The youngest daughter of five, born of Luigi Bisi, I spent time with dad when he was dying of cancer in 1984…His New World experience having begun from Gordola/Gordemo in 1930 at the tender age of 18…the ship passage from Genoa, Italy to New York’s Ellis Island…then on a train to California to meet up with his two sisters, Annetta and Angela…and begin his new life in America, never to return to his beloved Ticino.
As we sat reminiscing that day I said, Dad “When did you last see your mom?” A question I had never asked or heard about in all the stories of the “Old Country” as he called his native land.
Luigi Bisi, born in Brione Verzasca, Ticino, August 11, 1930
He began slowly as he remembered this bitter-sweet time as a young man… “My dad took me to the train station in Locarno to catch the train to Bellinzona. I was really excited to be finally on my journey that I had dreamed of so many times. To go to America, to learn a trade, and do the things he was not permitted to do. As the train was going along the valley heading toward Bellinzona I looked up to the Gordemo hillside. Mom had walked down the trail to the point where she could see the train and I saw her standing there waving a white handkerchief to me. That was the last time I ever saw my mother”.
As the tears streamed down his face I saw for the first times in my life, the anguish he had kept hidden from his own children all these years.
I now have that memory etched in my mind and when I walk out to that point, on the “old trail” from Gordemo to Tenero and see the train passing by, the memory of my Grandma Anna waving her white handkerchief to my dad comes flooding back to me.
Luigi Bisi sisters – Annetta on the left, and Angela on the right, circa 1920 in Gordola, Ticino
Last photo of Luigi Bisi in Ticino, at Minghetti Wedding, circi 1929. Luigi is on far left.
This is my Grandma Anna Bisi, Luigi Bisi’s mother who ‘waved the white handkerchief’. She is sitting in front of little house that we now own in Gordemo at the granite table that is still in the same place. I know she always hoped her Luigi would return but he never did…so in a small way I feel that I am doing this for her…although I never met her..by the time we made our first trip in 1976 she was already gone…
She actually had left a different house in the Valle Verzasca Valley at Gane to ‘The three Children that went to America’ in the event that one of them came ‘home to Ticino.’ (Luigi, Annetta and Angela) Unfortunately that house was sold by the American heirs in the mid 1990’s and we were not able to buy them out at the time. So when the Gordemo house was on the ‘selling block’ we just could not see it go out of the family so we were able to purchase it.
Here’s Luigi Bisi in 1944 in Alameda, California.
After working the ranches, milking cows, and doing other labor type jobs in the Salinas Valley since 1930, he moved the family up north to take a job during the war years at Todd’s Shipyard in Alameda. The family lived in this WWII housing that was built for the workers in various war related occupations. He became a carpenter while working in the shipyards and never left the area and in fact retired at age 62 from the shipyards. This was not his motorcycle, it belonged to one of my Irish Uncles, but eventually he did buy a motorcycle in the late 1960’s and enjoyed riding it especially on camping trips in the Sierra mountains of California.