Katie was born near the end of the line of the thirteen original Carfang children. It was among this large family that Katie undoubtedly developed characteristics that would make her loved by those who knew her, especially Alex, Ralph, and Joe, her three sons, who were not factors in her life until 21, 31, and 33 years after her own birth. All three sons have outlived by far Katie who died at age 48 and it is strange for them to view her as both a mother and as a young woman of remarkable strength and character.
Katie was one who was acquainted with physical pain from early adulthood. Without complaint and with a great deal of courage she taught her three sons that pain could not only be dealt with but that it could be overcome. When Katie saw that the tears triggered by her pain were scaring her sons, she could turn her pain into laughter. For just as her tears of pain could scare her sons, she also knew that tears of laughter could relieve Al, Ralph, and Joe's anxiety. Whether it was her familiarity with pain or just her nature, Katie was incapable of inflicting pain on other living things - even to the point of capturing spiders, which disgusted and frightened her, and releasing them unharmed outdoors.
Perhaps Katie's greatest personal indulgence was dancing. Dancing was an example of where the tears of joy came before the tears of pain, for Katie knew that the day after dancing arthritis would drive her to distraction. Nevertheless, no one heard Katie express regrets over her excursions into the world of dance. Certain sacrifices were worth the effort. One of Katie's most wished for indulgences was not to have to cook or clean house. (A daughter would have appreciated this attitude even more than sons.) She did both well, but she made it pretty clear that she did so not out of love for the task, but because necessary work should be done well. Even before her three sons were old enough for garden work, Katie had begun to instill in them the Italian Work Ethic.
In 1942, Katie learned what it was like to have two sons, seven and five, Ralph and Joe, get sick at the same time. She must have been beside herself as Ralph got the mumps, whooping cough, measles, and tonsillitis (and resultant tonsillectomy) in succession while passing the same onto Joe. Ralph and Joe still vaguely recall the misery of the ailments and the beauty of being treated like babies. Being loved and accepted by Katie, even when not lovable, was something all three sons took for granted. She had become an indomitable source of comfort and security early in their lives.
Nineteen forty-four through 1945 was an especially difficult time for Katie. Ralph and Joe heard an almost nightly bout of muffled crying behind the closed bedroom doors of their parents. Katie wrote frequent letters to Alex who was stationed somewhere in the Pacific as a member of the Army Air Force. The letters from Alex were also frequent, but their haphazard delivery was often separated by weeks and those intervals were absolute torture for Katie. With neighboring families being notified of the deaths of sons, the fear that no mail meant the possibility that Alex had been killed haunted Katie. Only the end of World War II ended her anguish.
Through the years Katie maintained lifelong interests that gave her joy. During the summer months she rarely missed Rosie Rosewell's description of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball. Along with Rosie , she suffered with the Pirates more often than celebrated, but it was a game she always had time for. The soaps, especially "Helen Trent" and "Portia Faces Life", were also favorites. Katie enjoyed movies at the Hollywood Theater (usually with her York Peppermint Patties) and Photo Play Magazine, either bought at the drug store or borrowed from our neighbor, Agnes. (On occasion Agnes would loan her books, that Katie obviously treasured, for she kept them high on a shelf in her clothes closet out of sight and reach of young eyes and hands.)
One of Katie's major disappointments was not having a daughter. The doctor's kindly announcement that her third born was yet another boy was greeted with the request that said boy be unceremoniously thrown out of a nearby window. Joe senior, still looking for a namesake, chose a good time to deny one of Katie's requests. Her disappointment did not prevent the newborn from receiving the same love and care his two older brothers got, and it undoubtedly played a major part in Katie's having nieces as frequent guests, and the joy with which she welcomed into our family, Louise, her first daughter-in-law, and later, Linda, her first granddaughter.
It is fashionable today to urge parents to read with their young children. Long ago common sense told Katie to sit at the kitchen table with her sons and listen to them read their school books and to encourage them. And long before parents had to be "taught" to present a united front in dealing with children and discipline, Katie and Joe would work out their parental disagreements by talking in the privacy of their bedroom or by speaking Italian in the presence of their sons. Knowing that there was no chance of "divide and conquer", Alex, Ralph, and Joe, learned that to try that tactic was to offend their parents. At the same time they were given the security of always knowing what to expect from their parents.
Katie received her diamond wedding ring, one that could not be afforded earlier, on her twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Having waited that long for her first diamond, Katie made Joe promise that if she died before him, he was to make sure that the ring was buried with her. Five years later Joe honored Katie's request.
Joe was born in a small village on the side of a steep mountain in Italy near the turn of the Twentieth Century. Brought to America by his father to earn a better living, Joe, at the age of l5, was abandoned by his homesick father to the kindness of strangers, friends, and relatives. That his father was unable to take Joe back to Italy with him, his sons, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are grateful.
Coal mining, a skill learned in Italy, was the only job Joe could turn to in America. And not yet knowing the language of his new country, it had to be a mining job where other Italian immigrants worked. Joe often told his sons, especially on pay-day nights, of having to crawl into mines on his hands and knees and in that position wielding a pick and shovel to get at the coal. He also told of the long hours and the long weeks. This was a time before unions, which were to play an important part in Joe's future.
Joe was very proud of the work he did in the mines, but he did good work not because he loved mining or the companies he worked for. He had to do good work to feel good about himself. It was a badge of honor to have fellow miners tell others that you were a good worker. And though Joe spoke with pride of his work in the mines, he never wanted any of his sons to have to work there. On his own Joe learned to read English and even though unable to write English, later in life he became treasurer of the California Gun Club. He was able to keep the accounts in his head and the numbers were always right. There was never a complaint about his work. Unaware of the specific advantages of a formal education, Joe knew without doubt that to get ahead in the world you had an advantage if you did well in school.
Matters related to food were always special for Joe. When the family excluding Alex during his Army time, ate supper together, and that was every day, Joe exhibited some strange behavior. A product of hard times and the Great Depression, in hind sight, it is understandable and not strange that Joe expected his sons to eat whatever was prepared and to clean their plates. Being the father who had to support the family it was also just understood that Joe would always get the first serving, first choice of whatever was for supper. What was strange, and it boggled the minds of his sons who liked the white meat of the chicken and the lean cuts of meats, was that their father's first choice was always the neck of the chicken or other pieces of meat that the sons did not like or want. It was not until going to a steak house with his 60 year old father that his youngest son learned that Joe, like most other people, had always liked the good parts of a steak, too.
Joe's parenting skills developed rapidly with the birth of his first and only son for ten years. For this Ralph and Joe have always been mostly grateful. Nevertheless, for the two late coming sons it seemed that Joe applied these skills in an inflexible manner. For example: Joe learned that buying a BB-gun for a twelve year old Alex was unwise after said twelve year old shot him just above the eye with it the first day he had it. Ralph and Joe still feel it was unwise of their father to have refused their request for BB-guns when they turned twelve. Another example: Joe learned that getting a snow sled for a thirteen year old Alex was unwise when said thirteen year old collided with an unyielding oncoming car on a snow covered road. Ralph and Joe STILL want their sleds. Nor was what Joe learned from Alex about cars ever forgotten. Suffice it to say Joe never had a single comfortable hour in a car after Alex got his Chevy Coupe.
And then there was the "GARDEN". Joe was always proud of his garden. He hunted and he fished, but his garden must have been a special haven and comfort to him. He had a little garden in his yard and usually found someone with unused land who would let him turn that into another garden. It must have connected him to the plots of ground he helped farm near his childhood mountain home in Italy.
Beyond that, however, Joe used the garden as a way of teaching his sons the Italian Work Ethic. At different times all three sons were responsible for helping to spade the garden, to help with the planting, and they were primarily responsible for the wretched weeding that had to be done by hand. A hoe would not do because too many roots would remain. By hand a person could get on his hands and knees and get close to the earth and wiggle those damnable weeds until they came out roots and all. Of course, the weeding always came at a time when the three sons had something more pleasurable in mind, and they fondly and steadfastly remember this chore as less than desirable.
In Joe's later years he lived with Ralph and Donna, his middle son and daughter-in-law. His grand-parenting skills, developed with Linda, Alex, Jr., and Jerry, were now primarily directed toward Russell and Catherine. And Russell and Catherine, the inheritors of all Joe learned about children from his three sons and three older grandchildren, did NOT have to weed the family garden on their hands and knees.
One of the proudest days of Joe's life was when he was finally able to afford to buy Katie her diamond wedding ring on their Silver Wedding Anniversary. He had always felt bad about not being able to give her more material stuff, and his and Katie's joy were one that day. Nearly forty years after her death, Joe's final comfort in life was knowing that his request to be buried next to his beloved Katie would be honored.
Katie Carfang Photo Index