in the Lake (?) that day. But I think they are some back there somewhere, waiting for a key to unlock them. I wish Giovanni was here, he could always get me to repeat those stories of the ship and our arrival, the first years in Chicago and back in Italy. I(t) was all fresh in my head back then, some of it just happened. It is so far away now I hope to reel it in like a fish that is far out in the Lake. I will catch that fish someday.

200


Thursday, December 3, 1959 Cold out today, with a little snow from over the Lake. Stay in all day. Luckily the heat is working. I remember that first winter in Chicago. In January the coldest week on the record, in 1893. We were freezing in the guest house, I remember always bringing home scraps of wood from the Fair construction site so we could burn it in the stove at the end of the rooms. Sometimes we would leave our bunks and sleep around the wood stove. Men would always tell stories about even colder days, but it was -16° F for a solid week, and I never remember being colder, except for the trip to Alaska with Antonio, when we couldn't get our clothes dried because of the salt water. That was 60 years ago for God’s sake. Later, when I read about Shackleton's exhibition (sic) (in 1914?) down in Antarctica, I think it was in National Geographic, I would talk about our adventure in Alaska in the same way, even about

though it.

We

there

was

(Antonio)

201

nothing went

up

heroic like

a


madman looking for gold and we nearly got killed. I'm glad I didn't get killed. It means I can sit in this warm kitchen and have a nice Genoa

sandwich

in

my

bathrobe

and

slippers. There were some other tough winters but people just make do. The city didn't stop; people just kept doing what needed to get done until it was taken care of. What

needs

to

get

done

now?

Read

the

paper. Making coffee. Making lunch. My days used to start early when I was working at the museum. I’d get in early to work in the basement studio, before anyone got there. I remember the first time I talked to Mr. Colson, the curator of North American artifacts, about the masks I had discovered. He was tired of his job and wanted to discover something. So I wrapped up a few of my masks and put them in an old crate, then opened it for him to the next day. He couldn't believe it and made some notes and the next week they made space for the masks along the Northwest 202


Coast tribes. I had to have one of those labels and the woman on the cleaning gang helped me write out the story because my English was still not so good then. She was happy to do it, her job sweeping the same galleries day after day drove her mad. She said she had always wanted to be a writer, but she had baby and that was that. Now they were grown and her husband died in a construction accident. I/she wrote up the story to go along with the mask and gave it to Mr. Colson, which he cut into strips and displayed along with the masks. That was how the Pianistas made it into the Field Museum in Chicago. There were many more after that and Karina help me after she found out and Mrs. O'Toole died. Maybe I should not have done it. It's a sin to tell a lie and the lie grew into big spider web that I got caught in. I wonder if they are still there. I have not been there in years. I was afraid to. Then time passed.

203


I think I'll go for a visit soon. When I'm feeling a little better. It will be good to see them again. It's the only

family

I

have

left.

They

I

have

known for years, whose stories I know. The Pianistas return.

Friday, December 4, 1959 Tired today. I think sometimes my heart medicine is what does it, so I stopped taking it once in a while. Maybe tonight I will get to bed a little earlier. I stayed up

a

little

late

thinking

about

those

museum days, and had a dream about it. I don't think that glass of wine before bed helped.

I'll try it one more time, just to be use weaken (?) * * Illegible

204


Saturday, December 5, 1959 Must have fallen asleep writing. Woke up with lamp on and a black ink stain on my shirt. I remember "The Black Spot" from Treasure Island when I was a boy (or was it when I came here?) He either way it's bad

luck

and

ruined

another

pair

of

pajamas. But who sees these things but me?

Sunday, December 6, 1959 Long night without much sleep. I went to bed right after dinner, not feeling well. Try to sleep until 10 o'clock and got up to go to the bathroom. Opened the door to the basement instead and nearly fell down the stairs. I caught myself from falling but caught

my

left

hand

on

a

hook

and

wrenched my back pretty bad. The cut was pretty deep so it took me a while

to

stop

the

bleeding,

in

the

bathroom. I left a trail of blood – looked like a crime scene (I remember the St. Valentine's

Day

massacre

photos

in

the

paper and that friend Vincent who was in 205


the neighborhood that day and heard the gunshots) I finally found the gauze and tape and still had to tie a rag around my hand. I looked in the mirror for a long time, in that dim light and thought about all the times I've cut myself. When I was a boy I would have the same dream of getting my hand cut off when my father told me the story of the carpenter in Venice who lost his hand when his ax slipped.

My

father

always

(said)

to

be

careful because you could lose your hand in the blink of an eye using tools. He was always very careful, and just once nicked the top of his little finger, and that was when he was quite a bit older and perhaps a little drunk. I couldn't find any aspirin for my back and it hurt quite badly, (as he still does as I write this) I thought I would have a glass of wine but there was only a very small glass left. I knew I had a little bottle of whiskey somewhere, but my young doctor told me to 206


give it up, because of my medication. I went back to my bed to lie down. I lay there with the light of the moon shining in, my back aching and not able to sleep, just tossing and turning. Then I remember. It was that old bottle of whiskey I won at the Sons of Italy raffle. It had some picture of an Indian on it; it looked like that Indian trick rider from the European tour of the Wild West. He gave me that little bone carving with the eagle on it. I remember he died after he went to work for Barnum. Broke his neck right in the middle of the performance. I still couldn't sleep because the pain so I got

up

slowly

and

went

down

to

the

basement. This time, holding the handrail. I thought that bottle must be down by the workbench

in

that

old

suitcase

I

kept

under there. That old suitcase had about quarter inch of mildew on it and looked to be

a

little

rat-eaten.

The

bottle

was

inside though, along with some newspaper clippings, an old pack of cigarettes and some photographs. There was a picture of Karina

at

the

Christmas

pageant,

back

when we used to have it back with them. 207


She was so beautiful. Those eyes looked out at me from 30 years ago and said "Oh Al," the way she used to do. I wiped the mildew

off

on

(with)

a

rag

on

the

workbench. I picked the photograph and the bottle and went upstairs. It was not easy making it back up the stairs, but I made it to the bathroom and found myself a glass. To hell with the doctor. I had two (or maybe three) and went back to the bedroom to lie down. My hand still hurt a little but I took off the rag and it felt a little better. The whiskey must have worked because I couldn't feel that twinge anymore. I must have slept for about an hour or so but woke up from a dream with my heart racing. I was back at the Fair and moving a piano with Giovanni when it slipped and fell on my hand. I was sweating and my hand was throbbing. I must have fallen asleep on it. My head was spinning a little too, but at least my back didn't hurt. It was like that for the rest of the night, sleepy,

tossing,

waking

up

in

a

sweat,

dozing off. The dreams hopped from the 208


Museum days, back to my childhood, to the ship, the Fair, Karina, Saint Alphonsus, shaken around back and forth like one of the boxes in the basement, full of odds and ends from who knows when. I decided to just get up at 7:30. There was a blood stain on the bed and the sheets were covered in sweat. I needed to clean my cut and get coffee. Everything takes so long when you are old. When you are happy, you don't mind the

time

passing.

But

I

seemed

to

be

moving in slow motion and probably was so I didn't hurt my back again. After two hours I managed to clean myself up, get dressed for church, and had a cup of coffee and some toast. I walked outside and it was very cold, even with my overcoat. But I'm a stubborn old man so I started walking. I had only gone two blocks when I couldn't catch my breath. Two young turks slowed down their new Chevy

and

yelled

"Need

some

help

grandpa?" I just smiled and shook my head waving them on; I held on to signpost as I watched them drive away. I remember being 209


their age. So long ago but in this old, dry bag of skin I still can remember that fire of the young. I made it to the park at the end of the block and sat down. My gloves weren't to(o) heavy and the one on the left hand didn't sit well because of my bandage. As I sat there trying to catch my breath, my hat blew off. After taking the Lord's name in vain, I started to laugh. I laughed for quite a while as I watched my hat blow down the street. I've always loved hats, even as a child, and I've had that Fedora since 1947. I remember buying it downtown, and that young saleswoman. I remember her smile, like Anna Maria's. Luckily, the hat got caught up on the fence so when I got up to strength, walked across the street and picked it up. I put it on tightly and started walking toward the church again. A car pulled up. It was Mrs. Patelli, and her two girls. She lives down the street and usually brings cookies at Christmas time. "Mr. Veneto, can I give you a ride? It's so cold out." 210


I am a stubborn old man but I am not crazy. I nodded, and she leaned over and opened the door. "Thank you,” I said. "You know I've been walking to church for the past 50 years. " "But it's so cold out," said one of the girls. "And you're so old," said the other. “Yes I am, and tired.” Will write more tomorrow.

Monday, December 7, 1959 Thankfully slept in until 8 o'clock. Hand still hurts but better, and my back is sore but only hurts when I bend over too much. Did not do too much today. I spent most of the day trying to remember where I was when Pearl Harbor was attacked this day back in 1941. It was a Sunday and we had just gotten back from church. (I went with old man Ceppetelli and his wife that day.) We heard about the attack on the radio 211


sometime that afternoon, after lunch at their house. Their grandson was somewhere in the Pacific and had been stationed at Pearl Harbor the year before. I remember Mrs. Ceppetelli just praying to herself on that afternoon. At

church

yesterday

pastor

gave

the

homily about remembering the dead. I sat there and remembered all those hundreds who were gone from the world who I had seen, worked with, grown up with, famous and unknown. At some point in the service the

light

caught

my

eyes

through

the

stained glass and I had one of my long day dream visions. I saw all of the people in the pews of the church, my parents, my brother, Karina, Mrs. Mr. Cody, rows of Indians, rows of workers from the Fair, museum

workers,

neighborhood,

kids

folks from

from

growing

the up

in

Veneto, people from the boat. They didn't look like saint flesh but kind of glowing skin

like

a

light

from

within.

And

smiling, Karina most of all. Mrs. Patelli's voice gently woke me out of my

vision.

The

service

everyone was going. 212

had

ended

and


"Can we give you a ride home Mr. Veneto?" she asked. It took me a while to realize where I was and that she had driven me there. "No thank you, "I said. But she said it had begun to snow. Her two young daughters looked up at me like two angels, and so I told her yes. She offered to have me over for dinner and I should have said yes but I had her drop me off at the house instead. "Next time," she said. I had a can of soup left and some bread. I turned the heat up a little and put on another sweater. I watched the snowfall. Karina never liked the snow, and we would always stay in. Though a few times we went ice-skating. A very long time ago just after we were married, when the rink was decorated with Christmas lights. That was just yesterday but feels like forever ago. Tonight I sent the photograph of Karina next to my bed. Wrote this and went to bed.

213


Tuesday, December 8, 1959 Slept all through the night last night. It seemed like a very long night full of dreams.

The

longest

one

was

about

the

Field Museum. I was a docent again, and young, but I remember everything I do now that happened afterwards, but it seemed like 1911. It was after I had brought in the artifacts from the Wild West tour and convinced

the

curator

of

the

North

American wing to exhibit the rare Pianista masks and weapons that I had brought on the Wild West tour of Europe. I had given them some in 1894, when I started there but I was just a night watchman. After a few years I worked my way up to docent and made my way from the Far Eastern wing to the North American wing. Dream was just as it happened, except some faces I didn't recognize. I(n) reality, I did get into the museum by luck. After the Fair they hired some of us to join the janitorial staff (did I already write about this?) When I was cleaning one day and some Italian visitors were in the far eastern exhibit I began talking to them, overhearing the talk about being 214


from Venice. First the head docent told me to get back downstairs, but the woman from the

Board

of

Directors

happened

to

be

walking past (Mrs. Pierpoint I think her name was – I only remember because she had a pointy nose.) She was so excited that I

could

speak

Italian

to

the

visiting

tourist that she told the head docent to give me a day job in one of the wings. He didn't like me but did as he was told, and from then on I was a full-fledged docent. I found my English was good enough to understand saying

but

most

of

what

I

would

people

practice

were

from

a

phrasebook at home every night. That was about 1895, on Saint Alphonsus at the time. I worked hard and somehow became wellliked by the other docents and anyone from the board of directors who came to visit, mostly because I came from Venice and would

occasionally

play

the

piano.

I

studied exhibits until I had all of the information memorized, even if I didn't understand what I was saying. Later, when they needed volunteers for the trips to the West Coast, I offered, because the others were too old, married 215


or

just

afraid

of

the

frontier

(from

hearing stories of Indian attack.) When I got back from that first trip to Seattle, they moved me to the North American wing – I learned all I could and made friends with the other docents who had been there longer. One night I noticed that one exhibit space was empty because there was some water damage when there was a leak from the floor above and the plaster needed to be repaired. I don't know what possessed me, but I got this idea to bring in the peonies to masks from my basement studio, many I had made in the basement of the Music Hall building of the Fair. When we were instructed to reinstall the exhibit, I put the Pianista masks in crates and marked them

with

the

Field

Museum

seal

and

brought them into the gallery, saying it was a new exhibit. We installed the masks and weapons along with some weapons and other jewelry as well. I had access to the label – making machine in the basement storage area, so would stay late and make up the labels and some text panels as best I could. Once it was installed, everyone got 216


used to it, and I would add things every week or so. I still don't know what made me do it but that was the beginning of the big lie. When visitors would enter the gallery I would bring them over and begin saying things about the exhibit and I don't know where the words came from. At night I would write down what I remembered saying and made copies for the other docents to learn. It was in a corner of the Wing that was a little hard to get to, so the main North American Indian curator rarely came by. By the time he did (his name was Mr. Williams (?), and a bit of a drinker) he was a few weeks away from being fired. When the new curator arrived, a young man from the New York museums, he was fascinated and helped to find more space for more artifacts. It is amazing what you can remember after a good night’s sleep. That is enough for one day. Tomorrow I will tell the story of the exhibit at the British Museum when I was on tour with Mr. Cody’s show. I have to find that old 217


program downstairs first and some of the photographs.

They

must

be

down

there

somewhere. I took a look downstairs without any luck. Tomorrow I'll bring a lamp down there and replace that missing light bulb. Now that the bandage is off my hand and my back feels a little better I feel like a new man.

Telling

these

stories

brings

back

that fire of youth – the ink flows back up through this pen and into my hand, up my arm and into my head. Each word is like a magic spell, making me a day younger. Don't sleep – still thinking about those early Museum days – sometime seems so fresh in my memory. First time I felt I had arrived and began to feel like an American.

Much

of

it

was

based

on

a

mistake, a lie, and several coincidences. Sometimes I feel bad about all that but not usually. They always said America was and is the land of opportunity. I got to see

so

many

places

and

meet

so

many

people. I think most people feel like they are fooling people sometime, not knowing what they are talking about, but have to 218


keep up appearances. I always wanted to be an

artist

and

do

interesting

things.

I

definitely learned from that, maybe not in an honest way, but I know the Lord will forgive me. I plan to go to confession on Christmas, my yearly ritual; to start the New Year with a clear conscience. I have confessed to this sin a few times; but I think this year I will really tell the truth, the whole truth. I have to draw out of calendar because the dates

are

starting

to

blur

and

become

confused. There have been so many things that have happened and now I am at the worst

place

to

remember.

Between

the

headaches and the lapse in memory, and the days I am just too down to get out of bed, and then the day visions. Sometimes they help me remember – sometimes that makes me feel like it's the end‌ And do not want

to leave the bed. (?) * * Illegible I have to go see Anna Maria. I don't think she will make it too much longer and I want to see if she remembers any of what 219


she did, like make the portrait paintings (which museum

are

some

and

still

some

of

hanging

the

in

the

magazines

and

posters. Her husband was also a printer and so helped me with some of the printed documents.

I

know

I'm

forgetting

many

things but maybe she is in the right place to remember being ten years younger than me. Sleep, come free me. More tomorrow. I feel like I have explained some things but I can't remember some things. Hell, I am going to be 88. It's lucky I can even write, never mind remember some things. I have to look out for signs of those spells, and maybe I should start to take my pills, but sometimes I just don't want to. How did I get this old? I guess I'm happy to be able to remember something. I will try to keep up this energy. I sit and write right before bed and it seems to be a time when I

can

remember

most

though

mostly tired. Now is one of those times. More tomorrow.

220

I

am

the


Wednesday, December 9, 1959 My pen tip broke off and I found this old fountain pen. I hate these fat lines. I can't read my handwriting anyway and now it

all

blurs

together.

The

brown

ink

reminds me of the quill pens back in Italy and those old drawings by Leonardo. We had an old book of them that my father got us for Christmas. I remember pictures of the flying machines and cut away pictures of those eyelids. I remember we found a dead rabbit behind the barn in the back field and Giuseppe took out his pen knife and poked out its eyes. Then he cut it in half and the there was blood and some clear liquid

oozing

everywhere.

Antonio

and

Giovanni got sick and then father came out and found us. We didn't get a whipping but he was sure angry. We did eat that rabbit that night however. I have not been back in Italy since going there with Mr. Cody's show in 1906, on the tour. That was after our stay in England that seemed to last forever. I must have already written about this but I look back through these pages and cannot find it. It's all a jumble. 221


It was in London where the people from the British Museum came to the show and were particularly interested in the Freak Show. They wanted some doctors to do some tests on some of the players – the Bearded Lady, the Fat Lady, and the midgets. They saw

the

exhibit

of

Indian

artifacts,

including the Pianista masks and weapons, that Mr. Cody convinced me to bring. At that

time

we

had

painted

banners

(and

glass cases that we've traveled with) and said "Direct from the Collection of the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History." The

handbills

had

illustrations

of

the

pieces with stories of the history of the tribe and headlines like "Discovered in the Remote Outlands of the American West "

and

"Pianista

International

Displays

Columbian

at

Exhibition

the of

1893. " "World Tour of the Strangest and Unique Artifacts from the Most Mysterious of the North American Tribes." The members of the British Museum were intent on buying the entire collection. Mr. Cody, in his most dramatic style, refused to

part

with

archaeological

"this find,

most

unique

222

important in

all

the


world." That is until they doubled their offer

and

then

doubled

it

again.

They

walked away with dozens of masks and most of

the

weapons,

about

75%

of

the

collection. I believe these pieces are still on display in their North American wing, though I have never been there myself. When we got to Italy later in the spring, it took a few days to make some more. It was wonderful to see my family at the show in Genoa. We talked about our failed journey

back

years

carriage

broke

down

before along

when the

way

the to

Verona. We laughed and laughed. I told them how Giovanni was doing well building in

America

and

had

found

a

girl.

I

introduced them to the sideshow performers and the manager (Mr. Gilford?) We had a picture taken with the family and a few of the sideshow cast and some roustabouts. I never knew what happened to that photograph but my father cherished it for years. I also gave them a signed photo of Mr. Cody. I couldn't stay with them since I had to work for the Wild West, but I did get to 223


the house on a day off. It hadn't changed a bit, just a little shabbier. Mother made us a chicken dinner and they told me how proud they were. Damiano was the only one left in our town; Giuseppe was in Venice, Antonio traveling here and there. Anna Maria

was

finishing

up

her

studies

in

Florence and was thinking of traveling to the

Chicago

Art

Institute.

Mother

was

heartbroken, but (k)new it was the best thing for her. Father took me aside after dinner to make a special point of telling me how proud he was. I'll always remember that night with a full moon in the background, the light on his shoulders. I think of it often. When I left I left with a basket of bread and apples that Mother had put together, as well as some carrots. I took a carriage back up to Genoa and waved goodbye with them all waving as I drove away. It was the last time I saw my Mother and Father, though I wrote to them often.

224


I miss them. I miss that house. Sometimes I miss being a child. It is Wednesday and getting

late.

I

think

I

have

written

enough for one day. The old and can only write so much. So suddenly sleepy as my eyes won't quite focus the medication (?) More tomorrow. I will try to find m(ore)

Thursday, December 10, 1959 Fix my pen. Funny how little thing like a pen, or the right shoes or the right light can make you a different person. Or at least feel like one. I have more stories to tell but I am running out of pages; and time. I hope to finish this by my birthday, Christmas Day, but I don't want to leave anything out. Still the years went by and were filled with people and things to do, places and always the sun went up and down and the world

kept

spinning

around.

My

beard

stubble would grow and I'd shave it off, I 225


keep getting a haircut down at Sal's at the end of each month, even though now there is not as much to cut. Bars of soap would come and go, toothpaste tubes just out of the box would be squeezed until there was nothing left. These last twenty years went the fastest. The ten years before that seemed to limp by, without Karina. The eighteen years we were married were without any time at all but like one large full day made up of days like the sides of a diamond. (What do you call them? I must ask Arianna down at the jewelry store.) What years were we married? I was ten years older than her. That was 1918. No, 1911. Oh my God. It must be written down on the photograph. Now she died in 1929. In the spring. So it was 1911.

Forty-eight

years

ago.

The

years

after the Wild West touring Europe. Right. Then the job back at the Museum. I must have been at the museum when I was in the East Asian wing. That's right. She was like porcelain, I remember. I think I told her that; but maybe that was later when she went to dinner at Antonio's and Giovanni was

with

Maria.

Or 226

was

that

for

our


anniversary? I used to know this. I used to tell myself that story every day after she died. Then I stopped telling that story when

the

headaches

started.

The

doctor

recommended it, said it made them worse. It was 1911. I know it was.

Friday, December 11, 1959 Stayed in bed until noon. I'm tired. I look at what I wrote yesterday and I can't remember when I wrote it. Ate something and watched TV. I didn't know what they were talking about on the news so I turned on a Western. Ate something else and now I'm writing this in bed. I can't believe I could not remember our wedding date. It was a long time ago. Still I should remember. Oh Karina.

227


Saturday, December 12, 1959 Took a walk after breakfast since it was pretty mild outside and inside my head was not. Walked to the Lake and sat. I love that Lake. It always reminds me of being a kid at uncle Ricardo's Lakehouse when I used to stare out for hours. Or from the deck of the steamship on the way over to America. Or being in Venice and standing near Saint Mark's and looking out at the water, the sound of the flapping wings of pigeons. On foggy days it reminds me of the Wild West tour of England when we visited the Cliffs of Dover and stayed somewhere with a long wooden boardwalk. The foggy days remind me of being in that canoe that time just north of Seattle, when we couldn't see three feet in front of us, and the sound of some chanting from shore and the smell of fish and smoke. The Lake was clear today and not much wind. I don't know how long I sat for. My mind goes back and forth in time now and sometimes it is hard to remember where I actually am. I was on this Lake in 1893 on the gondola, how can I be sitting here now and be that same person? It seems too big, 228


the space between then and now, like a hallway that keeps getting longer as you walk down it. I feel smaller than I did then, like a raisin to a fat grape. That reminds me – I need to pick up some more wine. I wish I had someone to tell all of these things too, like a reporter or secretary. It's getting harder to write and remember. Maybe someone from WNBQ could come to my apartment and interview me. I could tell my story to Studs Terkel. He would like it. I did pick up some wine on the way home and some bread. I made myself some pasta and sausage and had some wine, and then some more. Trie to sit and think about the days and weeks after the Fair, when I started working for the museum and for Mr. Cody at the same time. I remember some but that horse kick took out some memory of some of that time, I am sure of it. I'm writing this at midnight because I must have fallen asleep and the beep of the

television

starting

must

have

been

just

because it snapped me right up. 229


Much too tired to write more than this and my

eyes

are

getting

a

little

blurry

anyway. I'm sure it is nothing serious. Sleep is my old friend. I hope I dream of those young days. They really did happen. All of it. I can't believe it all happened sometimes – but if I can barely believe it who else in God's name will believe any of this?

Sunday, December 13, 1959 Woke up bright and early for some reason, which I haven't been able to do lately. It was hours before it was time to go to church, so I decided to have breakfast down at Louie’s. I hadn't been there for a while, but it's just around the corner. It was cold and snowed just a bit last night, not too slippery, but I'm old and so have to walk slow so I don't fall and break my hip. I got there and there were only two or three others there, at the counter. I sat at a booth near the window.

230


The waitress came over; I didn't know her, but

she

seemed

to

know

me.

I

ordered

coffee and bacon and eggs. "Have I seen you before?" She asked. "I don't think so, "I said. "But that doesn't mean much. I'm 87 – I don't remember like I used to. I live around the corner, maybe you saw me walking to the market. I try to walk when I can." "No," she said. "I saw you somewhere else. " "Well, I haven't been anywhere for a long time,

except

for

the

market

and

Saint

Alphonsus. " "I don't go to church, so it wasn't there." She left with my order and I started to think about all the waitresses that have been here at Louie's. I remember I used to be about the same age as the waitresses, but I kept getting older and they kept getting younger. This one was young, but not too young, maybe 50. Oh maybe a little younger. Probably 40 – something. If the baby had lived, she would have been almost her age. 231


"I got it, "she said. "The museum, did you ever work at the museum? " "Yes, I said. "I was at the Field Museum for about 40 years." "That was it. I never forget a face, even an old one, no offense. ""It was a field trip when I was in school. You were some kind of guide, right? " "Yes, I was a docent, for most of the time, and the North American wing. " "That was it," she said. "We was studying indoors and we saw these weapons and totem poles and costumes. I'll never forget it because

of

those

weird

masks

from

the

piano tribe. I remember saying to myself, "how could there be such a thing? Then the guide – that was you – told us all about the history and all that stuff and even took one out of the case to show us. I touched it and sure enough, those teeth were just piano keys. I couldn't believe it. " "The Pianistas, "I said

232


"Right.

I

remember

laughing

with

my

girlfriend because we thought you were saying penises. Sorry, no offense. " "It

was

a

common

mistake.

My

English

wasn't so good back them but it's better now." "Hold it – where are you from?" "Italy, "I said. "You know I have a cousin in Italy. " The manager was knocking on the wall near the kitchen. "Gotta go, "she said. "More coffee?" "Yes, thanks. " All of those memories from the museum started floating back. I was there a long time. Once a lady came up and said she had come to the museum when she was a kid, and now she was bringing her son. All the faces. And walking up and down the same halls past the same exhibit day after day, week after week. Forty years.

233


A long time. So long I was the resident expert on the Pianistas. Everyone else was new and wasn't there when the "collection" arrived. I was.

Monday, December 14, 1959 Nothing much happened today, but realized I didn't write down going to church after going to the diner. That waitress got me thinking about those days at the Museum. It was so great to have something to do every day. Now I have somewhere to go once a week. Church around that time began to tell the story

of

Christmas.

Being

born

on

Christmas, my father being a carpenter, and

my

mother,

well

maybe

not

quite

blessed, still a wonderful woman, I always dreamed about Jesus around that time. We even had a manger there on our little farm. My brothers would tease me because we

never

had

anything

special

for

my

birthday, except the cake my mother would 234


make for Christmas dessert. We never got much for Christmas; handmade toy from my dad,

some

clothes

my

mother

made,

and

sometimes a piece of chocolate. Some years later, after I had moved to America, my mother mentioned something about

my

birthday

which

I

never

understood. I remember her mentioning it a few times when I was a child, but was too young

to

understand.

Although

we

celebrated my birthday on Christmas, she often mentioned the time I was very young, an infant probably and that I have been very sick, with a high fever. She said she prayed

and

prayed

but

it

went

on

for

weeks, and there was no doctor nearby. The priest came by and prayed over my head, but the fever continued. She said on Christmas Day it snowed that year, and she had a dream of snow of the angels sprinkling snow on my head. In the morning the fever lifted. She called me reborn with Angel guides. She said that's why sometimes I have very vivid dreams and sometimes some divisions during the day. She said maybe the fever baked my brain until it was just right, like a good 235


loaf of bread or chicken. I sometimes would get a fever on Christmas Eve and vivid dreams.

The

light

of

the

star

and

Christmas candles would sort of hypnotize me. They still do. That's how I found myself in the back pew of Saint Alphonsus after being put in a trance by staring at the votive candles and at the candles on the altar. I dreamed of fires on the Prairie, traveling West with Mr. Cody, of fires at Carnival back in Italy, of the Fair with its thousands of electric

lights

making

the

White

City

shine like a heavenly frosty palace. Then I thought about the fire set by the Union to burn the Fair buildings down after it closed,

and

of

course

the

fire

that

destroyed Karina and my first apartment house, started by that crazy man upstairs, smoking in bed. All those notebooks of mine burned then. It was 1919. The priest talked about the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Light of the World and the

Fires

of

Hell. I

couldn't

piece

it

together but writing about it now, I'm sure it made perfect sense.

236


About as much sense as any of these notes make.

Maybe

they'll

find

themselves

in

flames one day all these words will be lost.

Tuesday, December 15, 1959 Ten days until Christmas, and my birthday. I usually go to the midnight mass if I can stay up that late, but sometimes I am just too

tired.

I

usually

go

to

confession

before mass, to start the New Year with a clean conscience. I took a walk this morning to get some fresh air. It was cold but not slippery. People have decorated for the holidays, some neighbors try to outdo the other. I don't know how much the electricity must cost, and every year there is a tragic story of a fire. Chicago and fires have a long history. Karina loved Christmas and would decorate the

house,

make

a

wonderful

dinner.

Sometimes we'd have friends over and her brother and his wife, but as their kids got 237


older they wanted to stay in St. Louis. We would even get a tree. Now I just put out a small cresh(e) that Karina bought at the church yard sale. Most of the holy family have been damaged in some way and so are covered in cracks, mostly heads and limbs and glue stains. Baby Jesus fell on his head back in 1917. I also put up an artificial wreath with the Italian flag on it. I(t) Seems

like

Christmas

is

an

Italian

holiday, with all that red and green and white. I guess the Mexicans could claim it too,

if

there

were

any

in

the

neighborhood. But there aren't. Just more Italians, some Irish, Poles, and more and more Blacks. The Jewish folk mostly live on the West Side and in North Lawndale, but

there

are

a

few

around

and

very

friendly except for the jeweler, Mr. Koch. Maybe he was just angry because his wife died young. That can affect a person very much, I sure know that. Mrs. Kovacini usually invites me over for dinner with her and her son, and I usually 238


go.

Some

years,

especially

when

the

headaches were bad, I just stay home. She would bring some food over. She is a very nice person and her son is a good boy. I am lucky to have them next door. It's good to know if I fell down the stairs the(y) could hear it and come running over. I feel a little dizzy. Time to go to sleep.

Wednesday, December 16, 1959 Woke up this morning still a little dizzy, and seeing light flashes, like I used to sometimes.

Images

of

memories

seem

to

bubble up between the flashes. It's a hard feeling to describe; not completely bad but strange

and

slightly

comforting

at

the

same time. I have never told anyone about this, not even my doctor, or Karina either. Sometimes there is a kind of ringing sound or buzzing and I feel slightly outside myself or very tall with a large head looking down. When I was younger it used to happen every once in a while. I didn't know it 239


wasn't what everyone felt like, so when I try to describe it to anyone they looked at me like I was crazy. After getting kicked by

the

horse

in

Mr.

Cody's

show

it

happened more often, and that's when I would get ideas to(o). Most of the ideas for masks and other things came from these "flashes," and I got good at sketching them out or writing them down. I had them all collected in a wooden box for years, until we lost it in the fire. I might have a few downstairs; I don't know. In the afternoon there was a very strong flash and my heart started racing, then wouldn't stop for quite some time. Colored light flashes, mostly in my right eye, and that bubbling sound. My doctor said to let him know if there was any change in my heart rate for more than an hour so after three hours I gave him a call. He told me to come in right away, even though I tried to talk him out of it. I was going to call a taxi, but as I picked up the phone there was a knock on the door and it was Mrs. Kovacini. She asked me if everything was alright (she was just dropping off some cookies and mail they 240


put in her box). She sat me down and took a look at me and said she was going to have her son take me to see the doctor. I could see she was not going to take no for an answer so I went. Long story short, the doctor said it might have been a minor stroke. (I told him I felt fine) and gave me some more pills to take. I guess I had forgotten to take the heart pill sometimes. Mrs. Kovacini said she would check on me every day, even though I told her that wasn't necessary. (You can't tell that woman anything – she is stubborn like Karina used to be.) So now I'm writing this about 10:30 and I feel fine, a little headache behind my eye but otherwise alright. Mrs. Kovacini had dinner and brought it over. Fresh ravioli she made the other day and delicious. If it takes a stroke to eat like a king maybe I should have a few more. The truth is I got that scared feeling after the second hour. I used to be more stubborn and would have just tried to wait it out but when you're old, you sometimes feel like you are made out of glass or 241


thin pastry and you move slowly so you don't break or crumble. I feel all right now. Just tired. And it is very quiet – I think it might snow.

Thursday, December 17, 1959 Sleep late. Snow outside. Don't get dressed today.

My

probably

heart feel

feels

better

in

thick. the

I

will

morning.

Tired.

Friday, December 18 , 1959 It is a week until Christmas. I should give Mrs. Kovacini something more for helping me out. I usually just bring a bottle of wine when I go over there to eat. But maybe I should look down in the old chest for one of the old masks. I've had those things for 60 years, I think it's time for someone else to have them. Of course I’d have to explain where I got them.

242


I still don't feel too well. I think this new medicine is making me sick. I don't feel right. It's like my body is hollow and then fills up with blood up to my head, till I get a headache, then the pressure releases and I feel empty again. After a few hours it starts up again. Also my left arm hurts a little and is a little numb. I didn't tell the doctor that when I saw him. I'm sure it's nothing. When I was younger, I never remember being sick, except for the headaches. Now this

old

body

is

like

a

collection

of

ailments. I guess that's just the way it is. Can't do anything about it. Maybe this New Year's I'll try to exercise more;

take

exercises, decade.

walks for

1960.

and

those

relaxing. Hardly

New

seems

breathing year,

new

possible.

I

remember the new century. Now that was a big deal 1900. I had been in the country for eight years. Had learned a lot and met many people. That was the years Mr. Cody was

in

town

and

we

met

again

at

the

museum. He was planning to make a movie and looking around for some of the crew 243


from

the

Fair.

I

was

working

at

the

museum at the time and he was intending on creating an exhibit for the show when it traveled to Europe with artifacts and such. That's when i(t) all began to fall into place. I wish I had my journal about what happened then and when, but that one was lost in the fire. Have to look through some things downstairs. Or maybe at the Museum archive. I should go on Monday. No I think (?) Monday i(t')s closed. So maybe Tuesday. There must be something there. I

still (k)no(w) Frank maybe he can help me out. I need to go.* * Illegible Only thing I need to do this week is to make my list of sins. I used to be able to remember them I now I need to write them down, so when I go to confession before midnight mass I know what I'm talking about. I might have to pull out the big sins this year. I think it's time. Might as well get them off my chest. It's been so long maybe God won't care. Still it might feel better. 244


Tomorrow I start writing it down. Can't see right now – blurry right eye. And sleepy. These days go fast. Cold out have to go to bed.

Saturday, December 19, 1959 It was a nice quiet day. Felt pretty good for most of it. Had to lie down after lunch, so tired and a little weak from going up and down the stairs. Went down to the basement and found the old trunk. The old steamer trunk I took to Europe on the Wild West tour. I haven't seen

some

of

these

things

in

years.

Programs, posters, some books from Italy, an old barre (beret) I bought in Paris, even old ticket stubs and café napkins, some stones and animal bones from the trip to Montana and Wyoming. I'd kept the first dollar bill I made working for the Fair – that’s

probably

worth

some

money

now.

Some of my favorite old pieces I kept in there, including an old mask I decided to give

to

Mrs.

Kovacini. 245

"Complaining


Ancestor" mask I called it, that it came with me over the European tour and almost got sold to the British Museum, but I change my mind and kept it. It was on display at the Field Museum until I left and was in the "Ripley's Odditorium" show at the '34 Fair. I love that mask. I decided to give it to Mrs. Kovacini, and tried to write down something to say about it when I give it to her. She has been very kind to me these 40 – odd years, like a sister, especially after Karina died and Anna Maria went away. I was thinking about telling her the whole story. What the hell; she hasn't ever said anything but mostly wondered what I've done. Of course she knows I worked at the museum, but in the first years I lived here, I was going back and forth a lot. When...* Maybe I'll just put it in a box and wrap it without saying a thing. *Illegible

246


Sunday, December 20, 1959 Last Sunday before Christmas. I remember we used to light the Advent candles, but stopped after the fire. Church was a nice service. Got a ride there from Tony Bertolli, who was going with his son, who they called little Tony, but he's about 6 foot 4 and three-hundred pounds. I was walking outside and it wasn't too cold, but he happened to be driving by and asked, so I thought I'd better get a ride,

because

heart

trouble

of

all

last

the week.

dizziness Why

and

take

a

chance. Tony never stops talking for as long as I've known him. On the way to church he was talking about the Russians and sports in the neighborhood and food and I can't remember what else. Little Tony didn't say a word. His mother died two years before and

he

took

i(t)

pretty

bad.

Nice

kid,

though playing football he could snap a guy in half. After the service, Tony asked if he could take me to lunch, but I just wanted to get 247


home. It's funny that when you spend a lot of time alone it becomes like a comforting friend

sometimes,

that

quiet

thickness.

Sometimes talking with people just makes me tired and I didn't think I could take a whole lunch of Tony's talking. At home I looked through some more of the old

things

collected

in

but

the not

trunk, seen

in

books

I

years,

had

about

anthropology, and philosophy, painting and those

books

that

give

you

advice

for

having a better life. Everyone has an idea about how to be happy. I used to read all those books thinking there was some secret trick. But what they don't tell you is that much of life is just doing the same thing day after day. At least I got to travel and do things when I was younger. How it must feel to be old and think that you never really lived. My father told me that each day is a gift from God and we should open it and enjoy it as if there will not be another tomorrow. That was his trick. He was a good man. I wonder if I have any of his good qualities. I think so. It's hard to tell when you are 87.

248


Was it all worth it? I have to think yes, otherwise it is a wasteland of despair. I go to sleep wondering about what would be said at my funeral.

Monday, December 21, 1959 Dark this morning when I woke up. Couldn't sleep all that well, dreams here and there and woke up to go to the bathroom twice. Not easy being old. I'm tired of it. It's the shortest day of the year today and especially gray outside so it reminds me of the short days in Alaska. Antonio and I were up there back in 1898, over 60 years ago. On that day, the winter solstice, we were with a native family in a wooden hut, very cold, with Antonio's broken leg. The sun only rested on the horizon for an hour or so then dipped back down. Just as well, we sat by the fire and ate whale blubber and some kind of bread while he rested his leg that week. We didn't go but there was some kind of solstice festival at the

center

of

the 249

small

village.

I


remember the women they were so beautiful and kind. Th(ey) took care of us for the week, until we could move Antonio. He was after

gold

and

nearly

died.

We

had

everything wrong: wrong time of the year, wrong equipment, wrong maps and didn't know anything or anyone. Still the look of that family in the glowing hut with their greasy, smiling faces often comes to me at the oddest times. Some memories are just stuck in there and return, even very small moments that were nothing, and sometimes the

greatest

events

are

foggy

and

scattered in the mind. How we remember anything is a miracle anyway; with such time passing. Of course I can't remember what

happened

last

week

without

going

back in this book. I think I better go over it tomorrow to see if what I'm talking about, I know it’s a lot, but I'm sure I repeated things and left things out. The first day of winter, just a few days now before Christmas, when I told myself I'd be finishing writing about this life of mine. You'd think I covered it all, but does it matter anyway? The things that

250


stick

out

and

stay

with

you

are

the

important things anyway. Still I should look back. I need to review and make list to bring to confession. There are some things that need to be said finally. I think the priest is supposed to keep what he hears confidential. Well, at least I didn't kill anyone – well not on purpose these

anyway. things

I've

but

confessed

most

of

haven't

gone

to

I

confession for quite some time. better to make

a

list.

I

hope

there

is

a

light

working in the confessional and I need to remember to take my glasses. I don't know if I can make the midnight mass; maybe the 7:30 one. Bound to be less crowded with everyone home with their families and I think it's a quiet service. I should ask Mrs.

Kovacini

for

a

tomorrow. Have to sleep: hope I can.

251

ride;

I'll

ask


Tuesday, December 22, 1959 Sleep pretty well but wake up tired. Dream about running from one place to another – places I've been at different times in my life, seeing myself as a young man, then being older, then a boy, then old. Just before I woke up I saw the inside of Saint Alphonsus' from above and it looked like someone('s) funeral. I could see myself in the pew where I usually sit. The choir was singing some of my favorite songs. Then back to Italy, to Alaska, on the train, boat, working during the hot summer, in the icy Northwest, and then finally in my bedroom as I kept spinning until I finally woke up. I had some trouble catching my breath but it is the afternoon now and I feel alright. I think it's the medication. Thought more about Anna Maria. I should really

see

her

before

Christmas.

Have

birthday is two days after mine so maybe I('ll) wait until the 27th. It has been almost a year since I've seen her, and she's the last one left. I hope she is doing alright.

I

call

before

but

she

either

doesn't answer or the phone in her room is 252


disconnected. Last time I spoke to her she wasn't

making

any

sense.

Kept

talking

about the ocean, and angels, mountains and smoke. I don't know what to make of it. But she was not herself. Of course, she has been not quite right since the accident. I have to go to sleep early tonight; my hand is asleep as I write this. I will begin writing down my list for confession tomorrow. I remember everything that I need to say. So tired. Have to remember to ask Mrs. Kovacini about going to mass a little early for confession. I don't think she will mind but what will her son think. He is a good boy, and I'm sure will be fine. He respects the old, not like most of the young these days. I did when I was young. What's wrong with the world?

Wednesday, December 23, 1959 Get some sleep last night; dreams were a more soothing kind, mostly of being a boy in Italy. I remembered that this day was the birthday of a set of twins in the village next to Veneto. In the dream they 253


were playing ball with all of us. Back then they were a little older than me. I remember their birthday because it was two days before mine. I always wondered what happened to them. I think they stayed in Italy. I woke up and wondered what my life would have been like if I stayed there Giuseppe never left; he married and stayed in town until he died 10 years ago; Antonio came out here, but after not finding gold in Alaska, and working for a while on the bridge crew in San Francisco, sailed home to live in the next town over; Giovanni of course came with me and lived in Chicago until 1938. He fought in World War II and lost a leg, so decided to go back home to Veneto, but it wasn't so good there after the war, so moved to Boston. His wife, Eliza died in childbirth before the war, and he became a carpenter for the theater, then retired to run a restaurant. Damiano never left Veneto; he married young and stayed to take care of Mother and Father. Anna Maria is the only one left. She is only 10 miles away but I have not seen her for a year. I must go after Christmas. 254


I guess if I'd stayed in Italy I would have kept

working

for

Gilberto

and

maybe

married in the village, taking over his shop when he got old. Or maybe I would have gone to Venice, or even Rome. I think I could not have lived in Veneto even though I loved it as a child. But

I

without

can't

imagine

sailing

to

what

I

would

America,

be

without

working on the Fair, meeting Mr. Cody, traveling to all those places, and working at the Museum for all those years. And the pianos; all those pianos. All the things I have made, the stories I made up. If I had stayed at home in Veneto what would I have become? Would I have met a woman like Karina? Would I be alive now? It's hard to imagine a life you have not lived.

Thursday, December 24, 1959 Slept alright last night, except I woke up with my heart racing at about 3:00 AM. I had

a

dream

I

was 255

falling

from

the


hayloft in our family barn, when I was a boy. This actually happened when I tried to fly one Christmas Eve. Giuseppe and I saw

a

drawing

of

Leonardo's

flying

machines and we thought we could make one. We'd save wood and paper from father's workshop from weeks before. We thought it would be like the angel descending over the shepherds. When it came time to try it out, Giuseppe dared me to do it – we were about six and nine. I jumped and luckily landed on a pile of hay

below,

but

got

knocked

out

for

a

moment or so. The horses got spooked and Giuseppe didn't know what to do so he ran and hid, but then went to get Father. They brought me in and laid me near the fire (it was cold that night) and put a cold cloth on my head. We got in trouble the week after and had to work cleaning up after the horses but it was Christmas Eve, so they just gave us a stern talking to. Mother was finishing up dinner, which she was

working

on

all

day.

We

always

celebrated with dinner of the seven fishes. I always thought it was because there were seven of us (Anna Maria wasn't born yet). 256


We would put candles around the house, being careful not to allow light the house on fire, and have a cresh(e) that Father made because he was a carpenter. Sometimes our neighbor would come over and play violin for us, in celebration of Joseph. We could each open a small gift on Christmas eve, usually a small toy Father made or some piece of clothing that Mother made, but

sometimes

it

would

be

a

piece

of

chocolate, if Father was feeling especially generous. Many of these Christmas eve's all felt the same, like one would relive the same moments over and over. It was a wonderful time. And I knew my birthday was the next day. Tonight

Mrs.

Kovacini

will

make

the

dinner of the fishes and invited me. I told her I would go, then we will all go to Midnight Mass. I haven't been there in some years but I think if I drink enough coffee. I have to write out what I will say at confession. I still get a little nervous sometimes and forget what to say, and now that I'm old it's more worry. I should

257


bring a flashlight so I can see in the confessional. I think that's alright. Some of these sins I might have already confessed, but I figure I should bring it up again, just in case. – I lied to my father when he found my box

of

money

I'd

been

saving

for

the

steamer ticket. I told him I was saving it to buy tools to start my own shop when I got older. – I stole a case of wine from the kitchen on

board

the

Fulda

to

bring

down

to

steerage on the trip over. – I lied to the director of the Field Museum,

when

he

visited

us

in

the

Anthropology Building during the Fair. I told him I studied at the University in Venice

and

that

I

had

gone

on

an

anthropological dig in Rome. – I never cheated on Karina but one New Year's Eve a young blonde from Lakeside kissed me on the lips, but I never told her. 258


– The biggest and longest lie has been the artifacts of the Pianistas. When I joined Mr. Cody's show we made a banner for the Freak Show display telling of the legend of the lost tribe. It was his idea after he saw the masks that I had made in the things that running bear had made with the piano parts I gave him when they were camped outside the Fair. From then on it was lie after lie and I could not stop it. When we got back to America from the European tour in 1906 I got my position back at the Field Museum and I told the director of the North American wing that we had discovered these artifacts and he was so excited that he created an area for the new exhibit. Walking Bear and a few other braves help me bring the masks and weapons

and,

to

make

it

look

more

authentic. I still feel bad about deceiving him and everyone, but after it began I could not stop. Then I had Anna Maria make those George Catlin forgeries, and helped me write all those anthropological descriptions. Every step of the way was another lie but I convinced myself it was something I was meant to do and most of the time I could not stop myself. Almost 259


like a madman, seeing visions, not sleeping and needing to make things, always making things. For selling the piano exhibit, I am ashamed. I meant no harm and I am sorry for my sins. I hope the Lord can forgive this old man.

Friday, December 25, 1959. Midnight Mass was beautiful and full. The candles were so beautiful, I actually began to tear up, mostly thinking about Karina. She was so lovely. Confession took a while--first waiting in line (I guess there are a lot of sinners out there) then confessing. I remembered many things I wrote down, and halfway through my flashlight battery died. But the memories came flooding back -- the times I found myself lying and sometimes believing what I was saying. At the end I began to weep -- my greatest sin was that I never told Karina. I kept it from her

260


all those years. Now that she is gone I wish I told her, I wish I could tell her. I am the Last of the Pianistas; it began with me and will end with me. I am also the last of the Venetos, except for Anna Maria, but she is far gone and her last name is French Canadian. After mass Mrs. Kovacini drove me home. I took out the mask and wrapped it to give to her tomorrow. I wrote an explanation of everything and wrote about the way it all began. Everything. I hope she likes the mask. It is my favorite. I am going to sleep with a clean conscience and am finished writing about my life. Today

is

my

88th

birthday

and

this

scribbled book has everything I remember about what happened, who I met and what I did.

I

swear

it

is

completely

true,

although when I era it back some things seem

unbelievable.

But

everyone

knows

their lives are like that. Each person has this story that goes and goes.

261


I may not have done everything right and I am sorry for that (five Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys) but I worked hard and did the best I can. That is all you can do.

Now that I am done writing, I think I will relax and maybe do some painting again. After

the

dinner

at

Mrs.

Kovacini's

tomorrow I will get the easel out and begin something new. Each day you wake up you never know what the day will bring. Only tomorrow knows. My

head

is

spinning

a

little.

Just

excitement I guess. I will wake up to a new day.

------------------------------------

262


263


264

The Journal of Alfonzo Veneto, Self-Described Last of the Pianistas  

Fictional Journal of Alfonzo Veneto, Italian immigrant from the 19th century, who may have created the greatest anthropological hoax in hist...

The Journal of Alfonzo Veneto, Self-Described Last of the Pianistas  

Fictional Journal of Alfonzo Veneto, Italian immigrant from the 19th century, who may have created the greatest anthropological hoax in hist...

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