Rocco Saporito – My Grandfather
Monday, January 16, 2012 marks the centennial of my paternal grandfather’s birth. Rocco Saporito was born on this date in 1912 in Riesi, Sicily to Concetta (Sanfillipo) and yet another Rocco Saporito. My grandfather was my only grandparent who was born in the “olde country.” His father immigrated to the United States to find work soon after Rocco’s birth and his mom and he came about a year later. They all came through Ellis Island and settled in the North End of Boston for a few years before settling inEast Boston. My grandfather became the eldest of six siblings.
For all of the questions I hounded him with when he could still answer them my knowledge of the family’s early years in Boston is cloudy at best. I know his father was a “laborer” – nothing ever more specific than that. Rocco remembered the Great Molasses Flood in the North End (it happened a day before his 7th birthday in 1919). At some point the entire family picked up and moved across the harbor to East Boston – I assume this happened sometime in the early 1920s.
Rocco had a very good head on his shoulders – I was always, and still am amazed at how many things he could do and do well. The economy of the 1920s and later the Great Depression era ended my grandfather’s formal education around grade 8. Like millions of that era he had to work to help support the family. He served in theCalvaryand there are some pictures of him with his horse. He worked for a time at Daggets – a huge candy company that was located inKendall Squareand is now part of MIT. From what I heard the work conditions were horrid and my grandfather was not treated well. His life improved dramatically when he got out of there and got a job that he would hold until retirement in the mid 1970s at Gillette. Rocco also worked hard to get his GED – he always made a point of telling us all to pursue any education that we could get. He also always told me not to study liberal arts – I guess I blew it on that account! Rocco worked as a machinist at Gillette and helped to design and improve many machines that were used to manufacture and package razor blades. The man liked to build things!
Grandpa married Grandma Fannie Bognanno in on November 28, 1935 – which happened to be the first day that Thanksgiving was a national holiday. Back in the 1930s leisure time was at a premium and weddings happened every day. Rocco and Fanny were not about to go off on a three week cruise for a honeymoon. My grandparents were way ahead of the times as they were always a two-income family. Grandma worked as a seamstress in big clothing factories – often making clothing for the military.
Rocco always wanted more education. When I think of what a natural born engineer he was it is amazing to think of what types of work and careers he could have had if college had been an option for him. He could build anything – out of wood, metal or concrete and masonry. And when I say build – I mean build it right and of the highest quality. There are cabinets, patios, tables, chairs, brick walls, carports, laundry chutes, wiring jobs, plumbing work and more that are all still standing and in good condition many decades after Rocco built them. He had an eagle eye for measurements (another gene that escaped me) – he used calipers and micrometers and talked about things in “hundreths of inches.” A long standing joke between me and my Dad is that every time we see a picture on a wall we say it is crooked – because Grandpa always did that – and he was always correct! Rocco did not take shortcuts like me when he built things – he was also comfortable with more than just a hammer, crowbar and roll of duct tape!
Rocco and Fannie had two children – my Aunt Connie and my father Ron. They were both born inEast Bostonbut for the most part were raised in post World War II Winthrop, MA. I have always romanticized and attached a “Leave it to Beaver” like charm to 1950sWinthrop. I am sure it was not all rosy all of the time. I would imagine that my grandparents were immensely proud to their children – Connie works as a nurse and my father as a hospital pharmacist. They managed to get both of their children educated and into a professional field – a big jump for one generation.
I have so many great memories with my grandfather. He was forced to indulge my wish to ride to every corner of the Boston subway system, or to go fishing off the Saratoga Street bridge, let me run the massive cheese grater (these people were serious about freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese – they were not Kraft users.) The man split beers with me (never asked for an ID) and truly wanted nothing but the best for his five grandchildren. Although he was soon to be diagnosed with terminal cancer he met my girlfriend, and soon to be fiancé Gail in 1993 and welcomed her into the family as if she had always been there.
One of the ways that I have felt the luckiest in my life is that my grandparents lived long enough for me to appreciate them. The “devil may care” attitude about family many of us go through as teens gave way to a period in my 20s where I found myself living within a few miles of Rocco and Fanny and was able to spend a lot of time with them – and it was not all just showing them how to reprogram their VCR! We did some great things: going through old photos, talking about family history and our annual “let’s make 600 raviolis” for the holidays ritual – my back still hurts from all of that work – and more importantly – I can still taste the raviolis!
Time moves forward – loved ones die – people lose touch – life happens. I will always appreciate my grandfather Rocco and all he did for us. As long as these great people are alive in our memories they are still with us.