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PETE PETE DAGO CHEAT

By Mari Tomasi, August 5, 1940 - “The way I look at it you got to have money to live, and if you can get it without breaking your back, so much the better. Changing sheets and polishing mirrors isn't the best job in the world, but it's not the worst, either. I got this room, a little salary, and they throw in the meals, too…” It was a top story hotel room. Mollie sat sideways on the broad window sill. She was large and florid. The low forehead was almost hidden by thick, reddish bangs. Her hands, large boned and rough were never at rest. Always poking along the wall, the sill, the window, or at an imaginary speck of dust on her dress. She had strong, healthy teeth, and the wide mouth opened often in a smile to show them…

“You know where the State garages are halfway between Barre and Montpelier? That's where I was born. On a farm up the hill in back of the State garages. There was a park up there called Caledonia Park. Folks used to come up there to picnic a lot. Whole families. They had swings and teeter boards for the kids. Sometimes we could hear their fun from the farm. Us kids 'ud sneak out of the house and over to the party. They'd always give us something to eat.

Sometimes there'd be a bunch of wops there witch accordions and fiddles. That's what we liked, music and fun. We didn't have nothing to play music at home. Once me and Al— he's my brother, a year and half older than me— got to playing with some kids at a picnic. They gave us a taste of wine, the first we ever had. Real wop wine, sour and strong. We had only a half glass each but Pa smelled it on our breath when we got home. He was fit to be tied. Mad as a hornet. Said he'd tell the police about those dam wops teaching little kids to drink. We told him it was the kids who give it to us, that cooled him down some but he was still mad. Pa didn't have it in him to do much drinking, except on holidays. He had the craving but he was just plain scared. His own father was lamed for life on account of drinking too much.

Speaking of wops, my stars, they used to get an awful razzing those days. It's changed now. There's a pile of 'em here in town. Honest, hardworking, and decent. They're well liked. But where I lived on the farm when I was a kid there wasn't no wop family around for about three miles. We didn't see very many of them. Pa neither.

An old Italian 'ud drive his meat wagon up our way twice a week selling meat and groceries. He had a bell in the wagon and we'd hear him coming long before we'd see him. We'd run out from wherever we were to catch a sight of him. He had the longest moustache we kids 'ud ever seen. Black and drooping. That's changing now, too. They're cutting 'em off around here. This Italian’s name was Pete. We'd run down the road after his meat wagon yelling: 'Pete, Pete, The dago cheat.' He didn't get mad at us. He'd just laugh. Pa and Ma 'ud hear us screaming after him but they never said nothing to us. They should of, but they didn't. Guess they felt the same way we did. When we were fair grown up we stopped yelling at him. I can't understand how Pa was so strict about liquor and yet he'd let us go on hurting that poor wop's feelings.”

SOURCE:

Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, WPA Federal Writers' Project Collection.