Angelina Mapelli Accornero
LD: When did your parents come to Richmond?
AA: Okay, my dad came to the United States, it was in 1907. My mother came much later, in 1919, and they were married right after she arrived. They knew each other in Italy, they were both from the same town, from Northern Italy, near Bergamo in the Lombardy area....They lived on 348 Monroe Avenue in north Richmond, which was just a block away from Standard Sanitary...there were quite a few Italian families living in that area--like on our block there was probably about four or five families that were Italian, and then over there there were a few more.
LD: Was Standard Sanitary where many of the Italians worked?
AA: Yes, a lot of the immigrants worked there, quite a few of the Italians worked there. And at that time, they would buy a home where they could find employment, and that's where we settled.
LD: What did your father do at Standard Sanitary?
AA: He was called a "cubolo man," and he would go in every morning, and he would line the furnaces with bricks and that's where they melted down the iron to make the tubs. It was a hard job, and he did that for thirty-five years, I don't know how he did it, but he was proud of it.
LD: So they made metal bathtubs?
AA: They made enamel. Well, you know, the enamel is over metal. They made the tubs and I think they made the toilets there also.
LD: Were there activities at home like winemaking?
AA: Oh yes, he and his brothers and his cousins, they would get together, they would buy, I can't forget how many tons of grapes, and then they would actually, you know, make the wine and we had a barn, thank God it was away from the home and that's where they made the wine. And they would all help one another, you know, they would either have so much grapes delivered to one and so much to the other, and then they'd help each other make the wine.
LD: So it was more or less a community activity?
AA: Yes, it was a big thing, you know, every fall to make the wine..
LD: Do you remember it?
AA: Oh yeah, I can remember the smells (laughs). But it was kind of a fun thing to look forward to when they did that.
LD: Did you have a wine barrel in your house?
AA: Oh yeah, in fact, I neglected to say, I don't remember too much about the house that we were living in when I was born. But eventually my dad and mom had the house moved and it was raised and they had a basement, and there was a bedroom in the basement, and the wine cellar.
LD: So then both your father and your sister worked in the shipyards? (Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond built hundreds of Liberty Ships during World War II)
AA: Right. And then I started working at this, well, on Saturdays, and I'm sure it was after mom got back (Angie's mother had to evacuate from her Richmond home, which was in the prohibited zone), it was called War Production Training, it had engineers, excuse me, not engineers, plumbers, welders, sheet-metal men, electricians, and all the people that were working in the shipyards, they were training them there, the welders were being trained there, and so I worked in that office. I worked there for a few years, and then during my summer vacations, you know, and it was really quite an experience. I started out with just filing and I got experience working in an office, and I'd worked in the offices in junior high school, and then in high school also, I worked with the dean, and it was good experience for me even though I started out at thirty-five cents an hour and I think I finished at seventy-five cents an hour, I think I worked there till the end of the war. But I did go work one summer, my senior year in high school, well, I worked for my sister, Yard Number Two, in the office, I think it was the accounting, and that's when they started paying me $1.07 an hour or $1.08 an hour, fifty-six dollars a week, I always remember that.... But it was an experience, you know, really a hustle-bustle, there were streetcars running from that part of Richmond to Berkeley, Oakland, it was really a busy--that I can remember--and then, of course, all the people coming in, they had to build housing for them, and they had the Atchison Village, and they had housing for all these--I don't think they expected that that many would be coming. But they came from the South, the Midwest, all over, and they stayed. I think it was 20,000 was the population before the war, and I don't know what it is now but it never, I mean, I don't think Richmond knew what hit 'em! (Richmond's population grew from 23,000 before the war to well over 90,000 during the height of the shipbuilding boom)
LD: What was your social life like, especially as a young woman in an Italian family?
AA: Well, we were always, there were cousins that lived nearby, we'd go, you know, movie theater, we'd go dancing. And we'd, you know, visit one another, we had an Aunt in Alameda, and an aunt in San Francisco, and friends in Alameda because Dad, as a young man when he first came here, this is another thing that just came to mind, he batched with three or four men in Alameda, and they were from the same town in Italy, and remained friends ever since....And you know dating in school, I didn't do too much dating but there was always school dances and going to shows and Richmond was, oh, they had a Richmond celebration, I forget what year it was, you know, we'd get all dressed up with Western and that sort of thing, so there was always something to do. And, of course, there was the theaters--the Fox, it was called the Fox at the time, and the other one was, I think, the State theater. They changed names, and they built more theaters after it. But when I was growing up, there was just the two of them. And they would give away plates and, and dinnerware, you know, so we would go and come home with a dish or something like that, some people collected them and used them, actually used them at home, you know, and they'd have, they'd give away--at one time, they gave away an automobile and it was all the Fox West Coast theaters, and one of our neighbors won it, they lived right across the street from us. They never had a car, it was the Pucci family, and I always remember them winning that car. So there was always something--you can go to the theater, you know, go to a dance, or sometimes just going riding on my, I have a girl cousin, she was the only one that knew how to drive, we would just parade up and down Macdonald Avenue, a bunch of girls going up and down Macdonald Avenue, and going to get a hamburger or going to the soda fountain and get a milkshake and, you know, sundaes and that sort of thing.
LD: When was Richmond Poultry Market started?
HA: The market was already in business and they bought into it, they bought the business from--I'm not sure of the fellow's name but the two brothers` bought the business from this other person. It was, basically it was a poultry market and sort of a butcher shop, and shortly after they had it, they expanded into more of a full-grocery and butcher shop, poultry shop.
LD: And just briefly, your father and his brother, where did they come from?
HA: They both came from Italy, from a little town called San Carlo near Asti in the Piemonte area of Italy.
LD: And when did they come to the United States?
HA: I think my dad came in 1910 and I'm not sure if my uncle was here just a little before or a little after him, but they came, both around the same time.
LD: Did they have experience in the grocery business?
HA: My uncle had had a little, a little kind of a gas station and grocery store combination for awhile, and my dad had, before he went up to the ranch, he was, he was a peddler, he had a horse-and-buggy, and he would buy, buy fruit, and go up and down the area here, from here to Pinole and around in there and sell vegetables. And that's probably the most experience that he had, I guess.
LD: Angie was telling us about her father, you know, having chickens and rabbits. So I was wondering if your Italian customers bought meat or if--
HA: Well, they probably would, you know, obviously they didn't buy chickens if they had them on their farm, you know, if they're raising them. But I know, I can always remember a few times I would go out with my dad there, some of those people raised, they had cows and they would raise a calf and then they would sell the calf to my dad's store, my dad would go out and kill the calf and pay them for it, whatever, I'm not sure what they gave him exactly, but then they would bring this, bring the meat back and they would, you know, clean it and sell it in the store. They would buy the meat from some of those farmers that didn't, that was more than what they could use, you know.
LD: Okay. So now tell me a little bit about when you worked there.
HA: Well, I worked mainly after school and I would, I was going to Albany high school here, and I'd hop a, go down to the county line and get on the bus, or streetcar, they put in some streetcars later on, I'd go to work, I probably wouldn't get there till three o'clock or so, three-to-three-thirty, then I'd work till about six when they closed, and then after awhile I, after I'd worked there for awhile, I got to be what they called the "delivery boy," they had a lot of phone orders, people would phone up and they'd want stuff delivered. So about the time I would get there, then we'd load up the truck and I would go around to the different houses and drop off these orders and do that sort of thing. And I think, every other Sunday, one of the brothers would keep the store open from, from about eight o'clock in the morning till noontime, and I can always remember going up to that bakery, the Callegari Bakery that Angie was telling you about, and he'd always have about two or three dozen loaves of bread that we would pick up on Sunday morning, and just gulp it and, that nice hot bread coming out of the oven, and I'd pick that up when I was working there. We just, you know, we did a, I waited on a lot of customers and I got to pretty much be able to speak to the Spanish people, I knew when they wanted something, groceries or something, you couldn't understand them, but I was taking Spanish in high school, so it helped out. I was, and, yeah--
LD: Did you speak Italian as well?
HA: I understood almost all the Italian but I didn't speak too much of it, I mean, if I got with a customer that couldn't speak English at all, then I could probably kind of mumble my way through enough to get by, but if I, if it was a person that knew English, I always spoke English to him. But my parents spoke a lot of Italian at home, and we all could understand it. And when their friends came over a lot of times, they would talk Italian amongst themselves, you know, maybe, so there was quite a bit of Italian going on at home. But personally I never spoke too much of it. I was going to school. I was always probably a little embarrassed of, of speaking, you know what I mean, you know, most of the people, a lot of them, not most of them, but most of the people in the school there, their parents were, you know, American, and didn't have--So I didn't, I felt, sometimes felt a little embarrassed if my mother would speak Italian to me while someone was there, you know.
LD: Did you socialize in Richmond?
HA: Not really, no, I didn't do much socializing. You know, there was another fellow that worked in the, in the store, a Mexican fellow, and we started up a little band, I used to play the saxophone and the clarinet and he was a drummer and there was two or three other Spanish kids there that, and we used to go and play for Mexican dances a lot, that was, I used to, in the evenings we used to go out and play. But that was not exactly socializing, but that's about the only connection I had with Richmond at night-time.
LD: But the band did play in Richmond, did it?
HA: Yeah, oh, yeah, this fellow was well-known in Richmond, and he, a lot of weddings and some of the buildings here, I think it was, I don't know I forget, upstairs, I can always remember the building upstairs in Richmond where they used to have dances every Saturday night or something, we'd play, every once in awhile, play one of those dances and stuff. So we used to make a little extra money on the side by playing there.
LD: At some point, you realized that your mother was going to have to leave her home.
HA: Well, you know, they got the notice that they had to move...we had a short wave radio and we had to get rid of that. Fortunately, my, I had a sister that was already married, and she lived in Oakland, and for some reason, that area where she was in was okay, I mean, it was just a few miles, you know, not very far away. But anyway, they found a little apartment over a garage that one of the people there had, and she moved into that apartment. It wasn't really an apartment, it was a room over a garage, and she moved in there, and she was only a couple of blocks away from my sister's house, so she could go eat, you know, have dinner and stuff with my sister, and then we would all hightail it down there, you know, in the evening too, and see her and stuff, but it wasn't, it was kind of odd because my dad, they made my dad the block warden, he had to go around and check all the block to see if there was any lights on or something when they had the mock air raids and stuff, you know, so here he was a block warden and my mother couldn't live in the house.
LD: So you, you visited her, you were able to visit her often because--
HA: Oh, yes--
LD: Did you have a car? Did your family have a car?
HA: Well, the family had a car, I didn't have one that time but the family had a car. And like I say, she was just in the, I don't know if you're familiar with the Temescal area where there was a lot of Italians in Oakland.
LD: That's where she moved to?
LD: And what was your opinion of the changes that had taken place in Richmond during the War?
HA: Well,Richmond got to be an altogether different city than what it was before the war, it got to be a kind of a, more of a hustle-bustle, there was unfortunately more crime, it got to be like a big city rather than have that little city look that it had before the war, you know what I mean, where everybody knew everybody, you walked down the street...It got to be really kind of a rough place and, I mean, I didn't live there but it wouldn't be a place that I'd want to move into, you know, where before I could have easily lived in Richmond. But after the war it just changed so much that . . . it's a different, kind of a different class of people living there and . . . for someone that just moved in, it was okay--they didn't notice that. But if you were there a lot of years before the war and you saw the changes, it wasn't like the old Richmond.
LD: Your parents, when did they come to Richmond?
JR: It was after the earthquake. And my father [Umberto Rampoldi] came to the United States before my mother did. He was eighteen years old and he come in, landed in Richmond, and he stayed with a couple of relatives. Then asked for my mother to come over here to the United States. And they were married, at St. Mark's Church, it's Tenth and Bissell, in Richmond.
LD: And where were they from in Italy?
JR: I think my mother was from Musso and my father from was Dongo. But it was within a half a mile distance between the two cities.
LD: In which region?
JR: Lake Como, the Province of Como.
LD: And when were you born?
JR: December 6, 1921.
LD: And where did you live in Richmond when you were born?
JR: It was in North Richmond, like I said, it was off of Chesley Street. Chesley was the borderline, Larry. Actually, we were in the county, if we want to; but they still called it Richmond, you know? And there was a Rheem Manufacturing company . . . there. I'm sure, there's a Rheem, area in, out of Lafayette-Walnut Creek, that--Anyway, we lived right next door, my father bought a home there. And we were there for quite awhile. Then, the company wanted to enlarge their area, so they asked my father if he would sell--We had about an acre, I think, if he wanted to sell his property so they could build on it. Heck, they paid for the moving of the, I don't know how much they paid my father for the property but they also paid, we had house-movers then, I don't know, you don't see too many of them now. But the house-mover came over and jacked up the house and moved it about . . . oh, three-quarters of a mile . . . north, northwest. And so we, I forget the number of the, of the house, but it was Chesley Avenue. Chesley Avenue's in Richmond, and we lived . . . in the county area. So we lived there for, until the war.
LD: And it was quite rural at that time?
JR: Right. In other words, it was--excuse me--there was a boundary set where I lived . . . most of us, where I lived on Chesley Street, Avenue, went to San Pablo school, I'm glad you asked that question. And then about half a mile south, those people in North Richmond also went to Peres school, that was in Richmond proper. That's where Frank Mapelli, my friend, Larry, went to Peres school.
LD: So you didn't go to school with most of your neighbors, is that it?
JR: Yeah, we had, yessir. Well, let me put it this way, Richmond, then the county, that's where I gotta pick up now, the county, North from where I lived, they, there's quite a few families in that area, farmers. You mentioned farmers one day. Those were farmers, and they went to San Pablo school also. But south of Chesley, they went to Peres school, kindergarten through the eighth grade.
LD: Since you mentioned farmers, did your father or your family do any farming at all?
JR: No, but, I'd say, we had, we had one cow, a bunch of chickens, rabbits. But my father on the little half acre of land we had, he farmed his own food. I, I have to brag about it a little bit, we didn't go hungry. My father planted all kinds of vegetables, milk from the cows, butter, buttermilk, you know? That's one thing--I know we were pretty good athletes, even though my size, but my father said, "Before you can play bullfutch," that was football, you know, is, "you gotta come and digga the garden," you know? We had to dig about, oh, five foot, uh, length, like forty-five feet long piece of grass, a piece of land, to dig it up so my father can plant the seeds or whatever he had to plant. Then we could go play bullfutch after that.
LD: (Chuckles) And did you play bullfutch?
JR: Uh, a little bit, yes, we played, my brother was very good--better than I was. I wasn't bad. LD: What did you play? JR: I played a lot of softball, baseball. My brother was fast, or he's quick and I . . . I wasn't too slow, but--
LD: So when your father said bullfutch, did he means all kinds of
JR: Well, probably you're right, but they wanted my brother to go out for track because of his speed. But he was unable to do that because he had to come and do his, our chores. Chop wood. You know what we'd do? We had a bin, I tell ya, we had a bin where we had, we filled it, chopped wood in there. We had a couple of barrels of wine one day, we set them down at the bottom. And then we threw a few of these pieces of wood on top to make, make it look like it was a pretty good size pile, you know? But my father wasn't stupid, he wasn't a dummy, he found out. We had to triple our work then after that.
LD: And so obviously your father made wine, too?
JR: Oh, yes, okay. So he was a bootlegger. He was thrown in jail. I tell you what they, I could continue on, they . . . the sheriff's department raided the.. house one day, one night or one evening, and my mother, and I remember throwing the bottles of wine out the windows. Heck, she almost hit a few of the deputy sheriff people out there. But he was, he was sent to jail in Point Richmond, that's where the jail, that first jail that Richmond ever had. And I used to visit him, we used to visit him. My mother'd dress me up in a little sailor outfit all the time. I don't know why, and I joined the army--but anyway, yes, he was in jail. Yep.
LD: Now most of the people, most of the Italians would have made their own wine.
JR: A lot of them made their wine. I don't remember if they got caught or not. Why my father, heck, the constable used to come over and drink wine. We called him a constable at the time. But evidently, the law was, went beyond him and...
LD: Well, this was during Prohibition?
JR: Yes, it was Prohibition. And he was in jail for, I don't remember how many days, maybe he spent a few weeks in there. But he, he was. But after that he went to a foundry, if you folks know what a foundry is, they make cast-iron pieces of, like the, for example, the, the . . . one of those covers over there for the, the manhole covers, he made those. Matter of fact, during the war, then, Larry--
LD: Hold on a second. So you were saying about the foundry--
JR: So right, then he, he was a laborer there, then, they thought he had some skills, so he became a molder. Then, at the beginning of the war, you know what he was doing, he was, he was making submarine, the pan, the pan for the submarines, our submarines. They're about . . . fifty feet long, sixty feet long. He was one of the, well, he was in charge of that particular job. And then when I graduated from high school, I got a job there as an apprentice molder. I made the manifolds. Well, there was a journeyman molder that was making those and there was a problem, he was a good molder; but when you pour the latent [molten, ed.] metal in there it fouled up something inside the mold, so let's give the kid a chance, and I was lucky, I didn't lose as many, you can lose a few of 'em. But then after that I, then I was drafted in the army. But prior to that, I played the accordion. I played for Frank and Ruby Mapelli's wedding. In 1942. June of 1942. Yes. I played the accordion.
LD: Did you take lessons?
JR: Yes, I took lessons in, in grammar school. And then when I went to high school, once a week, again, once a week, I would bring my music with me, and I would walk for, from Richmond High all the way to Macdonald Avenue, that's about . . . six-seven miles. I got on a bus and went into Berkeley, and then I transferred onto a streetcar that went south on Telegraph Avenue from University Avenue, and took my accordion lessons. Heck, I used to get back about nine o'clock in the evening. Evening, nine o'clock at night. Yes, now you wouldn't dare walk through North Richmond anyplace at that time of the night. But I'd get off at Fifth Street and Macdonald Avenue. Then I would walk to North Richmond to my home.
LD: What was it like to grow up in North Richmond?
JR: Well, we had fun as kids. The grownups, they'd visit, they'd visit each other, almost every night. They'd go over one, they'd go over to one person's house tonight, they come over to our house the next night. And I'm telling you, at Christmas time, aw, the fun they have. They'd go over my aunt's house, Aunt Maria, she had a big house, two-story house, for, for dinner, it would be just my aunt and my, my cousins, two brothers and a sister, and my brother and I, and my mother and father. But then in the evening the neighborhood families, Italians families would come over. And they would sing and I'd have to push that accordion again. They would sing Italian songs, naturally. All night. Yep. And they had fun. Us kids, when we were growing up, yeah, we played in a, we didn't have, we have parks now out here that I, when I worked, I worked for the City of Richmond Parks Division, they've got softball, baseball field, we didn't have them then. I, uh, we played ball . . . uh, I hate to say this, maybe, we, we used cow flops for bases. Seriously. Uh, first base, second and third and home plate. And we played in a rough field that had chuckholes, you know, but we enjoyed ourselves, we really did. And uh, but the grownups, like I said, they, they visited each other. No cars, nobody had a car. Except in 1939, my father bought a Dodge and I was old enough to be the driver.
LD: Did your father?
JR: No, they didn't drive. Mother or father.
LD: That generation of Italians didn't tend to drive?
JR: No, they didn't--didn't have any cars. Uh, not even horses, you know, usually you'd think you'd have a horse to travel on. But . . . probably the kids did, I take it back, my, my cousins, my aunt's two sons, Ray and Abramo, they had a, they each had a car. And Marie, my cousin, their sister. They had a car but there mother and father, my aunt, and uh, my uncle didn't drive.
LD: This reminds me, what was, how was discipline in your house, I mean, was your father the law?
JR: Well, I know, for example, my daughter-in-law, Jimmy's wife, she's a good, obviously a good mother, I mean, I'm not trying to, she's my daughter-in-law, but she don't believe in spanking children when they were growing up. My father would spank me. Yes. I mean, kind of hard, too, I'm not saying, he was short like me; but he, he had a hand like a baseball glove, you know? I got stuck out in the mud with my '39 Dodge one time, out by the slough. I drove out there and they called it the Mudflats, it's, you don't sink down too much. But you can't get any traction. And they had to get two, two tow trucks. The one cable on a tow truck wasn't long enough so they had to get the other tow truck, anyway, they towed me out of there And when I got home, I--He wouldn't hit me on the head area, I kind of remember that, it was my butt, mostly on my butt. I went up the stairs and, boy, he came and he slapped me a good one, you know? But as far as beating me up or anything like, or my brother, no. But he was a disciplinarian. We, if we'd visit people, my brother and I, we'd sit on the couch, and we'd sit just like this. If I tried to say something, he'd just look at me and we wouldn't say a word. He didn't have to say shut up, Jimmy, or Avellino. So, you know, he wasn't a bad father, he was a good father. Bought us clothes and fed us. But he, he was the boss.
LD: And what about in the same vein, were there particular rules about what you could do, like dating and things like that? How did that work?
JR: No, well, yes, I guess where he, as far as dating's concerned, he, they, my mother and father didn¹t mind that. But the hours, they did . . . I was upstairs in the bedroom . . . and about eight or nine o'clock, I would throw my jacket out the window and I would jump down. It's quite a ways, too, God, maybe that's why I'm short (chuckles). I'd jump down and I'd sneak off and that, that's bad, I don't know why I did that. I would go . . . see . . . I didn't go see Katherine too much at the time, I didn't know her real good. But this other gal up, up the street, I saw her, and I'd come in, and I snuck in the house, and I don't think they ever found that out, I'm not sure. But did that. But as far as . . . well, I didn't date as far as . . . I think it was, we did, we did do that...then I met Katherine Bianco, and I had the '39 Dodge, we went to a couple of football games that Richmond High was playing in Napa and so forth. And we went to the, her mother was bad though, honest. Can I tell you this story? Her father--she, she liked me, don't get me wrong. We were engaged to be married, hah, and her father liked me and mother did, too. But her mother was like my folks, didn't want us to go out. That football game I was talking about, I asked, she asked her mother, "Ma, I'm going to go the football game with Jimmy." "No! You can't go." She says, "Yeah, we're gonna go." "Go ask your father!" Now, Mom and Pop, so he had a little store downstairs, a two-story house, a few items. She asked her father, he says, "Sure, you can go, Katerina." We come upstairs, both of us, and told the mother that we could go. She threw a spoon at me! It was a wooden spoon, it was, I forget what it was. I was just leaving the door, I opened the door and that thing came over my head. She--mmf! It was, those Italians! Yeah, she didn't like for us. We didn't do nothing wrong. But after that, I think we did go to the show or something like that. But that time, no.
LD: What was your relationship with the Galileo Club early on?
JR: Well, I, the Galileo Club, when did it, I think in 1933, a few people got together in somebody's basement down on Carlson Boulevard, and from there it got bigger and bigger, and we built the one we have now on South 23rd Street. And my father attended a lot of functions there. Or they would go there on a Sunday--Saturday and Sunday--and guess what? They'd bring me down there. I was just a youngster again, they put my back up against the wall, throw the accordion on me, and I would play the accordion for them for the afternoon. Several times. And then I . . . I told you then I went into the army, service, I came back out, and a man by the name of Pete Noe, I don't know if you--Peter Noe, he was the president at the time, in 1946, he made a statement in the paper, or orally at the meetings, that anybody, any Italian person descent would, could join the club for free, no initiation fee. And that one year their dues would be paid for. And that's when I joined, in 1946. So heck I got what, fifty-seven years there. Right. And right now I'm on the board of directors. I enjoy it, my wife don't like it because I'm, I'm there most of the time (chuckles). And uh, but I enjoy it, bunch of nice guys. Matter of fact, Louie Aiello was president for . . . the last few years, till his term expired. So we have a new president now starting in January by the name of Joe Orsini. And I'm still on the board of directors. My time will end in December and I could either run for re-election or not run again. But I probably will.
LD: Do you remember, were you here during the war--when they had dances for POWs and stuff?
JR: Okay, can, can I tell you that story.
LD: Sure. JR: I'm getting, goose pimples, but I'm gonna tell it like it is, I mean, that's the way I saw it. When I was overseas, the war was about to be over--I wasn't very much of a writer. Frank Mapelli, my good friend, he wrote to his mother and said, "I see Jimmy, I see Jimmy," that's how my mother knew I was probably still alive. But then I finally wrote to her, I found out...people are going to get mad, I don't care...I found out that the Italian clubs in the East Bay were inviting these--oh, the prisoners, I didn't tell you this story. One, I'm mad at the government in the first place. We had plenty, plenty areas in Europe to send the prisoners of war. Matter of fact, I was on a couple of drives to bring them from Sicily to Bizzerti, Africa, you know, ship them there. They were guarded. Then they shipped them to this country and that's, I don't know why. And in the Bay Area, right in my backyard in Point Richmond. It was called the Rifle Range, that's where the police and other people went there to tune their guns, you know what I mean? And it's--how many acres, a couple of acres there. So they became obsolete as far as the rifle was concerned. So they dumped the prisoners of war there and threw a fence around them. And I can't blame the prisoners now. Now the Galileo Club, Colombo Club, the Fratellanza Club, the Buon Tempo Club invited so many on the weekends. Oh, I don't know, ten-fifteen, they were under, under guard--not guard as far as . . . guns were concerned. But they were responsible for these prisoners. They took them to the Galileo Club, danced with our women, Fratellanza Club danced with our women. And we were over there fighting the war, you understand what I'm saying? I told my mother, there was, it wasn't true though, I says, "If you ever do that bring them in your house," I said, "I'll never come again." But I wanted to come home so bad, you know. Then families, they let them in the club now, families, they went down to the rifle range and talked, hey, they wanted to find out if anybody there was related, I can understand that. But, and they took a couple home to their houses and fed them. I kind of relented that now but at that time I was kind of peeved because, you know, why, why--they were prisoners of war, lock 'em up, you know? I don't think they wanted to fight as much as, they didn't want to fight us as much as we wanted to fight them, I understand that. But I was mad for a few years but I, I relented and I said it was okay. Oh, some of the people, they won't join the Galileo Club, even right now. Say, "I wouldn't join that damn club or the other Italian clubs for that reason."
LD: Would you talk a little about the relationship of the Italians in North Richmond and in Point Richmond? Was that considered a similar community or was that pretty separate--
JR: Well, you know, we didn't go to Point Richmond too much. Oh, there's a few, matter of fact, son-of-a-gun, I met at guy at the Galileo Club, his name is Luciano Forner, he changed his name, you met him, and I know his brother but I didn't know Ciano until two years ago at the Galileo Club. So he was Italian descent and there were a couple of others, but not as many--no, that's Point Richmond, Richmond. Not as many as there were in North Richmond.
LD: And were there any other Italian neighborhoods besides North Richmond?
JR: Well, yes, where the Galileo is now, south 23rd Street and Virginia, right off of Cutting Boulevard, now it's predominantly black, there's nothing wrong with that. But it was predominantly Italian at the time. All up and down 23rd Street and 22nd, 19th, 18th, 15th Street there were Italian people there. Yes.
LD: I'm not sure if time-wise you remember this but did you see Richmond change because of the building of the shipyards?
JR: (Chuckles) Did I! I mean, this is a small community, Richmond, eighteen-thousand people before the war, you know? And we were, you know, the, the city--now it's extended quite a bit, I don't know how that happened. We're way over at Hilltop, around; but at that time just Richmond proper here, it was a nice community. I said, Eighteen-thousand people. Then the influx of people from Kaiser brought them in here, went over one-hundred thousand population, you know, even now, look at it now. My God, it's really large. And--oh, a lot of people moved here, you see, we--like you said--it's from Connecticut, you know? We, we never saw any, if we saw an out-of-state car, a license plate, we¹d get excited, you know? Even Oregon as close by as it is. And we never, we're not used to that. But heck, I read the obituary column now, I look in there to see if my name's in there, but you see people, they're not from California most of them, most of them, they're from, I mean where they were born, you know what I mean. But it's okay, they're good people, like you guys, and I don't mind that. But it was a small, small town.
LD: Can you tell any stories about that, about that period, about overcrowding or what it was like with this whole influx of new people?
JR: Well, when I, when I . . . came home from the service, I went on Macdonald Avenue, I says, Holy smokes! I seen these guys with tin hats, they'd have their sports shirt on and stuff like that, I mean little guys on the sidewalk, I says, "Jesus, what do you guys"--Then one guy says, "You're from"--I says, "Okay, where do all these Okies come from?" And gee, a couple of big guys grabbed me and they picked me up, literally. He says, "I'm an Okie, you know." I says, "Hey, man, I'm just, I'm sorry, didn't mean that," you know? But they helped us, they built ships for us and women also, they really produced, the production was great. I think that's how, how we won the war. I think their soldiers--they've been training since they were kids, they're better soldiers than we were. Their armaments were greater. But our produc-productivity helped us out, and this is what the people from Oklahoma, Arkansas, or wherever they came from, built our ships here, and our armaments, like you said, hand grenades and stuff, really helped us. And that's America, you know, for you.
LD: And what was the, you know, after the war, when Kaiser stopped its operations and there were a lot of people here who didn't have jobs, what did you think about Richmond then? I mean, you obviously came back and worked at the same place for awhile, did you?
JR: Yeah, but then . . . uh, I said I emphasized the fact that--then, right in March, the foundry, it goes slow, I don't know why, and they have to lay off somebody. And my father'd been there for years. I happened to be one of the people that was laid off. So I wanted to get another job, naturally I was married. And . . . I got a job with the Richmond Housing Authority, her mother and father helped me, some friends of theirs knew the union boss, I think (chuckles), it's who you know, huh? But in the meantime, I was interested in getting a job with the City of Richmond. Oh, prior to that, I go to Standard Oil, another beef again. And they were nice, I got to give those, the interview people a lot of credit. "My name is Jimmy Rampoldi, I just got out of the service a few months ago, I'd like a job," you know? "Uh, we don't, three or four people, I'm sorry, Mr. Rampoldi, we don't have nothing right now, blah blah blah," you know. Okay. To make a long story short, I go, I went back the next time, same thing. Third time, the fourth time, then I really got angry and I told them off. I did a little cussing and stuff, I shouldn't have said that. And "What's the, is it my stature that's keeping me from getting a job?" "Oh, no, no, no." You'd think they would say, Get out of here. No, they're really gentlemen, really professionals. He says, We don't have anything right now, like we told you. In the meantime, they were hiring people out-of-state, that's what I was, yeah, you know. But they wouldn't hire me. But then I put my application in with the city and, at that time, it's not, it's not what you know, it's who you know. A council member or some government official that you know real well. And I, I talked to a couple of people, finally they sent me a card, a card telling me that they're going to interview people for, for a job with the Parks Division. And I went, it was no written test, it's just an oral interview, and I got the job. Been there for, I was there for thirty years. It was nice.
Margherita Siri Bargy
LD: When did your parents actually come to Richmond?
MB: My father came about 1909-1910 and he was young, he was about nineteen. My mother didn't follow until he sent for her ten years later, which was about 1918, probably the end of, ending of the world war, 1917-1918.
LD: Do you know why your father came to Richmond initially?
MB: Actually, they landed in Antioch, at the beginning, both of them did, both brothers. And from there, my father, he went to Richmond and my uncle, he went to Pittsburg. It was just a matter of, I think, personal choice between the two of them.
LD: And where now did you live in Richmond?
MB: 441 Lucas Avenue.
LD: And what was your father's work?
MB: My father worked with Richmond Certainteed, which was a roofing company, as a roofing inspector.
LD: We talked earlier about the farming in Richmond.
MB: The farming that we were familiar with was completely encompassed in the Point Richmond--pardon me--North Richmond area. The only thing that my father did in that home on Lucas Avenue was, he raised his own animals and his own vegetables and lots of his own fruit. But he did that wherever he lived.
LD: Now was this farming area, I think you said it was an acre and a half or something?
MB: That was where we moved after, after the war the government allowed us to return.
LD: Oh, I see, so in Richmond--
MB: He did, he did the same thing in Richmond when he was, he worked his eight-hour job and came home and worked almost another eight hours out in the yard and with his animals. And we always had animals, it was part of, it was a money saver for us to have our own meat and eggs and vegetables, predominantly from my dad.
LD: What kind of vegetables and what kind of animals?
MB: He, he had, uh, pigeons, he had chickens, he had turkeys, ducks, um, pigs. . . . I just know that my father, when he came home from work, he just gave me his lunch pail, gave me my piece of candy that was in his lunch box, and off he went into the yard. And from there, he fed all his animals, pigeons, chickens, whatever, and rabbits, and he planted fruit trees, and he had his vegetable garden he had string beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, uh, he also--what do they call that when they splice the tree--
MB: Grafting the tree. He had a tree that had three different fruits on it, and he was so proud of that tree. It had pears, plums, and peaches, and we loved that tree because everything came in at the same time and we stripped it on him, all the time (sounds amused). But uh, he just was a very, very hard-working man, and trying to get ahead. To the point where, when I was very young, I was hospitalized for twelve months at the county hospital with an infection in my thigh bone. They didn't see me for those twelve months. It was a debt that my father acquired during the Depression, the latter part of the Depression, that he paid off by not only cleaning the doctor's home, he did her yard. And her name was Dr. Keeser, and she was right on Macdonald Avenue in Richmond. But she's the one that took care of my leg at the county hospital. So my dad, along with the Depression, he had three days of work that they cut back to, so he kept working through the Depression for three days but with this large family and this monumental debt to the doctor. The grocery store carried my dad for things that he didn't have on his property. And he paid that all back, either by working or by, once he went back to five days a week. He just kept his nose to the grindstone all the time, and he made his own wine, and he was never without his wine. But it's, he set a precedent for all his children to work the same way, and we all have done so. And it seems to have carried on into the younger generation, my children. My mom worked at the cannery, which was Filice & Perrelli, and she worked every summer for them. So it was like maybe three-and-a-half to four months. My mother kept her nose to the grindstone, and could hardly hear, she lost her hearing after she arrived here, about a year after they arrived. So the noises of the instruments and the mechanics of the Filice & Perrelli Cannery didn't bother her. So my mother just went for broke. At that time, they paid you by, uh, the lug box, and because my mother set the average up every day, the other women would get angry with her and they'd throw fruit at her. And it was just one of those things, but that's just the way she worked as well. We never left the house without my mother being the last one out the door, making sure everything was in its place, including the newspapers and magazines lined up straight as an arrow and I'm, I'm happy to say that illness has hit me, and I consider it an illness.
LD: Your father and mother, did they feel the Italian influence? Your father spoke English--
MB: Read. My dad was profusely reading all the time. Books. Newspaper.
LD: And what about the Italian papers?
MB: No. Did not interest him. This became his country. He, the last book I saw my father reading before he died was Dante's Inferno and I hadn't even read that myself. And I was really surprised because he had a third-grade education and--in Italy--and came to this country and learned to read the English language and figure mathematics, he used to help me with my math homework from high school. I don't know, it's, how he did that I don't know, I really don't. And I don't think any of us did, we, we just sort of took it for granted that Pop was, you know, he was the, the boss in the house, and we knew that if, basically, the discipline was done by my mother, but if we were really out-of-hand, my father would come up from behind his newspaper and we knew we had to straighten right up. And it was, it's kind of a family joke, that if you thought you got away with something with either one of them, they would come back two days later and say, and give you a swat, and say this was for what you did (chuckles) so-and-so. So, it . . . it was a house filled with lots of laughter. The only time that my father wanted to hear the bad news was either before we sat down to dinner and it was, was not brought to the dinner table. Ever. What we did at the dinner table was connect with one another, what you did today, what I did today, and--And we always waited until my dad was served before we ate. You had to clean your plate--oh, God. And . . . it just was a wonderful warm household, and my mother and father both sang. My mother sang on the stage when she was in Italy as a child, and it, it just . . . it was consistent. We knew timing was of the essence to my father--you ate lunch at noon and you ate dinner at six o'clock and you had better be there, at his table so he could see his kids. And it . . . and we all liked being together. There was . . . a closeness that is so dear to me. . . .
LD: Getting back to the flowers and the garden-- MB: Mm hm--
LD: Did . . . he sell any of them or was it all for the family?
MB: He didn't sell, he gave. He has always done that, no matter what it was, he never sold--The last year that he made his wine, he gave almost everybody he worked with a case, of his wine. And it was, he never went anywhere--nor did my mother--empty-handed. They always took something, whether it was a box of vegetables or whatever--cookies that my mom had made or what, there was always something in her hand or his hand.
LD: Did they socialize?
MB: They did with their friends, they weren't involved in any clubs or anything like that. My mother socialited, socialized, with the women she worked with in the cannery. And lived in the neighborhood with, we, she also--behind our house was a, the railroad, Sante Fe Railroad tracks were maybe a block from our home. And during the time that I was growing up, there were a lot of, I would say homeless people, we would call them now, but we called them hoboes. And they had marked my mother's fence that she was a good one to hit for a meal, and we knew that and we could never understand why, after she fed them, whatever that she had, she'd throw the dish and the fork and the spoon and the glass away. But that she never refused any of them. Which sometimes used to concern my dad, he thought that it was not a good thing to do. But that was just my mom. And in the area where we lived, there was an Italian bakery, there was an Italian grocery store. The bakery delivered bread to my mom and dad by the loaf, and he would bring them in, carrying them on his arms, maybe six or seven loaves of bread. And in those days, if you ate French bread like that, the sourdough, it was not cool at all. And my brothers would even hide it when they took their lunch to school, and so did I, we didn't want anybody to see we didn't have American-sliced bread. But we wanted French bread, and it just created a lot of that kind of thing. And then the fact that when my sister started school, she spoke no English, she spoke only Italian, so school was difficult for her. But by the time the rest of us kids came along, they were speaking more English and that's what we were doing predominantly. With my mom it was Italian, with my dad it was always English.
LD: What did you do as a teenager for entertainment when you were in Richmond?
MB: Me? As a teenager, living out where we were? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. My brother, at least, had a bike, and then when he got out of the service he had his car. But my car was solely for service to the family, and so I pretty much stayed home. And if you had, if I had a young man that wanted to take me out, he did it once, and then said, You live too far. Nobody's worth (chuckles) coming way out in the boonies. So it was just nothing. But Fred, like I say, he had his car, so he, he ambled around with the fellows. But none of them wanted to come out there.
LD: Was there in your family some sort of attitude about what young women did and how they wouldn't date them and that kind of stuff, how did that work?
MB: Uh, with my brothers, it was not an easy task. They gave any young man that came to the door for me a bad time, it just was automatic. They'd meet him with baseball bats, it just put the kibosh on it so much that I would cry, and it didn't make any difference, it was brothers teasing sisters, and that's just the way it is, and that's the, it was a lifestyle, those brothers never let up. But I . . . I don't know, they gave even my husband, when we were married, a bad time, you know. You gotta answer to us if you give my sister a bad time, and he never did, of course, but it was just kind of a joke.
LD: You said before that you were in the Merchant Marines? How did that come about?
MB: That was after I got out of high school, uh, I dated a fellow who was a Merchant Seaman, and I had a lifelong desire to be on the ocean. As a small child growing up, I wanted to be out on the ocean. And when I was commuting to Oakland for a job, we, I drove from the Dam Road down the Bayshore, and everyday I would say, I'd look out at the ocean and I'd say, One of these days you're going to be out there. So when I dated this fellow, I said to him, Do they hire women? And he said, Yes. And I said, How do I do that? And he said, Well, first you have to get your seaman's documents and you have to be investigated. And then when they okay your seaman's documents, after your investigation, you can get seaman's papers, and then you can go to the hall and ship out. Well, I got my seaman's documents, the FBI agent came to my office where I was working, and asked to speak to my boss, that he was investigating Margherita Siri, and I told him that's me, Is that going to be all right to do that while I'm here? And he said, Oh, no problem. But you're the first one that I've ever met that I've had to interview. So I, I got past all of their investigation, and they fingerprint you, and I kept trying to get out in the hall and trying to get out in the hall, and it was very difficult. You had to know someone. So I went to my brother Lin, who at this time had his own liquor store in El Cerrito, and he said, I said to him, Do you know anybody in the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union, and he said yes, Ed McDonough, he says, Go see Ed McDonough and see what he can do. Well, within a month I made the mai-, not the maiden voyage of the Matsonia but voyage one. The gal that took the job on the maiden voyage was one of the family's daughters, and she made the maiden voyage, which went from Newport News in New York clear around through the Caribbean and Panama and all that, and I made the next voyage. And that's where I met my husband, and we sailed for ten years. To Hawaii, to the Orient, to New Zealand, Tahiti, Australia, Pango Pango, and we did that for ten years, and then we decided that that wasn't, we got married, and we decided, once we were married, that it wasn't a good life for a married couple so I signed off and shortly thereafter, he signed off, and got a job driving for United Grocers.
LD: Did you parents have any feelings about that? How did they feel about your joining the Merchant Marines?
MB: Well, the only time that they had a problem was when I got out of high school, I said to them, and my brothers, I'm going to join the Waves, 'cause I wanted to be out on that ocean. And my brothers said no, you're not going to do that. Nice girls don't do that--which was such a crock! And I, I said okay, I wouldn't do it. So I didn't go into the Navy and I kick myself for that.