21 Nov Augusto Govoni
This is my life
To celebrate his 100th birthday, Augusto “Gus” Govoni wrote this story of his life on yellow paper and tied it in scroll fashion with a blue ribbon. Each person who attended his birthday party received one. The story as it is presented here is typed from his hand-written version with the only changes made in punctuation to make it easier for the reader to follow along.:
I was born April 25, 1883, in an old fashioned brick house in the Town of Tiramola Province of Ferrara but we are closer to Bologna than Ferrara. Bologna is the capital of seven provinces these are Bologna, Ferrara, Modena, Reggio, Parma, Piacenza, and Ravenna.
My mother had five boys and one girl. I’m the first one. My father he was a small cattle dealer. I say small because in those days business was completely dead. In the zone where I was living people were living very poor. The wages for working was 20¢ to 25¢ a day seven A.M. to six P.M. My father he was a good provider and we getting along much better than many other families in town.
When I reached the age of twenty that soon I was getting a call for the Army. Then it was the law that every other one serve the Army – the first, third, and fifth – but if the first one should be married he don’t serve the Army. At that time my father had a big family to support and he began to need a little help. Well and if I stayed home from the Army I could give a little help. So at that point we talked over in the family for me to get married. Well three month later another law came up that everyone had to serve the Army, that was on account of a little disturbance between Italy and Austria and then I was punished to serve three long years in the Cavalry in Milan. That it was not a very pleasant moment for me to leave house but I had no choice so I roll up my sleeves and started like a good soldier.
I was very good on horseback. They made me demonstrate while the horse was galloping. I jumped down and with the same speed jumped over the other side and pick up a nickel from the ground while galloping. 8 months later I was promoted to Coporal and in the end of the year when the new class come I was the instructor and after another 8 months I was promoted Coporal Magiore and I did Sargent service because there supposed to be four sergeants and there were only three. Then in the end of the following year they sent me to Bari way down the south end of Italy to do the recruiting. I come back with 46 men and I was the instructor. Every morning from 6 to 7am in the school room they sit around my table and I gave them a lecture. And from 7 to 9 we go to the stable, take horses out for a drink and brushed and cleaned them and then from 9 to 11AM we go out horseback riding, from 11 to 12 we brushed the horses and feed them then it’s time for us to eat.
This is part of the Italian army routine with 2¢ a day and the King had 16 million lire equal to 3 million dollars. I was lucky I get 9¢ – in those days it was like $2 today because you could get a cup of coffee for 2¢, a glass of wine 2¢, small loaf of bread 2¢, also 2¢ cold cuts. I used to spend all my money in the canteen. Other soldiers got only 2¢ a day and I was getting along very well but with 2¢ a day it would not be so good. Well not to brag about it but just to tell about my time in the army, I got 1st prize on jumping, high 2nd prize for calculating of distance, 1st prize on keepin my horse good, 2nd prize on shooting straight, and two badges – one for being a good horseman and the other an explorer.
It was funny when they asked me what school I had I said the 2nd grade. Well they went in the office and scratched off the 2nd and put 5th. It would be the same if they asked me what schooling I had in English, I would say not a single day. In the town where I was born it was only elementary school up to 3th class only and for higher school it was three miles away and no transportation.
Well finally I get my blessing discharge and went home. There I find my family in the same condition – business not so good and my father began to slow down and I had my responsibility of a family of my own, a wife and little girl 2 years old. So I didn’t know what direction I should take because after three years I lost track of my business and besides that I was not inclined in that kind of business – my vision it was music, art and creating inventions and poetry. All these things I never could display because I was under oppression of my job.
Well at this point with my family I decided to spend about three years in America. We left the little girl home in my mother’s care, that was Eva that today she is grandmother. We reached here April 12, 1907. We stopped in Chelsea, Mass. – I got a job with my uncle at Revere Rubber Co at nine dollars a week. I worked all year to buy all the necessary things for the house. On April 12, 1908, a terrible fire started in the east side. I heard the fire station horn blowing and blowing and repeated. That was Palm Sunday, a bright day but very windy about sixty m. an hr. It was about 11.AM. I was around the corner talking with a friend. I said let’s go and see what’s happening over there so me and another friend we ran over and we saw where the original fire started.
The fire started from an old barn full of junk from a junk collector. It was burning like an inferno – the firemen could not stop it so they call a general alarm. The street was full of fire engines. You could see pieces of wood flying in the air like birds and fall on top of other houses and put them on fire. Then I noticed it was getting dangerous to stay there so I said to my friend, “let’s go home.” The fire was already a head of us. My wife had the dinner ready but the fire was already on the roof and we had to run out without eating. I ran upstairs and made up a bundle of clothing. The house was full of smoke. I left my wife’s gold there. I ran out in a hurry. Everybody was running out of their houses for safety. I was carrying a bundle on my shoulder but the wind it was so strong that I put it in a ditch and I covered it with bricks and other things with the intention to come back and get it. But the next morning when I went back for it, it was all burned.
That very same week my wife bought a baby carriage. We had a 6 month old baby. She paid 9 dollars for it. And I had paid my grocery bill. Also on that morning the landlord came to collect the rent so I remained with 75¢ to my name but I had a lot of courage and a good spirit.
It was a good thing that it happened in the daytime because if it was at night it would be a disaster because every house was burning very fast. Even the fire house burned down. We ran up Revere Way and people in every corner they offered to help us. Everybody was very good to all of us.
Well then I had to start all over again to get my house together. And after one year and one day another baby was born and after three months my wife took sick with typhoid fever and she got a relapse and when she came home from the hospital she was not too well – every once in a while she got palpitation. She was not able to take care the baby so I had to pay a woman to take care the baby and when she get that palpitation they call me up from the shop to go home, your wife is dying so I go home and call a doctor and get the medicine.
Now just think in what condition I was at that time making nine dollars a week, pay 5 dollars a week for the baby’s care, pay two dollars to the doctors, and one dollar or more for medicine and lost time at work and living and besides that being here in a strange land, strange language, and no money and a wife sick with two kids 1 ½ year old and the other six months.
I asked a grocery store man if he give me credit for few things. He refused me. Then I asked my landlady if she could get the grocery man to give me credit for one week. She was a wonderful lady and she did. She told him to give me groceries for one week under her responsibility but he was so mean that he stopped me after five days. Well after a few days I paid him and never went to that store again.
I worried about that. My wife she was not strong enough to take care the boy and herself. Well it happened that an Italian lady she was out of work and she offered to take care my wife and the boy just for meals and sleep. I accepted but that was more expense for me. My wife was not improving on her health so the doctor suggested to send her to her native country and that was a good suggestion but it needed money to pay for the trip and few dollars to take with her. So I started to ask to all my friends to let me have all they could spare and every one pitched in the best they could spare. Everyone was very good to me but all of them were repaid back.
Well after my wife left I was exhausted and full of debts and also very thin – I was only 115lbs. I went to live with a nice family, board and room 14 dollars a month and good food and laundry. Well in a couple of months I got back to my normal weight. I was still working at 9 dollars a week. I know that I needed to do something else according to pay my bills so I found a Saturday night job in a restaurant and after about three months I got a steady job. I was making three times more money than before and every week I paid up a little on my bills. I couldn’t have any money because I had to pay for my room and board and send home some money for my wife and kids support and buy some clothing for myself I was without. Well after a 1 ½ years my wife wanted to come back. I was not ready to get her here because I didn’t have enough money to start a home but she came over with Eva and Mario. Well, I got the apartment and the furniture most necessary and a little by little we complete our home then Laura was born. After four years I bought a fruit and candy store in Union Square, Somerville. That was the time when I had a strong idea to make a telephone that you could talk and see each other at the same time. It was before the radio but I changed my mind. And I start on another invention which I got the patent in U.S. and Canada & this fruit store that I had it was a very old little building. It was falling apart and for that I sold it for 1700 dollars that was the biggest amount of money that I ever had. Then I went to work at the Lockober a high class restaurant and six months later I bought a house. In those days you could buy a house for little money. I paid for it $3200 and a year later I sold it for 5000 dollars. Then I bought a grocery and meat market and between my landlady that she raised the rent 4 times she was the meanest person that I ever met in my life. This is to give an idea – down the cellar of the store there was a door that lead to her apartment and one day I noticed that someone came in the store and the only way to come in was through the door that was open.
Well when I saw that I closed the door. I couldn’t say anything because I had no evidence. Three or four days later she came in the store very mad and said to me why are you closing that door down there, you think we want to steal your stuff? So that was my landlady, she died 25 years ago and I don’t forgive her yet! I wish that GOD punish her according to my intention. That was the time of the depression. All the people out of work and the grocery bill go up and no body could pay me and the situation was getting worse every day so I decided to go out of business. I went to work with a man that he opened a store but he didn’t know anything about business. Well I was his manager and we ran the business very good.
After about one year happen that a man bought the building where we had the store and gave us notice to move because he wanted to put up a store for himself so were forced to move out. And we move about 300 yards away in a better store and better business and the other guy he was not doing well at all so he talked to a lady to let me know that he would like to have me working for him for more money. Well when my boss found out that the other man wanted me, he raised my pay 6 dollars more a week. For my part even if he didn’t raise my pay I would never leave him but to show what a mean person he was – as soon as the other man went out of business he took off the 6 dollars. Well that it turned out to be the best thing he ever did for me but the worst for him because after about three months I left and he went out of business. I went to work for a chicken man and I was the salesman. I went to sell chickens at the Lucerne Hotel and the chef he was a friend of mine and that day the chef, he was very mad because his butcher he didn’t show up, and he said why don’t you take this job? I said, “yes I take it,” so I took the job.
The chef in 1913 he was living with me. He was just married and I gave him a room. He worked in a restaurant in Boston as a pot washer but he work up to his career till he became a chef. Well time went by and we always kept our friendship. In fact when his daughter got married I made a fancy birdbath and the owner of the hotel he saw the birdbath and he liked it so that happen that when I started to work at the Lucerne Hotel the boss he came in the kitchen and the chef said to the boss, “do you know who is this man?” The boss said, “no” and the chef said, “he’s the man that made that birdbath that you saw up my house that you like it so much.” His name was Mr. Piscopo a wonderful gentile man. Then Mr. Piscopo said to me, “Mr. Govoni will you make me one?” He said, “take all the time you want when you have it ready take a taxicab and bring it over. I’ll pay for it.” I said, “ok.” It took me about two months made in cement and little stones and when I brought it over he like it so much that he said to the chef, “take Mr. Govoni home and take with you a case of whiskey for him.” Then about six months later Mr. Piscopo came to me and said, “Mr. Govoni my wife would like to have some kind of furniture for the garden. Now that we know that you are an artist make it to your pleasure. When you like it she will like it too.
Well I made a vase decorated with white stones, a tulip shape. It looked very good and different than any other and it was so well liked that Mr. Piscopo asked how much I wanted. I said, “nothing,” but he said the same thing to the chef, “take Mr. Govoni home with a case of whiskey.”
Well I worked about 2 years there then I went to work at Touraine Hotel for 15 dollars a week more and after one year I worked at Sheraton Hotel for 8 dollar more. That was a nice job but I had to work Sundays. I didn’t like that so I went to work in a restaurant, no Sundays that was the Lockober, a high class place and I work there five years till my retirement.
Well after another five years I got a call. It was the chef, he was retired too. He said that Mr. Piscopo ask for me, that his wife like to have two vases for the front door, and she wants you to make it and he said if you are willing to make it, I’ll come over, pick you up, and we go and talk with Mrs. Piscopo. They live in a beautiful home and very rich. Well the chef, he came up the house in Somerville, Mass. He lived in Wellesley. We went to Mr. Piscopo home and when we reached near the garden, I saw a beautiful garden furniture and I said with the chef, “look what a nice thing the chef had made. Then he said to me, “for God’s sake, don’t you remember that you made it yourself?” After about twelve years I never expected to see that vase in perfect condition. Well I went to talk with Mrs. Piscopo and she wanted two big vases to put plants in and to make it to my liking so I made it and I brought it over and Mr. Piscopo gave $50 and 5 gallons of wine 20 year old and a bottle of wine imported 72 years old.
In my retirement I started doing so many things that always I would like to do but I never could do it because of my work and my family.
I began to sculpture some novelty. I sculptured large cameos that were for sale at Jordan’s Gift Depart. Price $11.00 a pair. Then I sculptured so many other things such as flower plaques, horses, bird, fish, fruit, the Pres. Kennedy, also Dante & Beatrice, fish on a platter to name just a few things.
I have also kept myself busy with writing poetry and when I reach to a couple of months or before Xmas, I start to paint my Xmas cards to all my and our friends and relatives. They’ll be about 100 or more. I also painted a few oil and watercolor that my daughter Laura say someday she will have framed and put in her gallery.
Now I don’t do any cooking because I can’t stand on my feet too long, but I surprise Laura and Jan in the best of my knowledge and we getting along wonderful. We are a very happy family and I can call myself a very lucky man because in my age and in my condition I have two professors of nurses Laura and Jan – they take very good care of me. They won’t let me do anything then they say I’m lazy.
I know that they say in just for fun but I think they are right too. Also Eva when she comes down from Virginia and stays here with us off and on, she takes very good care of me like a registered nurse and she also won’t let me do anything and calls me lazy too.
All these things are part of our happy family so let’s keep our happy family rolling with no stops.
Excuse my poor English. Augusto Govoni
* The parents of Augusto Govoni were Luigi Govoni and Chiara Artemisia Borgatti. They lived in Dodici Morelli on Via Valentino then later moved to Via Lanzoni. Besides Augusto, they had five children surviving beyond childhood: Carlo, Medardo, Ferdinando, Edelmo, and Caterina.
*Augusto Govoni married Desolina Govoni in 1903. Desolina was the daughter of Giacomo Govoni and Claudia Fornaciari.
*All the places of employment that Augusto Govoni mentions were famous places in Boston. Locke-Ober Restaurant stayed open for more than 135 years and was renowned for its food and European decor. The Lucerne Hotel was well known for its Italian dinners and dancing. The Touraine Hotel was considered luxurious and designed in the style of a French chateau.
*Augusto Govoni sculptured many more items than he mentioned in his story giving them as gifts to family and friends. See the photos included of the small wall mirror and the small holy water font for a home.
* Augusto Govoni also wrote poetry for his family and friends. In the 1960s, he was the Poet Laurette at a Party of the Renazzesi in America, an annual festa held in Springfield, Massachusetts where all the emigrants from the area of Renazzo came together to celebrate their heritage.
*Augusto Govoni was considered a registered inventor along with his daughter, Laura.
This is My Life by Augusto Govoni
Additional information from interviews and personal communications with family members
Special thanks goes to Laura Alberghini Ventimiglia
i.e. Submitted on behalf of the Govoni Family and with their permission.