My great grandfather, Andrea (Andrew) Fia, was born in Italy in 1884 and came to the United States through Ellis Island on April 7, 1910. (My great-grandmother, with my grandfather and his two siblings in tow, arrived three years later). Andrew worked as a laborer on the Nicholson Bridge in Pennsylvania (Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct–the largest concrete bridge in America when it was completed in 1915) and the Goethals Bridge. He eventually settled in West Orange, New Jersey.
Later in his life, after my great-grandmother passed away, Andrew lived with my grandparents in Parsippany, New Jersey. He spoke little English. While he had no interest in returning to the place of his birth, he was definitely a product of the “old world.” I met Andrew, but I was too young to remember him.
I thought about Andrew today as we commemorate the fiftieth-anniversary of the moon landing. My father tells the story of watching the moon landing coverage on television at my grandparents’ house in Parsippany. My great-grandfather, who was usually a quiet man, refused to believe that space travel was possible and thought the television coverage was a hoax. During the coverage Andrew sat in his chair in the living room yelling at the television: “that’s bullashit.”
My grandfather had seen the invention of the telephone, the automobile, and the airplane, but as an uneducated Italian immigrant in his mid-80s he could not get his head around the moon landing!