STRIKE! by John Klawitter

EXTRACT FOR
STRIKE!

(John Klawitter)


CHAPTER ONE

1922 - Hungry Hill, Chicago Heights, Illinois Rosa Gambriotti was carrying a big platter of fresh cannolis and anamaretti fig cookies from the kitchen when young Ben Napoli backed into her, nearly knocking the still-warm bakery treats to the floor. Ben, who had been near to punching Jimmy Rosalini because Jimmy said all the White Sox baseball players were crooked, and this pissed off Ben so bad he didn’t even notice the near disaster he’d caused. Lucky thing Dr. Lina Bright was at the table next to Rosa, reading one of her medical journals. Dr. Bright with her quick reflexes reached out and steadied her friend, saving the bakery treats.
“Hey,” the feisty Rosa said, glaring at Ben, “What’s-a matter with you?”
“See what you almost done,” Louie Caproni said. “S’cuse me, comrades.” He got up from the table where he’d been sitting with some of his fellow workers from the steel mill, and pushed Ben toward the door. “Get out-a here, you stugatz!” Nobody argued with Louie, who was a fiery little ball of energy, and even though Ben was ten years or so younger, he practically fell out the front door in his hurry to be gone, with Jimmy piling out into the street after him..
“What’s wrong with them?” Rosa said. She set the plate of home-made sweets on the table in front of the men, who were still dressed in their Sunday finest from the Mass at San Rocco that they’d attended earlier in the day.
“Ahh, the war,” Louie said, dismissing the subject with a wave of his hand.
“That’s no excuse,” Rosa said. “It doesn’t automatically make men into brainless idiots.”
“”You’re right, Rosa…but give the guy a break.” Louie, usually the firebrand, in the unusual role of peacemaker. He wanted his sweet treats without interruption.
“Yeah, Ben served in the Eastern Front,” Louie’s pal Arturo said in that froggy voice of his. “In the mountains near Austria, I heard. It was real bad. He seen a guy get shot in the –“ Arturo was Louie’s best friend and he usually seconded whatever Louie said, but this time Louie nudged him a sharp one with his elbow to the stomach and he stopped short..
“I know it was bad,” Rosa said, her lips pressed in a thin line. “That’s where my Ralphie was.” Her husband Ralphie, blown to bits in a trench somewhere in the Alps north of Italy.
“Ahh, sorry, Rosa,” Louie said. “Arturo didn’t mean to bring that up. Everything is upset these days, lots of problems at the mill.”
She didn’t have to ask. There was only one mill, The Inland Steel mill, and many families on Hungry Hill depended on it for their survival.
“What now?” she said. “Here, try a cannoli.”
Arturo picked up a pastry roll and gave it a nibble before he answered. “Really good, Rosa, really tasty.”
“The mill,” she prompted.
“Dirty rotten no-good managers never learn. The stupid fools want to make everything run too fast again.”
“But…I hear people say that’s dangerous.”
“Oh yeah,” Arturo said. “But the big bosses at the top don’t care. They don’t have to wrestle hot steel.”
“What can you do to stop them?” she said.
“Oh, we’ll think of something,” Louie said. “I promise you that, young lady.”
Rosa was nobody’s fool; she was bright and young and pretty (gorgeous, actually, in the classic Italiano way) and she had a knack for running her home grown business, the popular little Italian restaurant she called Rosa’s Place or Rosa’s Café, she hadn’t decided which was classier. You didn’t have to work at the mill to know how dangerous it was; they had attended the funerals at St. Roccos, heard the sad tributes, followed the horse drawn carriage to the cemetery.. To Rosa, this sounded like the same trouble all over again. Even shy of the fatal accidents, there had been plenty of burns and the loss of an arm or a leg or an eye or an ear here and there. The incidents and the general conditions and poor pay had led to lots of labor unrest over the years, so it was hard to say if this was anything new. Rosa went back to the kitchen to make sure her mom hadn’t forgotten to watch the almond biscotti so they didn’t burn in the oven.

It was the next weekend when Rosa and her good pal Lina Bright were talking girl talk in the front room of Rosa’s old family home. They were sitting at a table in the formal living room space that had been widened by her il bobbo - her dad - and now served as the main dining room in her restaurant. Lina did her doctoring next door and rented a room over the café where she kept her few personal things and where she slept. This was in Rosa’s wooden lunch pail house, on one of the main streets in Hungry Hill – the blueprint straight out of the Sears and Roebucks catalogue and originally hand-built by her dad back in his day. The house was a lonely survivor from an earlier generation; now in the roaring 1920s, it remained, stuck between a row of newer two story brick buildings that had business store fronts below and living quarters up on the second floor.
“Mama,” Rosa yelled, impatient and yet with her boisterous good humor, “The doc’s waiting for her eggs out here! She’s got people dying over at her office next door and you’re trying to figure out if it’s one pinch of salt or two..”
Lina smiled and shook her head, “No, I don’t…I could use a few more clients. Hopefully not dying, maybe just maybe a few sprains and a cough or two.”
Rosa’s mother’s cheerful voice carried from the kitchen in back. “Dying can wait, Rosie-girl! People are dying all over the world, honey! You don’t rush eggs a la Gambriotti.”
Rosa playfully mussed up her friend’s short strawberry blond hair, “See, I told you, Lina – there’s no way to get a fast egg from my mom! Every plate is a masterpiece.”
“Okay, Rosa. But you know nobody’s dying over there. Nobody’s even sick, a little bit. And that’s because we’ve got no customers.”
“Praise Dio, that is a very good thing for us here at my cafe, live people still have to eat!”
They watched out the big front window as two muscular young men in white t-shirts and Levis wrestled a wheelbarrow heavy with bags of cement on past Rosa’s.
“Hey, that’s one of the guys almost knocked you over last week.”
“No, that was Ben Napoli. You sayin’ all us wops look the same?”
“No, I am not saying that, you idiot.”
“Which one you want?” Rosa grinned at her friend, raising one eyebrow.
“They’re both too young for me.”
“That one – the big one – that’s Jimmy Rosalini. He’s your age, maybe 28 now, but you can’t have him.”
“Why not?”
“He’s already got four bambino, and a fifth on the way!”
“Wow! I see your point. Well, okay, Rosa – you get to take the other one, he’s more your age.”
“Yeah, he’s twenty. Joey Zumbatti. He went to school with Pauli and me.”
“Paulo, your best friend.”
“Yeah, him. Fratello Paulo, these days, now that he gives himself to Jesu Christi. Just plain Pauli to me. But this Joey Zumbatti here, nobody lays their hands on Joey. You look even cross-eyed at him, his wife would kill you!”
“Not really?”
“She’s big and fat enough, and she handles the heavy rolling pin good, too! No girl in her right mind wanna cross Mindy Zumbatti!” Rosa raised her voice again, “Mama, are you back there squeezing a hen or something?”
“Hey, Rosie Rosa, you mind your own business! People back here are cooking!”
Rosa shrugged and grinned, “She’s good, but she is not very fast. So, how we gonna find you a good fella from Italy so you can settle down?”
“No, I don’t think that is going to happen, girlfriend. Italian mamas are too protective of their sons.”
“Is that your medical opinion, Doctor Bright?”
“No, Rosa. I think it’s that I’m not ready to get serious.”
“You better start! What, you’re already the old lady.”
“I am not! Twenty-eight is not old!”
“On Hungry Hill it is like ancient times. Here we say a girl over twenty is old as Moses. You know my family married me away, I was a teenage kid. I barely had my period.”
“Noo…? That’s not true, right?”
“I said practically, Doc.”
“Maybe let’s talk about something else than how old I’m getting,” Lina said. “Tell me, how come they call this Hungry Hill? I don’t see a hill anywhere around.”
Everybody in the South Chicago suburbs knew Hungry Hill was the local Italian community in this part of Chicago Heights, the place where the folks from Napoli or Genoa or Rome who were new off the boat settled to find comfort in the bustling American Midwest of the 1920s. Hungry Hill was a colony of already established immigrants who were mostly Italians and Sicilians. But there were a hundred different ideas how it got its name. But one thing was sure; it attracted the majority of folks fresh off the boat from Italy. The newcomers felt more comfortable starting their new lives on the Hill, getting things going with people from the Old Country to help them make their way in the land of promise and opportunity.
“That’s a funny thing, I have to agree,” Rosa said. “Nobody knows how come, why it got that name, Hungry Hill. Makes no sense, but it’s not gonna change.”
“Everything changes.”
“Some things do. Since my parent’s time, Twenty Second Street changed from family homes to business, that’s a change. This house, my grandpa and Pop built together for my mom and Pop’s family. We change it now, put my café in front, rent you a room upstairs. Mom and Pop live in grandpa’s old house. That’s change. But when the people come from the Old Country, they still come to this part of town and they still call it Hungry Hill.”
The Gambriottis had converted the space where Rosa and Lina were sitting into a warm and welcoming dining room featuring a mixed collection of second-hand tables. On one wall they had pinned an old green-white-and-red tricolor Kingdom of Italy flag. And there was a black and white sketch of the ruins of Pompeii with a dormant Mount Vesuvius looming in the background.
“Sometimes remembering all that stuff makes me feel sad,” Rosa said.
“What stuff?” Lina said, hoping to help Rosa skip away from the subject she knew was coming.
“You know. Ralphie stuff.”
“Hard to avoid it. He was your man.”
“Yeah, he was. And there were some good times. Ralphie was a good singer, you know. He’d sing love songs from Italian opera, and he’d come in here and dance around the room.”
“I never met him, but he sounds nice.”
“He was okay. But he was an impulsive guy. Once he got his crazy notion to join the Italian army, nobody could talk sense to him. I certainly couldn’t. Like he was going to save the nation of Italy, or something. I guess I can understand it, in a way. After all, he grew up over there.”
“I bet they were delighted to have him back.”
“Yeah, they were. Greeted him with open arms. But, honest to Dio, Lina – for me, it all happened so fast…you know, way too fast, I think. First papa drops the surprise on me that they found my perfect husband for me. It’s one evening around the dinner table on a Friday and we’re having special meatballs a la Napoli in the fresh home-made spaghetti and he says ‘Hey, let’s not even talk about it, it’s all arranged, you’re getting married!’ So that was that.”
“Just like that?”
“Yeah. That was that, exactly just like that, subject over. A few weeks later, the guy gets off the boat, we meet, six weeks for the courtship and then papa buys me the white dress with the lace veil and Ralphie and I show up in front of the altar at San Roccos and bam! the priest seals the deal.”
“I’ll bet you looked beautiful.”
“Mama has my wedding photograph somewhere – I’ll show you – but then, see, barely two months later Ralphie gets his big idea and dances back across the ocean to Italy to fight the Austrian bastardos. And before you know it six months go by and I get the telegram, We are sorry to inform you, and just like that I’m the young widow that everybody whispers about at Sunday Mass.”
Lina was still trying for a happier subject, “After you got married, did you have a honeymoon?”
That seemed to work. At least Rosa smiled as she remembered, “Sort of. Ralphie took me fishing in Wisconsin.”
“Hey, wait a minute – here this guy’s just off the boat, how did he know there were fish in Wisconsin?”
“Papa paid for the trip.”
“Oh, it was Papa’s idea. Of course! I bet he went along, too.”
“Yeah, he did. Him and mamma. He said it was the honeymoon he never gave her, back when they got married.”
“I was just kidding.”
“That’s alright, Lina. It was okay. We had our own rooms and they gave us plenty of space. And the Dells of Wisconsin are very beautiful.”
“You catch any fish?”
“Not me! I don’t wanna touch those things! Ralphie and papa did. There really are lots of fish in Wisconsin.”
Rosa sighed and looked down at her clenched fists, and then she gave Lina a determined smile. “He came, we got married, and he went. I’m not gonna let any of that drag me down. I wear widow’s black to the Mass, but, no way, I will not sit with those bent over old ladies in their own sad little section at the back of San Rocco’s.”
“That’s the way to go,” Lina said. “You have your whole life to live, yet.”
Lina admired her friend’s spunk. Rosa was her best friend (actually, pretty much her only friend) and Lina would do anything to support her.. Rosa ran her little café with a fierce Italian spirit, a dark sense of humor (if this be hell, there’s always heaven to look forward to) and plenty of her own blend of a spicy tomato sauce (not too much sage, that’s where the Sicilians go wrong). She did about half of the cooking herself; mornings and in the busy times her mom and dad – aging but not slowing down so much, and now, living in her grandpa’s house a few blocks away – were happy to help out, seating guests, handling the cash, cooking when Rosa had to go out for groceries or to handle the finances, or like now when she was having a moment with her pal Lina.
“How come we became friends, anyway?” Rosa asked. “You’re this big time doctor and I’m just the kid next door.”
“What are you talking, big time? Look at me; I’m a doctor without any clients of my own. I’m lucky grouchy old Doc Whitber lets me take temperatures and sweep the floors.”
“What does he know? You have your own Doctor of Medicine degree. I see it on the wall. And you did the impossible thing for a girl, you actually were in the Great War, like Ralphie.”
“Yeah, I did do that.”
“Blinky Old Doc Whitber’s lucky he’s got you. His eyesight’s so bad I bet he can’t even see the big letter E on the chart on the wall. And with those shaky hands! I wouldn’t let him take my temperature, he’d probably poke my eye out!”
“Well, there’s several good reasons we’re friends: I work right next door, I rent a room upstairs here, and you really know how to cook!”
“Love me, love my cannoli.”
“Exactly.”


CHAPTER TWO

The area was off to one side at the end of the furnace run at the Inland Steel mill. It was the end of the day shift, and that was when Anthony Anselmo had his first look at Louie Caproni: What he saw was a grimy little steel mill guy. A midget, for Christ’s Sake, not even five foot tall and round as a big bowling ball. Louie had just finished his shift, and he was grinning from ear to ear, white teeth and white eyes shining out of a face sooty black from eight hours up on the hot beds. Louie had a roll of dirty black overalls stuck under one arm, he was wearing a faded red wool shirt with sleeves rolled up to his elbows, the shirt sweat-stained under the arms, and old khaki pants probably discarded by some fat army sergeant, the pants cut off at the knees, snug around the ball of his waist, held up with wide tan suspenders. And he was wearing a bright red workman’s bandanna around his cannon ball shaped head. There was a stained cloth lunch bag under his other arm. He was being patient, but not too patient, clearly wanting to get out of there, eager to go home, wherever that was, probably the Italian ghetto over on Hungry Hill.
This was all new to Anselmo. They were standing next to the smoking hot beds at the end of the line of repeaters that bent and shaped hot metal at the steel mill in Chicago Heights. It was a place where they reheated old railroad tracks (of which there was a seemingly endless supply, shipped in by rail from all over the country), and turned them into steel fence posts and concrete reinforcing rebar. The blasts of heat were nearly unbearable, and the noise made it impossible to be understood without yelling.
Anselmo was not a steel worker by trade, and he did not need the money – a paycheck that was, when you thought about it, next to nothing. He’d come into town from half way around the world and he was trying to fit into the community. He’d taken the job because this opening had come up in a conversation after Mass at San Rocco, and although he had his assignment from his grandfather and his reason for being in Chicago Heights, he was drifting through this time in his life looking for some meaning and he couldn’t think of any believable way to say no and so he’d agreed to take the job. That was a couple of weeks ago and now it was the end of a work day at Inland Steel and here was this short little guy saying he was Anselmo’s new partner, ‘cause the boss says so, and they were gonna be together up there with the sparking white hot steel where people got hurt really bad or even died in ways too horrible to be imagined.
Anselmo found himself looking at the fellow and thinking this couldn’t be right; he was new to working in factories so he couldn’t be sure of anything, but any fool could see the mill was a dangerous place and this Louie looked totally out of place. He looked like somebody who belonged in the traveling circus, the juggling midget or maybe the world‘s tiniest strong man, the guy in the poster wearing the Tarzan suit who could bounce cannon balls off his big stomach.
“How long you work here?” Anselmo shouted. You had to shout, even to the man standing right next to you, to be heard over the oven roar and the metal clank of the cutters.
“Oh, God-almighty, going on now, near to twenty years!” Louie said. “I hear you the man new from the boot.” The boot. The Old Country. Italy.
“Yes, I am. My name is Anthony Anselmo. Tony. Just plain Anselmo.” He held out his hand and Louie crushed it in his own. “Some grip you got there,” Anselmo said, giving him a closer look.
The short little round man squinted back at his new partner, getting that first impression that meant everything. “You are how old now? Thirty?”
“Thirty two. Born 1890. You?”
“1891,” Louie said.
“You in the war?” Anselmo asking about the War to End All Wars, wanting to know if Louie had been in it. Anselmo knew some stories about that; some patriotic Americans of Italian descent – some even two or three generations in the U.S.! – had signed up and gone over there, Dio help their souls. Anselmo had traveled here from Italy to resolve issues remaining with the surviving widow of one of those unfortunate men.
“No, I missed that one,” Louie said. “My wife wouldn’t let me go. You?”
“Me? Not so lucky,” Anselmo said, his smile fading. “You got kids?”
“Two son, two daughter – watch out here, now!” Surprisingly light on his feet, Louie carefully pushed Anselmo back out of the way as a heavy hand cart loaded with steaming rebar rumbled past, the awkwardly long and heavy metal cart man-handled front and back by two men in a hurry. “You have-a the kid?”
“No. Not so lucky about that, either. No wife, no bambino.”
Anthony Anselmo had a far different history from Louie’s: his grandfather, Giacomo Anselmo (Giacomo I) – now over eighty years of age – still supervised the family vineyards, and the hazelnut and olive orchards in Northern Italy. Anthony’s father, Giacomo II, ran his own corporation, Futura Industries, in Rome.
Before World War 1 began, Giacomo II had had tried to persuade his young son to join his corporation in the capital, but that hadn’t gone so well.
“Give me one reason why not,” Gio II had growled at Anselmo from behind his big marble topped desk.
“There’s one right there,” Anselmo said, pointing a finger directly at his father.
“What are you talking about?” Gio II snarled and sniffed and ran a hand through his thick head of hair. He was dark Italian like Gio I; Anselmo was light haired and blue-eyed, like his mother. Anselmo instinctively knew, the way sons always did, his father resented this in him.
“He’s talking about you, Dear,” Anselmo’s mother said. She was ailing, sitting in a wheelchair to one side of her husband’s desk, pale and weak and not long for the world. But her voice had a determined bite to it, and they heard her well enough. “You’ve never gotten along,” she added.
“And why do you think that is, dear?”
Well, Giacomo, you’re rude and abrasive. You don’t respect his ideas –“
“He’s just a kid, all that money for private school, and not even
a degree yet!”
“And see, you put him down, just like that! That’s your way. No. Better he continue his education in Switzerland.”
“I won’t pay for that.”
“Grandpapa will. It’s all settled. Nothing for you to worry about.”
“You’ve done this behind my back!”
“Oh, you’ve done so much behind my back, haven’t you, dear?” As she spoke, Anselmo’s mother gave a passing glance at his secretary, one of the ripe young tomatoes with pouty lips he hired as his personal assistants. She was sitting nearby, and, with nothing else to do, was looking out the window. Gio II had no answer for his wife’s conversation.
So Anselmo left his angry father in Rome and went back to study in Switzerland and then on to college in England where – instead of the business courses his father demanded – he studied philosophy and literature and joined the college choral club, the debating club and the fencing team.
But then the war had come and Anselmo abruptly left all that to join the Italian army. Not that he was feeling patriotic; back then his blind raging purpose had been to fight against the hated Austrian bastardos he believed had killed his beloved older brother, Giacomo III. Unknown assailants had somehow shot Gio III dead under circumstances that were never made clear. Was it an enemy raid behind the lines? Was it just a mistake, a careless misfiring at a rifle range, a wild bullet out of nowhere? Nobody knew. Or, if they did, they wouldn’t say. And the mystery only deepened when Anselmo, sent to retrieve his brother’s body, realized he had been shot in the back, and from a distance of only a few paces. Anselmo had enlisted in a blind rage, and his tour of duty had been a disaster, but he saw no reason to talk about any of that with Louie in a clanking steel mill that was half way around the globe from his home in Turin.

STRIKE! by John Klawitter

EXTRACT FOR
STRIKE!

(John Klawitter)


CHAPTER ONE

1922 - Hungry Hill, Chicago Heights, Illinois Rosa Gambriotti was carrying a big platter of fresh cannolis and anamaretti fig cookies from the kitchen when young Ben Napoli backed into her, nearly knocking the still-warm bakery treats to the floor. Ben, who had been near to punching Jimmy Rosalini because Jimmy said all the White Sox baseball players were crooked, and this pissed off Ben so bad he didn’t even notice the near disaster he’d caused. Lucky thing Dr. Lina Bright was at the table next to Rosa, reading one of her medical journals. Dr. Bright with her quick reflexes reached out and steadied her friend, saving the bakery treats.
“Hey,” the feisty Rosa said, glaring at Ben, “What’s-a matter with you?”
“See what you almost done,” Louie Caproni said. “S’cuse me, comrades.” He got up from the table where he’d been sitting with some of his fellow workers from the steel mill, and pushed Ben toward the door. “Get out-a here, you stugatz!” Nobody argued with Louie, who was a fiery little ball of energy, and even though Ben was ten years or so younger, he practically fell out the front door in his hurry to be gone, with Jimmy piling out into the street after him..
“What’s wrong with them?” Rosa said. She set the plate of home-made sweets on the table in front of the men, who were still dressed in their Sunday finest from the Mass at San Rocco that they’d attended earlier in the day.
“Ahh, the war,” Louie said, dismissing the subject with a wave of his hand.
“That’s no excuse,” Rosa said. “It doesn’t automatically make men into brainless idiots.”
“”You’re right, Rosa…but give the guy a break.” Louie, usually the firebrand, in the unusual role of peacemaker. He wanted his sweet treats without interruption.
“Yeah, Ben served in the Eastern Front,” Louie’s pal Arturo said in that froggy voice of his. “In the mountains near Austria, I heard. It was real bad. He seen a guy get shot in the –“ Arturo was Louie’s best friend and he usually seconded whatever Louie said, but this time Louie nudged him a sharp one with his elbow to the stomach and he stopped short..
“I know it was bad,” Rosa said, her lips pressed in a thin line. “That’s where my Ralphie was.” Her husband Ralphie, blown to bits in a trench somewhere in the Alps north of Italy.
“Ahh, sorry, Rosa,” Louie said. “Arturo didn’t mean to bring that up. Everything is upset these days, lots of problems at the mill.”
She didn’t have to ask. There was only one mill, The Inland Steel mill, and many families on Hungry Hill depended on it for their survival.
“What now?” she said. “Here, try a cannoli.”
Arturo picked up a pastry roll and gave it a nibble before he answered. “Really good, Rosa, really tasty.”
“The mill,” she prompted.
“Dirty rotten no-good managers never learn. The stupid fools want to make everything run too fast again.”
“But…I hear people say that’s dangerous.”
“Oh yeah,” Arturo said. “But the big bosses at the top don’t care. They don’t have to wrestle hot steel.”
“What can you do to stop them?” she said.
“Oh, we’ll think of something,” Louie said. “I promise you that, young lady.”
Rosa was nobody’s fool; she was bright and young and pretty (gorgeous, actually, in the classic Italiano way) and she had a knack for running her home grown business, the popular little Italian restaurant she called Rosa’s Place or Rosa’s Café, she hadn’t decided which was classier. You didn’t have to work at the mill to know how dangerous it was; they had attended the funerals at St. Roccos, heard the sad tributes, followed the horse drawn carriage to the cemetery.. To Rosa, this sounded like the same trouble all over again. Even shy of the fatal accidents, there had been plenty of burns and the loss of an arm or a leg or an eye or an ear here and there. The incidents and the general conditions and poor pay had led to lots of labor unrest over the years, so it was hard to say if this was anything new. Rosa went back to the kitchen to make sure her mom hadn’t forgotten to watch the almond biscotti so they didn’t burn in the oven.

It was the next weekend when Rosa and her good pal Lina Bright were talking girl talk in the front room of Rosa’s old family home. They were sitting at a table in the formal living room space that had been widened by her il bobbo - her dad - and now served as the main dining room in her restaurant. Lina did her doctoring next door and rented a room over the café where she kept her few personal things and where she slept. This was in Rosa’s wooden lunch pail house, on one of the main streets in Hungry Hill – the blueprint straight out of the Sears and Roebucks catalogue and originally hand-built by her dad back in his day. The house was a lonely survivor from an earlier generation; now in the roaring 1920s, it remained, stuck between a row of newer two story brick buildings that had business store fronts below and living quarters up on the second floor.
“Mama,” Rosa yelled, impatient and yet with her boisterous good humor, “The doc’s waiting for her eggs out here! She’s got people dying over at her office next door and you’re trying to figure out if it’s one pinch of salt or two..”
Lina smiled and shook her head, “No, I don’t…I could use a few more clients. Hopefully not dying, maybe just maybe a few sprains and a cough or two.”
Rosa’s mother’s cheerful voice carried from the kitchen in back. “Dying can wait, Rosie-girl! People are dying all over the world, honey! You don’t rush eggs a la Gambriotti.”
Rosa playfully mussed up her friend’s short strawberry blond hair, “See, I told you, Lina – there’s no way to get a fast egg from my mom! Every plate is a masterpiece.”
“Okay, Rosa. But you know nobody’s dying over there. Nobody’s even sick, a little bit. And that’s because we’ve got no customers.”
“Praise Dio, that is a very good thing for us here at my cafe, live people still have to eat!”
They watched out the big front window as two muscular young men in white t-shirts and Levis wrestled a wheelbarrow heavy with bags of cement on past Rosa’s.
“Hey, that’s one of the guys almost knocked you over last week.”
“No, that was Ben Napoli. You sayin’ all us wops look the same?”
“No, I am not saying that, you idiot.”
“Which one you want?” Rosa grinned at her friend, raising one eyebrow.
“They’re both too young for me.”
“That one – the big one – that’s Jimmy Rosalini. He’s your age, maybe 28 now, but you can’t have him.”
“Why not?”
“He’s already got four bambino, and a fifth on the way!”
“Wow! I see your point. Well, okay, Rosa – you get to take the other one, he’s more your age.”
“Yeah, he’s twenty. Joey Zumbatti. He went to school with Pauli and me.”
“Paulo, your best friend.”
“Yeah, him. Fratello Paulo, these days, now that he gives himself to Jesu Christi. Just plain Pauli to me. But this Joey Zumbatti here, nobody lays their hands on Joey. You look even cross-eyed at him, his wife would kill you!”
“Not really?”
“She’s big and fat enough, and she handles the heavy rolling pin good, too! No girl in her right mind wanna cross Mindy Zumbatti!” Rosa raised her voice again, “Mama, are you back there squeezing a hen or something?”
“Hey, Rosie Rosa, you mind your own business! People back here are cooking!”
Rosa shrugged and grinned, “She’s good, but she is not very fast. So, how we gonna find you a good fella from Italy so you can settle down?”
“No, I don’t think that is going to happen, girlfriend. Italian mamas are too protective of their sons.”
“Is that your medical opinion, Doctor Bright?”
“No, Rosa. I think it’s that I’m not ready to get serious.”
“You better start! What, you’re already the old lady.”
“I am not! Twenty-eight is not old!”
“On Hungry Hill it is like ancient times. Here we say a girl over twenty is old as Moses. You know my family married me away, I was a teenage kid. I barely had my period.”
“Noo…? That’s not true, right?”
“I said practically, Doc.”
“Maybe let’s talk about something else than how old I’m getting,” Lina said. “Tell me, how come they call this Hungry Hill? I don’t see a hill anywhere around.”
Everybody in the South Chicago suburbs knew Hungry Hill was the local Italian community in this part of Chicago Heights, the place where the folks from Napoli or Genoa or Rome who were new off the boat settled to find comfort in the bustling American Midwest of the 1920s. Hungry Hill was a colony of already established immigrants who were mostly Italians and Sicilians. But there were a hundred different ideas how it got its name. But one thing was sure; it attracted the majority of folks fresh off the boat from Italy. The newcomers felt more comfortable starting their new lives on the Hill, getting things going with people from the Old Country to help them make their way in the land of promise and opportunity.
“That’s a funny thing, I have to agree,” Rosa said. “Nobody knows how come, why it got that name, Hungry Hill. Makes no sense, but it’s not gonna change.”
“Everything changes.”
“Some things do. Since my parent’s time, Twenty Second Street changed from family homes to business, that’s a change. This house, my grandpa and Pop built together for my mom and Pop’s family. We change it now, put my café in front, rent you a room upstairs. Mom and Pop live in grandpa’s old house. That’s change. But when the people come from the Old Country, they still come to this part of town and they still call it Hungry Hill.”
The Gambriottis had converted the space where Rosa and Lina were sitting into a warm and welcoming dining room featuring a mixed collection of second-hand tables. On one wall they had pinned an old green-white-and-red tricolor Kingdom of Italy flag. And there was a black and white sketch of the ruins of Pompeii with a dormant Mount Vesuvius looming in the background.
“Sometimes remembering all that stuff makes me feel sad,” Rosa said.
“What stuff?” Lina said, hoping to help Rosa skip away from the subject she knew was coming.
“You know. Ralphie stuff.”
“Hard to avoid it. He was your man.”
“Yeah, he was. And there were some good times. Ralphie was a good singer, you know. He’d sing love songs from Italian opera, and he’d come in here and dance around the room.”
“I never met him, but he sounds nice.”
“He was okay. But he was an impulsive guy. Once he got his crazy notion to join the Italian army, nobody could talk sense to him. I certainly couldn’t. Like he was going to save the nation of Italy, or something. I guess I can understand it, in a way. After all, he grew up over there.”
“I bet they were delighted to have him back.”
“Yeah, they were. Greeted him with open arms. But, honest to Dio, Lina – for me, it all happened so fast…you know, way too fast, I think. First papa drops the surprise on me that they found my perfect husband for me. It’s one evening around the dinner table on a Friday and we’re having special meatballs a la Napoli in the fresh home-made spaghetti and he says ‘Hey, let’s not even talk about it, it’s all arranged, you’re getting married!’ So that was that.”
“Just like that?”
“Yeah. That was that, exactly just like that, subject over. A few weeks later, the guy gets off the boat, we meet, six weeks for the courtship and then papa buys me the white dress with the lace veil and Ralphie and I show up in front of the altar at San Roccos and bam! the priest seals the deal.”
“I’ll bet you looked beautiful.”
“Mama has my wedding photograph somewhere – I’ll show you – but then, see, barely two months later Ralphie gets his big idea and dances back across the ocean to Italy to fight the Austrian bastardos. And before you know it six months go by and I get the telegram, We are sorry to inform you, and just like that I’m the young widow that everybody whispers about at Sunday Mass.”
Lina was still trying for a happier subject, “After you got married, did you have a honeymoon?”
That seemed to work. At least Rosa smiled as she remembered, “Sort of. Ralphie took me fishing in Wisconsin.”
“Hey, wait a minute – here this guy’s just off the boat, how did he know there were fish in Wisconsin?”
“Papa paid for the trip.”
“Oh, it was Papa’s idea. Of course! I bet he went along, too.”
“Yeah, he did. Him and mamma. He said it was the honeymoon he never gave her, back when they got married.”
“I was just kidding.”
“That’s alright, Lina. It was okay. We had our own rooms and they gave us plenty of space. And the Dells of Wisconsin are very beautiful.”
“You catch any fish?”
“Not me! I don’t wanna touch those things! Ralphie and papa did. There really are lots of fish in Wisconsin.”
Rosa sighed and looked down at her clenched fists, and then she gave Lina a determined smile. “He came, we got married, and he went. I’m not gonna let any of that drag me down. I wear widow’s black to the Mass, but, no way, I will not sit with those bent over old ladies in their own sad little section at the back of San Rocco’s.”
“That’s the way to go,” Lina said. “You have your whole life to live, yet.”
Lina admired her friend’s spunk. Rosa was her best friend (actually, pretty much her only friend) and Lina would do anything to support her.. Rosa ran her little café with a fierce Italian spirit, a dark sense of humor (if this be hell, there’s always heaven to look forward to) and plenty of her own blend of a spicy tomato sauce (not too much sage, that’s where the Sicilians go wrong). She did about half of the cooking herself; mornings and in the busy times her mom and dad – aging but not slowing down so much, and now, living in her grandpa’s house a few blocks away – were happy to help out, seating guests, handling the cash, cooking when Rosa had to go out for groceries or to handle the finances, or like now when she was having a moment with her pal Lina.
“How come we became friends, anyway?” Rosa asked. “You’re this big time doctor and I’m just the kid next door.”
“What are you talking, big time? Look at me; I’m a doctor without any clients of my own. I’m lucky grouchy old Doc Whitber lets me take temperatures and sweep the floors.”
“What does he know? You have your own Doctor of Medicine degree. I see it on the wall. And you did the impossible thing for a girl, you actually were in the Great War, like Ralphie.”
“Yeah, I did do that.”
“Blinky Old Doc Whitber’s lucky he’s got you. His eyesight’s so bad I bet he can’t even see the big letter E on the chart on the wall. And with those shaky hands! I wouldn’t let him take my temperature, he’d probably poke my eye out!”
“Well, there’s several good reasons we’re friends: I work right next door, I rent a room upstairs here, and you really know how to cook!”
“Love me, love my cannoli.”
“Exactly.”


CHAPTER TWO

The area was off to one side at the end of the furnace run at the Inland Steel mill. It was the end of the day shift, and that was when Anthony Anselmo had his first look at Louie Caproni: What he saw was a grimy little steel mill guy. A midget, for Christ’s Sake, not even five foot tall and round as a big bowling ball. Louie had just finished his shift, and he was grinning from ear to ear, white teeth and white eyes shining out of a face sooty black from eight hours up on the hot beds. Louie had a roll of dirty black overalls stuck under one arm, he was wearing a faded red wool shirt with sleeves rolled up to his elbows, the shirt sweat-stained under the arms, and old khaki pants probably discarded by some fat army sergeant, the pants cut off at the knees, snug around the ball of his waist, held up with wide tan suspenders. And he was wearing a bright red workman’s bandanna around his cannon ball shaped head. There was a stained cloth lunch bag under his other arm. He was being patient, but not too patient, clearly wanting to get out of there, eager to go home, wherever that was, probably the Italian ghetto over on Hungry Hill.
This was all new to Anselmo. They were standing next to the smoking hot beds at the end of the line of repeaters that bent and shaped hot metal at the steel mill in Chicago Heights. It was a place where they reheated old railroad tracks (of which there was a seemingly endless supply, shipped in by rail from all over the country), and turned them into steel fence posts and concrete reinforcing rebar. The blasts of heat were nearly unbearable, and the noise made it impossible to be understood without yelling.
Anselmo was not a steel worker by trade, and he did not need the money – a paycheck that was, when you thought about it, next to nothing. He’d come into town from half way around the world and he was trying to fit into the community. He’d taken the job because this opening had come up in a conversation after Mass at San Rocco, and although he had his assignment from his grandfather and his reason for being in Chicago Heights, he was drifting through this time in his life looking for some meaning and he couldn’t think of any believable way to say no and so he’d agreed to take the job. That was a couple of weeks ago and now it was the end of a work day at Inland Steel and here was this short little guy saying he was Anselmo’s new partner, ‘cause the boss says so, and they were gonna be together up there with the sparking white hot steel where people got hurt really bad or even died in ways too horrible to be imagined.
Anselmo found himself looking at the fellow and thinking this couldn’t be right; he was new to working in factories so he couldn’t be sure of anything, but any fool could see the mill was a dangerous place and this Louie looked totally out of place. He looked like somebody who belonged in the traveling circus, the juggling midget or maybe the world‘s tiniest strong man, the guy in the poster wearing the Tarzan suit who could bounce cannon balls off his big stomach.
“How long you work here?” Anselmo shouted. You had to shout, even to the man standing right next to you, to be heard over the oven roar and the metal clank of the cutters.
“Oh, God-almighty, going on now, near to twenty years!” Louie said. “I hear you the man new from the boot.” The boot. The Old Country. Italy.
“Yes, I am. My name is Anthony Anselmo. Tony. Just plain Anselmo.” He held out his hand and Louie crushed it in his own. “Some grip you got there,” Anselmo said, giving him a closer look.
The short little round man squinted back at his new partner, getting that first impression that meant everything. “You are how old now? Thirty?”
“Thirty two. Born 1890. You?”
“1891,” Louie said.
“You in the war?” Anselmo asking about the War to End All Wars, wanting to know if Louie had been in it. Anselmo knew some stories about that; some patriotic Americans of Italian descent – some even two or three generations in the U.S.! – had signed up and gone over there, Dio help their souls. Anselmo had traveled here from Italy to resolve issues remaining with the surviving widow of one of those unfortunate men.
“No, I missed that one,” Louie said. “My wife wouldn’t let me go. You?”
“Me? Not so lucky,” Anselmo said, his smile fading. “You got kids?”
“Two son, two daughter – watch out here, now!” Surprisingly light on his feet, Louie carefully pushed Anselmo back out of the way as a heavy hand cart loaded with steaming rebar rumbled past, the awkwardly long and heavy metal cart man-handled front and back by two men in a hurry. “You have-a the kid?”
“No. Not so lucky about that, either. No wife, no bambino.”
Anthony Anselmo had a far different history from Louie’s: his grandfather, Giacomo Anselmo (Giacomo I) – now over eighty years of age – still supervised the family vineyards, and the hazelnut and olive orchards in Northern Italy. Anthony’s father, Giacomo II, ran his own corporation, Futura Industries, in Rome.
Before World War 1 began, Giacomo II had had tried to persuade his young son to join his corporation in the capital, but that hadn’t gone so well.
“Give me one reason why not,” Gio II had growled at Anselmo from behind his big marble topped desk.
“There’s one right there,” Anselmo said, pointing a finger directly at his father.
“What are you talking about?” Gio II snarled and sniffed and ran a hand through his thick head of hair. He was dark Italian like Gio I; Anselmo was light haired and blue-eyed, like his mother. Anselmo instinctively knew, the way sons always did, his father resented this in him.
“He’s talking about you, Dear,” Anselmo’s mother said. She was ailing, sitting in a wheelchair to one side of her husband’s desk, pale and weak and not long for the world. But her voice had a determined bite to it, and they heard her well enough. “You’ve never gotten along,” she added.
“And why do you think that is, dear?”
Well, Giacomo, you’re rude and abrasive. You don’t respect his ideas –“
“He’s just a kid, all that money for private school, and not even
a degree yet!”
“And see, you put him down, just like that! That’s your way. No. Better he continue his education in Switzerland.”
“I won’t pay for that.”
“Grandpapa will. It’s all settled. Nothing for you to worry about.”
“You’ve done this behind my back!”
“Oh, you’ve done so much behind my back, haven’t you, dear?” As she spoke, Anselmo’s mother gave a passing glance at his secretary, one of the ripe young tomatoes with pouty lips he hired as his personal assistants. She was sitting nearby, and, with nothing else to do, was looking out the window. Gio II had no answer for his wife’s conversation.
So Anselmo left his angry father in Rome and went back to study in Switzerland and then on to college in England where – instead of the business courses his father demanded – he studied philosophy and literature and joined the college choral club, the debating club and the fencing team.
But then the war had come and Anselmo abruptly left all that to join the Italian army. Not that he was feeling patriotic; back then his blind raging purpose had been to fight against the hated Austrian bastardos he believed had killed his beloved older brother, Giacomo III. Unknown assailants had somehow shot Gio III dead under circumstances that were never made clear. Was it an enemy raid behind the lines? Was it just a mistake, a careless misfiring at a rifle range, a wild bullet out of nowhere? Nobody knew. Or, if they did, they wouldn’t say. And the mystery only deepened when Anselmo, sent to retrieve his brother’s body, realized he had been shot in the back, and from a distance of only a few paces. Anselmo had enlisted in a blind rage, and his tour of duty had been a disaster, but he saw no reason to talk about any of that with Louie in a clanking steel mill that was half way around the globe from his home in Turin.

EXTRACT FOR
STRIKE!

(John Klawitter)


CHAPTER ONE

1922 - Hungry Hill, Chicago Heights, Illinois Rosa Gambriotti was carrying a big platter of fresh cannolis and anamaretti fig cookies from the kitchen when young Ben Napoli backed into her, nearly knocking the still-warm bakery treats to the floor. Ben, who had been near to punching Jimmy Rosalini because Jimmy said all the White Sox baseball players were crooked, and this pissed off Ben so bad he didn’t even notice the near disaster he’d caused. Lucky thing Dr. Lina Bright was at the table next to Rosa, reading one of her medical journals. Dr. Bright with her quick reflexes reached out and steadied her friend, saving the bakery treats.
“Hey,” the feisty Rosa said, glaring at Ben, “What’s-a matter with you?”
“See what you almost done,” Louie Caproni said. “S’cuse me, comrades.” He got up from the table where he’d been sitting with some of his fellow workers from the steel mill, and pushed Ben toward the door. “Get out-a here, you stugatz!” Nobody argued with Louie, who was a fiery little ball of energy, and even though Ben was ten years or so younger, he practically fell out the front door in his hurry to be gone, with Jimmy piling out into the street after him..
“What’s wrong with them?” Rosa said. She set the plate of home-made sweets on the table in front of the men, who were still dressed in their Sunday finest from the Mass at San Rocco that they’d attended earlier in the day.
“Ahh, the war,” Louie said, dismissing the subject with a wave of his hand.
“That’s no excuse,” Rosa said. “It doesn’t automatically make men into brainless idiots.”
“”You’re right, Rosa…but give the guy a break.” Louie, usually the firebrand, in the unusual role of peacemaker. He wanted his sweet treats without interruption.
“Yeah, Ben served in the Eastern Front,” Louie’s pal Arturo said in that froggy voice of his. “In the mountains near Austria, I heard. It was real bad. He seen a guy get shot in the –“ Arturo was Louie’s best friend and he usually seconded whatever Louie said, but this time Louie nudged him a sharp one with his elbow to the stomach and he stopped short..
“I know it was bad,” Rosa said, her lips pressed in a thin line. “That’s where my Ralphie was.” Her husband Ralphie, blown to bits in a trench somewhere in the Alps north of Italy.
“Ahh, sorry, Rosa,” Louie said. “Arturo didn’t mean to bring that up. Everything is upset these days, lots of problems at the mill.”
She didn’t have to ask. There was only one mill, The Inland Steel mill, and many families on Hungry Hill depended on it for their survival.
“What now?” she said. “Here, try a cannoli.”
Arturo picked up a pastry roll and gave it a nibble before he answered. “Really good, Rosa, really tasty.”
“The mill,” she prompted.
“Dirty rotten no-good managers never learn. The stupid fools want to make everything run too fast again.”
“But…I hear people say that’s dangerous.”
“Oh yeah,” Arturo said. “But the big bosses at the top don’t care. They don’t have to wrestle hot steel.”
“What can you do to stop them?” she said.
“Oh, we’ll think of something,” Louie said. “I promise you that, young lady.”
Rosa was nobody’s fool; she was bright and young and pretty (gorgeous, actually, in the classic Italiano way) and she had a knack for running her home grown business, the popular little Italian restaurant she called Rosa’s Place or Rosa’s Café, she hadn’t decided which was classier. You didn’t have to work at the mill to know how dangerous it was; they had attended the funerals at St. Roccos, heard the sad tributes, followed the horse drawn carriage to the cemetery.. To Rosa, this sounded like the same trouble all over again. Even shy of the fatal accidents, there had been plenty of burns and the loss of an arm or a leg or an eye or an ear here and there. The incidents and the general conditions and poor pay had led to lots of labor unrest over the years, so it was hard to say if this was anything new. Rosa went back to the kitchen to make sure her mom hadn’t forgotten to watch the almond biscotti so they didn’t burn in the oven.

It was the next weekend when Rosa and her good pal Lina Bright were talking girl talk in the front room of Rosa’s old family home. They were sitting at a table in the formal living room space that had been widened by her il bobbo - her dad - and now served as the main dining room in her restaurant. Lina did her doctoring next door and rented a room over the café where she kept her few personal things and where she slept. This was in Rosa’s wooden lunch pail house, on one of the main streets in Hungry Hill – the blueprint straight out of the Sears and Roebucks catalogue and originally hand-built by her dad back in his day. The house was a lonely survivor from an earlier generation; now in the roaring 1920s, it remained, stuck between a row of newer two story brick buildings that had business store fronts below and living quarters up on the second floor.
“Mama,” Rosa yelled, impatient and yet with her boisterous good humor, “The doc’s waiting for her eggs out here! She’s got people dying over at her office next door and you’re trying to figure out if it’s one pinch of salt or two..”
Lina smiled and shook her head, “No, I don’t…I could use a few more clients. Hopefully not dying, maybe just maybe a few sprains and a cough or two.”
Rosa’s mother’s cheerful voice carried from the kitchen in back. “Dying can wait, Rosie-girl! People are dying all over the world, honey! You don’t rush eggs a la Gambriotti.”
Rosa playfully mussed up her friend’s short strawberry blond hair, “See, I told you, Lina – there’s no way to get a fast egg from my mom! Every plate is a masterpiece.”
“Okay, Rosa. But you know nobody’s dying over there. Nobody’s even sick, a little bit. And that’s because we’ve got no customers.”
“Praise Dio, that is a very good thing for us here at my cafe, live people still have to eat!”
They watched out the big front window as two muscular young men in white t-shirts and Levis wrestled a wheelbarrow heavy with bags of cement on past Rosa’s.
“Hey, that’s one of the guys almost knocked you over last week.”
“No, that was Ben Napoli. You sayin’ all us wops look the same?”
“No, I am not saying that, you idiot.”
“Which one you want?” Rosa grinned at her friend, raising one eyebrow.
“They’re both too young for me.”
“That one – the big one – that’s Jimmy Rosalini. He’s your age, maybe 28 now, but you can’t have him.”
“Why not?”
“He’s already got four bambino, and a fifth on the way!”
“Wow! I see your point. Well, okay, Rosa – you get to take the other one, he’s more your age.”
“Yeah, he’s twenty. Joey Zumbatti. He went to school with Pauli and me.”
“Paulo, your best friend.”
“Yeah, him. Fratello Paulo, these days, now that he gives himself to Jesu Christi. Just plain Pauli to me. But this Joey Zumbatti here, nobody lays their hands on Joey. You look even cross-eyed at him, his wife would kill you!”
“Not really?”
“She’s big and fat enough, and she handles the heavy rolling pin good, too! No girl in her right mind wanna cross Mindy Zumbatti!” Rosa raised her voice again, “Mama, are you back there squeezing a hen or something?”
“Hey, Rosie Rosa, you mind your own business! People back here are cooking!”
Rosa shrugged and grinned, “She’s good, but she is not very fast. So, how we gonna find you a good fella from Italy so you can settle down?”
“No, I don’t think that is going to happen, girlfriend. Italian mamas are too protective of their sons.”
“Is that your medical opinion, Doctor Bright?”
“No, Rosa. I think it’s that I’m not ready to get serious.”
“You better start! What, you’re already the old lady.”
“I am not! Twenty-eight is not old!”
“On Hungry Hill it is like ancient times. Here we say a girl over twenty is old as Moses. You know my family married me away, I was a teenage kid. I barely had my period.”
“Noo…? That’s not true, right?”
“I said practically, Doc.”
“Maybe let’s talk about something else than how old I’m getting,” Lina said. “Tell me, how come they call this Hungry Hill? I don’t see a hill anywhere around.”
Everybody in the South Chicago suburbs knew Hungry Hill was the local Italian community in this part of Chicago Heights, the place where the folks from Napoli or Genoa or Rome who were new off the boat settled to find comfort in the bustling American Midwest of the 1920s. Hungry Hill was a colony of already established immigrants who were mostly Italians and Sicilians. But there were a hundred different ideas how it got its name. But one thing was sure; it attracted the majority of folks fresh off the boat from Italy. The newcomers felt more comfortable starting their new lives on the Hill, getting things going with people from the Old Country to help them make their way in the land of promise and opportunity.
“That’s a funny thing, I have to agree,” Rosa said. “Nobody knows how come, why it got that name, Hungry Hill. Makes no sense, but it’s not gonna change.”
“Everything changes.”
“Some things do. Since my parent’s time, Twenty Second Street changed from family homes to business, that’s a change. This house, my grandpa and Pop built together for my mom and Pop’s family. We change it now, put my café in front, rent you a room upstairs. Mom and Pop live in grandpa’s old house. That’s change. But when the people come from the Old Country, they still come to this part of town and they still call it Hungry Hill.”
The Gambriottis had converted the space where Rosa and Lina were sitting into a warm and welcoming dining room featuring a mixed collection of second-hand tables. On one wall they had pinned an old green-white-and-red tricolor Kingdom of Italy flag. And there was a black and white sketch of the ruins of Pompeii with a dormant Mount Vesuvius looming in the background.
“Sometimes remembering all that stuff makes me feel sad,” Rosa said.
“What stuff?” Lina said, hoping to help Rosa skip away from the subject she knew was coming.
“You know. Ralphie stuff.”
“Hard to avoid it. He was your man.”
“Yeah, he was. And there were some good times. Ralphie was a good singer, you know. He’d sing love songs from Italian opera, and he’d come in here and dance around the room.”
“I never met him, but he sounds nice.”
“He was okay. But he was an impulsive guy. Once he got his crazy notion to join the Italian army, nobody could talk sense to him. I certainly couldn’t. Like he was going to save the nation of Italy, or something. I guess I can understand it, in a way. After all, he grew up over there.”
“I bet they were delighted to have him back.”
“Yeah, they were. Greeted him with open arms. But, honest to Dio, Lina – for me, it all happened so fast…you know, way too fast, I think. First papa drops the surprise on me that they found my perfect husband for me. It’s one evening around the dinner table on a Friday and we’re having special meatballs a la Napoli in the fresh home-made spaghetti and he says ‘Hey, let’s not even talk about it, it’s all arranged, you’re getting married!’ So that was that.”
“Just like that?”
“Yeah. That was that, exactly just like that, subject over. A few weeks later, the guy gets off the boat, we meet, six weeks for the courtship and then papa buys me the white dress with the lace veil and Ralphie and I show up in front of the altar at San Roccos and bam! the priest seals the deal.”
“I’ll bet you looked beautiful.”
“Mama has my wedding photograph somewhere – I’ll show you – but then, see, barely two months later Ralphie gets his big idea and dances back across the ocean to Italy to fight the Austrian bastardos. And before you know it six months go by and I get the telegram, We are sorry to inform you, and just like that I’m the young widow that everybody whispers about at Sunday Mass.”
Lina was still trying for a happier subject, “After you got married, did you have a honeymoon?”
That seemed to work. At least Rosa smiled as she remembered, “Sort of. Ralphie took me fishing in Wisconsin.”
“Hey, wait a minute – here this guy’s just off the boat, how did he know there were fish in Wisconsin?”
“Papa paid for the trip.”
“Oh, it was Papa’s idea. Of course! I bet he went along, too.”
“Yeah, he did. Him and mamma. He said it was the honeymoon he never gave her, back when they got married.”
“I was just kidding.”
“That’s alright, Lina. It was okay. We had our own rooms and they gave us plenty of space. And the Dells of Wisconsin are very beautiful.”
“You catch any fish?”
“Not me! I don’t wanna touch those things! Ralphie and papa did. There really are lots of fish in Wisconsin.”
Rosa sighed and looked down at her clenched fists, and then she gave Lina a determined smile. “He came, we got married, and he went. I’m not gonna let any of that drag me down. I wear widow’s black to the Mass, but, no way, I will not sit with those bent over old ladies in their own sad little section at the back of San Rocco’s.”
“That’s the way to go,” Lina said. “You have your whole life to live, yet.”
Lina admired her friend’s spunk. Rosa was her best friend (actually, pretty much her only friend) and Lina would do anything to support her.. Rosa ran her little café with a fierce Italian spirit, a dark sense of humor (if this be hell, there’s always heaven to look forward to) and plenty of her own blend of a spicy tomato sauce (not too much sage, that’s where the Sicilians go wrong). She did about half of the cooking herself; mornings and in the busy times her mom and dad – aging but not slowing down so much, and now, living in her grandpa’s house a few blocks away – were happy to help out, seating guests, handling the cash, cooking when Rosa had to go out for groceries or to handle the finances, or like now when she was having a moment with her pal Lina.
“How come we became friends, anyway?” Rosa asked. “You’re this big time doctor and I’m just the kid next door.”
“What are you talking, big time? Look at me; I’m a doctor without any clients of my own. I’m lucky grouchy old Doc Whitber lets me take temperatures and sweep the floors.”
“What does he know? You have your own Doctor of Medicine degree. I see it on the wall. And you did the impossible thing for a girl, you actually were in the Great War, like Ralphie.”
“Yeah, I did do that.”
“Blinky Old Doc Whitber’s lucky he’s got you. His eyesight’s so bad I bet he can’t even see the big letter E on the chart on the wall. And with those shaky hands! I wouldn’t let him take my temperature, he’d probably poke my eye out!”
“Well, there’s several good reasons we’re friends: I work right next door, I rent a room upstairs here, and you really know how to cook!”
“Love me, love my cannoli.”
“Exactly.”


CHAPTER TWO

The area was off to one side at the end of the furnace run at the Inland Steel mill. It was the end of the day shift, and that was when Anthony Anselmo had his first look at Louie Caproni: What he saw was a grimy little steel mill guy. A midget, for Christ’s Sake, not even five foot tall and round as a big bowling ball. Louie had just finished his shift, and he was grinning from ear to ear, white teeth and white eyes shining out of a face sooty black from eight hours up on the hot beds. Louie had a roll of dirty black overalls stuck under one arm, he was wearing a faded red wool shirt with sleeves rolled up to his elbows, the shirt sweat-stained under the arms, and old khaki pants probably discarded by some fat army sergeant, the pants cut off at the knees, snug around the ball of his waist, held up with wide tan suspenders. And he was wearing a bright red workman’s bandanna around his cannon ball shaped head. There was a stained cloth lunch bag under his other arm. He was being patient, but not too patient, clearly wanting to get out of there, eager to go home, wherever that was, probably the Italian ghetto over on Hungry Hill.
This was all new to Anselmo. They were standing next to the smoking hot beds at the end of the line of repeaters that bent and shaped hot metal at the steel mill in Chicago Heights. It was a place where they reheated old railroad tracks (of which there was a seemingly endless supply, shipped in by rail from all over the country), and turned them into steel fence posts and concrete reinforcing rebar. The blasts of heat were nearly unbearable, and the noise made it impossible to be understood without yelling.
Anselmo was not a steel worker by trade, and he did not need the money – a paycheck that was, when you thought about it, next to nothing. He’d come into town from half way around the world and he was trying to fit into the community. He’d taken the job because this opening had come up in a conversation after Mass at San Rocco, and although he had his assignment from his grandfather and his reason for being in Chicago Heights, he was drifting through this time in his life looking for some meaning and he couldn’t think of any believable way to say no and so he’d agreed to take the job. That was a couple of weeks ago and now it was the end of a work day at Inland Steel and here was this short little guy saying he was Anselmo’s new partner, ‘cause the boss says so, and they were gonna be together up there with the sparking white hot steel where people got hurt really bad or even died in ways too horrible to be imagined.
Anselmo found himself looking at the fellow and thinking this couldn’t be right; he was new to working in factories so he couldn’t be sure of anything, but any fool could see the mill was a dangerous place and this Louie looked totally out of place. He looked like somebody who belonged in the traveling circus, the juggling midget or maybe the world‘s tiniest strong man, the guy in the poster wearing the Tarzan suit who could bounce cannon balls off his big stomach.
“How long you work here?” Anselmo shouted. You had to shout, even to the man standing right next to you, to be heard over the oven roar and the metal clank of the cutters.
“Oh, God-almighty, going on now, near to twenty years!” Louie said. “I hear you the man new from the boot.” The boot. The Old Country. Italy.
“Yes, I am. My name is Anthony Anselmo. Tony. Just plain Anselmo.” He held out his hand and Louie crushed it in his own. “Some grip you got there,” Anselmo said, giving him a closer look.
The short little round man squinted back at his new partner, getting that first impression that meant everything. “You are how old now? Thirty?”
“Thirty two. Born 1890. You?”
“1891,” Louie said.
“You in the war?” Anselmo asking about the War to End All Wars, wanting to know if Louie had been in it. Anselmo knew some stories about that; some patriotic Americans of Italian descent – some even two or three generations in the U.S.! – had signed up and gone over there, Dio help their souls. Anselmo had traveled here from Italy to resolve issues remaining with the surviving widow of one of those unfortunate men.
“No, I missed that one,” Louie said. “My wife wouldn’t let me go. You?”
“Me? Not so lucky,” Anselmo said, his smile fading. “You got kids?”
“Two son, two daughter – watch out here, now!” Surprisingly light on his feet, Louie carefully pushed Anselmo back out of the way as a heavy hand cart loaded with steaming rebar rumbled past, the awkwardly long and heavy metal cart man-handled front and back by two men in a hurry. “You have-a the kid?”
“No. Not so lucky about that, either. No wife, no bambino.”
Anthony Anselmo had a far different history from Louie’s: his grandfather, Giacomo Anselmo (Giacomo I) – now over eighty years of age – still supervised the family vineyards, and the hazelnut and olive orchards in Northern Italy. Anthony’s father, Giacomo II, ran his own corporation, Futura Industries, in Rome.
Before World War 1 began, Giacomo II had had tried to persuade his young son to join his corporation in the capital, but that hadn’t gone so well.
“Give me one reason why not,” Gio II had growled at Anselmo from behind his big marble topped desk.
“There’s one right there,” Anselmo said, pointing a finger directly at his father.
“What are you talking about?” Gio II snarled and sniffed and ran a hand through his thick head of hair. He was dark Italian like Gio I; Anselmo was light haired and blue-eyed, like his mother. Anselmo instinctively knew, the way sons always did, his father resented this in him.
“He’s talking about you, Dear,” Anselmo’s mother said. She was ailing, sitting in a wheelchair to one side of her husband’s desk, pale and weak and not long for the world. But her voice had a determined bite to it, and they heard her well enough. “You’ve never gotten along,” she added.
“And why do you think that is, dear?”
Well, Giacomo, you’re rude and abrasive. You don’t respect his ideas –“
“He’s just a kid, all that money for private school, and not even
a degree yet!”
“And see, you put him down, just like that! That’s your way. No. Better he continue his education in Switzerland.”
“I won’t pay for that.”
“Grandpapa will. It’s all settled. Nothing for you to worry about.”
“You’ve done this behind my back!”
“Oh, you’ve done so much behind my back, haven’t you, dear?” As she spoke, Anselmo’s mother gave a passing glance at his secretary, one of the ripe young tomatoes with pouty lips he hired as his personal assistants. She was sitting nearby, and, with nothing else to do, was looking out the window. Gio II had no answer for his wife’s conversation.
So Anselmo left his angry father in Rome and went back to study in Switzerland and then on to college in England where – instead of the business courses his father demanded – he studied philosophy and literature and joined the college choral club, the debating club and the fencing team.
But then the war had come and Anselmo abruptly left all that to join the Italian army. Not that he was feeling patriotic; back then his blind raging purpose had been to fight against the hated Austrian bastardos he believed had killed his beloved older brother, Giacomo III. Unknown assailants had somehow shot Gio III dead under circumstances that were never made clear. Was it an enemy raid behind the lines? Was it just a mistake, a careless misfiring at a rifle range, a wild bullet out of nowhere? Nobody knew. Or, if they did, they wouldn’t say. And the mystery only deepened when Anselmo, sent to retrieve his brother’s body, realized he had been shot in the back, and from a distance of only a few paces. Anselmo had enlisted in a blind rage, and his tour of duty had been a disaster, but he saw no reason to talk about any of that with Louie in a clanking steel mill that was half way around the globe from his home in Turin.