As I move from continent to continent, I often tap into my philosophical self. Maybe the air pressure in the plane makes my head woozy doozy or maybe, just maybe, flying from New Jersey to Italy provides me with the quiet time to reflect on what is important or not. A few years back, I lobbied to get a street in Flagtown, NJ named after my family. Some folks looked askance at the concept and told me that sticking your name on something was pretentious. Actually, they said it was *&^%! stupid. I beg to differ. Who we are and what we have become is based on those who came before us. What better way to help those who come after us to discover their heritage than with a named place and all it connotes. It becomes a visible touchstone to the past.
A year or so ago, my friend Dr. Adele Gentile, invited me to an event that was a link to her past and the history of Morcone – the village next door to Pontelandolfo. We went to the dedication of a Morcone Library section named for her dad, Dr. Girolamo Gentile. I was touched to be invited and honored to go. Also, I had seen her dad’s and her last name on streets and buildings in both Morcone and Pontelandolfo and wondered just who this man was. Her father, as you can see by his name on the walk-in clinic wall, was incredibly loved and respected as a doctor by the citizens of Morcone and the area. People tell me he was a “doctor of the past.” The Doc who went out in a blizzard to make house calls and took care of everyone equally. I also discovered that night that Dr. Gentile was intuitive and did everything he could to help his patients. If that meant find them shoes to go to school or wood for their stove, he would do that too. An avid reader and perpetual student he left a huge collection of books dealing with medicine, science, fiction, non-fiction etc. Adele and her brothers donated them to the Morcone Library. It made sense to name a section of the library after Girolamo Gentile, not only because of the wealth of information shared in the books but because he was an incredible force in a community and should be remembered. Justifiably, the library was packed the night of the dedication. People swapped tales about Dr. Gentile. We hope that medical professionals of the future will ask who he was and take a lesson in going the extra mile for a patient.
All over Pontelandolfo there are streets named after people.
OK, my great grandmother’s surname was Rinaldi, but that is not why I chose this picture. The Rinaldi brothers were massacred during that heinous night, August 14, 1861, when in the name of Italian unification, hundreds of Pontelandofese were killed in their sleep. We hope that when visitors see the names of the streets in Centro Storico they might ask a question or too. Before becoming involved in my little village I had no idea that Southern Italy wasn’t enthralled with unification. The mass slaughtering could be a reason. That sure as heck wasn’t in my American history books.
At this point you might be wondering why I felt it was important to get at minimum a street in Flagtown named after my family – Guerrera. The specific location is particularly meaningful because my grandparent’s subsistence farm was just a spit away. Actually, I grew up on a piece of their property across the street.
May 4, 2015 Ribbon Cutting and Opening of Guerrera Court, Flagtown, NJ 2015
Guerrera Court is specifically named in honor of my pop, former Hillsborough Township Democratic Mayor, John F. Guerrera and Flagtown Postmistress, my life saving aunt, Catherine Guerrera. To me that sign honors all of us Guerreras who lived, worked and contributed to our community.
I orchestrated that the ribbon be cut by former Republican Mayor, Bill Jamieson. During the 1960’s, Jamieson and my dad served the township from different sides of the political aisle, often arguing vociferously at meetings and then heading to Farley’s Tavern in Flagtown to share a drink and strategize for the good of the community. According to Jamieson, “John was a progressive leader who moved boulders to bring Hillsborough into the 21st century.”
My dad was a powerful force and cut a bella figura! A Democratic operative, he was active in county, state and national campaigns. He is credited with starting our community police force, seeing that sewers were installed, a Municipal Utilities Commission formed, zoning updated and lots more.
Born in Pontelandolfo, Italy, my resilient aunt, Catherine Guerrera, had contracted polio at 2. She, my grandparents and uncles immigrated to America. In 1926 they bought a 15-acre subsistence farm in Flagtown. After graduating from Somerville High School in 1933, Aunt Cat discovered that jobs for the handicapped were limited. My ballsy aunt sat down and penned a letter to then First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. Zap! The letter was answered. The Roosevelt Administration assisted in her having numerous operations done by the famous Dr. Kessler himself. She was later appointed the first postmaster of Flagtown and paid only a commission. Her tenacity and work ethic built the post office to first class status.
Now as folks buy a house on that street or drive by they might just wonder who that family was. It is a visible link to our community’s past. They might ask the who, what, where and why. I know I would.