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Random Rochesterite: Inge LoIacono

One resident, numerous anecdotes

Name: Inge LoIacono

Occupation: Retired

Age: 86

Where we found her: Writing class

I interviewed your husband, Emilio, a few months ago. He said you have stories, too. Well, I was born in Europe, so I have different kinds of stories. They’re not necessarily happy ones, unfortunately—having been born during Hitler’s time in 1933. Dad had a bit of Jewish blood in him and did not want to take a chance. So my family fled from Germany through Poland into Hungary.

How old were you? I was five years old. Our son once said, “How could you remember all that? It must’ve been Grandpa telling you.” But it was not. Those traumatic experiences stay with you.

What memories do you have from that time? One incident was being on the train, going to Poland, and Dad did not have a ticket. So Mom would say to the conductor, “He’s in the restroom.” That went on back and forth.

You were probably pretty nervous. Yes, yes. Then, as we were reaching Poland, the tracks were blown up behind us. Just flying behind us, because of the war. … My mom was always the quiet one, keeping things to herself. Dad was very sure of himself, very confident about what he wanted to do. Saving his family was his main concern. Dad and I did not get along, but I have to give him that. He always thought of us.

What was it like starting over in a new country? My dad put me in a boarding school so I wasn’t really exposed to a lot of what was going on. I do remember that during the war, my parents worked for a Russian general who was stationed in our home. My parents cooked for him and his staff, and they made my parents taste everything right in front of them prior to serving it—to make sure they hadn’t poisoned the food. I can still smell the soldiers if I think about it. They had this disinfectant that they bathed in.

How did you land in the United States? My parents ended up working for an American consul who sponsored us to come to the U.S. This was in 1948. I was 15. Again, my dad just had a sense that things would not bode well for Hungary. And he was right. We came to the U.S. just before the Iron Curtain dropped—with nothing except what was on our backs. My dad had $36 on him that he had to put in his shoe so that they wouldn’t find it. Because the Hungarians stripped you. Communism was already there.

Where did you first live when you came over? We came in through New York City and we lived for a short time in Providence, Rhode Island with the consul’s family. I was put in boarding school, at which point we ended up back in the city. Dad never took any welfare. He did not believe in it. He was a restorer of antique furniture in Europe, and was also a lumber salesman. He went door-to-door in New York to find work and he did, restoring antique furniture. That’s how we survived.

Did you know English? No. My parents had to go to night school, and they learned the basics of the English language. They put me in the same boarding school I was in in Europe—Convent of the Sacred Heart. So then I had to learn English. Sink or swim.

What was boarding school like? I was made fun of. We were called greenhorns. They made fun of my clothes. We couldn’t afford very much. I accepted all of that. My parents put me there and I accepted it. After four years of high school I applied to colleges and I was accepted at Fordham University in Manhattan. I went there for two years.

Did your parents know that school was tough on you? They felt it, too. They worked for the White Rock owners in Rhode Island—White Rock was a soda. My mom did all of the cooking and my dad did the butlering. I was in school, but in the summer I stayed with them. They weren’t nice to my parents. I had started learning the English language by then and I heard them calling my parents “greenhorns.” I told my dad, and he just left everything. He said, “I’m not going to put up with that.” That’s how we ended up in New York.

Do you remember your first date with Emilio? It was a blind date. We went out with another couple—a friend of Emilio’s and the friend’s wife. I worked with her. We went out to dinner, and after we came back I couldn’t sleep. I thought, “OK, this cannot be. Why am I restless and sleepless? I don’t want to get married!” That’s when I knew.

Why didn’t you want to get married? I just thought I was getting too old. Forget it. I had made up my mind that if I didn’t meet the right person I would not get married just for marriage’s sake. I was happy with my life and career.

Where did you work? I was an executive secretary for Hanes Hosiery. Our offices were in the Empire State Building, and then we moved to Rockefeller Center, across the way from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We could watch the St. Patty’s Day parade out the window.

Does it feel like you’ve been married 57 years? No. Not at all. We never thought we’d make it this far. We live in the moment and don’t think about it in that way—in how long it’s been. I do think sometimes, what would I do if he goes first? It would be an awful separation.

What’s the secret? Marry the right person. We just complement each other. I am an A personality. He is more easygoing—and really quite tolerant of me.

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Jen has an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and writes for the Post Bulletin and Rochester Magazine. She enjoys live music, adventure, and teaching writing classes. She lives in Rochester with her husband and two sons.

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