PAWCATUCK — Rose Serio Russell remembers riding from Pawcatuck to Charlestown to pick blueberries with her family when she was a girl. Russell, now 87, recalls riding in the back of a pickup truck loaded with galvanized pails for the berries and homemade bread and tomatoes for lunch.
“We’d leave at 7 and stay all day,” said Russell. “Charlestown had loads and loads of berries.”
“We didn’t have much money,” said the Pawcatuck native, who did a stint at Woolworth’s in downtown Westerly before her children were born, and worked at Moore’s Mill during the war, “but we had lots of love and lots of memories.”
It’s exactly that sort of memory — along with pages and pages of others — that New Haven writer Anthony Riccio has recorded in his book, “Farms, Factories and Families, Italian American Women of Connecticut.” The book, illustrated with family and work photos, was published this year by the State University of New York Press, Albany.
Riccio, who also interviewed Pawcatuck residents Anna Sammataro, Epiphany Faulise Campbell, Marilyn Faulise and Josephine Faulise for the book, will give a talk at the Westerly Library on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Riccio, a supervisor at the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale, said he hopes that his audience will include people interested in women’s rights, and young people of Italian descent who may not know how hard their grandmothers and great-grandmothers worked to help their families transition from the Old World to the new.
“Here is an ethnic group that persevered,” he said. “They toiled and they labored and they expected nothing in return.”
In her introduction to Riccio’s book, Mary Ann Carolan, a professor of modern languages and literature at Fairfield University, writes that Riccio “has broadened our understanding of an ethnic community whose history has been described mostly from a male vantage point.”
“Riccio’s text adds nuance and complexity to the story of the Italian American experience by focusing on the more personal and private aspects of women’s employment and domestic lives,” writes Carolan.
Riccio, who has written two other books about the Italian American experience in New Haven and Boston, said that once he started listening to the stories of the women he interviewed, he couldn’t get enough.
“They shouldn’t be forgotten and their stories shouldn’t be forgotten,” he said.
The local women give a poignant look at life in the Westerly-Pawcatuck area in a different century.
Rose Serio Russell talks about her parents’ arrival from Sicily and how her mother, accompanied by cousins Angelo and Anthony Sanquedolce, came from the village of Pettineo to Pawcatuck’s Downer Street when she was 15.
“She lived in Ballato’s rooming house for two dollars a month,” Russell told Riccio. Although her parents were on the same boat that traveled from Sicily to Ellis Island, they met for the first time in Pawcatuck.
“My mother remembered how all the streets in Pawcatuck down to Church Street and beyond was all Italian, and the other side of the town was all Irish and Scottish,” she said.
In an interview last week, Russell chuckled when she told the story of meeting her husband, an Indiana native stationed at the naval station, whom she met at a square dance at the Dew Drop Inn.
“He wasn’t Italian,” she said with a laugh, recalling that her father called her future husband the “soldato marinaio,” or “the sailor.”
Riccio said he wanted the women he interviewed to tell their stories in their own words.
“The women never got their chance,” he said. “They have all the stories, and the wisdom tales and the proverbs. Stories that have to be captured.”
“Some of the stories are ancient,” he explained, “and since so much of Italian American history is oral, the stories need to be recorded.”
“I think I’ll have to write another book,” said Riccio.
Riccio will speak at the Westerly Library on Saturday, July 19, at 1 p.m. He plans to read some of the interviews from “Farms, Factories and Families,” and sign copies after the program.
For information, call the library at 401-596-2877 or visit the website, www.westerlylibrary.org.