End of an Era for Italian-American Family


In 1907, my dad's father, Steve, sailed through Ellis Island from Sicily on the ship pictured. He settled in Milwaukee where he and his wife, Francesca, raised eight children. Very soon, the last surviving member of that Busalacchi clan will pass on. My Uncle Joe, the baby of the family, is now terminally ill in hospice. He is 92 years old, and according to my cousin Mike, not responsive.

Busalacchi family

Yes, it's sad but not terribly sad. My late father Sam (88) and his siblings enjoyed extraordinary longevity. Uncle Tony died last August at age 100! The eldest brother, Sebastian, was 99 when he passed away in 2012. The others also enjoyed plenty of years in retirement: Antonia (94), Peter (85), John (83) and Agatha (80). Heart disease was probably the most common cause of death, though cancer struck, as well.

All eight siblings lived through extraordinary times. My remaining uncle, Joe, told me his mom was known as a "Five-Star Mother," having sent five of her six sons to fight in World War II. They all survived that trauma and returned to Milwaukee to start their own families.

Before then, they all lived at 209 N. Jackson Street, Milwaukee, on what it is now the Summerfest Grounds. My dad told me how he used to swim naked in Lake Michigan during the summers. He also told me about living in this childhood house in Milwaukee. His eldest brother had his own room, as did their two sisters. The other five boys shared a single bedroom!

Although their father was a fisherman, and later in Milwaukee, a foundry worker, the sons all pursued different occupations. Mail carrier, plumber, iron worker, factory worker, bar owner and public works director. No radio reporters!

The boys (except my dad) soon tired of Milwaukee's ice cold weather and headed for Florida, although one brother, Uncle John, went west to Las Vegas. I remember deep tans on all of them, especially my Uncle Tony. My dad, on the other hand, stayed put. He loved Milwaukee and took the winters in stride.

My father's family is on a different journey now, soon to be re-united spiritually, after 107 years in this country. My grandfather came here, according to Ellis Island records, with less than $50 in his pocket and could not speak English. My father rightly described him as a pioneer. Indeed he was.

With his youngest son about to pass, it is heart breaking, but incredulous, too. 

Posted on April 2, 2015 .