Drinking chilled Chianti with peaches after a long day’s work. Visiting ancient ruins on a trip back to the homeland. Gathering at Christmas to eat cookies baked from Grandma’s recipe.
Trumbull author Joanna Leone recently shared these and other stories from her new book Slices of Life: Italian-American Stories with residents of the Watermark at 3030 Park, a continuing care retirement community in Bridgeport.
“Slices of Life” is a collection of 50 stories based on Leone’s interviews with Italian-Americans from throughout the region. In their conversations, Leone’s subjects recounted memories both painful and proud and recalled Italian family lore and traditions. The book also includes Leone’s own reflections on growing up in Trumbull as the daughter of Italian immigrants.
“I wrote the book so that people can see that being Italian is about more than just the food and the wine,” Leone said. “It is also about the struggle, the hardship, and the devotion to family.”
Leone presented “Slices of Life” as part of the Italian-American culture course she teaches at Watermark University, the senior center’s continuing education program.
The book, published by Leone in conjunction with Authorhouse, calls up family traditions and celebrations, struggles and rough times, journeys back to Italy, and experiences of death and loss. Many of those who shared their stories were among Leone’s own family and friends, and the majority hailed from Connecticut and ranged in age from their 20s to age 100.
Leone said she feels she got the best of both worlds growing up. She was born in Trumbull to Italian immigrants Antonetta and Donato Leone, who relocated after World War II from the town of San Donato, which lies in the province of Frosinone.
Leone’s parents’ lives during the war were filled with hardship. In one story, Leone describes the extreme poverty her family experienced, telling how her uncle peeled potatoes for the Italian army in return for a few free samples. “My mother used to go into the piazza and say ‘uova para pane,’” said Leone, “which means I will trade you eggs for bread. That’s how poor they were.”
“Slices of Life” also tells the wartime tale of Giovanna Gilberti of Easton. Gilberti remembered her parents removing their wedding rings and taking the copper pots off the wall so the Italian military could use the metal to make ammunition.
But the book also includes stories of joy and good fortune. In “From the Balcony,” Leone recounts how her uncle Rocco Fabrizio, who was an architect in Italy and later America, built steel into the foundation of her grandparents’ house. The structure ended up surviving the 1985 earthquake in the Frosinone region, the only house on their street that remained undamaged.
Leone’s book even includes some recognizable Italian-American figures. Former mayor of Bridgeport Leonard Paoletta told Leone about selling bleach door to door as a boy in Bridgeport, going around the neighborhood with a cart stocked with gallons of Starwater-brand bleach.
Another notable figure who contributed to “Slices of Life” is accordion champion Cory Pesaturo. When he was young, Pesaturo inherited an accordion from his father who had had it shipped over from Italy. He performed for the Clintons at the White House on multiple occasions and in 2002 became the youngest person to win the National Accordion Championship.
Leone plans to hold book signings in the Trumbull area in the near future, and after her publicity tour, it is on to Volume Two. In this installment, she will focus on relationships between Italian-American fathers and their sons.
Leone said she will continue to honor her Italian heritage by recording her recollections and preserving those of others. “We remain connected to our memories and respect our families just by appreciating who they are,” she said.
For more information on Joanna Leone, visit www.authorsden.com/joannamleone. To buy "Slices of Life," go to Authorhouse.com where the price is $26.95 for hardcover and $23.95 for softcover. Go to YouTube to see Leone’s "Slices of Life" promotional video.