I was dismayed recently by the discovery that I’ve offended some of my Alameda, California, relatives, descendants of Guido Spadoni, the brother of Italo, Bruno and Gino. Ironically, I went to a lot of work to discover how these people are related to me, and then the very first thing I do is insult them, which was surely a mistake on my part.
I just got off the phone with Steve Busse, who was one of those who took exception to a blog comment I made, and after re-reading the comment, I can understand his point of view. I made a closing comment that I am distantly related to this group of relatives, and that considering that I didn’t have the best opinion of Gino Spadoni, maybe that was just as well.
In hindsight, I can see two problems with that statement. First of all, this could come across as if I am writing off the whole family because of my problems with Gino, which is not what I wanted to say at all. I was trying to say that considering some of Gino’s actions, he did not make me proud. But even if I had said that more clearly, I didn’t stop to think that a number of my California relatives knew Gino fairly well and found him to be a nice guy, at least in all of his dealings with them. Had I been more cognizant of this, I certainly would have been more tactful and sensitive.
Busse, a grandson of Gino’s brother Guido, said he knew Gino as well as any of his cousins, and he had nothing but good experiences in all of their encounters.
“I never heard anything bad said about Gino,” Steve said. “He was always nice to me and my brother. He was generous at Christmas and always kind and polite. He was the hardest worker you could ever imagine.”
Another point in Gino’s favor was the financial support he gave his parents in Italy, as well as to Italo’s widow and daughter Gina and her family. I have heard this bit of praise for Gino from relatives on both the American and Italian sides of the family.
As for Gino’s alleged crimes in Tacoma and San Francisco, Steve pointed out that he was never actually convicted of anything. “I’m not saying any of it is true or not true,” he said. “None of us can change what has happened. It is what it is.”
I can’t disagree with these statements, though my careful reading of the accusations and proceedings against Gino don’t give me much doubt that he escaped conviction only through some fortunate circumstances. To put it more bluntly, I think he was guilty. But I also think he came to regret his actions as a young man, and he probably became a changed person at some point in his life.
It is very likely that when Gino moved back to Italy, his family had a good idea of the names of at least some of the people involved in the murder of Italo Spadoni. Italo’s grandson told me that Gino often visited the graves of Italo and other family members in the cemetery; he would mutter things in English, and he said in Italian that he would like to see justice for Italo’s killer. Gino could have taken revenge and then fled to safety and anonymity and America, but he didn’t. We will never know Gino’s thought process, but I like to think that he considered how his family had suffered during the deaths of Italo and Bruno, and he didn’t want to see another family suffer in the same way.
About Gino’s three brothers, everything I have learned shows that they were exceptional individuals, and I am proud to say they are my distant relatives. Italo and Bruno recognized the growing evil of Mussolini’s fascist regime and weren’t afraid to speak against it, while other Italians blindly accepted the status quo and followed Il Duce’s oppressive leadership into a destructive and disastrous war.
Guido Spadoni, in order to give his 10 children a better future, left his homeland and carved out a promising future in America. Because of Guido and his descendants, the Spadoni name is respected in the Italian Bay Area community today. Steve told me that Guido’s funeral in 1966 was attended by many prominent people, including a lawyer and a Superior Court judge.
“I would ask if Grandpa was just a blue collar worker, where did he meet these people and why did they show so much respect for him and the family,” Steve said. “The answer was always the same: When a lot of Italians first came to this area, many had problems, and my grandparents would help by providing food and lodging and sharing what little they had. Growing up in Alameda, which had a large Italian community, whenever I ran into other Italians, the Spadoni name had a lot of respect.”
I apologized to Steve for my poorly chosen words and insensitivity toward his family, and I’m happy to say that he accepted my apology. I hope others who were offended will grant the same grace.