“Michelina Manfra was a solidly built woman with large hands who lived alone in a cold-water flat. Her father liked having Michelina around because she could do as much farm work as any man.”
— Anthony V. Riccio
“Daily Farm Life in Parolise in 1913”
“Working on the farm in Parolise was beautiful. In the beginning you no like, ma (but) after, that’s a your job, you work on the farm. In the morning you get when it started to be little light out, you get up and go to work and you be joyful every day, beautiful. My mother, seven-thirty, take a the breakfast, when my mother come on the farm we had a lot of chickens, my mother just a call, “Quee, quee, quee,” and all a the chickens run a to my mother, she’d say, “Ma coming with the food.” After she come, she cook at twelve o’clock make a the dinner. So, this was our life. At noon she’d come and bring us food to eat. There were nine of us in our family and we never starved, we never was a millionaire. We never goin’ a beg. My mother always gave us something because we always had it, we all had food. We didn’t have a business, but we had wine—do you know how much wine my father sold? Aye, hundreds of quintale (1 quintale = 220 lbs). Sunday morning on the farm I go to church, after church my mother made rabbit with tagliatelle a mano, (homemade noodles) and after we ate, I take off a my shoes, my stockings, I go on the farm—to the vineyard and grapes—and I worked through October, November, December with no shoes, no stockings, no nothing. Only once a week, on Sundays. Here in America, with two dollars I’m a go buy a pair shoes, over there how you gonna buy a pair of shoes? We enjoyed it, I had a wonderful father, I remember my father—how much I miss him! He wasn’t too tall a fellow, he had a mustache and he had blond hair, light skin, and blue eyes. He loved his family—he loved us! If you could have been in my family, you could hear him sing out, “I’m a rich man! Look at what I have! I got a beautiful daughter. I got a beautiful family!” He was a happy man and everybody loved him.
My father used to take me by horse and wagon to go shopping at the market in Atripalda or Avellino. They would call out to him by his nickname, “Hey, Misdeo!” I had one brother they called Pecorella, a little sheep, another Cacciatore, the hunter. He used to sell his wine there. If we were there right now it would be primavera, the spring, it would be time to plant the seeds, seminamo le rabe (broccoli rabe), li pasconi, it’s a green that grows during the winter and then by the spring it’s already big, you have to zappà, till the soil, and put them under. Then the grano (wheat), was already planted. By October, would be when we picked the olives, the grapes in the vineyard. If it rained or if it was damp, you couldn’t pick the olives because the tree would dry out. I always went with my father and my brother to pick the grapes. We were very busy. All the chestnuts! Oooh boy! Oooh! If I have a dream about chestnuts, I won’t sleep! Oh boy! Too much work!
Now during la vendemmia, (the harvest), you picked the grapes and my father didn’t believe in the donkey, so we filled up the baskets to the brim and then we had to carry them on our heads to the town. When we were there after we dropped off the grapes, we carried all the leftover stalks and stems out in the country, one carried the baskets with the other, one with the other, we went back and forth. When night came, you think you went to bed? Oh, no! Then it was time to crush the grapes in big tubs. Now you do it with a machine in America, but all the men crushed the grapes in big tubs with their feet. Then we would climb up the ladder with our pails on our heads, we’d empty them into huge, tall barrels, they held a good hundred quintale of ò musto, we called the grapes before they fermented. Then the grapes would start to ferment, the men would stir the grapes with long forks. We would stomp the grapes with our feet, that was our custom. When we were finally finished stomping the grapes around eleven or midnight, my mother would come around with kettles of warm water for the men to wash up and change their clothes. Then we’d sit and eat baccalà (dried cod), hot peppers with home-made wine vinegar, and drink our wine. At four the next morning we’d get up and start all over again.”
Translated from the dialect of Parolise by Anthony V. Riccio.