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Italy, 1946: Mrs. Cesira Slawson, Italian War Bride

Mrs. Slawson met her husband, an American soldier, while his platoon was fighting in her back yard during the latter part of World War II. They married in her home town, Vittoria Apuana, Italy, on September 29, 1945.

     

CS: The way I meet my husband -- his company had planned a big [bivouac] -- to shoot in my backyard. So they were coming in there and shoot to the enemy, and my father got kind of sad because the enemy was shooting back to us. [My husband] was the first sergeant, and so he was there most of the time and that way we got to know each other.

GM: It must have been scary for you. CS: Well, it was. In fact, one day I was sleeping upstairs in my room, and all at once the corner of the house went "bloo-ey!" GM: Oh, my goodness! What a scary time! CS: Yes, yes!

GM: But you fell in love during that time? CS: Yes. So, after we got married, we lived upstairs in my family house for a while. And then because it was getting too hard for my husband to go back and forth from the camp,…I move into the camp. First, I lived in a tent for about a week, and then I went into a rented home that was bigger because nobody was around during that time, everybody left. This was near Pisa, where the Army was living. I don’t remember the name of the camp…

GM: Did your family approve of the marriage? CS: My father, no. He did after awhile, but at first, no. He was against it very much. GM: Did he try to stop you? CS: Well, a little. He let me know that he was not really happy, but not because he didn’t like my husband, because he was afraid that maybe he will just leave me here after we got married. Because, you know, a lot of the soldier did that.

GM: How did others handle your marriage in Italy? CS: I don’t know if it was resentment because you marry an American. But also during the war we had many of the girls, you know, that were going with the soldiers just to get some food. Really, [we] didn’t have too much [food] over there during the war. So many of the girls would get acquainted with the soldiers just to get some food from them. And they thought that maybe I was doing the same thing, that I was giving myself to the soldier for food. So they started to call me bad names. One day, this was after we got married, my husband and I were going to church, and somebody passed by with a bicycle. They call[ed] me a bad name, and my husband heard, and he knew what that meant, already, you know, being there. So he turned and he ran after this person and he pushed him down and before you know, he was in a big fight. That was a bad thing. I started crying, and, you know, that was a bad thing.

Another time [it] happened during the time he was gone or we went to a movie or something like that and that happened over there [and] in the United States. My husband was engaged with a girl over here, and maybe there was some bad feeling about it. I don’t know. But all in all, it was ok.

…But then we started the papers for coming home, because my husband was about ready to come home at that time, because the war was over. This was 1946. He was ready to come home, and of course, he wanted to bring me home, so we started the work, you know, with all the papers, which was a long [process] because you had to do so much to come over into the United States at that time. And we got everything taken care of, and he left, and I stayed there because they didn’t allow the wife with the soldier to come back. So the wife had to come by herself.

GM: So what was it like when you were leaving? It must have been hard to leave your family. CS: It was the most hard thing to do! Especially to leave my mother, because I was very close to my mother -- everybody -- we are a very close family. But things there were not that good, and I guess I was too much in love to date anybody else. Maybe I was, too, thinking only of myself. I don’t know. When we left, my husband and my father had a real long talk, and he told him that he was going to send me back to visit them as often as he could, and he was going to take good care of me, that he should not worry about it. And he put everybody at ease. Of course, by the time we left, everybody love him very much, and they thought he was a very nice fellow. They knew that I was OK. That I was going to be OK, even my mother.

GM: How old were you then? CS: At that time I was 23 and a half… We learned to speak English all together, with my husband…you know, mostly with your hands, you kind of communicated. (Laughter) But when I left, I knew a little bit of English, but not too much. And I finished my English when I came back in the United States, and I went to school, but over there, like I said, we just learned the most important thing about each other.

…So my husband left, and I stayed until it was time for me to leave. And when I left,…I was not alone, I was with many other war brides. They took us to Naples, where we took a boat, one of those big boats. From there we traveled the sea for 12 days, everybody was sick. And then it was during my trip that I discovered I was pregnant, so I was sick all the time!

And when we arrived in New York, they kept us on the boat for another three or four days to take care of all the shots. …In New York, they took us one day to see the city. It was pretty good. They treated us pretty good. The food was good, and everything, but the only thing was that you couldn’t go out. The only time you went out was when they took us with the bus.

Then they put us on the train, of course. Then we came to [each one’s] destination, and I was to come to Milwaukee and all together there were about 2 other girls that were coming to Milwaukee. So the trip was kind of long, and we were tired, and we were very, very afraid. The unknown. What it was going to be, and how they were going to accept us? And very, very tired.

GM: Tell me about the train ride. How was that? CS: Oh… (Laughter) Like I said it was very long, and I was very tired. At that time I don’t know what it was, [but] I think it [now is a] little bit better going from New York to over here. The train was very slow for one thing and then,… the places that we were going to -- some, they were very depressing, and we were wondering where we were going to end up! (Laughter).

And then when I arrived in Milwaukee, my husband was supposed to be there, waiting for me, and, instead, he wasn’t. He was, but he wasn’t there where I came down, and it was kind of scary. I looked around with my other girlfriend. Her husband came right away, but not mine. Of course, I started crying, because I was looking all around, and I didn’t even know the address where I was supposed to go. Maybe I had the address, but at that time I couldn’t think of it. So, my friend’s husband started to question me, and I told him the name, and he said, "I know him." He said, "Don’t worry. He should be here. Let’s look." So we went a little bit further, and sure enough, finally, we did spot him, and he was looking for me, and I was looking for him. (Laughter). So there he was with a big bunch of flowers. He was kind of upset too, not having seen me.

 

So, finally, we got all together, and we took the car, and we came home to the family house. And over there, everybody was waiting for me, and I had a real big reception. Everybody was there, and I started to feel a little bit more at ease. Finally I broke out and cried, because this was all inside me. And I’m not feeling too good because of my pregnancy was not too good.

GM: Did your husband know that you were pregnant when you first saw him there? CS: No, he didn’t. So finally, I had to tell him. And that was big news for everybody, and he was happy, and everybody else was happy. So they had gift for me, and I had gift for them! (Laughter). It was not a son, I was hoping it would be a son, but it was a daughter.

…So from there on, I had to start to learn my English, and start to learn to not be so fussy on my eating because everything was different. And many times, I cooked myself, but still, it was different. There were so many of the foods that I really had to [get used to] to eat.

GM: What were the things that stood out as the most different for you? The things that surprised you the most? CS: When I came in this country? The homes! GM: What was surprising about them? CS: Well, home over here, they are much more different. They are built different and no fences. Over in Italy, practically all the homes, the properties, they have fences. Over here, open, completely open, and then, of course, most of them are made of some kind of wood. The houses, that’s what really catch me, seeing the difference. In the city or between -- [that’s] uncommon from where I came from. Another thing, I think it was the food. That was a big thing.

GM: What was different about the food? CS: Well, it was much different. A lot of the dishes over here, they have sugar. Especially my mother-in-law used to put sugar practically on everything! GM: Yes, that’s very mid-western! CS: I know! And fried. A lot of fried food here. (laughter) GM: That was hard to get used to? CS: Yeah. And the most [different] that I can think of was the popcorn. I never had popcorn before, and I try, and I couldn’t understand what they were eating, and why they were eating it. And corn. You know, they were serving corn with their meal, which I never it had before. Many other things, you know.

But all, in all, my coming to the United States was not bad. I got into a family who accepted me right away and respect me and took me for what I was! It was nice, because many of my friends were not as lucky.

GM: How did people treat you over here other than your husband’s family? CS: [Some people did not treat me so well] at first. But it was [more] in Italy after I got married. But not so much here. I was very lucky. I don’t think I really had too much of that

GM: Are there some things that you brought with you from Italy that you still have? CS: I didn’t bring too much stuff from over there, no. We were only allowed so much. The only thing I had was my clothes and maybe a few things I received from gift. They were not too heavy, like tablecloths, a coffee/tea set that I bought. A few little things like that, but not too much, no.

GM: Have you been able to go back to Italy? CS: Oh, yes, yes. We went back so many times. Not regularly, but many times. I took my children there. The first time I went back it was when my girl was already born. It was ’55, I think. That was my first time. I came to this country in June of ’46 and I had my first daughter in ’47 and my second in ’51. In ’54 we went back. She had her third birthday in Italy. GM: I bet your family was very excited to see you when you went back. CS: Oh yeah. And after that we went every couple of years.

GM: What’s been difficult about being from another country? CS: Well, the language for one thing was very hard. You had to really learn that. Now, if you know that before you come over here, then it is fine. But if you don’t, then it’s very hard. It was very hard when I got pregnant with my daughter, to explain to the doctor, you know, my problem. In fact, one time, I started to bleed and they called the doctor, and the doctor came over, and he was trying to tell me something, and I couldn’t understand him, and I start to cry, because I kept on saying, "I’m losing my baby! I’m losing my baby!" And he was trying to calm me down and [figure out] what was the problem, but I couldn’t understand him. That was the most difficult thing -- really, really difficult thing that I went through.

GM: Are there things that have been easier for you here than in Italy? CS: Probably. For one thing, my father was very strict with everybody. Marrying my husband and coming over here, I was feeling myself. I was not under my father’s thumb at all. And I started to feel a little bit independent, and my husband was not a dominating person, so I was feeling good about that, to be away from my father. (Laugher)

The second, I would think it was because, you feel this – you came in a country which was a free country. It was not dominated by anybody. So you kind of feel good to belong to something like that. And I hope that this freedom will last.

GM: Do you observe any Italian holidays or customs? I assume you cook a lot of Italian food. CS: The holiday, some are different but on the whole they are just about all the same. Maybe we do something different during Christmas.

I would [have] like[d] to keep up with the language. [I did with] my children up to the age they were in school, and then they didn’t want to do more. Cause the children would make fun of them. So it got away. I stopped. I didn’t push it anymore. So I stop. Then when they started to go back to Italy, they realized how nice it would have been if they had kept the Italian language up. So now and then they are sorry they didn’t. They speak some Italian, but we don’t speak Italian in the house. The reason why also I never did, because I needed to speak English.

GM: Is there anything else about the trip over or about being here or what it’s like living here? CS: Not really. Living here was nice for me. Because I learned a lot of things. More than what I would have learned in Italy about living in a different country. I wouldn’t have had the experiences being over there. So many people from all over this country living there, too, but they just come and go. You don’t really learn anything from them. GM: But you’ve learned a lot over here. CS: Yes, right.

 

"Tents Provided for US War Brides and Their Husbands"
"Artillery Gun at the Side of Our House"
"Days Before Leaving for America"
"Very Proud and Happy Couple the Day I Became an American Citizen, and Anticipating the Birth of Our First Child"
 

 

 

 
 
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