It was April 30, 1949 and all the paperwork and medical exams were over. The permanent immigration visas were issued. This was the last night that Little Grandpa Caruso would spend with his father for the next five years. Family and friends stopped by their home with good wishes for his new life and with food for all the visitors.
Little Grandpa Caruso’s mother had gone to America in December 1948 to arrange for him and his younger sister to immigrate. Little Grandpa Caruso’s mother had been in America before, from 1913 to 1923. She had married an American, had a son in America in 1917 and became a widow in 1922. She and her first son went back to Santa Maria di Licodia in 1923. It was there that she met and married Little Grandpa Caruso’s father in 1926.
Little Grandpa Caruso’s half brother returned to America in 1933 to live with some of his father’s relatives. His half brother served in the American Army during World War II. During the war his half brother was not allowed to communicate with his Italian family and he did not know if they had survived or not. After the war, the half brother, along with Little Grandpa Caruso’s mother, wanted to bring the family from Santa Maria di Licodia to America for a better, safer life. It was decided that the half brother would sponsor his mother, who in turn would sponsor her minor children to come to America. The half brother was not able to sponsor Little Grandpa Caruso’s father because the last names were different. That was the rule in 1949. Little Grandpa Caruso became an American citizen on April 12, 1954. On April 13, 1954 he filled out the paper work to sponsor his father. It was the best of coincidences that the entire family was permanently reunited on June 14, 1954, Flag Day.
On May 1, 1949, Little Grandpa Caruso and his sister rode a train to Naples where they stayed for three days before boarding the Ocean Liner Saturnia. The ship left Naples at five in the evening on May 4th. The Saturnia sailed out on the Adriatic Sea, through the Ionian Sea, and twenty-four hours later it stopped in the waters of the Alboran Sea at the Strait of Gibraltar. The ship did not dock, but did take on more passengers that were brought by other, smaller boats. The Saturnia was headed south and from the deck Little Grandpa Caruso could see Morocco to the east and the Rock of Gibraltar to the west. After a four hour stop, the Saturnia entered the Atlantic Ocean headed toward America. The ship was carrying about 2500 passengers.
A few hours later, during the early morning hours of May 6th, the water started to get rough. The ocean proceeded to get rougher by the hour and, at times, tossed the ocean liner like a roller coaster. This bad weather lasted for six days, until two days before they arrived in America.
Little Grandpa Caruso had a great adventure on this trip. He was one of the few passengers not affected by the rough waters and used his time on board to explore all areas of the ship. Twice a day he would go up to the top deck and watch the crew, down below, throw the leftover food into the ocean. Large ocean fish and some mammals, whales and sharks, had learned the ship’s routine and followed the ship across the ocean. Little Grandpa Caruso saw some sharks that were eight to ten feet long jump out of the water to catch the food as it was thrown.
Passengers ate in shifts. Little Grandpa Caruso was scheduled for the second bell. Because of the turbulent voyage, the majority of the passengers stayed in their cabins all the time. The fifth day at sea was the roughest and Little Grandpa Caruso did not hear the second bell and was afraid that he had missed his meal. When he arrived at the dining hall there were no other passengers, only the thirty-five members of the wait staff. When he asked if he was late, the waiter for his table laughed and told Little Grandpa Caruso that no one else came to eat, including a rather seasick Captain. That day Little Grandpa Caruso got to share his meals with the entire dining staff. They ate the most delicious dishes generally prepared for the luxury class passengers. The next day the Captain recognized Little Grandpa Caruso’s fortitude and had his eat at the Captain’s Table.
Late in the evening of May 13th, the Saturnia arrived at Ellis Island, where it waited in the water overnight. It did not dock at Ellis Island and did not disembark any passengers there. Little Grandpa Caruso spent hours on the deck that evening, in the shadow of a lit Statue of Liberty, watching the head lights of hundreds of cars going about the city streets on the New Jersey side of the harbor. He was amazed at the site of so many cars at one time in one place. He also spent a long time staring at Miss Liberty and hoping that his life in America would be as promising as her symbolic pledge. The Statue was even more impressive a sight in the early morning light as she loomed large and protective over all the vessels inside her domain. As the morning light rose around her, Little Grandpa Caruso knew that a door, a wonderful new door, was opening for him and his family.
The Saturnia started to move at eight in the morning, through the Hudson River, toward its final docking destination at Pier 14 in downtown Manhattan, at one in the afternoon. At three in the afternoon the passengers began to debark in stages. The first off were American citizens. The second group, which included Little Grandpa Caruso and his sister, were foreigners with permanent visas. The last group consisted of the tourists and other classes of immigrants.
The exuberance and expectations of the passengers and those waiting on the dock created an internal euphoria that Little Grandpa Caruso recalls to this day. He was met by his mother, who he hugged and kissed for several long moments, not wanting to let her go. He was then re-introduced to his half brother that he last saw when he was four years old and truly did not recognize. But now, this man, at age thirty-two, became more than a brother, he became a role model for the family’s new chapter in life…together, in the land of the free. An emotion that defied vocal explanation.
After placing their luggage into the trunk of the car, the re-united family drove to New York City’s Little Italy for dinner before starting the long drive home to Washington, DC. Little Grandpa Caruso experienced the beginning of many firsts that evening. While he was used to vehicles driving on the right side of the road, he was surprised to see the vehicle’s steering was on the left side of the car, as opposed to the right side, as it was in Italy.
At the restaurant, Little Grandpa Caruso ate his first pizza. This culinary delight, touted as an Italian creation, had not yet reached the few restaurants around Santa Maria di Licodia. He also saw his first television, something else that no one in Santa Maria di Licodia owned. It was in the bar area of the restaurant and, being the era of live television, was airing a horse event that was happening as he watched, a few miles away at Belmont Race Track. The picture was in black and white, but this marvel of technology truly amazed Little Grandpa Caruso. America, he thought, was such a great country, full of so many marvels.
They started their car ride home at six in the evening. There was no interstate highway at the time and they had to travel along local routes that took them through Elizabeth, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; Wilmington, DE; and Baltimore, MD; to arrive in Washington, DC at five in the morning. Besides the pizza and the television, Little Grandpa Caruso was surprised that they could travel through so many states without once needing to show a passport to exit or enter a new state. Little Grandpa Caruso was to encounter many new firsts as he adjusted to American life. Those encounters were many and demand to have an article of their own.