LayWitness, the magazine that used to run my regular column on the Fathers, recently published my memoir (of sorts) about my father and grandfather. (They also have my old patristic columns archived on their site.)
Rich and Noble:
Wisdom from a Sicilian-American Ghetto
Calogero Aquilina, my grandfather, arrived on America’s shores on April 24, 1909. He had made the long voyage by sea from Caltanisetta, Sicily, on the S.S. Finland.
He crossed the Atlantic in overcrowded steerage. And why? For the great privilege of working in the coal mines. Such jobs were plentiful. They were also dangerous and dirty — long hours for poverty wages. They were jobs that American citizens were not eager to fill. So Calogero landed at Ellis Island, like hundreds of thousands of others, and found immediate employment.
Those were the years before the unions made their impact. The air in the mines was damp, dusty, and barely breathable. The corridors were infested with rats.
At the end of the day, the miners joined their families in one-room houses. They cooked and they ate in the place where they slept.
Calogero worked in the mines for a solid decade before the dust took over his lungs and turned them black …
The story gets happier. Read on.