Today marks an end of an era. My grandfather, James H. Sansonetti, Sr. passed away. He lived 102 years 9 months and 18 days on this earth. He was the son of an Italian immigrant. The patriarch. An architect. A banker. An entrepreneur. And MY grandfather. I held him on a pedestal even as he got older and grumpy. I couldn’t help it. I always looked up to him. (The picture is him at 101)
I think why I have always been in awe of my grandfather is because of everything he has seen in his life. He was born in 1907. He lived through every American war in the 20th century. Too young to fight in WWI and too old to fight in WWII. He saw so many advancements in science and technology in his life time. As a child he would create radios from a Quaker Oats container, copper wire, and galena crystal. As an old man, he would proudly show you his remote control for his hearing aids. He was always fascinated by my latest gadgets. When I visited him, seeing my digital camera almost made him giddy. He couldn’t believe that you could take a picture and see it instantly.
On his 100th birthday, I made him a cake and had his senior high school picture made in to a sugar sheet and placed it on his cake. He couldn’t believe he was seeing his picture on the cake and it was edible. He called my aunt to tell her he was about to eat his face. It made us all laugh.
He never let me record his stories about when he grew up… so if you don’t mind I would like to take a few moments to archive them here.
My grandfather liked the girls from a young age. In the fall, he would take the corn used to feed the animals and fill up his pockets before school. To show a girl how much he liked her on the way to school or in the school house he would throw pieces at her to get her attention. He told me it got him in a lot of trouble with the teacher but he continued to do it because he wanted to get the girl’s attention. When I asked him if it worked. He told me no but he didn’t know any better at the time.
My grandfather graduated from high school in 1925. He was the editor in chief of the year book. In his yearbook there was a section “Why the Seniors went to school for the 4 years” His response was “to learn the dictionary.” Maybe that is where my love of learning came from. He nickname was “Turkey” and he never did quite explain that to me. He was know for being bossy… and I have to say, that was dead on! My grandfather definitely had a knack for telling people what to do and how to do it.
My grandfather has his name is on a patent from the 1940’s. I never knew this until one day, I did a search in Google Patents just out of curiosity. It was for a Fabricated Brush Holder. It was designed to be used on direct-current machines to help save the usage of copper and brass. No, it’s not an exciting patent but its a patent none-the-less.
One of the most emotional phone calls I ever had with my grandfather was when I was standing on Ellis Island looking at my Great-Grandfather’s name carved in a granite wall listing the names of all of the immigrants that came through in the late 19th and early 20th century. He was so proud that I was able to see it.
My grandfather and I always had a connection with history. For the first part of my education career I taught US history. When I taught the 20th century history, it was so meaningful to me because I had him to help me experience it. He told me stories like … in 1936, he and my grandmother just moved in to a house. They could barely afford the rent. It was winter and my aunt was just a baby. They didn’t have enough oil in the heater to heat the house for winter so they just did the best they could until one day the landlord came by to collect the rent. My grandfather let him in and the landlord said, “This house is too cold for a baby to be in.” My grandfather told him it was all they could do to eat and pay the rent. They did not have money to buy oil. The landlord left and the next afternoon, the oil truck showed up to fill the tank for the winter.
Throughout WWII he rationed his stamps … I was able to show my students real artifacts and help the history come to life through his stories.
My grandfather and my grandmother met on a blind date in 1930. They were set up by their best friends. He told me that my grandmother didn’t like him very much when they first met but she eventually warmed up to him. When they got married my grandmother was a maid on a train. Typically at that time if you were a young single woman, you had to quit the job on the train because married women could no longer be maids. My grandfather and grandmother pleaded with the train owner to let her to continue to work because they needed the money. The owner agreed but my grandmother was not permitted to wear her wedding band to work.
My grandmother passed many years ago and I know now they are together again and making one another happy again.
Thank you for letting me share a little of my grandfather with you. I know I babbled through. My mind is being flooded with memories. I will miss him but I am so very fortunate to have had him in my life for so long.