Pullman’s gentle giant

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St. Anthony's (photo by Eric Allix Rogers)
St. Anthony’s (photo by Eric Allix Rogers)
While attending the recent funeral of Erminia Frigo, I was viewing the photo boards on display when one of the pictures took me by surprise. The photo was of a few people standing across the street from the old St. Anthony’s church in front of Pat & Matt’s newsstand, soda shop and bar. There in the background stood Christi Silvestri. I had not seen or thought about Christi since the 1960s, when I graduated from St. Anthony’s. However, I do remember Christi from my many trips after 9:00 Mass to Pat & Matt’s, where Christi stood out at 6’3” and was always dressed in his Sunday suit. Christi was what is known today as a “special needs person.”

Seeing the photo made me wonder what had happened to him. Whenever I’m looking for historical information, I call my good friend, 96 year old Anne Ronzani. Fortunately for me, Anne’s family had lived on the floor below the Silvestri’s in Pullman. I called Anne and paid her a visit, where she told me a number of stories about Christi. Anne made it a point to mention that everyone in Pullman and Kensington looked out for Christi as though he was a member of their own family.

Christi’s mother didn’t have the know-how to teach him at his level so she showered him with love and did everything for him. However, when she passed away his sister Norma took over and changed his life. Norma taught him everything from how to tie his shoes to how to dress and properly use silverware. From all reports, Norma was not only physically beautiful but also a beautiful person, as her deep love and care for her brother showed. At 18 she was a waitress at Pesavento’s and to keep Christi busy while she was at work, she arranged a helper’s position for Christi with Reno Ostarello and Bob Dalba of Illinois TV at 115th and Prairie. For many years Christi helped out at the shop and was known for carrying the big TVs into people’s homes on his own.

Anne told me that during WWII, while her husband Carl was stationed at an airbase in England, he would write to her every week. Sometimes she would receive the letters promptly, but other times there was a delay. Dominic the mailman said he always delivered the letters–once a week. Lo and behold, one day Anne had business with Christi’s mother and, through Christi’s open bedroom door saw a small stack of her letters on the bed. Anne told her father, who then put a lock on the mailbox. It guaranteed she would receive her mail but also frustrated Christi who couldn’t open the mailbox no matter how he tried.

On another occasion, Anne and her mother heard a commotion coming from the Silvestri’s apartment. They went upstairs and found Christi laughing and his mother yelling and swearing in Italian. Many of you remember how narrow some of the Pullman pantries can be. Well, Christi’s large mother had fallen on her back and couldn’t get up. Christi thought her flailing away was the funniest thing and couldn’t help her up due to his laughing, which made her angry.

Every now and then Christi would meet Anne as she walked home from work. One day, as Anne waited for traffic to clear on 115th so she could cross, Christi spotted her dilemma and stepped into the street. Of course, all traffic came to a halt and Anne crossed the street but she made it a point to scold him, which just set Christi to laughing.

Anne’s Pullman neighbor Lorraine Brezick from St. Anthony’s related that Christi would always grab her hat off her head and not give it back to her until they had walked to her house at the end of the block.

Christi watched Anne as she cleaned the front yard one day and after finishing, Anne invited Christi in for a refreshing glass of Tomarindo. As Anne was mixing the drink, she noticed Christ seemed to lean far to the right in his chair. She asked if he was okay and he held up his index finger and said, “You clean good.” He was making sure Anne cleaned her baseboards as well as she cleaned the front yard.

“The Mayor of Pullman” was a child whom everyone in Pullman and Kensington and at St. Anthony’s looked after and loved. Thanks to Anne Ronzani, we have stories about him to help us recall the good old days.

A Giant of Generosity

It is no secret that throughout the years, St. Anthony’s has struggled and many guardian angels have come to the rescue. Time and time again that giant of generosity, the Raffin Construction Company, has come through for St. Anthony’s parishioners. The most recent example of the Raffin family’s generosity is the low-cost (to St. Anthony’s) installation of a superior construction, premium quality handicap ramp at the front of the church. Anne Ronzani told me that during the hard times of the Depression, the Raffin Company kept its employees on the payroll even when work slowed. She also mentioned how the company would pay for a complete Raymond Levine suite for each employee at Christmas time. In honor of all those years of consideration, a special thank you to St. Anthony’s giant of generosity–the Raffin Construction Company.

Note e Notizie

Sister Joellen (Eleanor) Sbrissa sent me this notice on our beloved Sisters of Saint Joseph: Sister Joanne Vallero CSJ celebrates her Golden Jubilee as a Sister of St. Joseph. Her family and the Sisters celebrated at the Congregation of St. Joseph, La Grange Center with a Jubilee Mass. The attached photo is of Sister Joanne and her brother.

About C.J. Martello

CJ Martello has returned to his roots as the author of “Petals from Roseland.” After five years of writing his column as a resident of Chicago's North Side, CJ put his money where his heart is and moved to Pullman, near the Roseland area in which he grew up. Having joined the Spaghetti-Os, Veneti nel Mondo and St. Anthony of Padua Parish and being one of the founders of the Roseland Roundtable Facebook page, CJ has become reacquainted with countless friends and acquaintances from his youth. CJ is looking forward to retirement and completing the books he has put on hold, including one that will encompass as much of Roseland's rich, beloved history as possible.

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