Miss City Discovers: My Avo's Eulogy- The Accomplisher of the American Dream

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My Avo's Eulogy- The Accomplisher of the American Dream

I want to start by explaining how and why I wrote this piece about my truly incredible Avo. In my senior year of high school, this past year, I decided to interview my Avo about his life. I asked him how he immigrated to America from Portugal, what his wedding day was like, and what he thought was the most memorable moment in United States history. One of my Avo’s most special qualities was his modesty. He claims to have never experienced a headache in his life (even though he worked Monday through Saturday from 7 am to 10 pm) and he never took enough credit for bringing over our entire family to America. It was his initiative and will for a better life that ultimately created the most warm, loving, accepting, witty, joyful, affectionate family all these years later. I used to remind him at family get-togethers that none of these people would be here without him. I’ve never known a man so hard working, relentless and resilient. I am so proud and lucky to have had him as my Avo. This is the short biography that I wrote to try and put in words what an amazing life Anthony DeFrias has lead.

            Anthony DeFrias has a story of American triumph that he happens to remember almost every detail of- a memory most would envy for an 86-year-old man. He was born on January 14th, 1926 in the Azores of Portugal. He currently resides in East Greenbush surrounded by his six children, ten grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.
            “East Greenbush, USA!” he says jokingly, when declaring his current town. Although, it is evident by his thick Portuguese accent that he hasn’t always lived here. He grew up in West Warwick, Bermuda where he attended school up until 5th grade at the Gilbert Institute in Pachet. There were about 30 kids in his class. He had a female teacher and the boys and girls were separated (he really does remember all of these details).
            “I never showed up. My father said ‘forget about school, speak English good enough, go sell vegetables’,” said DeFrias. 
            After the 5th grade, around the age of eight or nine, he went to “Farm School” as he lightheartedly prefers to call it, and worked feeding pigs, cats and dogs.
            At the age of 25, he met the love of his life, Leona Maria DeLima. Leona was “beautiful” DeFrias says, and apparently a high in demand 17-year-old from Hamilton, Bermuda. She had many suitors, and Anthony looks back on the occasion, still wondering what it was that made her pick him.
            “That’s what happened,” stated DeFrias. It might have something to do with the romantic motorcycle rides he would take her on when they’d go out on the town. It seems as if girls’ tastes haven’t changed much since the 1940’s. They were married soon after on April 27th, 1950.
            Anthony describes the wedding as “the best in the country”. With a guest list of 500 people, too many cakes, sweets, and desserts to count, fresh Lilly’s covering every surface, and a convertible with a driver to whisk them away at the end of the evening, it seems as if their wedding would still be considered a nuptial to remember.
            The DeFrias family, with a new addition christened Mary, moved to the USA in 1953.
            “I love the USA. I heard so much about it. Better life,” said DeFrias. Although, not everyone was as excited to arrive in Albany, New York as he was. “She cried like a baby. She was homesick,” said DeFrias about his wife, Leona. “Hard for the first couple of years, then she loved it.” Anthony even recalls the exact street address he first lived on. “3 O’Connor Street.”
            In June 1954, the next addition to the family came into the world. His name was Michael, and he was the only boy the DeFrias family would have. The next four children all turned out to be sweet baby girls; Elaine, Nettie, Lisa and Christy.
            “I loved it. There was always someone around, always someone to be with. You were never lonely,” said daughter number four, Lisa.
            By 1966, Anthony incredibly brought over the rest of his and Leona’s family, about 30 people, into the United States. This made his wife, Leona, truly happy with her new home in the US. In order to do this, DeFrias had to write a letter for every single individual person, saying he was able to give housing and work to everyone.
            DeFrias worked two jobs Monday through Saturday from 7 am to 10 pm in order to provide for his family of eight. He didn’t retire until age 75, where he worked at Price Chopper.
            “I worked very hard with God’s help,” said DeFrias.  When asked what his favorite part about being in the USA is he responded, “Freedom! Raise my family, give kids an education, safer here and better jobs.”
            A moment in history he remembers clearly: the day Kennedy was killed. He was working when it came on the news.
            “Everyone was crying, especially Leona. Very upset, liked him a lot. He opened immigration to the Azores- made it possible for me to come to this country. Mary wrote a letter to him and he responded with a picture and his autograph,” recalls Anthony.
            However, remembering his driver’s test is what really puts Anthony on edge. He failed three times.
            “That was stupid!” he said. After many attempts to earn his license, he remembers the day he finally got lucky. “One day a guy got hot, I parked beautifully and he said go get your license!”
            Quite possibly one of the biggest difficulties Anthony had to overcome was becoming a citizen, and having to be proficient in English.
            “I still can’t speak English!” he laughs. “Not hard but not easy. I learned in Bermuda. When I became a citizen, a woman told me to write in English ‘I was born in Portugal’,” said DeFrias, which he went on to say he wrote with ease. However, Leona didn’t make out as well. “Leona didn’t make it because she couldn’t write ‘Today’s a rainy day’.” 


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home