…the story was.
“Leaves Shears for Shoes and Finds a Mate”
That was the name of the article written about my grandparents 87 years ago. It described their wedding day. But, it wasn’t your average wedding day. They eloped. The news-worthy part about that was that Grandma Mamie was only 16 years old. In an effort to prevent this life changing event from happening, Grandma’s mother called the police to block the nuptials. Too late. They were already married. Grandpa Nap was charged with Abduction.
So the story goes, according to Grandma, that Grandpa Nap (Napoleon Bonaparte Fiore) told Mamie one day that they were getting married. She didn’t resist.
The events that led up to the wedding day according to Grandma are quite interesting.
But first, a little history about my Grandfather, Napoleon Bonaparte Fiore. He was born in Fondi, Italy in 1904. He was the youngest of five. During his childhood, his father died. His sister Delores, died of “influenza”, and his brother Alfredo died of gangrene. This horrible condition took his life after he was wounded on the job at the railroad. Although Alfredo was a young adult and theoretically able to make his own decisions, his mother said “no” to having his leg amputated. The gangrene took over, and he died. This left Grandpa and an older brother and sister. His mother agreed to let him come to America at the age of 16 to be with a close cousin in Glens Falls, NY, who was older than him and already married. His assignment was to become “worldly” and return home to take care of the family. It turned out that Grandpa didn’t return to Italy in time to ever see his mother again. This idea always saddened me as a kid, leaving a anxiety-filled pit in my stomach.
Grandpa had a “Goombah” in Endicott, NY, and for some reason, decided to move there and settle in, with the idea that he would return to Glens Falls in the future. He had begun barbering in Glens Falls, a trade that he would eventually retire from. But when he moved to Endicott, he found work at the Endicott-Johnson shoe factory.
He lived at a boarding house next door to the young Maria Tonelli, AKA, Grandma Mamie. She had quit school at the age of 14 to help the family financially because her father was ailing from Black Lung Disease that he had contracted from working in the coal mines in Pennsylvania. She worked at the Endicott-Johnson shoe factory. Besides being Grandpa Nap’s next door neighbor, she was also his co-worker.
Grandma tells the story that Grandpa told her that he was moving back to Glens Falls (which was about 3-4 hours away), and that he wasn’t leaving Endicott without her. She agreed to go with him, so naturally they had to get married. For three days before leaving town, Grandma would come home from work, go to her bedroom closet, pull out a few dresses and corselets, roll them up, and “fire” them out the window. Grandpa would come along, pick them up, and stuff them in a suit case. On the third day, instead of getting on the bus for work, they got into a cab that was waiting for them behind the bus and made their way to the train station. Several hours later, they found themselves in Glens Falls, with Grandpa’s cousin Peter, other relatives, and a Justice of the Peace waiting for them. They were immediately married.
Meanwhile, Grandma’s mother figured out what was happening, and contacted the Endicott police, who then contacted the authorities in Glens Falls with the instructions to prevent this wedding from happening. Grandma was just a kid. Grandpa was 21. During their reception, an uninvited Detective Kennedy showed up and arrested them. Instead of a leisurely and special wedding night, they went to jail. Grandma explained that her accommodations were comfortable, but Nap was thrown into a cold cell. She felt really bad for him.
While these two kids were simmering in jail, Grandma’s older brother, Adolph convinced their mother to let them go and live their lives. She finally agreed and ordered their release. She dropped the “Kidnapping” charges against Grandpa.
When Grandma told me this story, she emphasized the fact that there was no real romance going on between them, and she really couldn’t figure out why she went along with such a scheme. And, 60 plus years after their wedding day, she still felt bad about hurting her mother. But, she and Grandpa grew to love each other deeply. She regarded his family, here and in Italy, as her own. They reciprocated. They were married for 56 years before Grandpa died unexpectedly at home one night in 1981.
Every now and then, throughout the years, I can remember my father telling a little joke about this whole ordeal. He would say: “People would ask me what the Lock-up in Glens Falls was like, and I’d say, ‘I don’t know, but my mother does. Ask her.’” And although it is an amazingly interesting story, I’m completely sure that it was a living nightmare for Grandma and Grandpa.
After their civil wedding on March 5th, 1926, they had a church wedding on the 14th of March.
It’s so hard for me to think of my Grandparents throwing caution to the wind and following through with such a poorly conceived plan, but partially because of their haphazard actions, I’m here on this earth, enjoying the rhythms of life.
And continuing to be in awe of this love story.