My Family’s Journey of Hope
By Antonietta Mazzei (English translation)
Fond childhood memories showing the admiration and respect I felt for my caring and gentle father
My name is Antonietta Mazzei, born in Accettura 55 years ago from poor parents, forced to work hard for little reward, but loving and caring towards their children.
In those days there was only one way out of a life of sacrifices and poverty, emigration, which path my great-grandfather had followed many years before by transferring from Mangone to Accettura. One can imagine how poor he was to think of making his fortune in Accettura. In 1954, my father, Ferdinando, then 34, had 4 children, of which I was the youngest. We were poor and without work, without any land to cultivate. It was told to me and my sisters that my father turned his hand to anything, from working in the fields to chopping wood. I remember that we had a donkey that we called “ciccillo” and my father and the donkey went to collect wood at night whilst we slept, which he then sold in order to buy bread and all other necessities.
That year my mother became pregnant again; my parents were desperate. How could they manage to feed another! It was then that the choice was made to leave. We weren’t the only ones, others had emigrated before us; relatives, friends, villagers, all looking for secure jobs. There was one amongst all the emigrants, my godfather, Francesco Loscalz…. who had arrived in far off England. My father, having decided to leave, obtained my godfather’s address from his parents and wrote to him asking him to find him a job. The reply arrived after a few months; father had to leave for Nottingham. And so it happened. In July 195.. my father left with a contract for 5 years in his possession. After this time he had to start looking for work again… In the meantime, at home in Accettura, my little sister Giulia was born; but my father wasn’t there. It was December, Christmas time, my father sent us a parcel of sweets and dolls. You can’t imagine our happiness. Two years later I was 4 years old and in my mind there remained a dim memory of my father. One day, whilst I was playing, I heard my eldest sister, Teresa, shout “Mum, mum, the carriage has arrived” and I understood straight way. I saw him arrive… and immediately he called to us and we kissed and hugged each other. It was an indescribable moment when father saw my sister Giulia for the first time. His eyes filled with tears, this time with joy. In those days, one breathed a peaceful and trouble free life. It was Christmas and we had spent it with father. But, as you know, good things come to an end and one evening, after Christmas, all our relatives met up. In the beginning I didn’t understand but when I saw my mother crying and my father trying to console her I understood the story that was repeating itself. My father had to leave again for Nottingham and we were to see him again in 2 years time.
Our turn arrived in 1959; my mother told us that we were to leave in order to join our father, Ferdinando. My mother had our clothes made for the occasion by the dressmaker, she bought us new shoes and we were taken to the photographers…….I didn’t understand why we were there and he placed us all near my mother, who was holding Giulia in her arms. All of a sudden there was a big flash of light, I was frightened and ran outside, it was my first photograph. The photograph and our passport were our pass for England.
It was May. I remember that we got up early that morning. My mother dressed us. My uncles, Antonio and Giacomo arrived with suitcases and we went into the square where the bus was waiting to take us to Grassano station where we were to catch the train. In the square there were uncles, aunts, relatives and friends who, sorry to see us go, couldn’t hold back the tears. That year many things happened that were “first times” for me. I saw the train for the first time, long and noisy, I was almost frightened. But the thought of meeting up with my father made all my fears disappear.
We reached Milan, accompanied by my uncle. From there, after having said goodbye to our uncle, we boarded the train for France. It was a long journey, tiring and never ending. We finally reached Calais and boarded the boat for Dover. The sea was choppy, but it didn’t bother us. My mother, however, suffered.
During the journey a man in uniform took us into the infirmary for a medical. Afterwards he took us to where our suitcases had been left and stuck some paperwork onto our luggage. Thinking back, it was like a scene from The Godfather; with that paperwork we had permission to enter England; we were healthy. After the sea journey, another train journey to London awaited us. There, my mother told us, we would meet father. And that’s what happened. As soon as we stepped off the train with our cardboard suitcases, we heard a familiar call. It was my father who was calling us. Once more the family was reunited. We put our suitcases on a trolley in the middle of crowds of people. How frightening! I saw a black man for the first time. My father sat me on the trolley and reassured me, saying that the man was just like him, only a little more tanned.
We climbed into the umpteenth train, which would be taking us to Nottingham. Finally we reached our destination. Here was our new house, bought with a mortgage. The second-hand furniture had been lent to us. We were OK. There was father’s cousin waiting for us as well as other uncles and aunts. In our new house, which was much more spacious that the one in Accettura, we all went straight to bed because we were so tired.
The next day we had many visitors, relatives and Italian immigrant neighbours, who we made friends with immediately. In particular with Aunt Caterina Fanuele and her daughter Rosa Ricci. We spent the evenings with them watching television because we didn’t yet have one. Very soon our father bought one second-hand.
I still remember the first day of school. My father accompanied me and he taught me my first phrases in English, going to the bathroom and our address, in case we got lost. For the first few days my mother took us, then even she found work because there were a lot of bills; the mortgage, heating and coal. We went home from school by ourselves. We had the house key hanging round our neck on a lace and we waited for our parents to come home for work.
When we were 15 years old, my sisters and I went to work in a factory. In the cold and rainy days in England our thoughts went back to the clear sky and green mountains of Accettura. We went back to our village every 2 or 3 years until we met our husbands.
I married Salvatore Fanuele in Nottingham in 1974, from our love 2 sons were born, Domenico and Ferdinando. We lived in Nottingham for the next 33 years; then, begrudgingly, we moved to Varese for 10 years. The last leg of my journey was to Accettura, where I have been living for the last 8 years. My children are married and they have given me 2 granddaughters, Antonella and Maria Teresa. Another one is expected.
Writing my emigration story I can’t help but become emotional and saddened by the past, by the deep emotions we felt. A thought goes out to whoever is a long way from his country of birth and who will never see it again. Someone has managed to return, my father has returned forever. A thought goes out to my English friends who treated us as one of them and never made us feel like immigrants. In particular, I remember with affection my friend, the Sheriff of Nottingham, who came to Accettura in 2005. On this wave of memories my thoughts go to my friend Rosa Ricci, who left us recently. I spent part of my youth with her; with her I shared the joys and pain of my life as an immigrant. She will always be in my heart and in my thoughts. I end my story with memories of my dear departed father, of my dear mother and my adored sisters.