"A family tree can wither if nobody tends its roots."


2020, Why Are You Testing Us?

by  Phyllis Zeck

 As if 2020 has not been traumatic enough, fire danger was thrown in to test our resilience. In September wildfires erupted and 40 mile an hour winds spread the Riverside fire dangerously close to our Clackamas County communities. This was historically the worst fire season Oregon has had on record. Towns to our south were being evacuated to Level 3-Go as our home was elevated to Level 1-Be Ready. The little purple houses on the map to the left shows my home as well as my family members. I had never been alerted that my residence was in danger of a wildfire and like many people was oblivious to what the threat actually meant to me. The first time the emergency warning went off on my phone I realized the severity of the danger we were in. Now I had to consider that my home may actually catch on fire, thoughts I was conveniently avoiding thinking about. 

Being ready meant we should video record our belongings in each of the rooms of our home as well as the outside the house. We gathered our most valuable papers and treasures. Well that was a heart stopper.  Where do I start? Of course I scooped up my precious ancestral treasures; Uncle Hank’s 100+ year old prayer book, grandpa Gilbert’s eye glasses and address book, mom’s Bible and Rosary, treasures purchased during my visit to Italy and albums of photos that had not yet been scanned. Lori and I also packed a few clothes. I thought I’d wait to pull papers out of my safe. When we stood back to look at the table I was stunned by the small amount I’d set aside as my most valuable and irreplaceable treasures. I reasoned that if we moved to level 2 surely I would be adding more items to the table. I’m so grateful to say that we did not progress above level 1. The first night brought a fitful rest and the next day I felt a little more relaxed. The smoke was too heavy for us to go outside but the winds had died down. By the following day we seemed to be out of danger and we said a prayer of thanks.

My great grandparents Pietro and Elvira would live on W Harrison St just a few miles from the fire 20 years later. The photo above is a post card of the corner of State and Madison streets (Chicago History Museum) after the Oct fire. Reading some of the articles from the Chicago Tribune is heart wrenching. The fire killed 300 people and destroyed more than 17,000 buildings spanning an area 4 miles long. October had been hot and dry and fires had been popping up throughout the city in the days leading up to the October 8th fire. The city’s waterworks burned on Oct 9th, cutting off that supply of water. 100,000 people were left homeless. Click to view a clipping showing a map of the area from The Philadelphia Inquirer 10_Oct_1871. You can enlarge the clipping to read the text.

On a happy note, Christmas is around the corner. I remember when I was a kid and the Sears toy catalog arrived my siblings and I would get out the scissors, paste and paper to start our wish list which was mailed to Santa Claus. Times have changed. My grandson Kingston and sister Lori are reading the Amazon Wish Book. All Kingston needs is a cell phone so he can text the QR code to Santa!




Masks Masks Masks

by  Phyllis Zeck

Week 17. Our three largest counties Clackamas, Washington, and Multnomah are in phase 1 of reopening. We may have to stay in phase 1 until we have a vaccine. As of July we have a new statewide mandate requiring everyone ages 5 and up to wear a face covering in outdoor public spaces when we can’t physical distance. Coverings are required statewide for indoor public spaces. The good news is our hair salons are reopening along with some restaurants, stores and the ZOO! Ashley and I took some of my grandchildren to the zoo this week and it was fabulous. I felt like I won a get out of jail free card. 

In April my sister Holly busied herself making masks and she’s been stitching ever since. She distributed the masks to hospitals and health care facilities. Soon family and friends wanted to know how they could help. Holly set up a message board and posted what she was in need of which included thread, elastic, fabric and buttons. The donations poured in. Soon health care workers were requesting bands to hold masks in place and scrub caps. My son in law put his printer to work churning out straps. Generous donations of printer filament arrived at Ryan’s house keeping his printer working 24/7. Click here to read an article about a mask shortage during the 1918 Spanish Flu in San Francisco.

Lori and I wanted to know what we could do to help beside buying and delivering supplies. Holly immediatley vetoed any use of a sewing machine by either of us but we were allowed to sew buttons on scrub caps. Holly’s supplies have been shipped from coast to coast, as far as away as Buffalo NY.  I’m so proud of my sister. She has a heart of gold.

What’s happening in US? Crime and demonstrations have ruled downtown Portland for over 50 days. Federal officers converged at the court house and justice center to try to protect federal buildings from vandalism. There is constant unrest dealing with the covid pandemic, being told what we can not do by our local government, a lack of leadership from our federal government, discrimination issues and arguments as to whether or not we should remove 120 year old statues of civil war leaders from town squares. The mayor of Chicago removed a statue of Christopher Columbus (which honors Italian Americans living in Chicago) from Grant Park in the middle of the night. We have historic unemployment and demands that our police forces be de-funded.  

I’m sure that I’m on the wildest ride of my lifetime. I think about how brave my ancestors were to set off on a ship to America with just the basic of possessions and not much money. They survived the Spanish flu, the great depression, droughts, world wars as well as personal battle stories that we might never uncover. I know this time of unrest will pass, and we will survive, but life is challenging right now. 



National Nurses Week

by  Phyllis Zeck

Week 7 of Oregon’s stay-at-home order. Governor Kate Brown has released a three phase plan for re-opening. Each county must meet specific criteria and then submit their county’s plan to reopen. Our virus cases have to be on a downward trend, we need to increase testing and begin contact tracing before we can enter the first phase.

This week we celebrate our brave and compassionate nurses. We’ve all heard amazing stories of the sacrifices nurses have made during this Covid-19 crisis. It takes a special person to go into this occupation and I hope they feel a lot of extra love from their communities, especially now.

I’ve been sucked into the archives of digitized newspapers in the last few weeks. I never should have pressed the subscribe button for a Newspapers.com membership. I will never learn. There were some interesting articles about the influenza outbreak of 1918. Chicago’s nurses were deployed to military camps and overseas due to WWI. Soon after the outbreak began Chicago found itself with a nurse shortage. The ad above promotes fast track training by learning at home through the Chicago School of Nursing on S. Michigan Blvd.

Click on this link Nurse’s Guidelines for Flu patients to read an article which helps guide families caring for sick people at home. It’s from the Chicago Tribune dated 20 Oct 1918. Item 6 under the “essentials” section suggests that avoiding chattering, nagging or questing is helpful in the patients recovery. 

There were a shocking number of parallel’s with the Covid-19 virus we are experiencing today. To the right is an ad printed in the Sacrament Bee on 29 Oct 1918 requesting that druggists control hoarders who are  buying up all the Vick’s Vaporub.

There was a shortage of gauze for masks and hospital beds. The photo below was taken in the Oakland auditorium (Oakland Tribune dated 24 Oct 1918). Tents for flu patients were also set up at the University of California. The ad for Lysol below suggests you use their product for a cleaning agent and also try their Lysol Toilet Soap and Lysol Shaving Cream. As you can see, it was easy for me to get sucked deeper and deeper into the abyss of fascinating articles and advertisements. 




Those Before Us

by  Phyllis Zeck

Elvira Ciolli u Teresina before 1939

Elvira Ciolli u Teresina before 1939

A few months ago I was contacted by Maria who had stumbled across this website. I’d like to share some of the email she wrote to me along with some photographs she sent. Maria’s parents are Inelde Vitale and Angelo Del Principe. Angelo emigrated in 1958 to Switzerland where Maria now lives. Inelde’s parents are Marietta Saltarelli & Bartolomeo Vitale (a tailor).  Maria’s great grandmother is Ester Ciolli. Ester and my great grandmother Elivra were sisters. 

I have never seen the photo above of my great grandmother Elvira. I don’t know the woman next to Elvira. Elvira wrote on the back of the photo “This is Teresina the mother of Lucia.” My grandfather Gilbert’s handwriting looks like his mother Elvira’s.

Maria Filomena was born in Pescasseroli in the 1950’s and lived in her grandfather Bartolomeo’s home until 1965. She has two brothers. Franco is a biologist and Claudio is a cook book author. The photo below is of Maria’s grandmother Filomena, Filomena’s sister Anna Maria, and their parents Nunzia and Gabriele Di Pirro. Filomena’s brother Cesidio Di Pirro emigrated to Buffalo, New York.

The following paragraphs are some memories that Maria shared with me in an email.

di pirro, pescasseroli

Filomena Di Pirro, sister Maria, mother Nunzia & father Gabriele.

My grandfather’s home is just opposite Salvatore’s B&B. this house used to belong to a single teacher, Miss Trella. both houses are located in the old part of pescasseroli near the church. you may find something in google view. grandfather’s house belonged to the ciolli’s and he bought the upper apartment. two rooms, screed, a vault with some chicken a goat and wood for heating, and a separate room in the stairwell. the lower apartment belonged to my grandmother’s brother, he was the father of esterina and salvatore’s grandfather. both families had at least seven children, but some of them died as a child. 

During the Second World War, German soldiers occupied this house, and when the Americans arrived, a bomb fell into a house 20m away. during this time they had little to eat and sometimes they had to ask the american garrisons for food.

del principe

Maria’s Grandparents Marietta Saltarelli  (Ester’s Daughter) & Bartolomeo Vitale

When I lived in this house, I was the only child and it was a beautiful time even though we had nothing, no running water, no bathroom, no heating. my matrasse was filled with corn leaves, which were changed every year. the drinking water was brought home in this typical “conca” of copper by the women on their head. the hot water came from a tank in the wood stove. the bread was kneaded kilos by my grandmother in the house and baked in the nearby bakery. everything was transported on a wide wooden board on the head. We also had none of the laundry,


Photo courtesy of Robert Cipollone

everything came in the washing pan with boiling water and was knocked and rinsed in the river. I had nailed shoes from our shoemaker, my mother and her sisters had only wooden treaders in summer and winter.

The room in the stairwell was inherited from an American woman, who then came to pescasseroli and was paid out by my grandfather. My mother does not know who she was. the room was later integrated into the upper apartment and now belongs to my cousin Paolo vitale.

Domenico Pandolfi abt 1915?These photos were also sent to me from Maria. The photo to the left is Domenico Pandolfi taken approx. 1915. If you recognize anyone in the 3 photos below, please email me so I can add their name to their photo. There is a sadness that accompanies an photo without a name. It’s so important to preserve and share these photos and stories.

I’m very grateful to Maria for sharing her memories and amazing photos. I have a clearer picture of what life was like in the 50’s and 60’s in Pescasseroli and it was not like the image that I had painted in my mind. 



Everything Has Changed

by  Phyllis Zeck

Our world has turned upside down due to the Covid-19 Virus. I never thought I’d live through a pandemic.  I am social distancing but I miss my family and friends. I just want to hold my grandbabies. My heart goes out to Italy where so many have lost their lives.

We watched the virus wreak havoc in China and we were not prepared for our outbreak. We should have listened more closely to our doctors and scientists. We have a shortage of tests. The tests we do have can take up to 7 days to get results. There is no vaccine. On March 16th our schools closed and will remain closed for the rest of the school year. Parents are in charge of making sure their children’s school work gets done. On March 23rd Oregon’s Governor issued a stay home order and all non-essential businesses were closed. There is so much wrong with closing and roping off our parks. We have been in lock down for over 4 weeks.

The United States has a shortage of masks, caps, face shields, and latex gloves for our health care providers. New York hospitals are in crisis with patients over flowing into the halls. They don’t have enough ventilators for patients in Intensive Care. Oregon has loaned New York 140 ventilators. Hoarders have scooped up hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes making it hard for even hospitals to secure these items. People are panicking.

Unemployment claims topped 4.4 million last week. Lines of cars waiting for assistance from food banks snake on for miles. Many food banks are unable to keep up with the demand. Women aren’t allowed to have their husbands in some delivery rooms when they give birth so we’re seeing more mid wives assisting with home births. Animal shelters are being emptied by families who recognize that pets need help now also.

1918 Seattle, WA Streetcar

While I feel challenged and uncertain of the future, I savor the encouraging stories I see and read about. I’m thankful for our courageous first responders and for restaurants who provide free meals to our homeless population. I’m thankful we can order our groceries online and have them delivered. I’m thankful to be able to face time with my family members and watch my grandchildren laugh and play. These thoughts lead me to wonder how our ancestors survived the Spanish Flu.  I have no stories that I can retell of this health disaster. If any of you have a story that’s been passed down in your family, please drop me a note. I’d love to share it. 

1918 Spanish Flu  Detroit, MI   Red Cross