Friday, June 28, 2013

Kris Williams: Life Advice... From the Grave.

            My great grandfather, Abramo Donato Cantelli was born in San Donato, Italy on February 4, 1903. He was only six years old when he boarded a ship headed to America called the Canopic Line with his mother and two brothers. After two seasick weeks they finally landed in Boston where Abramo’s father was waiting for their arrival. 

            Abramo attended school until he was 12 years old, leaving to work at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, MA to help his family. There he made $80 a week working on destroyer ships during WWI. It was at this job, he began to hate his name. His co-workers regularly picked on him for it, “There’s a lot of ignorant people, they make you feel like two cents”. Due to the constant harassment, for his confirmation, he took on the name Biajo so he could call himself Joe. From then on, he was known as Joseph Cantelli. 

            Joe started an apprenticeship as a stonecutter in South Quincy around the age of 21. He worked on several different jobs but the one I was told most about was a statue of a woman. He worked on the folds of her dress as well as some writing. No one in the family seems to know where this statue ended up but we do know Tiffany’s of New York bought it.  During the Great Depression he said that “It was impossible to live on stonecutting…Life is too hard. In the depression if you wanted to buy a nickel for six cents you couldn’t do it”. 

            My great grandfather was extremely proud to become an American and worked hard to fit in. Besides the name change, he refused to teach his kids to speak Italian. He would often tell them, “In America, you speak like an American!”. Joe would only speak Italian with his parents, brothers and sister. As much as I admire his pride and hard work, it also bums me out that this part of my family’s culture wasn’t passed down. Today, the best my grandmother can do is swear in Italian and I’m left trying to learn with CD’s and books!

            My great grandfather gave a lot of advice through his own life experiences concerning work, family and remembering to enjoy the simple things. It’s his advice on relationships and marriage that have really stuck with me most. 

            Joe met my great grandmother Kathryn Mary Gaynor at a dance. They were married October 14, 1923 in Randolph, MA with a simple ceremony to keep costs down. The thing that I love about my great grandparents is how crazy they were about each other. I remember talking to my grandmother’s sister Kitty about it. She told me a story about how they were so affectionate with each other, even late in life; they could make others around them blush.

            In a day and age where divorce is common, I really want what they had for myself. I have had several friends my age, who’ve been divorced, joke that I need a “practice marriage”. The idea of this being funny saddens me. Being a bit of a hopeless romantic in a “me generation” is difficult at times to hold on to. His advice on relationships and marriage holds true, especially in today’s society. Today we are so plugged into technology; we are forgetting how to communicate outside of it. 

            “When you get married, you become one. There’s no more two. It’s 50/50. Set up a stake and both of you reach for that goal. Sometimes his trouble will spill over onto you. If you think you might hurt each other with something you’re going to say, put on the breaks, and don’t say it; don’t hurt each other. Think first about what you’re going to say. It’s communication that’s the most important thing. You’ve got to be friends. Both work together, plan together and communicate. When you don’t communicate, no one knows what’s going on, the left doesn’t know what the right is doing. That’s why there are so many divorces these days. They don’t communicate, and they don’t know what the other wants. They have different goals.”

            As a female today, I have also found that sometimes I feel a little lost. Women have come so far since his generation. The sad part however, is that today women who find themselves in a demanding career are almost forced to make a choice. Do I continue to climb the ladder or do I want to have a family? It’s a sad world when you are made to feel like having a family is a “set back”. Growing up, taking pride in being a strong female, I always said I didn’t want to just be a mom… where today, I have realized it will probably be the most important role I’ll ever play. 

            “That’s what I like to see, two young people in a garden of flowers. That makes me happy, to see… two people always together and happy. You need to get a nice little house, with a little fence and a little workshop downstairs. It’s natural to want a house and family”. To me, he is right. I am tired of feeling like I have to reject something that is natural to want, just to prove something to a society that’s slowly losing sight of what’s important. 

            My great grandparents were married 61 years when Kathryn passed away, “We miss each other. I am useless with out her”. I can only hope to someday celebrate 60 years of marriage with a man who feels just as strongly about me. Someone who makes me want to be a better person by simply being around him. Jobs come and go. Money can be gained, lost and gained back again. Fancy cars and big houses prove nothing. It’s family and the people we surround ourselves with that get us through and make life worth living.

The craziest part about all of this, my great grandfather passed away in 1986, when I was only five years old. The only memory I have of him is hiding under his lawn chair at a family reunion in Quincy, MA. However, here I am 26 years later hearing and finding comfort in his words. I owe a huge thank you to my Mom’s cousin Suzy for taking the time to interview him. Had it not been for her interest in genealogy and our family in general, I never would have had the opportunity to hear them.

By Kris Williams
Twitter: @KrisWilliams81

Don’t go by what you see on T.V., it’s a big balloon that’s blowing up and destroying the country. Show business is no good. My wife had better legs than those women any day!  
 -Joseph Abramo Donato Biajo Cantelli


  1. Kris, wonderful job. Your grandparents were right. I have been married for 36 years. Communication and consideration for your mates feelings is the key. Being kind seems to be hard for today's generation.

    1. Anything that takes work seems to be too hard for my generation in most cases. Not really sure why we are so lost.

  2. The hardest job you will ever do is to be a mom. That's because it has much to do with the character of a person. It can be easy to be successful in employment, but to be successful in one's character is most difficult.

  3. As for marriage, in generations past when things got broken you fixed them. When something is broken in this generation we just throw them out and buy another. In many ways, we are a disposable generation.

    1. Completely agree. I feel that too many people from our generation handle marriage/relationships like they do career opportunities. "This one will do for now..." but they have their eyes on the look out for a better opportunity. It's kinda sad.

    2. Extremely sad. Think of the far reaching effects it will have on the family. The world is undoubtedly messed up. Fame and fortune and career success are lauded, while raising a good and solid family almost goes unnoticed. It sounds to me that the greatest success your great grandfather had in his life was to be a solid example of love for his family and his following generations.

  4. It's cool to read about your feelings regarding marriage and your hope to someday become a mom and understanding the importance of that role, I totally agree on how sad the institution of marriage has become in this country, where divorce is such an easy way out, to me it's become like an excuse to move onto the next, newer & shinier person, instead of trying to resolve solvable issues.
    I've been married going on 20yrs this coming December and am only 41, I have no regrets!
    It's also cool to see that part of your family comes from Italy, as does mine, or at least that's what I've been told, unfortunately for me it would be very difficult to research my family's history as my parents, grandparents and at least great grandparents come from Mexico, and I think that record keeping is not the same there as it is here in the states. Although I have spoken with my parents at length about what they remember from their families and its been quite fun and interesting to know a little about my family's past.

  5. My last name is Cantellay. Your great grandfather's last name is the closest I've seen to mine. :-)

  6. Hey Bobbi!

    Where was your family from? My family name is Cantelli but it was originally Cautilli. There's always a chance you family's name was changed when they came to the states too.