| The largest class of people in Italy
in the 19th century just happened to be the poorest - the laborers
and farmers (contadini, or peasants). They were poor and, chances are,
they would remain poor, with little hope of rising above their position
in life. It was a rarity for a member of one to marry out of their
class, although it did happen on rare occasions. As far as education went,
the poor could not afford to send their children off to school, even though
schooling was made available to all. The children were needed to work and
provide income to help support the family, some as young as five or six.
Marriages were often arranged. When their children were still babies, the parents might promise a daughter to the son of a friend or neighbor. Even if a promised marriage was not the case, parents still had to approve of their children's marriages, with love being less important than convenience.
The typical Italian family lived in a small (probably one room) stone, brick, or mud home. Remember, the typical Italian family often consisted of children, parents, and grandparents, all living in this tiny abode without, of course, running water or electricity.
The water for drinking, cooking, and washing had to be carried from the village's central well or fountain. These areas became the meeting place to exchange news or gossip.
Plain clothing, wooden shoes, wood plank bed with a mattress stuffed with corn stalks, an oil lamp for light (wood and coal were too valuable to be burned just for light. They were used strictly for cooking), a chair or bench and table - the comforts of a peasant's home.
Breakfast would consist of a chunk of bread or maybe a bowl of cornmeal mush. Lunchtime meals had maybe a boiled potato, a chunk of bread, and possibly a weak onion soup. The evening dinner would have little more than the previous meals: cabbage soup, boiled potato, pasta, and bread. Meat was rarely eaten by the poor except on Sundays or feast/holidays. And even though most farms had chickens, the eggs would never be eaten. They were much too valuable and could be sold for money.
Men who did not have regular daily jobs would work as day laborers. Bosses would come to the town square with a wagon looking for men to spend a day or so hauling stones, picking grapes, or clearing land. The day laborers never knew if they would be working from one day to the next.
The evening was the time for socializing. This was when the children were able to play with their friends, adults could relax and talk with neighbors, or young couples could take a walk. On cooler evenings, family and friends would gather in a barn, and the women would knit or spin while they talked, while the men would tell stories or gamble.
Though family was a major focus for the peasant, religion also played a large role in the life of the 19th century Italian. To them, all events were attributed to the will of God or a saint, so praying was a way of possibly swaying events. Each town had a patron saint, whose feast day was celebrated annually with feasts, parades, and parties, with the hope that the saint would protect the town throughout the coming year. (The name surname Giorlando, came from Saint Gerlando of Agrigenta from the 11th century).
Except for feast days and holidays, the peasants had no goals but to survive day to day. A very basic peak into the lives of our Italian/Sicilian ancestors. It might not have been one hundred percent as described above for everyone, but you get a pretty good idea of what it probably was like for them. Is it any wonder that Francesco (Frank) Giorlando, Giuseppe (Joe) Coraci, and thousands upon thousands more from "the old country" chartered a boat to go across the ocean to the land of opportunity? A land they only heard about? And they never looked back.
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