July 2002

Salvatore and Fiorina Pacella,
A long Way From Pacentro

by Joseph RADDER

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Visiting Salvatore and Fiorina Pacella in their neat, peaceful, comfortable home on the edge of south Buffalo, it’s difficult to imagine all they went through to get there.

Coming to live in America was a lifelong dream for Salvatore. His father had worked in Pennsylvania for ten years, but returned to Italy to be with his family. It was then that Salvatore began hearing the many legends of America that would fascinate him and form the foundation of the dream.

As a very young boy, Salvatore began working in the fields outside Pacentro. He earned only 5 lires per day (about one dollar). Indeed times were extremely difficult. For this reason many Italian families went to work in foreign countries to scratch out a living. Those who stayed in Pacentro worked in the fields for the landlords on a share basis. The harvest was divided, half to the landlord, half to the workers. “As hard as it was, I was very glad to have that job,” Salvatore said.
He remembers the time when he was ten years old and in the fourth grade at school. Ladies in his neighborhood would say to his mother, “Send Salvatore to work in the fields. What does he need schooling for? If he works in the fields, he’ll bring potatoes home for you to eat.”

And so, at age 10, he was pulled out of school and began working in the fields with his father. One of his jobs was to fetch firewood from the mountains and carry it home on his shoulders for his family and others in the neighborhood.

The people of Pacentro worked in the fields six days a week and a half day on Sunday, yet life was not all drudgery. In the evenings Salvatore would go out with his friends to enjoy a meal. Everybody would bring something, sort of like our American pot-luck suppers today. There would be sausage, bread, cheese and wine. After the meal they would sing and dance for hours.

It was at one of these get-togethers that he met the girl who was to be his wife, Fiorina Lepore. Salvatore and Fiorina were married in February 1940. Salvatore was 21 years old but Fiorina was only 16. Now, some sixty-two years later, you can still see in their eyes the love they have for each other.

The Pacellas were married only three months before Salvatore was drafted into the Italian Army.

He was assigned to the 11th Infantry Regiment in Forli, Romagna and later was transferred to the Infantry-Cavalry section in Modena. Salvatore was discharged in 1941 but was soon recalled to fight in World War II.

During this historic conflict, Pacella served with his regiment on the Greek and Albanian front. On September 8, 1943 his regimental General surrendered and his entire outfit became prisoners.

The Germans sent them to a concentration camp where conditions were deplorable. The Nazis worked the Italians very hard, twelve hours a day, six days a week. On Sundays the prisoners would boil their clothing to get rid of lice. The daily ration was one small loaf of bread for five people. Salvatore lost a great deal of weight in the concentration camp but eventually he was sent to work on a farm where he regained some weight and had his health partially restored. Finally, the Allies broke through and the war in Europe ended in August 1945. A month later Salvatore returned to Italy.

Making a living in Pacentro after the war was very difficult. Again, Pacella worked in the fields. By this time he and Fiorina had three sons, Eusobio, Tonio and Mario. Work in the fields was not enough to feed his growing family so, in 1948, Salvatore left for Caracas, Venezuela where he worked for the next five years for Texaco, earning $5 a day.

The American dream came true for Pacella in 1953. He applied to emigrate to the U.S. from Venezuela and arrived in New Orleans in March 1953. A job search led him to Buffalo where he went to work for the Hanna Furnace Company. His capacity for hard work served him well in his new job and he worked there for 28 years prior to retirement eighteen years ago. In all those years at Hanna Furnace in south Buffalo he never missed a day of work. What’s more, he worked all the overtime he could and also worked part-time delivering supplies to pizzerias.

By 1954 he was able to send for his wife and their children. Later, three more children would be born in America...Nancy, Daniel and Frank. The Pacellas now have six adult children, eleven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

After thirty years, Salvatore and Fiorina were able to take a vacation back to Pacentro. “It was a great joy to be back among our friends,” he said.

The Pacella’s home on the edge of south Buffalo, near the line that separates the city and West Seneca, is as neat as a pin. There are two cars in the garage including a brand new Buick. A double lot enables Salvatore to cultivate a large garden of vegetables as well as flowers. “Come back in July,” he said, “and I’ll give you more tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and peppers than you can eat.” Mrs. Pacella helps in the garden too when she’s not busy with housework and cooking.

To see this happy couple in such comfortable surroundings is a real joy after hearing the stories of their very difficult life.

Do they like living in America? They love it. “God bless America,” they said in unison when we asked how they felt about this country. One is reminded of how much we take for granted the many things that are great about our homeland. You can be sure the Pacellas don’t take anything for granted.

Salvatore is 87 years old and his beloved Fiorina is 81 but they look like people in their sixties -probably because they stay so busy working around their delightful little home in south Buffalo.

Joseph Radder is a freelance writer.


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