Daily Archives: February 21, 2010

The bravest woman I ever knew and was too young to appreciate

In 1910, when my grandmother was 19 years old, she boarded a ship in Naples, Italy for America.

Her name was Concetta Sarlo.

She couldn’t speak a word of English and she came alone to marry my grandpa when he sent for her. They had known each other and became engaged in the old country.

In less than 10 days she had gone from Ellis Island, New York to a place called the Chicago Mine in Wyoming, traveling all that way by train. She literally just stepped off the train and was married to my grandpa.

She did all of this alone. I can’t imagine how scary that must have been and how brave she was to do it.

My grandpa, Nicolo Russo, was employed by Colorado Fuel & Iron (CF&I) which was owned by the Rockefellers. He came to Wyoming from Naples to work in their iron ore mines. The newlyweds first settled in Sunrise, which was a company town and where my dad was born. Needless to say, I come from a union family. My oldest brother was born in Sunrise , too.

Sunrise, Wyoming around the time that my grandparents lived there

Twice a week my grandma baked bread. She always made the sign of the cross over the dough, because, to her, it was “the body of Christ.”  And she called me RRRoxanna, because Italians roll their “R’s”.

When company came to visit, she forbid anyone in the house from speaking Italian. They were in America and she believed it was rude to speak a foreign language in front of others, although I also think she had another motive: to learn to speak English better, herself. None of her grandchildren ever even called her Nona (Italian for grandma.) To all of us, she was Grrrandma.

Nick and Concetta had 9 children, only 5 of whom lived to adulthood.

When I was 6, my aunt Eva taught me to sew on grandma’s Singer treadle machine.

My grandma died of cancer when I was only 7.  But I remember many things about her.

And it wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized what a brave woman she was to leave her home and her family in the old country and make a new home and family in America.