As a fourth generation-born American, I’ve become profoundly intrigued by the mere concept of my ancestors and how they derive from unique countries: Ireland, Germany, England, Italy, France, Hungary, and Israel. Unfortunately, accurate records of their lives are scarcely accessible, especially considering the gaping distance from their lifespans to mine. Occasionally, a dusty old scrapbook of some sort may be mistakenly pulled from the attic and an aged photo of a long lost relative slips to the floor. On occasion, so it happens, that a relative may mention over the dinner table our heritage, who we derive from, and what those people were like or how they assumed them to be like.
However, one of my more recent ancestors, Lucille Maria Teresi Mason, had decided to take note of her upbringing on American soil and recalled some of the context of her parents’ lives as children of Italian immigrants. Though her parents, my triple-great-grandparents, Joseph Teresi II (Papa) and his lovely wife Frances Freschi (Mama), were Amerian-raised, their Italian roots were steadfastly present in their lives.
Unlike today’s average eleven-year-old lifestyle, Mama and Papa began to transform into their adult states of mind at the same tender age due to living circumstances. Whilst in the process of constructing the Brooklyn Bridge, Papa gave his brave contribution to the project as a cable splicer, in hopes to support his family. Mama also had her own challenges laid before her. Her mother Rosalia Freschi passed away, positioning her to forfeit school and become a mother-like figure to her younger siblings. However, she refused to abort schooling and arranged for her teacher to send her assignments that she could complete at home whilst raising her younger sister Mary Concepcion and brother Dominic.
Considering that they were both inhabitants of Brooklyn, it was only a matter of time before they came to know each other. Predictably, the young couple met in Brooklyn and were wed in February of 1895 as Mama was just eighteen and Papa was thirty-one. They were blessed with twelve children: Pauline, Pauline Mary, Rosalie Marie, Phyllis Prudence, Josephine Marie, Joseph III, Charles Salvatore, Frank Raymond, Lucille Maria, Anthony, and Frances Veronica. Tragically, infant Pauline had passed away a brief ten months after her birth and Anthony was stillborn with no record of his date of deceased.
Following Pauline’s decease, Papa had decided to renew his and his family’s lifestyle by moving to California. Rumor has it, (in their time) California was littered with prospective opportunities for any man to provide for his family. There, he rented a quaint commercial space in North Beach where he operated a barbershop and their second child Pauline Mary entered the world. Both he and Mama had agreed that their lifestyle of living in a barbershop wasn’t congenial to their desires, especially when raising a newborn daughter.
Instead, they moved to a little house on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco where they welcomed Rosalie, Phyllis, Josephine, and Joseph III into their family. Papa worked for the San Franciscan fish cannery. He spent the following seven years salmon fishing in Alaska; Mama continued raising their children. Joseph III recalled that Papa also imported to California “exquisite furs and diamonds” for Mama. Despite his success, Papa faced formidable challenges and nearly lost his life on the job. When his rowboat slammed into an iceberg, it capsized, hucking Papa into the glacial waters where he forcefully swam to shore. His nerves, devastated from such abnormal temperatures, were frozen and “for the rest of his life he was affected by it.”
Not only was Papa burdened with the alterations of his physical abilities (on account of the fishing accident), but he also was burdened with the imminent death of his mother Paola D’Aquisto Teresi. In their time, it was a common superstitious Italian tradition for those who lost a loved one to evacuate the house in which their relative passed. Since Paola had been accompanying her daughter-in-law and grandchildren in her later years, Mama insisted they abandon their home and move significantly far from their old home…
To be continued.
Photo Credits: Teresi-Freschi Family Memoir