Recollecting the Record Snow of 1956 in Abruzzo
I hope, this is my last post about the record snow in Abruzzo. Today, we are expecting a warm spell which will kill the snow. But who knows! Today I went across the snow field to visit my new friends. The snow is almost knee-deep and is rather solid. So I managed to move not sinking in below its surface.
Signor Albano is a Montesilvano native. He has been living here all his life, except 9 years of emigration in Germany. In 1956, he was fourteen and remembers that time very well. He said that in 1956, there was far more snow and the temperature was lower. There were hard times because they had to survive on their own.
Here I give word-for-word his eyewitness account.
The snow began on February 2 and lasted till March 20. In Montesilvano, the snow was 1.5 meters high. In those days, there were only three houses in the neighborhood. All the territory was occupied by fields and olive plantations.
Their family had a small plot of land where they cultivated olives, grain and vegetables. They also raised chickens, some pigs, cows and sheep. They lived on what the land brought them. They were relatively better-off because they were small land owners and didn’t work under the mezzadria (métayage) system. That means that a family rented a plot from a big landowner and gave him half of the harvest.
That winter, they had enough grain, flour and oil, so the big family which consisted of 14 mouths didn’t starve. They used to barter their prods for manufactured goods or meat. There was neither electricity nor gas, so they heated the house with a firewood stove. They also had to keep their animals and poultry in the house. They hadn’t got a car or a tractor, and actually there weren’t asphalt roads, only one earth road. Of course, nobody cleaned the road. If they needed to go somewhere, they harnessed a cow to a cart to pull them through the snowy road. They didn’t keep a horse because it was very expensive. That year, nearly all the plants were perished from the frost, and that is why the next autumn the crops were poor.
Signor Albano also told me some interesting facts about the history of Montesilvano and his family story. At the beginning of the 20th century, this area was entirely agricultural. There were some fishermen huts on the seaside but all the inland was occupied by fields. Actually, there were only two big landlords who owned the land in Montesilvano and Cappelle sul Tavo. His grandfather was “nobody’s son”, that means that he was a natural child of a landlord and a peasant girl. When he was 18 years old, he immigrated to America. He stayed there many years and managed to save up a certain sum of money. When he returned home in 1903, he bought two plots of land. Now, his 57 descendants still own these plots. Signor Albano owns a small olive plantation.
Though Sg. Albano worked all his life as a motor mechanic, he has built two houses all by himself. In fact, the houses of his family make a whole lane. His father’s house built of sand and terra still stands in the corner of the street but nobody lives there.
I was amused to know that the whole micro-district of new houses (palazzi), including my own, occupies a former field. It belonged to the signora who grew vegetables and sold them on the local market. When she died ten years ago, her heirs sold the lot to developers.