Stop at New York Harbor Changed Man’s Fate

Italian forfeits arranged marriage when he falls in love with a young widow.

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One of the better aspects of aging is the pleasure of remembering, not only the things you have witnessed, but true-life stories passed along by those who lived them. Take, for instance, the one about Mama and Papa and how they met.

In the 19th century, life in Italy was quite stereotypical. Like most of his contemporaries, my father-in-law, Pietro Ettore Riola, was a student of languages, law, medicine and philosophy at the university. After graduating in 1899, he was sent on an extended tour of Europe and the Western Hemisphere, after which he was expected to settle down in a properly arranged marriage.

The scenario was set. Fate changed all that. At a stopover in New York Harbor.

Amelia DeCesare Valentino joined the other passengers, including Pietro. She was a young widow, barely 20, and much too young to sink into permanent mourning. To get her out among people again, her doctor had recommended a sea voyage. You've guessed the end of this narrative, I'm sure.

Amelia and Pietro met aboard ship, immediately fell in love, and, by the time the leisurely voyage was over, were thinking in terms of marriage.

Of course, it wasn't as simple as that. Back in Naples, Pietro's family did not look favorably on his sudden wedding plans. Especially since this unknown bride-to-be was not of their choosing.

After much "serious consultation," it was decided that Pietro and the wife of his choice would make their home in the United States. His father agreed to finance him in a new business venture as a chemist.

The family honor was saved!

And that's the tale of the Americanization of this particular Riola family, a true love story with a happy ending.

Sara Hewitt Riola
Lakewood, New Jersey

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.