His name was Terrenzio Domenicucci, a man from Italy who, though he did not make a big splash in life as measured by some, did give Daddy the Banker more than his share to others; much more than he received in reward.
Unfortunately, I may have forgotten just where he came from in Italy. I think it was Genoa or Lucca, where most of the immigrants living in the Mason Valley, Nevada area seem to have come from. Anyway, it is of little importance now. He was a grown man at the time of my birth in Colorado, in 1915.
Somehow Terrenzio, who had probably entered the United States on the East coast, found his way to San Francisco and found his way to the Italian section of the town, as would be expected, where he lived for some time among people who spoke his language and followed his way of life. I know very little of those years. Then something happened to change everything.
One morning as he went to work he found all his co-workers very excited. They were discussing what they were going to do now that the United States had entered the war the previous day. It was the beginning, for the United States, of war against “The Central Powers: Germany, with Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria, I think, against England, France and now the United States of America with some other allies. It was proving to be a terrible war. If I understood Terrenzio correctly, most of the Italians in the group he worked with were to be seen at the Army recruiting office by noon that very day.
As you would suspect, Terrenzio was accepted and went into the Army immediately, starting his training in a day or so after having his “shots” and being fitted with shoes and uniform and presented with his army issue pack, etc. At the time his English was limited to the few words he had used when he arrived in America and Terrenzio never got to the point of fluency that many Italian immigrants achieved. There was never any doubt about his intelligence, however. I am sure that there was never a time when Terrenzio was at a complete loss for words; he always seemed to be able to make himself understood.
So Private Domenicucci marched off to war, slogging along with some fifty or sixty pounds of tent (shelter half), a couple of raspy wool blankets, wooden tent pegs, entrenching tool, extra shoes, socks, shirt, underwear, canteen, cartridge belt, steel helmet, about 20 feet of wool strips four inches wide called “leggings” wound around his calves, some hardtack biscuits, the makins for cigarettes, etc. etc., plus a bolt action repeating rifle and clips of cartridges (I can’t remember what else because World War I was before my time) trying to learn the words and tune to the marching songs of those days, like “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and SMILE, SMILE, SMILE.” Things like that when he could manage only a few short sentences in English to begin with. But Terrenzio learned fast.
It seems that things moved pretty fast in other ways, too. It seemed no time at all until Terrenzio was to be seen sneaking along in a trench in France, dug before he arrived, occasionally peeking over the edge to see if there were any Germans sneaking across “No Man’s Land” in the rain to try to kill or drive out the French, English or Americans who occupied the trench. And then, before long, when the wind was coming from the German trenches toward the “allied” trenches, the Germans (Huns, Beusch or whatever) would turn loose some poison gas such as phosgene or mustard gas to kill or maim their enemies. This was terrible, and as luck would have it, Terrenzio was caught in one of the German’s gas attacks and his lungs were severely injured. I understand that it was many months before Terrenzio was even able to partially function, and of course, he never fully recovered. He was awarded a small sum each month in permanent disability pay.
It is my understanding that his record as a soldier in the war speeded up Terrenzio’s naturalization process and soon he was given full American citizenship so now he was accorded all the many rights and privileges that American citizens enjoy; nobody could be more happy than this son of Italy was. But he still was very shy and self deprecating. He never got over that and the fact that he was not in America as a member of a large family had the effect of steering him away from many of the activities the majority of Italian immigrants enjoy. Nevertheless, he must have kept good contact with others of his kind except that, due to the disabling effect of the gas, went along year after year without being able to carry on the kind of associations leading to marriage and a family. So Terrenzio ended up a bachelor.
Times were tough and money was hard to come by, especially for a man in his position; no family in America with whom he could attach himself, join a group and enjoy the safety and comfort of being one of many as most of the Italian immigrants were. And, as you know, he still had a language problem and no one to give him the tutoring he needed. He was indeed on his own in a complicated and sometimes hostile world. And to top that off, he still had a pair of badly damaged lungs which prevented him from doing a full day of strenuous labor. He was somehow able to eat by getting help from other people of Italian descent who made it possible for him to let the government know where he was so that his disability checks would get to him, as he moved around. Knowing a good many Italian immigrants and their children as I do, I know that Terrenzio did get a lot of help from those very generous and kind people.
Following the end of World War I, there was a lot of unemployment among the war veterans and a lot of strife resulted, with veterans demanding the payment of a bonus that had been promised them. Dissent was put down with brutal force. This was in contrast with the programs that sent thousands of veterans of World War II to college and to other schools at the end of that war. Anyway, I very much doubt that Terrenzio got a decent bonus for his service.
Anyway, after a lot of moving from one place to another it seemed that Terrenzio had found a home. He found a place to live in a little two room house owned by a widow, Mrs. Baldini, who also owned two or three more houses in a cluster there in Yerington, Nevada and depended on the rents from them for her living. She herself was an Italian immigrant and understood the trials and problems of the almost penniless bachelors who rented from her. Terrenzio’s disability pension gave him enough so he could pay a few dollars rent but not a great deal more. He tried to pick up some money with small jobs around town but there was no way that he could hold a permanent position in the local economy. There was just no way this man could marry, settle down and rear a family as most of the Italian immigrants did, and generally speaking, were very successful.
When I first went to work at what was then called the First National Bank in Reno, later changed to First National Bank of Nevada, the janitor was a retired man I knew as Mr. Johnstone, who, like Terrenzio Domenicucci, was living next to starvation on the pittance he had from, I surmise, the beginnings of the Social Security program and what he could make working around town. You see, we were still in the middle of the worst depression the United States has ever suffered. I, myself, had just been more or less in the same position having worked as a store clerk, out on farms for wages like a dollar a day and bed, two summers as a comb cutter in a honey extract wagon, and I don’t know what all as well as spending a good deal of time unemployed, when a job opened as a bookkeeper, teller, etc. in the bank at the end of August, 1937. The job started at sixty dollars a month (the manager got a hundred and twenty) and was supposed to be a “permanent: one, with opportunity for raises,” I was told. After I had been there about three months I got a raise to eighty dollars a month. But that is a different story.
Old people keep getting older, but when I told Charlie Williams, the chairman of the County Draft Board, to put me on the next list to go, Mr. Johnstone was still working at the bank as janitor. When I got out of the Army in the spring of 1946 and returned to the bank, Mr. Johnstone had retired and Terrenzio Domenicucci was there in his place. He treated me with great deference and courtesy from the start. In a short time, I was promoted to Assistant Cashier and not too long after that was transferred to the Eureka Branch as Manager since Mr. Siegman was sent to Minden. Then after a couple of years during another shuffle as they were going to transfer Yerington’s Manager to Las Vegas, Louie Rosaschi started a petition in Yerington asking that I be returned to that branch. They did it, and I went from a very pleasurable job into a hornet’s nest. Maybe I should tell you a little about it.
Terrenzio was there when I went back to Yerington. You can believe it when I say I was glad to see him. The Anaconda copper mine was just getting started. It was a big project; having a couple of hundred workers getting the mill into operation, and some eight hundred construction men busy building a whole new town in preparation for houses that the permanent crew would need as the mine and mill continued to operate and produce copper. Each of these workers got a paycheck every week. Since the mining company paid about twice as much wages as the bank was allowed to, you can guess where the fastest clerks went to work.
That is not to say that the people who worked for the bank were dolts, that they were not good workers. They were unbelievably true and loyal employees and proved it over the next few years while I was there as manager. I don’t think there was ever a better staff from the standpoint of loyalty than mine. Perhaps it was from the leadership of our Chief Clerk, Jim Morrow. More about him in another narrative. Anyway, the little crew of seven did almost heroic work in the Yerington Branch during those years, with no relief from the Head Office, and Terrenzio struggled with us. Since we were so swamped with the sheer volume of transactions, on most days he did his best to work around other members of the crew, since they all had to work until perhaps seven o’clock each evening to balance the books, he had to work even later to get his chores completed. I never heard one complaint from him as to the extra difficulty he put up with on this job. All I saw from Terrenzio was cheerful smiles as he went about his arduous tasks of keeping the place clean and clear of debris from the mobs who crowded the bank from about nine a.m. until long after we were supposed to be closed every day.
At long last most of the eight hundred construction men had completed the building of the town, called “Weed Heights” at the mine, and the work load was a little reduced but it was still more than we should have been expected to do with that little crew of seven when there should have been twelve. Terrenzio the janitor was still forced to work much later than he should have as a result of the four hundred workers at the mine plus the increase in the volume of business in the town itself. We were all getting closer to being “burned out” as the months went by without some relief from the Head Office.
Finally, construction was begun on a new bank building and while we struggled on it seemed that it would never be completed. Many a month went by before it was done. Then we had to move everything to the new building while continuing taking the town’s business. We did it, and when we did, it left Terrenzio with a bigger building to care for. He made no complaint but I sent a request to the Head Office for a pretty good raise for him, and he was aghast! He said, “No please Mr. Crawford, donna do dat, if I get too much here, maybe they cut off part of my disability pay for good, then what I do? When I get old, I starve”.
Well, we did some figuring and came up with an amount that we could pay Terrenzio without his losing any of his World War I disability pension.
Time went on. We were now working in a new building. All we had to do was get all the records from the old building that had been stored up in a little attic above the vaults in the new building. Like the attic in the old bank, the attic in the new bank had no ventilation, so when you worked up there you nearly suffocated just as you did in the old attic. Great improvement. I liked that.
I went to Fabri’s hardware and bought a new push broom and some other stuff for Terrenzio, which he needed badly. I hadn’t realized in what bad shape the old ones were and Terrenzio had never complained, so at least some progress was made but the new building was made of concrete blocks which are pretty porous and there were a number of things that the workmen had been a bit careless about, but he took care of almost all of the flaws himself, with no help. However, one day I went to work and found a pile of dirt on the floor next to the south wall. Ants had decided to take up housekeeping just outside the porous bricks. It was a pretty big pile of dirt. I told Terrenzio about finding it and he apologized as though he had put the dirt there; took all the blame. It was OK when I told him about the ants and went to Fabri’s for some ant killer and he was very much relieved to know I didn’t blame him. Terrenzio was a pretty sensitive man.
Now, he was always thinking about something he could do for us in addition to just his janitor work. As a hobby, he made wine. He made good wine, both red and white varieties. Just before Christmas he would bring us a bottle of each kind. I recall him saying as he brought the two bottles, “I think you like, it’s the bess I ever make.” And I think it was true; I believe he got more and more expert as each year passed.
And our family began to get bigger. A new baby girl came along ever so often. This did not escape Terrenzio’s attention. After each one came he would bring me a couple of bottles of his great wine in celebration. But he would never accept an invitation to come and have dinner with us, I think it could have been partly that he just did not have a suit to his name and according to the way things were done in those days, I was always to be seen in a suit while at the bank. Perhaps he thought that he would be viewed as “low class” if he went to someone’s house not dressed in one. I really don’t know.
The janitor’s job at this branch of the bank should have been done between about five p.m. to perhaps 6:30 each working day, and Terrenzio’s job paid him only enough for about that much work, but due to the way we were swamped every day, he always had to put off some of it until others could get out of the way so quite often he was still on the job at eight thirty. Of course this made his time for dinner much later that it should have been but I never heard one complaint from him about it.
In the new bank we had a new vault, all complete with two combinations on each door and the standard time lock built in, so that when it was closed only at a set time would it be possible to open the vaults.
Terrenzio had been used to working anywhere in the old bank. He wiped all the wheels, levers and handles on the doors and kept them clean and polished all the time, but at first he was very timid about working around the new vault door. I found out that he had been told all kinds of tales about that new door, that if you touched it in certain places, poison gas would shoot out on you, maybe get on your hands and burn them or dye them a purple color that you couldn’t wash off, leading people to think that you had been trying to rob the bank, and things like that. I had to do some explaining and demonstrating to allay his fears about things like that, but very soon he was working on the door as happily as he had at the old building.
By the time the bank had finally been completed and we had moved in, the overwork and strain I had gone through for several years had “got to” me and I was about burned out. And they had transferred a good assistant cashier to another branch and sent a man from Fallon to us. This man spent a full month at the branch doing nothing but checking for errors in the books. When I tried to get him to help me with the heavy flow of installment loans he informed me that he was an “operations” man and declined to help. That was the last straw. I started arrangements to get out of the bank entirely.
When I shook hands with Terrenzio for the last time I saw a tear in his eye and I know he noticed the one in mine. From Yerington my family moved to Ely, a terrible move as it turned out, and I saw no more of a good and honest worker and as good a friend as one could ask for.
If I had another life, needed a buddy, I would be happy if they sent me a fellow even close to the likes of Terrenzio Demenicucci.