As a child, I listened to my grandfather, Joseph Gianforte, tell stories about his childhood in Italy, his coming to America, and the raising of his family. The older I get, the more remarkable a man I realize him to be. The stories were all oral, so I recount the facts as best I can remember.
It was in 1913 that Joseph Gianforte and his new bride, Phyllis, arrived at New York harbor. Joseph had been raised on a small farm outside of Palermo, Sicily, growing vegetables, caring for vineyards and tending goats and chickens. He proudly served in the Italian army, where they spelled his last name with an "e" at the end, instead of the original "i" and he chose not to correct them, thus "Gianforte." Along with a different spelling would come a different kind of man separating himself from the traditions of many Sicilian generations by venturing off to a new country.
He was smart, hardworking and determined and obviously had strong vision. Acquiring a custodial job at the Rochester Folding Box on Boxart Street down in Charlotte, he built with scrap lumber from the factory a shed like home for himself and his young wife, Phyllis. He placed it in a paradise setting along the bands of the Genessee River. At that time the only sign of civilization along the river was a single st of railroad tracks that ran the New York Central from Charlotte to Rochester and Joseph wisely built his cabin close to pick up disregarded coal, wood or other energy sources to heat his home. Joseph and his wife survived on very little cash in a strange new land that spoke a different language and in a makeshift cabin with no heating, no plumbing and no electricity. They ate vegetables from their garden, fruit from their trees, drank milk and built an outhouse out behind the cabin. Ingenuity and hard work provided enough security that their first son Tony was born in 1915, followed by Joe, Carlo and Mario. Of course, the boys helped with chores and Joseph was strict with them, unlike Phyllis, who had a warm heart and delightful sense of humor. The combination worked because the family flourished. Each son was educated, served in the army, married and raised families of their own, all within a few miles of the lone cabin (except for Joe who moved to Syracuse along the bands of the Genesee). In 1943, with the boys grown and enough money saved, Joseph and Phyllis bought a house at 132 Boxart Street, still close to the factory that supported his new life many years before. he and Plyllis lived there for many years, hosting huge family dinners under the grapevines with sauce from their tomato gardens, fig cookies from their fig trees an, of course, lots of wine from the barrels in the basement. Perhaps Joseph really didn't separate himself from those old Sicilian traditions at all!