Our stories are our history

I’ve got an idea. If you will help me, we can preserve the histories of our communities. After all, history is just an accumulation of stories. We can actually get all our children to like history.

My son Dan gave me the idea a long time ago. He told me I should get the Valones who are left to bring their tape recorders and their cameras and tell the stories they remember from when they were kids. Now I am the only one left of my generation on the Valone side so it is up to me to make this happen. You and I can do this for our families – tell them your stories so that they have those pieces of their own histories.

I wish I had a dollar (inflation!) for every time one of you has told me you enjoy my column, and especially the stories. If you feel you’re not a storyteller, tell me your story and I will write it down.

I wonder how many of you felt sorry for those of us living in Little Italy. We didn’t know anyone felt sorry for us because we were having a blast! The Dolce family across the street was always having parties. They had to borrow silverware from us, so we always got invited! Their guests always brought musical instruments, so there was music and dancing. The Crise family lived on one side of the Dolces and the DeAngelo family lived on the other. We all had wine cellars so we never ran out of beverages. Not everybody drank, but everybody danced! My family said I danced before I walked.

It seemed like the dances were always across the street. The Conti family (Frances Conti was a Valone before she married Angelo Conti) were musical and hospitable so we had a lot of parties to go to at their house. They played games, too. I remember one. They would blindfold a woman, put her on a wide board and tell her to jump high to clear the board. Actually she was about five inches above the floor. Did she get a surprise!

I remember when the kids got sleepy. They would put them on the steps leading upstairs. We didn’t mind – each of us got his or her own step to sleep on until the adults were ready to go home!

Now I’ll tell you a Valone story. When Russ was in the service I visited his home in Westfield with his sister Kay Rotunda from Fredonia. My mother-in-law to-be (although I didn’t know it then) was talking about her son Russell like he was with us.

“Come here,” she said. “I will show you.”

We went into the next room and she opened up a cupboard and pulled out a bottle. In the bottle was a thumb and I think a ligament.

“This is my son’s thumb which was caught in a tractor when he was 16 years old,” she explained.

What a dedicated mother. When Russ and I got serious I used to tease him that I was going to carry the jar with his thumb in it down the aisle instead of flowers!

My mother-in-law was a strong disciplinarian. Her daughters had to learn to iron shirts without a single wrinkle. If she found a wrinkle, she would wad the shirt into a ball and give it back to them to start all over.

After my father died, my mother-in-law used to nag her husband: “If I die, you marry Mrs. Leone.” He’d say, “We have plenty of time for that.” But she nagged and nagged, until he said “OK! I’ll marry her!”

My mother never wanted to remarry after my father died. My husband loved my mother. He used to sell trucks and he would make time every morning to have breakfast with her. She was disabled and he said it was important that she started each day talking and thinking. What a thoughtful man!

Getting back to my mother-in-law, she had rules for her sons, too. Angelo went to work on the farm with his father. Ray went to work in a factory and made the money. The rule was that if Ray bought something for himself with his paycheck, he had to buy the same thing for Angelo. Well, Ray bought a pair of swim trunks for himself and nothing for Angelo. So, my mother-in-law threw them in the woodstove. Needless to say, Ray never did that again! It wasn’t my idea of punishment, but then again, I didn’t have 10 children to keep in line!

Of course, my husband’s family went through tough times. I have to give his mother credit. All of her daughters were wonderful homemakers and her sons knew how to cook, clean, wash clothes and were very thoughtful, too.

There’s one thing I forgot. Round up all the photos you can find, then label the people and the places. Maybe the libraries can give us other ideas about how we can preserve our histories. It’s not too late to start telling our stories and adding them to the collective history of Chautauqua County. It’s up to us. Each community should form a historical committee and then we’ll put all the information together. It will be fruitful and unforgettable!

Margaret Valone is a Fredonia resident. Send comments on this column to lifestyles@observertoday.com