There are two villages in Sicily south of Palermo in the mountains. They are Santa Cristina and Piana dei Greci (PDG), and at the time of my father Johnís birth they were about four kilometers apart. Now they have grown together, so they are two neighborhoods of a small town now called Piana degli Albanesi. PDG is the larger of the two, more than twice the size of Santa Cristina by my estimate when I was there with my first wife, Carol Sanborn in 1979. John was the second son of Giacchino and Rosa Manalli, whose maiden name was Palermo. The oldest child was Henry (Andre), the next was John (Venutsi), then George (Georgio) who died in childhood as a result of blood poisoning when he cut himself on a rusty barbed wire, Samuel (Toredo), then the two daughters, Mary (Maria) and Anna (Yacutsa). The youngest son was born in Rockford, Illinois when the family was reunited after immigrating in four segments. He was named George after the deceased son as was the custom.
When he was 12 years old, Johnís mother put him on a ship in Palermo which was bound for the US where his father and older brother Henry had been working for two years. He joined them in New Orleans where they worked in the sugar cane fields then travelled up to Pennsylvania as migrant workers and eventually arrived in Rockford, Illinois, where they had cousins and friends. Three years later his mother and two sisters arrived in the new country, and finally when Sam had got eye glasses and could pass the vision test, the last member of the immediate family came to Rockford. In 1907, George, the youngest, was born.
John attended night school for a year, and though he didnít learn to read and write very well there, he spoke English without an accent because he immigrated when he was only 12 years old, while his younger brother Samís English was very accented, because he didnít get here until he was about 20. John and Sam moved to Racine, Wisconsin, in their 20ís where John got a job as a painterís apprentice and Sam worked as a barber, the trade he had learned in Italy. John was a slight man, only 5 feet 6 inches tall and about 135 pounds for most of his adult life, though he did get up to 155 in his 60ís. He had blue black hair combed back in the pompadour style of the day, and wore a pencil mustache when I was a kid. He shaved with a straight razor up until the 50ís and sharpened his razor on a leather strop. Other kids in the neighborhood may have been afraid of their fatherís razor strop, I know of one for sure, but I wasnít, as he never threatened me with his. I used to play with it making it crack like a whip. Even in his 70ís he had just a few gray hairs mostly at the temples. He was a dapper dresser, usually buying two three piece suits a year even during the Depression. I remember a tailor coming to the house to measure him once. He loved to dance, and he often spent Saturday nights at the Village, a dance hall in the Uptown on Washington Avenue. My mother was always invited to accompany him, but he went with or without her.
In his 20ís John married the daughter of his boss whose last name was Bidwell. In 1917 at the beginning of World War I John returned to Rockford to enlist in the U. S. Army with a company of his fellow Italians thereby gaining his US citizenship. After training at Fort Dix in New Jersey, he was sent to France and was at the front for 18 months serving first in the infantry, then the artillery, and finally in the engineers. Though his barracks was bombed once, and he was thrown out of bed by the concussion, he was not wounded and survived the war unscathed. In Paris after the Armistice, he was scheduled to get leave to visit Sicily, but his leave was cancelled when the first half of the men in his company returned late, so he never did see Santa Cristina again.
After the war John returned to Racine. He and his wife were divorced after 10 years of marriage, and he left his ex father-in-lawís employ, though he remained on friendly terms with him and his former brothers-in-law. John began a second career as a motorman for the Interurban railway between Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha, and, Iím not sure if it was before or after, but he also drove the big trains of the North Shore Line between Chicago and Milwaukee. He and my mother, Stella Hattie James, met while she was a daily passenger on his streetcar from her home on Taylor Avenue to work at Horlickís Malted Milk Company on Northwestern Avenue. They eloped on January 15, 1926, to Crown Point, Indiana, the Reno of the Midwest at that time. My brother Jack Linferd was born on February 22, 1927, and I followed four years later on June 29, 1931.
In the meantime the Depression arrived. The streetcars were replaced by buses in Racine, and John was out of work as were many men at that time. He worked independently as a house painter when he could get work, and also for the Works Project Administration, the WPA, jokingly called the We Poke Along. The WPA was a part of the New Deal of the FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) administration and made it possible for many to get through those difficult times. When World War II came along, there was work for him painting in factories, but he hated working inside and still painted houses independently when he could. He was a hard worker, having learned his trade well, and an excellent painter. In the 1930ís he made his own paints from lead and linseed oil and even his own putty. In spite of knowing how to do that, he was always willing to experiment with new paints and other materials and use them if they worked better than his home made ones.
I never saw him read a book, but he did pore over the newspaper every night, and he polished his reading skills by reading me the comics when I was too little to read them myself.
He entered a third career when he became, for a year, the custodian of the Racine Womenís Club where we had a small apartment as part of the compensation. After the war new construction began, and he could resume painting. Then he became the custodian of St. Johnís Lutheran Church and School just a few blocks from our home, working there for several years until he retired on social security and a small veteranís pension, though he did do some painting now and then to supplement his retirement. He and my mother lived in Racine in an upstairs apartment on Green Street on Racineís North Side until she passed away in January of 1967 just short of her 66th birthday which was March 10. He then went to live with my brother Jack and his family. He came to visit me and my family in Deerfield, Illinois in the summer of 1967 while I happened to be painting my house. I couldnít get an upstairs window open from the ladder I was on outside, so I went into the house to the upstairs bedroom, and when I pulled up the shade and looked out, I saw my 79 year old father standing on the ladder looking back in at me as he painted around the window. That winter he decided to move into the Racine YMCA where in January, 1968, a year and a week after our mother passed away, he had a fatal heart attack in the night after returning from a dance. He was 79 years old. He is buried next to our mother and near her parents at West Lawn Cemetery, Highway 20 in Racine County.