By Anne Vallas
“All mine,” Battista Pecchia would say, stretching his arms over his garden in Youngstown, Ohio.
That house on the corner of Euclid and Oak Street would come to house three generations of Americans.
But, by the end of his life, Battista would grow to be disillusioned with the place he thought would be his paradise.
Battista grew up in Pescara, Italy. After fighting in the Italian army, he decided to move himself and his family to America.
“He said he could never bring himself to fire one shot,” Cosmo Pecchia, Battista’s son, remarked.
Fleeing the reign of Benito Mussolini and the loss of property to his eldest brother, Battista heard that America would afford him property, peace and a place to build a life.
Battista moved to Youngstown with his wife, Ida, during the prohibition in 1929, bringing along Cosmo and their other four children. Struggling to find the work and land he heard of, Battista expressed dismay to fellow Italian immigrant Abate. Abate offered him a house in Youngstown as long as he would manage the still.
To maintain the property and his family’s livelihood, Battista managed the still, assisting in the distribution of alcohol, until one night he was confronted by the police. When asked for his name, Battista responded “Rocko Topa,”the name of an old friend from Italy.
After falsely confirming the pseudonym as a suspect, the police proceeded to smash the still and arrest Battista. Though Abate would come to stop the arrest after discovering that the policemen had already been paid off, it was at this moment that Battista’s disillusionment began.
“My father hated life in America and always talked about missing Italy. I think he forgot what it was like. I think he did not see any real difference here. But my mother loved America, even though we did not have much money to live on. I remember she used to wash and dry the coffee filters so that we could reuse them,” Cosmo recalled.
The Pecchias would all live together until 1946, when their daughter, Bambina, moved to the house next door.
“It wasn’t really a house. It was a shed. They added on a bathroom, but there was no heat,” Cosmo said.
In 1960, Cosmo met Frances Sablylak.
Frances grew up on the “Slavic side” of Youngstown with 10 of her family members in a two-bedroom house.
“My mother, Anne, would come into my room and hear me listening to The Gay Lords records and tell me I was going to end up married to an Italian and on the east side just like my Aunt,” Frances said.
And so she did. Frances left the Slavic Caledonia Street in 1960, married Cosmo and moved into the Oak Street house on the east side.
While his other sibling married and moved away, Ida and Battista would move next door in the Euclid Street home for the rest of their lives.
In his parents’ old living room, Cosmo opened Cosmo’s Barbershop in 1960.
“He attached a line with a bell on it from the barbershop to the living room, so when he heard it ring, he knew a customer was waiting,” Cosmo’s son, David Pecchia, said.
Cosmo and Frances raised their three children in the Oak Street house, with the Pecchias just next door.
“I always thought of it as much of a business as the kids selling lemonade on the street. Francie had to go to secretary school and work so we could afford to get by,” Cosmo said.
When the British invasion hit in the 1970s and, with it, the trend of long hair and loss of haircuts, Cosmo began to understand his father’s frustrations.
“I never knew anything different than how I grew up. But I saw how others lived and that they didn’t wash their coffee filters. I struggled to provide for my family with the education I could afford. When my daughter grew up, I told her not to marry for love. We have enough of that. Marry for me money. We could use some of that,” Cosmo said.
Lucky for Cosmo, she married for both.
In 1986, they moved to their present house in Boardman.
He continued working at Cosmo’s Barbershop, keeping prices low enough so he, as well as his customers, could afford to get by. Cosmo’s Barbershop will be celebrating its 60th anniversary this May.
“Even now, I see kids outside on Oak Street,” Cosmo said. “I’m on the other side of it now, but I know nothing has really changed. I look at how things are going now, and I don’t think they ever will. I just don’t think things here are what they say they are. But I think of my mother watching Carol Burnett on her TV and laughing: just so happy. I don’t think she would have had that in Italy.”
“And I met my Slavic wife in America. So, I’m happy to be here.”