Sitting in Ancelia Marchino's living room and talking to her was like being in a time machine and being transported back to a time before most of us were born. She turned 100 on Saturday.
Marchino was born in 1911 in Rovetta, Italy. She spent the first eight years of her life there being raised by her mother and father. She was the fifth generation to live in the stone house in Rovetta. Even more than ninety years later, the memories of that place come pouring out like warm cookies fresh out of the oven. It seemed much more fun for her to talk about the earliest years of her life than her later ones.
She began with stories of her youth in Italy and of the terrace and arbor her grandfather had made to grow grapes before he died. Then she wove a tale about her grandmother and mother using those grapes to try and make a small batch of wine during World War I. When it turned to grape vinegar instead, they gave it away to any of the 300 residents of the small village who wanted some. One day soldiers came bursting in with weapons to their home accusing the women of bootlegging the vinegar for sale. Vinegar was in high demand in the Italian military for an ingredient in ammunition at the time.
Marchino remembers hiding behind her mother as the older women showed the soldiers the little vat where they had stomped the grapes with their feet. The soldiers laughed and told them they were fine as long as they were giving it away and left.
She also relates that the bottom of the house was actually the barn. It was also the warmest portion of the home and the family kept it so clean that it doubled as a living room and a place to stay when the children were ill and needed to stay warm in the winter.
The village was up north and olive oil and chocolate were in short supply during the war. Southern Italy had plenty of olive oil, but up north they had to use common vegetable oil. The area was close to the Swiss border so the women sometimes headed up into the Alps to smuggle chocolate back to eat with their bread for a treat. Her mother went up at times to act as a lookout for the border guards. If they saw some coming they would hold up rakes to point to the groups from a distance the best way to avoid getting caught.
When she was still little, her father traveled to the United States to work as a stone mason in Yellowstone National Park. He left Italy because a general for the Italian Army, whom liked him a lot, warned him of the impending war and advised him that he might want to get out before it broke out. On his way through Rock Springs,, Wyo., he was offered work. After that he went off to Lava Springs to build a major hotel for a contractor. When it was finished the contractor stiffed him and left him holding the bill. He had built the family a home in Rock Springs and a banker offered to help him by taking the house and hotel bill in trade for a farm in Arimo, Idaho.
By then the family had come over. They had traveled by ship for a long period of time. On the voyage over the ship had engine trouble. She and her brothers were awoken early one morning by her mother and told they were holding a drill and to dress warm. The family was put in a life boat. During the day she could see a another boat in the distance and the two ships signaling back and forth with whistles. The life boats were lowered over the side. Finally the boats were pulled back up and they were able to get out and get something to eat. The crisis was over and they made it safely to New York. Other tales of adventure for the family as they negotiated there way from New York to Idaho are too numerous to tell in one sitting.
Marchino did not like Arimo. They did not speak English and no one stepped up to help them. The kids made fun of them and they could not go to school until they picked up enough English to satisfy the teachers. She did end up with a solid education and learned to type 150 words a minute on an old manual type writer.
Marchino also had to step up and take care of her youngest brother right after he was born because her mother was very ill and had to spend time in a Pocatello hospital for four months. Her father worked in the fields and traveled by train to see her weekly during that period so the kids had to take care of themselves. Her mother recovered and soon the family was sitting good, selling potatoes and also cream to the dairy in Pocatello to make ice cream.
Then the Depression hit and everyone stopped buying. Her father had 5,000 sacks of potatoes to sell. A broker came and said he would sell them on consignment for him. The broker came back with no money and told her father that he owed him freight. He ran him off with a shotgun. But they had a small mortgage on the farm to buy equipment over the years. Suddenly the farm was gone. Her father had signed papers that he couldn't read when he got his loan and the man who gave him the money for the equipment got the entire 185 acres for less that $3,000 in debt.
Homeless, the family headed to Utah to work the mines. When a job in the Italian-run Latuda fell through her father and brothers got on at the Greek mines. She thinks one of the places was the mine at Peerless. He also helped lay many of the rock walls still standing all over Helper.
Eventually she met her husband Mario while visiting friends and after two years they got married. He worked as a butcher in Helper for a while. The family grew and soon they had three children. There is Louise, John and Jerry.
Mario was a hard worker and he briefly moved the family to Canyon City, Colo.to work in the mines before returning to Helper and Carbonville to work as a butcher. They lived on the land that is now the Carbon Country Country Club in a small log cabin, eventually building a home on it.
The family scrimped and saved and was able to buy a service station in Carbonville that they ran from 1939-1952. It operated as one of the first convenience stores selling gas and groceries 365 days a year. The kids also helped at the service station. They scraped by during World War II when everyone had to use gas coupons just to get a gallon or two of gas. They sometimes got stiffed when people would fill up their tanks and they say they forgot their coupons and would bring them by next time. Mostly they never saw them again.
Eventually the family bought a motel on Price Main Street where the Subway sandwich shop currently stands. But once Price put up the stop light there, screeching tires from kids dragging Main and slamming on their brakes turned customers away. They sold that and bought the Crest Motel and restaurant that they ran until 1974 when they both retired.
They built a home in the Coves neighborhood. It was one of the very first in that area and is now surrounded by other houses. Mario struggled with his health over the years and eventually passed away. Marchino taught him to hook rugs while he was recuperating at the nursing homes. She was an avid crocheter and quilter. She has had to give that up as her eye sight is fading and arthritis has ravaged her hands.
But she is an avid Jazz fan. Sports have always shaped her life and she reminisced about listening to the radio back on the farm as early as 1915. She was supposed to go help in the fields and told her father she was sick so she could stay and listen to the world series. She loved the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mario brought their first radio in 1934 and they finally got a TV in 1954.
She also remembers the first car she ever saw. It was a red one owned by her uncle. She figures she was only about 28 months old at the time.
When she was little they also only cooked in fire places. When she saw her first stove she wasn't even sure what it was.
There are so many memories and so little time to hear them all. Her family has compiled some of the stories for future generations.
With all her family and friends helping her celebrate on Sunday, she welcomed in the first day of her second century of life.