|April 21, 2000||Volume 7, Number 15|
Residence caretakers heart spans Canada and Italy
By Sigrid Klaus
Tecla Frassetto first became a caretaker on campus 11 years ago, when she had to find "something to do." Her job as a seamstress at a downtown store ended when it went out of business and she realized that staying at home was not for her.
Her husband, Marcello, who then worked for the Maintenance Department, agreed to cast about for possible employment on campus.
"It was in the spring when Residences needed workers. I got a call the very next day regarding a temporary position, which eventually grew into permanent employment."
Shes always worked in the residences first in Saskatchewan and QuAppelle Halls, now in both Wollaston (students with no children) and Souris (married couples with children), in McEown Park.
And she has continued to work six years beyond her husbands retirement.
"I find that Im kept very busy at my job and thats good for someone like me, who has to be busy."
At Souris Hall, shes come to know most of the inhabitants, particularly the children, and is especially touched when they ask her where shes been when shes been off for a few days.
The Frassettos came to Canada from Italy in 1963, never expecting to stay.
"Marcello, who had a brother in Saskatoon, came to work here for two years, he thought at the time before returning to Italy to live. He immediately got a job working on the construction of the Holy Family Hospital, in Prince Albert.
"I didnt work when we first arrived I spoke absolutely no English. But I liked it in Canada almost immediately, and one thing led to another: our two daughters were born here, went to school in Saskatoon after we moved here, and are now married here. So now the die is cast. Well stay where our daughters are."
But Tecla says she and Marcello still miss Italy, where the ties to the country and to their family there remain strong. Both come from Montebelluna, now a small city of about 60,000, located about 60 km north of Venice.
"When we left Italy, the area around Montebelluna, which is very beautiful, was mostly farmland. Now, that area has become highly urbanized, with the small towns all connected."
One of the things that appealed to the Frassettos when they arrived here was that it was possible for one partner in a marriage to stay at home while the other worked.
"Northern Italy, then as now, was full of shoe factories, where many women worked 10 to 12 hours a day doing the delicate stitching on womens shoes. Most families couldnt afford not to have both partners working, if they wanted any sort of life at all.
"Women with young families who wanted to stay at home often did piecemeal work at home. So it was a great novelty here that one partner had the luxury of not having to go to work."
Not that Tecla herself took advantage of that luxury for long. Soon after her first daughter was born in 1964, she began running a small day care in her home.
"I wanted my daughter to learn English as well as Italian and, if the truth be known, it gave me a chance to learn English from the children."
She became an avid listener to radio and TV programs and bought whole series of Italian-English records.
"We also had very kind neighbors who helped us not only with English, but with local customs as well. And we tried not to spend too much time with other Italians, although it sometimes was a relief to get together with them and say something more sophisticated than, My name is ... It was also helpful when our children went to school and I could begin helping them with their homework."
But the Frassettos always wanted to ensure that their children retained their Italian heritage and Tecla says it was a necessity rather than a luxury that they return to Italy as often as possible. In all, shes been back about 16 times, while Marcello and the daughters have returned about 10 times.
"I went back most often because, for years, my father was ailing and I wanted to provide some relief to my mother and especially my sister, who gave up a career as a teacher to care for him."
Their returning so frequently had the great advantage of providing their children with a cultural duality. There was even a time, she adds, when, as young adults, their daughters considered returning to Italy to live.
"But, by that time, our eldest daughter had become a nurse and didnt feel she wanted to retrain. I know that, in his heart, Marcello wishes they had stayed because then, certainly, we would have retired there."
She adds that, for Italians with strong family values, its agonizing to have ones family scattered across two continents.
"Ones heart is always divided, and ones sense of identity always split."
But new family traditions have been born here. The Frassettos have built two houses in Saskatoon the one theyre living in now being a smaller retirement version of their first family home.
Marcello, whose training is in terrazzo (terracing and tiling), has done his best work here and both he and Tecla are avid gardeners. Although this interview was done in mid-March, dozens of potted plants already sat near the windows, ready for planting when weather permits.
"Weve always missed the warmer winters of northern Italy. In many ways, our garden is an attempt to transpose the glorious colors of flowers there to Saskatchewan."
And theyve developed a coterie of family here. Marcellos brother still lives here; three cousins emigrated from Italy to Vancouver; and both daughters one a nurse in Saskatoon; the other, manager of a Winnipeg shoe store have married Canadians.
The Frassettos are contemplating a trip to visit their daughter in Winnipeg one of the first theyll take within Canada.
"After all these years of traveling to Italy, its time we began exploring Canada, too. In this country, children tend to spread out, unlike Italy, where families often remain in the same community for generations."
But wherever their children reside, the Frassettos will remain involved in their lives.
"You want to do the best you can for your children. We regarded it as a matter of honor that we pay for their education."
Thats a sense of responsibility that Tecla feels towards the entire younger generation.
"So many young people need work today. And since Im essentially working to keep busy, I wonder if I should leave early so that one of them could be employed."
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