TEACHER, REALTOR, MUSICIAN, SINGER-SONGWRITER
WRITTEN BY ANNAMARIE DELLA SALA-STANTON
I was born on August 22, 1950, in Carmel Community Hospital the first child of Charlie and Rose Bruno Della Sala’s children. I had the great fortune to grow up in one of the most beautiful places in the world--Monterey, California--with loving parents and two brothers, Anthony and Chuck, and two sisters, Kathy and Maryann. My mother’s parents, Giuseppina “Josephine” and Giuseppe “Joe” Bruno, were both born and raised in the city of Isola delle Femmine, Sicily, Italy. I have Bruno, Cardinale and Lucido blood running through my veins. My grandmother’s maiden name was Cardinale, and my great grandmother was a Lucido. My grandfather, Antonio Della Sala, was born and raised in Forino, Italy, east of Naples, before emigrating to the United States.
My family lived on Jackson Street and then on Pacific Street until I was almost five, and I was immersed in the Italian life there--the sounds, sights and smells were all around me especially living on my grandparent’s property in the front duplex on Pacific Street. Italian music poured from open windows, friends called out greetings to each other in animated Sicilian, and fishermen conversed as they mended the nets stretched across my nanu’s property; the wonderful aroma of marinated olives in barrels, pungent provolone and parmigiano cheeses and spicy salami at Roma Market only a few walking steps away, and of course the smell of garlic simmering in spaghetti sauce for hours. I loved eating warm bread right out of the oven freshly baked by my noni Giuseppina. I don’t remember her speaking anything other than Sicilian. Her love was expressed through smiles, hugs and food. My parents did not encourage me to learn to speak Italian, because of the 1950s concept of the “melting pot” meaning everyone should blend together, but I knew many Italian words and phrases and took them in like a sponge--andiamo (let’s go), mangia (eat), molto bene (all good), bravissimo (excellent)--and of course all the swear words!
In 1955 when my parents had saved enough money to buy a lot on John Street in the Del Monte Grove area of Monterey, my father, with help, built the family a brand-new home walking distance from my aunts, uncles and cousins, but several miles away from the Italian community on Pacific Street. I attended Del Monte School for kindergarten, San Carlos Parochial School, Walter Colton Junior High, and graduated from Monterey High School in 1968. I spent two years at Monterey Peninsula College before transferring to San Diego State College (now known as University of California at San Diego). I was the first in my extended family to attend college.
At San Carlos School we wore a uniform—a red sweater, white blouse, and red plaid skirt. That was a great equalizer. I wasn’t aware or bothered by the secondhand aspect of my clothing until around sixth grade, when I noticed some fellow students arriving at birthday parties in very fashionable clothing. That year my godmother bought me a beautiful new lavender dress, and I was so excited that I hung it in my closet and slept with the closet door open so I could see it first thing when I woke up. In junior high home economics class I learned to sew. My mom, encouraging me to follow in her mother’s footsteps, offered to pay for any material I wanted. The JC Penney store on Alvarado Street had a nice selection of fabrics and patterns. By the time I was in high school I had become quite proficient and was able to sew dresses, tops, skirts, pants and jackets. One of my favorites was a four-piece outfit--a brown pin striped wool jacket, pants, vest, and skirt. For my high school graduation my parents bought me a top of the line $250 Sears Kenmore sewing machine, which I still have. I loved the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 as much for the music as I did for the opportunity to see great fashion ideas on the attendees--big city styles from San Francisco and L.A.--fashion as an artistic expression.
Although I did baby sitting at an early age, my first steady paying job was at the Monterey Public Library. In 1966 shortly after getting my driver’s license, I was involved in a minor fender bender and given a citation which resulted in a day of work at the public library. Being very energetic, as I finished each job assigned to me, I asked “What’s next?” The librarian, impressed with my work ethic, asked if I would like a job; I was hired with a starting pay of one dollar an hour and worked there part time while attending high school. After six months I was offered a job at Mac & Mac, a woman’s clothing store on Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey. The pay was $1.25 an hour, a 25 per cent raise, so I accepted the job and worked there after school and on weekends until I graduated from MPC and moved to San Diego to attend San Diego State College. During the summer of 1971, I came home from San Diego State and I worked for Monterey Fish Company at the last operating cannery on the peninsula. My family history was brought full circle at that moment in time--canning sardines and loading boxes of squid made me a small part of the fishing legacy of my grandfather, uncles, mother and aunts.
During high school I had another small side job, keeping score for the wrestling matches at Monterey High. One afternoon while walking to work at the clothing store, I heard a group of boys shouting while two were throwing punches at each other. Without hesitating I ran across the street and put one of the fighters in a full nelson wrestling hold, a move I had observed many times during the wrestling matches. (Thanks Coach Hurley! If my memory serves me that was a 50-cents-an-hour gig.) The crowd dispersed, and my knee-jerk reaction to “save someone” was accompanied by a rush of adrenaline--heart pounding and hands shaking. Luckily, and I did feel lucky in life, no one decided to throw a punch at me.
I was raised with a strong work ethic through both word and example and two often repeated sayings: “If there is a will, there is a way,” and “Don’t bother people.” “If there is a will, there is a way” gave me a sense growing up that all things were possible. Not to bother others and do it on your own was so engrained that it made it extremely difficult for me to ask for help during most of my life. Often it “takes a village” to accomplish something, so in a sense not asking others to pitch in and help limits what can be achieved.
Although my father was actually a first-generation American born in the Little Italy section of the Bronx in New York City, he was raised from the age of three to 19 in Forino and Naples, Italy. Influenced by the traditional Italian thinking of that time, one belief that my father truly took to heart was that the man’s responsibility was to be the bread winner. After my high school graduation, I told my parents I wanted to attend college. “You are just going to get married, you are not the breadwinner,” was my father’s response. Imagine my shock hearing that after having been told and shown by example you can accomplish most things if you just put your mind to it and work hard! Never had I heard, “…but only if you are a man.” At that time my father had been living in the United States over 20 years, but he had not budged on this concept. Ultimately in his later years, he admitted to my brother Chuck that he was wrong in holding fast to that way of looking at life.
During that summer before I enrolled at Monterey Peninsula College the blow-up between my dad and I included lots of loud yelling. I can’t really remember arguing with him before that, because he had never put limits on what was achievable. I stayed with a co-worker from Mac & Mac for two weeks, shed a lot of tears and broke out in a rash on my face. (The doctor diagnosed it as flat warts brought on by stress and told me no medication was necessary if I just calmed down.) After two weeks I returned home agreeing to a compromise: I would attend Monterey Peninsula College for two years just to study business, because “I was just going to get married, and I wasn’t going to be the breadwinner.” Less than one month into the first semester I dropped two business classes and told my parents I wanted to be a teacher, which meant a four-year college degree and a fifth year for a teaching credential. The flat warts disappeared, but it created a willingness to stand up for myself which resulted in heated arguments I previously had never experienced. I actually believed if I just kept talking my dad would hear my side and change his mind. I know what you are thinking, very naive. Knowing how strongly my father felt about this made me question that even when people love you and want the best for you, that best is through their eyes and their life experience and may NOT ultimately be the best for you. My dad and I had been very close growing up and I loved and admired him greatly. All this new yelling was a heart break!
Concerned about giving us children an inflated ego, my parents did not give out
complements very freely. They often spoke proudly about us kids in conversations with others but didn’t praise us directly very often. In my senior year of high school I was invited to dinner at my boyfriend William’s house. His mom complimented me on my outfit (remember my favorite brown pin-striped one?), and when she saw me hesitate to respond, she said, “Just say thank you.” That evening I had another eye-opening experience. When William’s mom served dinner, she brought out plates for each of us with food portioned out on them, with no extra food on the table or in the kitchen. At home we always had family style dinners with bowls and plates of food on the table, always enough for seconds, leftovers or an extra guest. We didn’t eat out in restaurants as a family, because with seven of us my mom would say, “We could eat for a week on what it costs to go out to dinner one time.”
In 1970 when I was ready to head to college in San Diego, I told my parents I wanted to live with my boyfriend, William. My dad said if I did, he would not pay for my college, but I said that is what I wanted to do. Out of respect, I met with my aunts and uncles and let them know what I was intending. I had been working part time since I was 16, and in those days state college fees and rent were very reasonable. I worked each summer and paid my own way. At San Diego State I had a double major—fine arts and social science. I was enrolled in art classes (pottery was my favorite), music, psychology and general education classes. We lived in Ocean Beach and rode the free flower-painted bus from Ocean Beach to State College each day.
While at MPC I had attended bible-study classes lead by Rick Riso. I would often ask myself, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” A year later when I was driving from Monterey to San Diego by myself in my Volkswagen Bug, I saw a male hitch hiker on the side of the highway. It was after dark, and I asked myself--you guessed it--“What would Jesus do?” I pulled over and picked up the young man and dropped him off near UC Santa Barbara. Shortly after that the Tate La Bianca murders in Los Angeles were headline news and I don’t remember ever picking up a stranger again.
After a year at San Diego State William decided he wanted to take a semester off and travel through Europe. I transferred to Chico State for the semester, but I missed him as well as the proximity to the ocean and felt like a fish out of water. My dad said, “if you get married, we’ll pay for your trip to Europe.” So in 1972 at almost 22 I married William Smith at the San Carlos Cathedral and celebrated with 250 family and friends at the San Carlos Hotel (where the Marriott Hotel stands today). William and I spent nine weeks in Europe landing first in London and going on to visit, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway. With a backpack, the book Europe on $10 a Day and a 60-day Eurail Pass, which allowed unlimited train and subway travel, we had a great experience meeting people who loved Americans and went out of their way to be friendly. In Italy I especially loved the beauty of Florence and Venice, the feeling of stepping back in time historically walking down cobblestone streets. We traveled south to Naples, but never made it to Sicily. Regretfully my parents at that time discouraged me from looking up family because I did not speak Italian and they did not speak English.
After our European adventure we returned to San Diego State, then moved back to Monterey after graduating. I enrolled at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (now Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey) and earned my teaching credential. I was hired by the Monterey Unified School District in the school where I did my student teaching, Hayes Elementary on the old Fort Ord. During the summer months, following in my parent’s footsteps, I began to invest in real estate and purchased a few houses in Seaside. I had gained experience helping my mom fix up my parents’ rental properties while I was in high school, so I did the painting, wallpapering and staining of cabinets myself and hired workers to install new flooring, and remodel bathrooms. I studied for my real estate license and from the profit I made from the sale of the Seaside properties, I was able to purchase a seven-unit apartment building in the Oak Grove area of Monterey. It was my first sale and purchase as a realtor.
I loved going to school, learning new things and being with friends. As a child, I had a chalkboard in our garage and played school with kids in the neighborhood, so it was not surprising I became a teacher. After several years at Hayes Elementary School, I taught at Olsen School in Marina before moving to Santa Monica and working at Sherman Oaks Elementary. Over the years I taught kindergarten through sixth grade, but my favorite was kindergarten.
I had another love and that was music. It began as a young child with accordion lessons on Alvarado Street at ABC Music. There used to be a large photo displayed in the downstairs section of Abinante Music, and I was smack dab in the middle of the photo with my white pearl 120 bass accordion as part of the accordion marching band. I played accordion for the family and loved practicing. I played accordion until one day when, during a Walter Colton Junior High School music class, I heard Manuel De Maria play the song Louie Louie on guitar. After that, I was hooked and switched to guitar. I don’t remember having any fear when performing with the accordion--maybe just the age, starting over with a new instrument, being a beginner—but I did feel intimidated once I combined singing with playing guitar.
William had been a very supportive partner, and we had shared some wonderful experiences, but something was missing. I went to counseling and decided a break would be helpful. Shortly after the decision to take a break, I ran into Robert Stanton, who had been the last person in high school I had dated before William. There was a strong attraction I could not resist. In 1979 Robert and I were married in a small informal outdoor wedding ceremony on 40 acres overlooking the tranquil Elkhorn Slough and William was invited. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to share my life with two very loving and supportive people. Robert and I have currently been together for over 44 years.
In 1980 I took a year off from teaching to attend Cabrillo Junior College and enrolled full time in music classes. During that year, I sang and accompanied myself on guitar as a soloist and as part of a band performing in Santa Cruz at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, UC Santa Cruz, Cabrillo College graduation, church and for a few weddings. During the summer of 1983 Mona Wilson, a voice teacher whom I had met while attending Cabrillo College, encouraged me and a group of her students to attend a month-long workshop in Los Angeles. During that workshop I committed to performing at 10 open mics in L.A. clubs. I was so inspired by the musical energy and creative support, I called Robert to join me for the last week of the workshop. Robert was a graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, an accomplished guitarist and songwriter, and had already released a solo album of original guitar pieces. Robert had said to me “I would rather live in a cardboard box, than NOT do music.” I challenged him, “If you really want to do music for a living let’s make the move to Los Angeles.” I applied for a year leave from Monterey Unified School District, and three weeks later we were living in L.A. I enrolled in a one-year program at Dick Grove School of Music, and Robert enrolled at the Guitar Institute on Hollywood Boulevard. At Dick Grove School of Music the year culminated with a band performance at the historic, Whiskey a Go Go, on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. I was joined on stage by Robert and artist Rick Riso.
One evening at an open mic in a small club in Hollywood I performed an original tune and a cover of “Chuckie’s in Love” by Ricki Lee Jones. After the performance two different people approached me and both expressed very passionate reactions. One said, “I loved the original tune, but not crazy about your version of “Chuckie’s in Love.” The other said the opposite. What a great lesson to trust yourself with your choices, because everyone sees things differently through the lens of their life experience and what speaks to their heart.
Living in L.A., I was able to attend many songwriter workshops and songwriting critiques put on by A & R people from various record labels (Artist & Repertoire—record company talent scouts). It was at one of those workshops that I met Hank Linderman, an excellent songwriter and recording engineer who, it turned out, lived only a few blocks from me in Santa Moncia. Hank and I set up a weekly Saturday morning session to work on arrangements and record original songs I had written.
That evolved to performing songwriter showcases with Hank backed by Robert’s instrumental band, Freeway Philharmonic.
After a year of substitute teaching, I applied for a full-time position and was hired by Los Angeles United School District at Sherman Oaks Elementary as a kindergarten teacher. At that grade level the kids are high-energy and enthusiastic, filled with wide-eyed wonder and very responsive to music, rhythm and rhyme.
Many of my students’ parents were professional musicians or actors. The school put on several large fundraisers each year; over the 17 years I taught there, I put together various back-up bands performing mostly my original songs at the fundraisers. I also did 8:00pm performances at a club in Santa Monica called At My Place, which some parents and some students would attend. It was a very supportive environment both as a teacher and a singer songwriter.
I was athletic as a child (good hand eye coordination) and it came easily. I loved to climb trees, jump off the garage roof (ouch! but no broken bones), body surf, skim board, and play sports especially, basketball and baseball. I was a strong hitter and played pitcher and first base in high school gym class. When I was growing up, baseball leagues for girls didn’t exist. I would go and watch my brothers play and felt it wasn’t right. So where did I play? On the street, in the city park a few blocks from our house, and at school. While attending MPC, I played in a pick-up game, and I was the only girl in it. No pity here, hold your own or you don’t play.
In my early thirties I joined a Santa Monica city co-ed team which at that time was
in the C league. As different players joined the team, we moved up to the A league. I was playing first base and there was a guy playing short stop who did not want a female on first. He made a point of throwing the ball as fast and hard as he could. I rarely missed catching the ball, but I broke my middle finger trying. My claim to fame was when I hit a home run. “Girl at bat, move up,” turned out NOT to be the right call. I hit the ball over the fielder’s head, and because the field was not perfectly flat the ball went rolling. I ran to first base only to hear, “Keep going, keep going,” as I rounded third and cleared home base. Getting to wear a uniform was a thrill for me after all those years of not being able to play on a league team, but the cherry on top was the homerun. The memory of it still puts a smile on my face.
During the 23 years we lived in Santa Monica we never missed a Monterey Christmas. After 32 years in education and about to turn 55, Robert and I decided it was time to make the move back to Monterey. My parents and his mother were getting older, and we wanted to spend time with them. We loaded up a 24-foot U-Haul truck and made the road trip back to Monterey on July 1, 2005. Having sold our Santa Monica condo for top dollar--the real estate market was fortuitously hot-- we had money in our pockets and jumped right into a major remodel of our Monterey home which had been rented out and cared for during our absence by my parents’ owned Pacific Street Real Estate, Inc. I loved doing the demolition and designing the open floor plan, choosing cabinets and flooring, countertops, lighting etc. That led to working with my brother Chuck in designing the updates for the family-owned Colton Inn which included new furniture, carpeting, wall art, paint colors and lighting.
Playing music with Robert took on a different life once we moved back to Monterey. I began playing bass on songs he wrote, both instrumental and vocal tunes, and singing harmonies. I play guitar on songs I write and Robert backs me up with interesting fills and solos and sings harmony. It is a creative break from day-to- day responsibilities and is now mostly for our personal enjoyment and shared sometimes with friends and fellow musicians.
I had been back in Monterey about six months when my dad asked me to attend monthly meetings of the Italian Heritage Society. Anna Panetta was president and my dad vice president. The IHS had recently hosted a Sicilian Band from Italy at the Sunset Center, hoping to earn money for an Italian American Cultural Center. Instead, the expenses to bring the band from Sicily, house them and the less than sell-out crowd, cost them thousands of dollars. Concurrently a board member who was in the process of writing a grant to the Italian Embassy for funds for the cultural center was diagnosed with cancer and the grant was never completed. Some members of the board were discouraged and resigned, but Anna and my dad held fast to the idea of a cultural center.
In 2010 Anna shared that she was dealing with some health issues and asked if anyone would be willing to take her place until she felt better. When no one else volunteered, I stepped up and said I would hold the position with her assistance and hand it back when she felt better. It turned out we worked so well together she asked if I would be co-president with her. I have served on the Italian Heritage Society board of directors for a total of 14 years--four years as a director (2006-2009), seven years as co-president (2010-2016), and six years as president (2017-2022).
The Italian Heritage Society hosts a yearly honoree dinner held at the Monterey Marriott honoring Italian members of the community for their community service. One morning in 2013 I woke up thinking, “If we can’t have a cultural center right now, what could we do to preserve the heritage?” At the next IHS meeting I said to the board, “I would like to do a book of fishing family stories.” The board responded with moans and groans that other books had been written, but Anna turned to me and said, “If you want to do a book, I will support you in doing it.” With the help of Mike Ventimiglia and the board, we cut out all the bios of former Santa Rosalia Grand Marshalls from the yearly Festa Italia magazines. With that start I made announcements at ICF dinner meetings, put an article in the Herald newspaper and did interviews on David Marzetti’s Saturday morning Shagbag Show requesting stories. Once stories started rolling in, enthusiasm grew. It took a year and a half to collect 72 stories for the first edition of Italian American Fishing Families of Monterey; it was printed in September 2015. A second edition with 19 additional stories was published four and a half years later in March 2019. Over 1,000 copies have been sold locally and through our website.
A third book Italian Americans: “We Don’t Just Fish!” is the follow up book to Italian Fishing Families. Containing 86 stories and almost 600 pages, I wanted to chronicle the stories of those who were not involved in the fishing industry. It was a two-year journey accomplished by a team of three--me, Mike Ventimiglia and Rosemary Metzger--collecting, editing, formatting and placing the photos.
ItalianHeritageMonterey.org--One evening I received a phone call from someone asking if they could purchase a copy of the Italian Fishing Families book to bring to family members on a trip back to Sicily, but we were temporarily sold out. I had the thought: If we had an Italian Heritage website, we could upload the book and make it available to people all over the world. At the next honoree dinner, I asked if anyone could help create a website for the IHS and Will Elkadi, owner of eLab Communications, offered to build one. He did a great job and loaded the first book onto the website where you could turn the pages and read each story online. As we expanded our collection of stories, bios of honorees and photos and created the capacity to purchase honoree dinner tickets and books, we converted to a different website platform with the help of Elizabeth Panetta. Again, another great job!
In addition to serving on the Italian Heritage Society board, I have been co-chair of the Merienda Committee for ten years. La Merienda, put on by Monterey History & Art Association, celebrates the founding of the City of Monterey. I have felt privileged to work with all of the dedicated Merienda Committee members including Chris Shake who elevated the food experience at La Merienda to a buffet extravaganza. It truly takes a “village” to pull it off each year. In 2022 MHAA presented me with the Laura Bride Powers Memorial Award for community service and historic preservation. I am currently serving a second term as corresponding secretary for the Italian Catholic Federation (ICF).
In the mid 1980s I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. At that time many doctors did not believe the condition was real, because there was not an individual test to verify the condition. Modern medicine had not yet made the important connection between the functioning of the digestive tract and the health of the immune system. I went on a long and winding road of trying alternative medicine, herbs, vitamins, supplements, and acupuncture in an attempt to feel better. I developed and still have a sensitivity to cleaning products, perfumes, out-gassing from new carpets and new cars, paint etc. Getting my health back was the focus of my life for many years, and gradually, by building the health of my digestive tract and studying nutrition (remember, you are what you eat), as long as I don’t overstress and overextend, I am doing well.
I love learning new things, writing songs, playing bass and guitar, working in the garden, designing and remodeling spaces and organizing. I love solving problems by finding a better, more efficient way to do something. If you say it can’t be done, it’s a challenge to find a way. (If there is a will, there is a way.) I love to sing, dance and move to the rhythm of music. It puts a smile on my face and fills my heart as does my love for Robert and our four-legged fur baby Chewy, also known as Chuigi!