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Giovanni Valente in the 1950s

This photograph is from Camden, New Jersey. There are not a lot of photographs of Giovanni Valente (1887-1969): "Grandpop was always working."

Giovanni Valente in the 1950s, 14 KB

Giovanni never missed a day of work. If he felt himself becoming ill, he would go to bed and tell our grandmother Nunziata to cover him up with blankets. And then he would drink brandy until he had sweated the illness out of himself through fever. He suffered from no illnesses or diseases, lost only one tooth (It fell out in old age; he had never gone to a dentist), and died of a stroke at the age of 82, after he had fallen into a construction ditch next to Queen of Heaven Church in Erlton, New Jersey.

He had been leaning over the ditch, standing with his hands behind his back, like he used to do when he watched his wife Nunziata gardening. Because when Giovanni had wanted a garden, Nunziata had had to do everything. "Grandpop was all thumbs," his daughter Angelina Serafina said. "The only thing he knew how to do was make bread." But Nunziata knew how to do many, many things.

Giovanni's day off from work -- He worked six days a week, twelve hours a day -- was always Saturday. The family ate early on Sunday because Giovanni had to go to work at the Italian-bread bakery early. His daughter Carmelina Ester Valente thought that he used to leave for work at 1 PM and return home at 6 AM. The children used to wait for him to come home.

At the bakery Giovanni used to knead the dough by hand, not by machine. "That's why he was so strong. That's why he had to go early. That's what I remember seeing him do. That and quickly slashing the dough two times with a razor blade before it went into the oven," Lydia Valente said.

Lydia also said that when her father Giovanni came home at night from the bakery -- he used to leave at about 3 in the afternoon and he would come home about 4 o'clock in the morning -- he would wake the children up, and he had brought a little roll home for each of them that he would give them. They would eat the roll with hot chocolate and then they would go back to bed. It was Lydia and one or two of her sisters, the youngest ones. And while they were having their hot chocolate and the little roll (Lydia called it a bun), her father would drink his coffee with a shot of whiskey in it. And the children wanted to taste it too, and he would give them each a tablespoon, and he would say, There won't be any left for me.

Childhood visits to the Dentist

She said her father took her to the dentist when they were living on Berkley Street because she had two molars that were rotting, and the dentist pulled them out without novocaine. Lydia thought it was funny that even though her father never went to the dentist himself, he took the children to the dentist. (She said that her father only lost one of his teeth: when he was old, one of them was loose and he pulled it out himself.)

Lydia was about six years old, her primary back molars were rotten, and her father was in the room during the extraction; that is what she remembers. "Grandpop was compassionate, but he used to say, Stop crying." But maybe she wasn't crying; maybe she was screaming (and her son, who is a dentist, said that her teeth wouldn't have been pulled without novocaine. As he recalls her telling him the story, in those days people would go to the dentist, and the dentist would say, All right, it's this much for an extraction, this much for a filling. And people used to choose the less expensive one, which was most often the extraction).

When she was a little girl Giovanni took his daughter Vittoria Donata Valente to the dentist; he held her hand as they walked there and said to her, "This is gonna hurt, daughter; this is gonna hurt!" She said, "You know it wasn't like now": we didn't go to the dentist regularly for a checkup; people only went when they had a problem.

When she yelled at her father for walking across the floor she had just washed and waxed and was not dry, he used to say to her, Quistu fa brutt ("How ugly you make yourself when you act this way"). She used to get mad at him and lose her temper, and that was what he used to say to her.

Vittoria remembers that, like her grandfather Giuseppe DiRenzo, her father wanted the children to be happy, that he used to tell them to be happy. She said, "We never appreciated him until after he had died. We didn't really appreciate my father until after he died."

Giovanni Valente's Bread

Giovanni Valente was an Italian-bread baker for 50 years, but when he died all that he had learned died with him. He learned to make bread in America, in Camden, New Jersey, when he opened a bakery with his friend. Giovanni lost everything, "but he did learn how to make bread," Nunziata said about the bakery. From that time on he had a trade ("someone with art in his hands," Nunziata would say) rather than a laborer.

Sketch of the rolls Giovanni Valente made in the 1960s, 32 KB

Above is a sketch I made from memory (about twenty years later; the original is about 4 1/2 inches by 6) of the rolls my grandfather was making in the 1960s. Those who are still alive remember his bread, but no bakery now makes bread that has its texture and tastes like it (It tasted vinegar-sour when it was still warm from the bakery and the inside had the open texture of pulled-cotton). Many people might choose to have macaroni, but I would rather have bread, bread that doesn't need a "companion" (companatico, "something eaten with bread", a word derived from pane) as this was. My grandfather preferred macaroni (perciatelli was his favorite), however.

The URL of this page: https://www.roangelo.net/valente/grp1950s.html
Last revised: 3 October 2012 : 2012-10-03 by Robert [Wesley] Angelo.

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