A large family tree hangs on Adelaide’s wall, hovering over an inviting room filled with countless family heirlooms and photos. The decorations in her home recall and pay tribute to the many dear people in her life. Adelaide is filled with spunk as she jokes around and assumes the familiar role of hostess for her guests.
Adelaide Intrieri was born to Modesto and Rosa Intrieri in Vandergrift, PA, a small town northeast of Pittsburgh that at the turn of the century, boasted the largest sheet steel mill in the world, an industry that would attract many immigrants to the area.
Adelaid’s father and mother were born and married in San Pietro in Guarano, Cozenza, Italy. Her father came first to America, earning a living in the mines before her mother followed soon after in 1912. The couple settled in Vandergrift after her father started to work at the steel mill there, and they had four children, the youngest being Adelaide.
Adelaide was an active and happy child as she fondly recalls growing up in the close-knit Italian community where neighbors were like family and crowded porches and open-door policies were the norm. The family household was always full of people, especially on Christmas Eve when the table would remain set and ready to welcome visiting friends and family throughout the night with delights such as the classic Italian fishes.
She recalls another occasion when they slaughtered a turkey, roasted it, and then feasted on it the next day at a picnic, sporting the turkey feathers in their hair for laughs.
Adelaide made life-long friends with girls that grew up on her street, affectionately coining themselves as the “Nuts Gang.” Her one friend said that they should all get married together and the priest would say, “I present The Mixed Nuts!” Adelaide explains that this nickname derived from all of their silly antics, constant laughter, and from all the clean fun and adventures that they used to share together.
On one such adventure, she describes that they would snatch up ears of corn from a local farm, bury them in the ground in a nearby field, and then roast them over a bonfire with a large group of friends the following evening. These fields, now covered by a highway, were once their playground.
This same group of girls was singing “happy birthday” to their friend, Gloria Capretto, when they were interrupted by the radio announcing the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Adelaide remembers the entire community gathering at 5am at the train station, sending each wave of boys off to the war. The Intrieri family was worried about the whereabouts of Adelaid’s older brother, Sam, during the war. Finally, a letter arrived from Sam where he oddly ended his note by asking the family to send his regards to a certain gentleman in town.
Befuddled by this request, the family finally deduced from this man’s Sicilian origins, that Sam must be stationed in Sicily, as war letters were highly censored. On one unexpected day, Sam came home in the middle of the night to the family’s great joy and relief.
The whole town erupted into celebration and parades when WWII ended, with Adelaide proudly throwing flowers to the crowds in the procession.
The boys coming home from war were struck by how much the girls had grown up during their time away, including Adelaide and her friends.
Different boys would ask her out on dates, but to her chagrin, the strict rules of her Italian parents, not unlike many other “paesans” at the time, forbade her to date or bring boys to the house. Word spread fast in the small community, and on one occasion, her mother was informed when she was spotted clutching a man’s arm while crossing the street.
Despite the dating limitations, Adelaide found ways to circumvent the rules and make it all work out. Adelaide and her boyfriend at the time, Orlando Naccarato, or Lundy, as his friends called him, did most of their courting at the back booth of Turano’s Pharmacy, a drugstore owned by her cousins.
As they would sit slurping sodas and meeting friends at the back booth, their relationship grew, so much so that Frank, the owner, wanted to donate the booth to the happy couple when the store went out of business. Lundy and Adelaide never needed a proposal to know that they were getting married, and they tied the knot in May of 1950 at St. Gertrude’s Church in Vandergrift.
They had one daughter.
Adelaide graduated Vandergrift High School in 1944, and as the family didn’t have the means to send her to college, she began working for Ash Shoe Company. The store was newly opened by a Jewish man named Mr. Ash along the main drag of Grant Avenue in Vandergrift. Adelaide fell in love with the job along with the shoes that she sold.
She exclaimed, “I bought every pair that came into that store.” She had a penchant for wearing high-heeled “spike” shoes, and she created outfits that would match perfectly with her fashionable footwear. However, her favorite part of the job was having the opportunity to meet all of the customers that came to the store over the years.
Besides being an expert shoe saleswoman, it would be remiss to omit that Adelaide was a darn good bookie in her day, a task for which she still has numbers memorized. However, this particular job was short-lived compared to her job at the shoe store, where she worked until 1978, when her granddaughter was born.
Adelaide recounts all of the fun that she had with her close friends, continuing into adulthood with their husbands. They would play cards, host parties, and her house became the main hub of activity that her parents’ house used to be.
There is a true vibrancy that enlivens the room when Adelaide tells her stories. Her sense of humor and jovial personality are ever present, and it is clear that hers is a house not only made of bricks, but also built of wonderful memories of beloved family and friends.