My grandfather was born Antonino Giammanco on December 4, 1886, the son of Filippo Giammanco and Vincenza Randazzo. We are unsure whether he was their actual son or if he had been dropped on their porch, as was the custom in those sparse times when people could not provide for an extra mouth in the family. Desperate parents would often place a baby in a basket in front of homes that were capable of providing for the newborn. The Giammanco family had 15 other children, so they must have been catching a lot of fish! We have been told Grampa may have been a “spirito santo” child. He was not close with his siblings in later life, and we don’t know much about them.
Antonino fished in the port of Sferracavallo, near Palermo, Sicily, but sailed off to America to make his fortune fishing off clipper ships out of Boston. He took Giroloma Cracchiolo (1891-1968), daughter of Leonardo Cracchiolo and Caterina Aiello, as his bride around 1912 in a ceremony that began with her arrival to the church on a donkey. Every year he returned to his bride with a pocketful of money and a twinkle in his eye. After three such trips home, the family grew to include Vincenza, Caterina and Filippo (my father). Finally, my grandfather had enough money to bring his entire family to the United States. My dad was just 18 months old when they left Sicily. Their first stop after a transcontinental search for a home in the land of prodigious fa bene was in Pittsburg, California. A short time later, Antonino decided on Monterey as the best place to live and fish--settling on Pearl Street, just a few blocks from San Carlos Cathedral in one direction and Monterey Bay in the other.
Immediately after he immigrated, my grandfather became 150 percent American. All Italian names evolved to fit in with the new country. Thus, Antonino became Anthony; Giroloma became Geraldine, and the three children--Vicenza, Caterina and Filippo--became Virginia, Catherine and Phillip. The next three children, being American-born, were immediately known as Vincent, Frances and Rose. When the grandchildren came along, Anthony insisted he and his wife should be called Grampa and Gramma, not Nano and Nana.
My father, Phillip, went to school until the eighth grade, then—as was usual in those days—he was put to sea, working a man’s share at the age of 12. My dad’s younger brother, Uncle Vince, was quite the fast talker and romantic fellow, a regular Don Juan who had many adventures. One of these included somehow appropriating a car when he was 14 years old and driving toward Salinas for some fun. Unfortunately, Vince was stopped by the police and unceremoniously returned to his parents. That ended that adventure and led to some creatively arduous jobs aboard his father’s boat to keep him busy.
Grampa—or The Captain, as he was called--started out with a small, unnamed boat with a one-cylinder engine, which made the motor sound like the boat in the movie The African Queen—tok-ita, tok-ita, tok-ita. This type of boat was called a “one-lunger.” Later, he acquired the Geraldine, a 32-footer with a Monterey hull whose keel was laid in the 1920s. He fished out of Monterey Bay until 1950 and was responsible for catching and bringing in the first albacore. He didn’t even know what kind of fish it was and had to have it identified by an instructor at a local college. When he retired, Grampa’s boat went to his sons Phil and Vince. He never got back on a boat again; but the sea was still in his veins, because one of his favorite pastimes in retirement was carving model ships from redwood. He created detailed replicas of the clipper ships he fished from in Boston for each of his grandchildren. Each one was unique, fitted with riggings, sails and ladders and made from all kinds of scraps he collected.
When Grampa went out alone on the boat, he took his dog with him for company. Long before cell phones and Internet were invented and even before telephones were readily available in homes and public places, Anthony devised his own ingenious method of communication to let Geraldine know he had returned from the sea and soon would be coming home for dinner. When he landed, he put his faithful dog ashore; the dog would then run home, thus alerting Geraldine to start boiling the water for the pasta. Uncle John Cracchiolo, my Gramma’s brother, had an equally effective way of signaling his wife, Bertha, in New Monterey two blocks up from Lighthouse Avenue: Because he learned to play the bugle in the Italian Army, he would toot his bugle as he came into the Bay as he passed his house to let her know he was on his way home.
Grampa Antonino navigated all the way along the California coast to San Pedro without benefit of radio, sextant or even a compass, by spotting markers on land. Old Eagle Eye--that was what Uncle Vince called him—would spot markers on land for navigation without any mechanical aids. He knew the seas so well that he could open the window of his house on Pearl Street and sniff the air and touch the sill to determine if it was a good day to fish. My dad taught me how to use a compass, but he still, like Grampa taught him, also used the markers of Point Sur, Point Lobos, Cypress Point, Point Joe and Pescadero Point along with formations where the Santa Lucia range ends at Point Lobos.
Dad and Uncle Vince found that they had the best success fishing from Point Lobos to Point Sur where the rocks grabbed many nets. They, as well as Killer Nash, Pete Arestentinko (The Russian), Sal Costaldo, Tom DiMaggio and a bunch of Lucidos, Brunos and Russos, called this area “The Ranch”, because it was so abundantly filled with cod, ling, snapper, boccaccio, yellow tail and more. They used balongodies, wooden baskets which were slightly convex and lined with cork, to set the 360 hooks baited with mackerel or squid and placed on long ropes dipped in formaldehyde. People who fished this way were called “long-liners.
During World War II our family, like all those with members born in Sicily who were not U.S. citizens, had to register as “enemy aliens”; we had to move to Salinas for a time, because we had to be away from the coast. Boats were often confiscated, but ours were not, perhaps because my dad was serving in the Navy. When Dad received his draft notice and went to the call-up, he made sure to take along a nice, iced box of salmon to give to the officer in charge. He wanted to serve in the Navy rather than the Army. Nothing “fishy” about it, this little bribe seemed to work. He sailed right into the Navy and served out of San Diego as a storekeeper. His brother Vince went to sea. After World War II when Phil and Vince got out of the Navy, they bought a landing craft from the USN in San Diego; they took the engine out but then never did anything with it. After the two brothers inherited the Geraldine, they bought the Little St. Anthony and took the boats out together, lashing them to each other to fish.
My father, Phillip, also fished albacore and salmon, whatever brought in the best money. Albacore was caught in waters of at least 59 degrees--only El Nino brought water that warm close to shore--so the boats had to go very far out and stay long enough for a good catch. Once, when I went out with my dad for a week of albacore fishing, all I could think of was having been deprived of candy apples during the trip. However, this was quickly forgotten once we got back to the pier. On one fishing trip for albacore outside the steamer lane, the swells were so large that an ocean liner looked like it was only two inches long. After a day’s haul Dad and Uncle Vince would tie the two boats’ sterns together and throw albacore from the Geraldine over to the Little St. Anthony, because the Little St. Anthony had a larger hold and, more importantly, refrigeration.
At sea, the depth of the ocean prevented use of an anchor, so my father and uncle devised an open parachute in the water to keep the boats holding against the current. One time I got to go out on the Sea Fox with Uncle Joe Cricchio when cousin Cosimo (now called Coz) was part of the crew. Cousin Anthony (Frisbie) and I were nine years old and big enough to help, but we were counseled just to watch. “Only help if you know what’s going on,” we were told. Finally we were relegated to keeping the skiff from hitting the boat. “Pusha the skeef, goddammathee,” is what I remember an old-timer shouted at us.
Fishing was always hazardous. My dad got blood poisoning from a neglected knife wound on his hand, and this hindered him for some time. The many dangers of life at sea prompted him to look at other opportunities for income, and he eventually purchased Cavaliere’s Fish Market in Watsonville, changing the name to Anthony’s Fish Market to honor my Grampa. My brother Anthony and sister Lynda worked there with my father for many years. Each day my Dad would go to the wharf in Monterey when boats were just docking after their catch, and, because of his connections with all the local fishermen, he would get the cream of the crop of all catches for his business. My dad was very successful, but his property was taken by eminent domain for Watsonville’s urban renewal. The block that my dad owned, where Anthony’s Fish Market was situated, became the location of the Watsonville Post Office. When Anthony’s Fish Market closed in the mid-1980s, my dad decided it was time to retire. He died in 1989.
My mother, Lena Giliberto Giammanco, came with her family from Trapani, Sicily, to America in 1932 at age 13 and lived for several years in New York City until her family moved on to Monterey, where she met and married my dad in 1943. Trained as a seamstress in Sicily, she also worked in the fishing industry. When her six children--Geraldine, Anthony, Phillip (me), Stephanie, Lynda and Joyce--were all of school age, she went to work packing mackerel and squid for more than 20 years for Monterey Fish Company in Sand City. Like her husband, she was a hard worker. According to her boss, Sal Tringali, “She put the other workers to shame.” She lived until 2000, dying at age 82.