Mariano “Rod” Rodrigues currently lives in Cranston, Rhode Island with his wife of twenty‑six years, Ann. He is fifty years old and in good physical condition. Rod and Ann have four children: Ann Elise (age twenty‑three), Janice (age twenty‑one), Barry (age twenty), and Justin (age eighteen). Janice and Justin were adopted as infants. Rod grew up the youngest of three children in a poor Portuguese family living in Massachusetts. He became the first of his family to attend college when he entered Brown University. While at Brown he majored in Mathematics. He has applied his mathematical interests to his career as he is presently a professor of mathematics and computer science at Rhode Island College, a position which he has held for many years. He also currently runs a small computer software business out of his home, a project which occupies much of his spare time. In addition to his professional interests, Rod enjoys bicycling, gardening, various crafts, traveling, photography, and music.
Part II: The Life Story
Let’s see.. born into poverty. Until I was about 11 years old, we were never really without medical bills, never with money to pay them. My favorite romping spot, when I was under 12, was the dump. It was two blocks away from my house. Maybe that’s why I don’t mind dealing with a lot of crap today. We lived two blocks away from the dump, plenty of rats and stuff that the dump brings, but I never fit in. I was a dump picker, but I never fit in socially with that group. I go back to fourth grade when I saw a kid bunking school, breaking some pots in some neighbor’s yard, and I reported him. There was a sense of responsibility. Of course, among kids, that’s called squealing and all kinds of names meaning bad. And he, later on because I squealed, came and burnt my face with matches. He later on ended up in jail. I certainly started early in life, then, with the business of number one, being myself responsible and number two, sometimes
going overboard in looking after other people’s responsibilities. Then we moved to Tiverton (Massachusetts) and the country, which I loved. There was lots of peace for me. I loved walking through the woods. Just sitting in the woods. So I grew up in my teenaged years in Tiverton again socially not fitting in because, I don’t know, the people there were typical rural America which is to say not terribly fond of education, strong grass roots American belief in the triumph of brawn over wisdom, so I still quite didn’t fit in there. But, on the other hand, until 8th grade I really believed that I was headed for the factory because that’s what we all did. In those days, you did what your parent’s did, and there weren’t a lot of colleges around, certainly not affordable colleges. So, I hit 8th grade, in fact I remember going out there and being warned that I was going to be put a grade level behind. They said they felt the rural education of Tiverton was so much better than the one in Fall River, that I was going to be put behind. That didn’t happen, and I wound up as Valedictorian of my eighth grade class. I suppose that’s when I started thinking about raising my sights beyond the factory, but without much hope at all. At that point, my brother was five years older than me, he was just out of high school, and we had lived through a lot of the turmoil of his going through school and wanting to be in the college‑bound track, but being held back by my parents who felt that he really should be in a business track because we can’t afford to go to college. So that was really the mold that was presented, at least with my brother. Maybe I challenged them with my sister because we were even brighter. My brother was bright. It’s not that he wasn’t bright. He says now that he never read, never did read. So, I still started to raise my sights, but it was really still in terms of Rhode Island College. That was the only thing I could afford. Which is to say, nothing, because it cost nothing to go to R.I.C. in those days. Not bad at all. I think you paid a $5 or $10 student activity fee and that was it. So, I began to consider that more seriously and I went into a college bound track, But still, I don’t what it is that plagued me all the way through life, a feeling of inferiority. I didn’t pursue languages, so I wasn’t in “the top” division. To be in “the top” division, you had to take three years of a language. I was in what they called the Prep in general, which was a little bit of both and allowed you to have two years each of two languages. I continued and did OK, finished 5th out of 600. I was rather surprised, again, because of the feeling of inferiority, when I got the Firestone scholarship and then I could choose anywhere in the country, because they would pay for everything. I chose Brown. I would say the only thing that ever came out of Brown was Ann. The only good thing, I think. I got education, no doubt, but Brown just did a very good job of convincing me of my inferiority. I don’t have a low I.Q., I have a high I.Q., but the way I function is not convergent. That became apparent to me over many years and a study of creativity. I began to understand myself better. I certainly didn’t achieve the normal high I.Q. roots. I found it very difficult to study, very difficult to write. I wrote very simplistically, in part because my world view was very pious and very religious. That may have been a very strong influence about convincing me of my own inferiority… because of the belief of my inherent evilness. Typical child, I always believed the Lady of Shatema had left a message that the world was going to end in 1960. I had a lot of superstitions about that. I was going to be 18 years old, so I figured there was a message in this for me that the world was going to end. I was never going to become an adult. I remember first communion. I had to have my hands folded the best, my head bowed the best. I had to be the best in that piety. I really kept that for a very long time. I wouldn’t use four‑letter words at all. I grew through high school with everybody trying to get me to say anything. They wouldn’t get me to say “shit”. They could not get me to say “shit” or “piss”. That was it, even something as innocuous as that. They wouldn’t get me to say it because I really believed that God would punish me severely if I did such a nasty thing. My brother and I didn’t get along because of that. My brother was very much into that kind of culture. My sister and I both share that, though. She and I had a lot of the same values, and that had nothing to do with the family. I suppose a lot of it had to do with our own internal response to the religion talk. My sister discovered the four‑ letter words and how good it felt to say them sometimes. She started to use them very liberally, peppering all of her daily talk with them. My mother was really upset. My sister’s comment was “I wish I had done it when I was younger”. Just so much nicer and forceful to say. Anyhow, that piety, in a sense, plagued me. So I went to college, with that feeling of inferiority was reinforced by Brown University. It had a poor structure for teaching how to write. What they did at that time was they didn’t tell you what grade you got. You were supposed to magically know, by the comments on your paper, what you got. I never got any comments, but I was flunking. The reason why was the teachers only marked grammatical errors and I had none. So I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong because I was writing grammatically correct papers. No comments, but no grade, and then‑ flunking. Mathematically, I did OK. I started to work with groups in a sense. We would get together before class and help each other. Very often I was the one that stood up in front of the others to teach them. In my senior year, I was looking into alternatives. I went to the math department and they said they wouldn’t even consider me for graduate school, so therefore I shouldn’t apply anywhere in the country. I only had a 3.0. I had less than that overall. I had a 2.67 overall and a 3.0 in my major and they said that was not acceptable. They only accepted 4.0’s in the majors with near 4.0 overall, and other schools are similar so I shouldn’t bother. I had a very, not more practical, more realistic faculty advisor for Newman Club who in conversion asked me what I was doing, and I told him I was going to start in a master of arts teaching program, try some math courses and if I decided I could do them, switch into a straight masters. He asked me the reverse. Why didn’t I go to a place that had both. Start at a masters, which is what I wanted, and if I found that I couldn’t do it, transfer to do a MAT. He did a calling for me and within a week I was accepted at Boston College because of his good friend Father Basuska. They had gone to school together. So I wound up going to graduate school. Probably his name was Dixon, ah that’s good to get that down. That popped into my head. I’ve been trying for years to remember his name. Again the two things which were good that came out of Brown, were that, and Ann. I met her on the way out (of Brown) pretty much. I had put sex and romantic interest behind me all that time. Maybe I was more motivated than I realized, but I saw what was happening to some of my friends who were involved sexually and then wound up dropping out of school because they got pregnant and they had to get married. In those days, it was unheard of to either have an abortion or not to get married. I saw it wrecking some lives, and I just didn’t get involved. I didn’t date much. Sometimes that bothered me. Typical of any boy. I was also.considered very effeminate and dating was part of proving your manliness. Sex again was part of proving your manlihood. I was brought up in a very macho society. That’s another way I just didn’t fit in to that background.
I was the first on both sides of my family to go to college. Not too many of us finished high school. Of my mothers generation, I have three uncles who finished high school. They valued school. The other side, my father’s side, really didn’t value it. My father did. He never finished school and he resented it. I still remember a conversation about being the first. They also tried to lay it on me that I was one of the first of the Portuguese community to make it good. I brought a lot of attention because I had won a science fair. I was the Portugue who made good. The science fair, getting into Brown University, the Firestone Scholarship, all that happened within two or three weeks. My picture was all over the paper for two or three weeks. The Portuguese community laid it on me that I was a Portugue and how proud they were to have me out there. I remember years later, my uncle, whom I still cherish, my Uncle Larry, took me aside because he was upset that I used big words. The specific word he was picking on that day is a word that was too big‑‑ the word chaos. Of course, that word sticks in my mind because now I am very much into chaos theory. He thought that was a big word and he was taking me aside to let me know I have to come down my high white horse and talk normal again. That’s the kind of background I was coming from. I obviously didn’t fit in.
I had no interest in going back to Fall River (after school). I met Ann going out the door, basically, at Brown. We went to the campus dance. I saw her for breakfast a couple of times during the summer because I was working at Brown. I didn’t really tie her to a romantic interest. So I thought, anyway. There was something romantic going on that night. I was very excited when we kissed the first time after the campus dance. I should have known because there was a very definite physical attraction. We kept it looking cool. Looking platonic. We didn’t date. That’s another thing. I was poor. When you’re poor, you don’t have money to date. Dating was expensive. it still is. So, if you don’t have the money to date, you don’t date. A lot of when we saw each other, you would call non‑dating situations. My employer had invited me to stay at her house for the summer during the week so I wouldn’t have to commute back and forth to Tiverton. I took her up on it. She lived one block from Ann. I would wind up getting up early, going to Ann’s house and sitting for coffee and I forget what else. We would sit and talk over breakfast and nothing much happened. When I went to school that fall, nothing blossomed. We wrote, but I didn’t really think too much of it.
Her mother died in January of that year‑‑1964. January 6th I believe. There was something I wanted her to go to on a real date. I had invited her to go on the date and I thought for sure she wouldn’t because of her mother’s death. Coming from my background, if your parent died, or husband, any close relation like that, you went into mourning. You wore black clothes. You wore black clothes for years. You didn’t go out. We had rigid rules. My family was more liberal than others. When my grandfather died, we had a TV. We couldn’t watch it for three months. We couldn’t listen to the radio for three months. Absolutely rigid rules were part of mourning. It’s a society in which my grandmother wore black the day my grandfather died and she never wore anything but black. That was the role of the widow in the Portuguese community. That’s it. When your husband dies, you go into black until death. I remember my mother years and years after her father died moving to brown clothes. Brown, and she was afraid she was going to be scandalized. That’s the kind of attitude we had. So, when Ann said she would go with me, I was surprised.
I pinpoint that date as the one date I fell in love. I knew there was an attraction, but boy when she came out! For one thing, she had this absolutely knock out black dress. She came out wearing red lipstick wearing the black dress. She made this absolutely stunning entrance, and I really flipped. I will say that that’s the point where I really started to chase her. At the time, I was dating more. I was starting to date because I was in graduate school. After a while, I felt there was some sort of destiny because every girl I dated was named Ann. It was getting very difficult to juggle Ann Marie and Ann something else. Most of them had more than one name. I knew that I was safe if I said Ann. I started to chase her at that point, and by the summertime I think I had decided. It was in the fall that I proposed. At the time we were going through a lot, again I was chasing her. I don’t suppose she considers it that.
Our conversations ran into all kinds of things. I remember one night we went for an overnight in Newport and one of Ann’s friends was down. She was dating the son of my employer and also staying in the same house. Ann and I stayed down on the sun porch talking till about 2 a.m. Her girlfriend was very upset. She couldn’t believe that we could find anything to talk about until 2 in the morning. When she asked, Ann said we talked about “Popes, stars, and something else”. The conversation just ran on over religion, astronomy, constellations. The girl was horrified.
Part of all of that is that at the time, Ann was still actively considering going into the convent. She was scheduled. I guess that’s one of the things that attracted me because I had come very close to applying to become a priest when I was in college. For me, the issue was sexual because the guy said you have to treat it like a business. You have to know that celibacy is part of it. If you can’t imagine doing it like a business on a day to day basis and part of it being celibate, that’s OK. That’s fine. That’s healthy. That kind of threw me. I didn’t expect to hear that coming from a priest. I thought right away he would try to recruit me. In fact, that priest, I’m sure he wasn’t involved sexually, but certainly he was in love with a woman. There was no doubt of that. And she was in love with him. They were always together. I have my doubts that there was anything physical going on, but nevertheless there was a very clear relationship going on. Anyway, I decided against it. Ann was still for it and in fact scheduled to go in when I proposed
When I proposed, I expected because she was going into the convent, I was very iffy, very tentative. I just wanted to lay out my feelings to her because I wanted her to know that even if she went into the convent, it was OK. I could let go, but I wanted her to know for her sake, too, that there was an alternative. We were guided by a priest. Both of us. Maybe he engineered the whole thing, I don’t know. Father Howie. With me, he would just say, (it was his language I was using), “Let her know she’s got an alternative. Don’t hide it. Don’t say that you’re not going to let her know until after she’s decided so its not a factor. Let her know she has an alternative. Let her know what she has to choose from.”
When I proposed, she was lying down on the couch, I was sitting in front of her. I was laying out that I loved her and that I wanted her to know that if she didn’t go into the convent, I would really love to marry her if she would have me. She twisted it around. She said “Why don’t you ask me?” I was not coaching her at that point in terms of asking her. I did not say “Will you marry me?” I just said I want you to if you decide not to enter the convent. She twisted it around and said “Well, why don’t you ask me?” And I asked her and she said “Yes!”. Totally took me back. Of course, she was also seeing Father Howie. She had been thinking.
The previous summer, I had been visiting her on Block Island and her brothers and her father had started this thing, I don’t know which brother, “God or Rod?”. Unknown to me. Every time I would leave the island, they would say to her “OK, Who is it, God or Rod?” At the beginning it was God 100, Rod 0. Then it was God 80, Rod 20. Then it was 50/50. That was unknown to me. I didn’t know that was going on. So when she said yes, that really floored me. And of course, we took pride in telling some of our friends and no one was surprised ‑ I was surprised, actually. Probably the most surprised of all. No, I take that back, Ann may have been surprised. I don’t think Ann was expecting to say yes like that. I think she was still thinking that she was making a decision, and she made it there on the spot which I think even surprised her. Aside of that, was the fact that although she had said yes, I think she was surprised because when I tried to give her a hope chest, or any evidence of an engagement, she didn’t like it. She still wanted to hang on to the possibility to back out gracefully. So that Christmas, she would not accept the hope chest. I understood. We waited for that. Even the diamond she didn’t want to wear. Her father had offered the one she’s wearing and we took it for a setting. She helped to pick the setting. I gave it to her pretty much on her birthday. At that point she was willing to wear it. I don’t remember the hope chest, though, whether she was willing to go so far as to collect some things for the wedding. Things moved pretty much along. At that point she was going in to her senior year and we were planning to get married a year from that June. So that she could finish school. I saw her next summer on Block Island. We were the ones holding back. Her father had invited me to live in. Well, we were determined to be virgins. We were old school. And I knew that I was just not going to last if that came about. I felt that if she was washing my underwear and I was living in, that we really should be married. We had talked it over and we thought we would like to move it up. We talked it over with her father. He and Father Howie were there that weekend. We were the ones that said what we were afraid of was that we were not going to use birth control. We were good Catholics here. What if she got pregnant. Her father’s response was that all he cared about was for her to finish school. She has to graduate. As far as pregnancy symptoms, if she gets pregnant, I’m an obstetrician. We can take care of all the symptoms. Nausea, the whole thing, so she doesn’t have to worry about any of the symptoms. She’ll still be able to perform as a student. So basically, he was very much for it. So we moved the date up to November so that we could have time. Otherwise, we would have just eloped and gotten married. And typical of us, without any plans, we came back from Block Island. I left Block Island. She came back a week later. That weekend we planned the whole wedding. We had the hall reserved, the tuxedos reserved, the gowns picked out, the wedding gown picked. All in one weekend. The church reserved. I suppose that’s a pattern for us. We just don’t make long term plans. We like ceremony but we’re not big on details.
So then we got married, and had our differences of course. I used to proof read her papers, to try to correct them. They could be grammatically incorrect but teachers would not mark them incorrect. To this day I’ll never understand that. They never marked my papers, but if they were grammatically incorrect, I would get knocked down. But if she would be grammatically
correct. Her way of putting it was ‘well, you have to know when to violate the rules.’ Sometimes you have to violate the rules to get across your meaning. She expert enough at that to do that. So that was our biggest difference ‑‑ grammar. I typed her papers. We argued over grammar.
Ann even then, though, always had a difficult time making decisions. Give her a choice and she just vacillates a lot. She would read five books, see what the experts say, and then mull over it for a long time. Another contention between us was that I’m more headstrong going into things and then trying to get out, most of the time being successful. The worst is Ann’s approach of sometimes inactivity because she gets so much information she goes into entropy as far as the decisions are concerned. If there are too many options, you just don’t decide. When we were looking for an apartment, we found a third floor walk out. it was during her finals, so there was some pressure there. I just wanted some opinion about color, but she just couldn’t even handle that. So I showed up one day and said the apartment’s painted. She was really scared. She asked what color, and I said white. She said what color are the walls? I said white. What about the woodwork? I said white. She said ‘Oh my God!” Well, that’s the way I was. I made a decision and did it. She liked it. She could live with it.
That was the beginning of similar things. I’m more headstrong, Ann is more deliberate. We wanted to have children very young so that we would be young when our children left the home so we can enjoy each other again on the other side of it. We wanted children very much. We were starting later than many of our friends. I went on a retreat in my 10th high school reunion year and met one of my classmates there. She was ten years into her marriage, she had ten children. Here she was 28 years old with 10 children. Many of these people with my background are like that. They are grandparents by the time they are 32. Well, I didn’t want to be a grandparent at 32, but I wanted to be young enough to enjoy it. So did Ann. We were trying for a long time. We had miscarriages. We always had a lot of communication going. We used to go and give talks about it. The way I tried to describe it was that you learn parenthood. It’s not something that you are or that you become. Parenthood is something you become by interacting with children from birth. You become a parent. You are a parent. With the spontaneous abortions, I was never a part of them in the real sense of interacting with meaningful sense. I still believe strongly that parenting is a social thing. It’s a learned behavior. I never reacted, and in fact neither did Ann with most of them, all of them ultimately. The first one never grew. It stopped growing apparently when it was three months. So she never felt a heartbeat, never felt it move. The doctors said that it was leathery, it had been dead for a long time, but the body had held onto it for too long. Others she aborted earlier, so it was never an issue about that either. Despite the fact that there was no movement, Ann had projected a relationship with the fetus already. To her she was already interacting with it. She was a very typical woman that men could never appreciate because it’s not part of us. She reacted as a mother. The first miscarriage highlighted how destructive of a marriage children could be. She wasn’t even born yet, and we were reacting as a mother and father. Even towards each other. Falling into the traps sometime of instead of calling her Ann, calling her mom. It really falls into a trap of not reacting to her as my wife, but as the mother of my children. There is an enormous difference. When we miscarried, what it was that when I brought her home from the hospital, I still had my wife. As far as she was concerned, she had just lost a baby, which was a major loss. So she was in mourning. She really needed the reinforcement for me to say “I’m still here. Don’t be too upset that I’m not terribly upset about the abortion. I still have my wife. As far as I’m concerned, if we don’t have children, I have my wife. That’s the only thing I care about.” We had a very emotional moment, which in religious times would be considered a religious event, centered around the same time which I would call now a moment of total communication. It was very feeling and very emotional which we haven’t really even had since even. It was just a moment of communication. We could take it from there.
Ann has always had a feeling of inferiority cooking‑wise and everything‑wise and at that point. I remember she was very upset because I cooked a pot roast and I had never before cooked a pot roast. My family attitude was, you want a pot roast, cook a pot roast. You’re supposed to put brown sugar on, so I put brown sugar on. I had no idea what I was doing. But the fact that I wasn’t afraid of cooking it was what bothered her, because she would never cook it.
She got a job and I had my job. She got pregnant again, and we lost that one. So now she was getting worried, and so was I. We took foster children. Black foster children. I think at that point my mother already figured we were going to adopt, and adopt black. I knew that she was upset. We had two that winter. That might have been 1968, January. We conceived Ann Elise very shortly thereafter. We were very worried about whether or not she was going to keep the baby. In fact, I remember one point when she started spotting, that was the sign from all the other pregnancies, and her father came over to give her tranquilizers because we were worried about her and the migraine headaches she was getting. He gave me some shots to knock her out to relax her. But that one held on. Then we started our children and basically held on to our relationship. We had really been going very strong through all our experiences. I completed my doctorate. When I completed my doctorate, we had just had Barry. We had Barry in 1972. I finished my doctorate in May 1973, so I was finishing up when we had Barry. At that point, I became an exchange professor at the University of West Virginia. That was the spring of 74. The summer Barry was 18 months, we decided to reactivate our adoption for the second child. That’s when what I call the only unplanned adoption. We went in to activate our interviews just to make us active in case they had a baby because what we had been told was that there weren’t any babies but you’ve got to have your case active in case one arrives. They didn’t tell us, though they knew, that there was a baby waiting. Our name had come up in their group meetings and the social workers were wondering whether we were ready for another baby. That was Justin.
I grew in certainly different times. I remember I was one of the very first to wear Bermuda shorts. In those days, they used to whistle of you because you were showing legs. It definitely was not macho. Jeans were worn all the time. The only time you wore anything but jeans was on the beach. You might say they were very hung up times. This was in the 40’s and 50’s. My first were some cutoffs. I was living in Tiverton at the time and Billy and I were 16. He was driving down to the boat and we got a flat tire. We were in Tiverton with a flat tire and we didn’t have a spare tire, so we had to roll the flat tire to the gas station. We both were wearing shorts. They were Bermudas so they were down to the knees. Any number of cars whistled as they went by. I was more sensitive to that because growing up part of my childhood was my name and the fact that I was effeminate. They would call me Mary or Maria. No one ever helped me to see what some of my problems were. I did have a limp wrist and that upset people a lot.
Going back, living in Fall River, I lived in a six tenement house. We lived in three rooms and a toilet. Yes, there was no bathroom. Just a toilet. There was a tiny sink. When you sat on the hopper, the sink protruded over you. That’s how tight it was. There was another thing to the right where we kept the galvanized tub. We would just carry it out. Until I was 12, that was all we had. We took baths. We had a curtain on the kitchen door. There was no door, just a curtain. We had no central heating, so no hot water. We drew the curtain and my mother would heat the water on the stove. We would put all kinds of pans on the stove. There was no privacy, obviously in the bathroom. Someone had to pour water over your head when you washed your hair. That was my mother usually. That was all the time I lived there, until I was 12 years old. I didn’t appreciate the lack of privacy at all, particularly around my mother. My mother always wanted to wash me far more than I wanted to be washed. We used to hang clothes out the window on
clothes lines. There were no driers.
My brother, sister, and I shared a bedroom. Again no privacy. My brother and I shared a twin bed until he was about 12 or 13 years old. Then, we got a double bed and my brother and I got the double bed. My sister used to sleep in my grandmothers house, the next house. One of the things I remember about my childhood was that we each had roles. Everyone in the family had very definite roles. One of mine was, appropriate to my age, having to polish the furniture. The furniture had to be polished every week. There were lots of nooks and crannies. It was very ornate furniture. I actually had to polish it with a toothbrush. Every week! I used to hate it.
We used to have one of those old radios. My brother, sister and I used to stay up and listen to “Lights Out.” One of the most exciting things was getting a television and actually saw the television show “Lights out.” We would actively listen to radio all the time. My mother had 13 operations. My father didn’t have as many. Although they were never drunk, they were alcoholics. They were able to get into recovery at different stages and at different times. My father worked in a liquor store. My mother’s family earned its money (she was never a part of the rich side of the family) in liquor. They were liquor distributors. My grandfather on my mothers side was alcoholic. He was an active alcoholic until death. He died at age 55 of a heart attack. I remember him because he lived in the same yard. He died when I was seven. Usually I can’t remember back that far, but he was a character. He was a typical alcoholic, very demanding. My fathers parents were not alcoholic at all, although his father made his own wine. I had to have literally a little juice glass full of wine every week when I went to visit. Strong stuff!
My mother’s family was much more judgmental and assertive. My father’s mother spoke English but never let us know. She never let any of her kids know. She wanted to be sure that we would hear Portuguese spoken. She was of the school which believed in the perpetuation of a language. I don’t think my grandfather ever spoke a word of English. She was very much the dominant one in that arrangement. Again, there was very strict role playing. When I would go to visit, the children had to sit with their hands folded in a chair for the entire visit, except to go to the bathroom. I remember having a mystery room in the house that my uncle was painting. They had an antique rocking horse in it, but we couldn’t use it. We spent Sundays there. We would really work hard to get there every single Sunday no matter what. To the extent that before we had a car, we would take a bus across the city. They apparently gave us some coveralls one Christmas and they insisted that we wear those coveralls over to the house. My mother would dress us and we would use our Sunday clothes to get on a trolley, a combination of trolley and bus I think, to get across the city. Then, when we got there, we would change into those coveralls. We had to have those coveralls in the house. They were very rigid. That side of the family was very oriented towards education. …No one ever told me I wasn’t happy. I was poor, but I wasn’t unhappy because of that poverty. I didn’t want things … I don’t think the poor feel deprived. I didn’t. What else did we have? We were the first to have a car! In spite of everything, with all those bills and so forth… Our family, I think it was just my father, was the first to have a tv in the neighborhood. No, no I’m sorry we were the second, but we were one of the first to have a car. The reason why we had a t.v. was because our neighbor had it. Across the hall from us they had a t.v. We shared a porch and so we would go out to the porch and peer into their window while there kid watched “Howdy Doody.” That got to be a very regular thing, and they (the neighbors) didn’t like it, and my parents… I remember hearing at some point, “Now look, let’s have our own t.v. so that our kids aren’t out on the porch peering in.” So we got our t.v. That was when I was seven years old. I will never forget it because we got it in March, early in the year, and then my grandfather died in April and we couldn’t watch the t.v. and originally they said for six months and it was just about because we couldn’t watch t.v. until September. When we went back to school they let us watch t.v. So I remember that very well…. …. We were also one of the first to move out, move up. Boy in those days the house cost $6500! 6500! All of us felt very much at home from the moment we stepped foot in it. We loved it!
Tiny as it was, it was just so much better living in the country. We moved the day after Hurricane Carol. We had no electricity, but we didn’t care. Just to get out of the city… Tiverton was so much nicer to us. That house was … talk about privacy! That house had paper walls, practically, no heating system on the second floor. So we cut a little hole in the floor so that the heat could get upstairs. If I sneezed on the second floor, even silently there would be a “Bless you” from the first floor. No privacy in that house…
… Religiously and culturally I was the last in line. My brother spoke Portuguese. He was bilingual. My sister was a little less so, and me, even less so. For me the primary
language was English and I could barely speak Portuguese. I never totally identified with all of the traditions. I certainly grew up with all of the religious traditions. Portuguese life in Fall River is very much centered around religion… a lot of their cultural life is the feasts … the feast of the Holy Ghost, the church activities, the parades, the church band… with the priest coming around and throwing rose petals on the ground. This is still very much alive down there. That’s there thing… I grew up with it but I never became part of it. I still am not really part of it. I get no nostalgia for it whatsoever.
Speaking Portuguese, again…I had to speak Portuguese with my grandparents. My parents never forced me to speak in the family, although they were clearly, absolutely fluent because it was their primary language. My mother was born in Portugal, but she came over when she was three. My father was born here, but again, his mother spoke English fluently, but not in the home. In the home it was strictly Portuguese. Because I was the youngest, perhaps, the Portuguese culture didn’t come through, not very strongly anyway… I never liked Portuguese food. I never liked the Portuguese soup. I like the charice and linguisa, but I never liked blood pudding… it’s black, very, very garlicky. It is blood, dried blood. It’s mixed with a lot of garlic. It’s very hot and when you cool. it. It smells up a storm! … It looks like a sausage. When they slaughter the pigs they save the blood. I never liked it, I never liked the Portuguese fish. I never liked any of that. The culture was okay, but I never identified with it. I suppose it had to have some influence on me but not very, very strongly because I was young enough in the family. My parents obviously decided at some point to speak English as the primary language. When I was a kid there were still people coming over. One of my cousins came over when she was thirteen, for example, and a couple of my cousins were born here but their parents only spoke Portuguese. They were going to insist on speaking Portuguese in the home. These kids, my cousins, were a little younger than me… not too much, and the kids insisted that they were going to speak English, saying, “We have to speak English in school so we are going to speak English and if you don’t like it tough!” We could hear Portuguese spoke although it wasn’t in the home. It wasn’t influential.
Holiday traditions. The traditions at Christmastime my Godmother still does. You had a dining room table. You always had a lace table cloth, and you put candy on it… the whole table would be full of candy, and cookies. Unbelievable! My mother used to have a Ferris wheel she put out. The Ferris wheel had six dishes, each dish had a different candy on it. Ann remembers that one very well. I think she liked that one too. My mother made a tradition out of always having white chocolate from Munson’s Candy Kitchen. It had to be Munson’s. It couldn’t be from anyplace else. It had to be Munson’s. That kind of tradition we had. Christmas was an important holiday. Easter was always considered important too, but no way near the importance of Christmas, culturally or otherwise. My grandfather, I never knew this but my mother used to tell me… They used to have caroling. They really took caroling seriously, and I went once, but my grandfather’s tradition was that he would always buy a huge conch of bananas and every caroler would get a banana. It was one of his things.
I don’t know what other traditions … Christmas is obviously the strongest. We used to go to midnight mass and open our presents when we got back from mass. For me that was important because one of our traditions was to go to communion. We couldn’t eat. In those days the rule was that no matter when you went during the day you could not eat from midnight of the previous night until whatever it was that you took communion and I remember one time, I think it was Christmas, when we went to a nine o’clock mass or a ten o’clock mass and I had been somewhere and my brother saw me take a sip of water or something after midnight, and I got up to go take communion and he got up to go over and tell the nun to make me sit down because I had something to drink after midnight. After that, and even because of that, the church rules changed so that if you went to midnight masss you pretty much didn’t have to do any fasting. You had to fast from midnight but that was when the mass started so you didn’t have to worry about any of those traditions. So very much, strongly, it (Christmas) was related to family activities. What it was mostly was just the present giving and going to church.
For Easter we got dressed up for the Easter Parade. Pretty much our tradition was that on Easter Sunday we would wear carnations. Men would wear carnations and they had to be,…I think the tradition was you wore red if your mother was alive and white if your mother was dead. I have no idea why. Palm Sunday we would spend part of the time, at least during mass and right afterwards, making the palm flowers. That was always a nice tradition.
I can’t think of any other traditions. Apart from… one tradition was going to my uncle’s summer home every Sunday during the summer. We would go to my mother’s uncles summer home and from there we would go to my father’s parents house for a visit there. Every Sunday. I hated it! We would pack… my father couldn’t let it be simple. We would pack as if we would go for a week. We had the car so we had a Coca‑Cola cooler and a camp stove, and heaven only knows what else. It used to take us two, three, four trips out to the car to bring everything no matter where we went to the beach, we always went to the beach, and we the kids used to hate it. We would do our best not to be around when we were loading the car. My mother would be getting worried. She would just overwhelm us with food. Lots and lots of hot dogs and lots of hamburgers and we would get out to the beach and open up the Coleman stove, started it up, started cooking and we would be there for the duration. Sometimes we would go quahoging. We used to hate that too. We would go barefoot…with all of the razor clams. Oh boy! I always came back with cuts on my knees all summer, and we used to swim on one side of the peninsula at my uncle’s summer home and on the other side they did the quahog. The quahog was all gicky, yucky, muck with the razor clams and the swimming side was all rocks with barnacles. Oh! It was incredible. If you swam in too close of course you would hit your knee on the bottom. I was always covered with bruised knees and battered feet from the razor clams. We didn’t have any rakes or anything like that so we had to go down with our feet and go down with our hand to feel around for the quahog.
The only family trip I remember… You see we had no money. They gave me a dog when we got to Tiverton, “Skippy,” and that was soon after we moved in. We moved in in September I think I got it for Christmas. My dog. Then, some time that spring we were going to go to New Hampshire for a trip. It was my first trip ever, for anybody in the family. My brother was already out of the house. He never really lived with us after that point because he was already with the service. My mother packed u.s all up. Me, my father, my sister and were going to New Hampshire for a weekend. Not even a week, a weekend. We got as far as Conway. We got to the foot of Mt. Washington and my mother got homesick. Homesick. It was a long way to go so we spent that night there and we came back the first thing the next day. She used the excuse that she was worried about the dog. My aunt had gone out to the house to take care of the house and she was minding the house and the dog and my mother called home and she got homesick so she went back because she was concerned about the dog. That was the extent of our family trips until I left the house.
When I went away to college it was very difficult to break away from that domineering mother and I did it with the help of my job. I didn’t work my freshman year. Well, I started working at the tail end of my freshman year and I had a summer job and that worked into the fall. The woman that was the head of the library took me on and gave me a lot of advice. She basically guided me into, number one, not going home every weekend, because there I was up at Brown and during my freshman year I had to go home every weekend. Impossible to get anything done. So I was able to break away, but boy, that was tough. I remember too that I won the grand trophy in the science fair in high school. My senior year. A lot of things happened right around March… I became the Portugue that made good. I won the trophy at the science fair and it was announced that I had had the scholarship from Firestone and I was announced that I was in the top ten of my class … All of this happened within a couple of weeks. Then I went to M.I.T. for the state‑wide competition for the science fair. I met a guy from Swamscott. We struck up a friendship. He invited me up because he was applying to Brown (I was already accepted at Brown at this point).
He wanted to get more information about Brown and all. So, he invited me up for the weekend and that was my first solo flight out. My mother was so nervous about that. I had to take a bus up on my own. It was very, very difficult to get permission to go and stay overnight someplace. How different we are today! That took some getting used to. I spent a few more weekends away up at his place before my freshman year at Brown. Being away at school helped to settle those qualms. You have no idea how strong my mother was.
My first job was in a factory. I worked in my mother’s factory. I was sixteen, of course. In those days remember again that it was still uncertain whether I was going to go to college at that point as I was sixteen. The model at that point was that I should be considered lucky to be allowed to finish high school because the model on a lot of the employees around me was that they went to school until you were sixteen because you had to go. Then you would go work in the factory to help your parents. My brother was somewhat a victim of that. He went in the service and sent money home and those days again, you were considered as an asset. Your child was an asset. The reason why you were an asset is that you grow up and you go to work and you would give money to your parents. You would help your parents. One of the ways they could afford to buy the house in Tiverton was, well, they obviously didn’t have any money. They were earning all of ten dollars a week. The money that they used to pay for the house, our monthly mortgage was fifteen dollars a month, and what they used for a couple of years was my brother’s checks that he used to send home from the Navy, his paychecks, and they used it to pay the house. He was an asset. I don’t know if he resents that now but that’s the way it was considered. so, when I was sixteen I went to work in the factory and that money was all turned in. They let me use some of it to go off and have a good time, have pizza with the guys or something, but mostly that was all turned in.
One thing I remember, maybe at my old age it is coming back, is that I started school when I was four‑and‑a‑half years old. They asked me what my name was at school and I said, “Junior.” The teacher was getting very frustrated because I didn’t know my name. That’s all I knew was “Junior.” So she though she would get around it by asking what my father’s name was and I said “Papa”. I was a little immature. I guess probably I was over‑ sheltered and the main reason I was going to school was so that my mother could go to work.
So at sixteen, the summer I was sixteen, I went to work in Louis Hat. That summer, let’s see, I worked two summers at Louis Hat. One summer I worked as a maintenance person. We put in electrical lights and generally climbed sixteen foot ladders to convert a whole floor of the factory. The other summer I was a shipping clerk. I used to go to stock, used to take an order, got to stock, pull the order and assemble it for shipping. Another time during the two summers I used to, I forgot what official title I had, but I was an errand boy. I used to bring curtains from one department to another as they moved through the manufacturing process ….
Note: Rod and I talked for over two and one‑half hours and I have attempted to include as much as time permits of the interview. As I am personally more interested in his childhood experiences I have not included an extensive portion of our talk that referred to his family life and work life as they stand today. I hope that what I have transcribed has proven to be educational and entertaining.