Christine Hudson has a rich family history. Fortunately, her mother was an avid writer who documented her Italian parents’ journeys to California and memories of her young life in the small community of Dunsmuir, in the shadow of Mount Shasta.
Hudson’s mother, Mary Reginato Hudson, was born in Dunsmuir to Italian immigrants. Hudson’s father, H.A. Hudson, was born in India while his parents did missionary work there. He went on to become a pilot and served in World War II. He died in a plane crash in 1953 over the Pacific Ocean, when Hudson was just 2 years old.
Hudson’s parents bought their home in Mountain View, near the Los Altos border, in 1952, and Hudson and her sister Laurie attended Los Altos High School. Mary remained in the house until her death two years ago, and Hudson, a retired deputy district attorney for Santa Clara County, lives there still.
Like her mother, Hudson has a passion for writing.
Following is the introduction to an article recently published by the online journal Jellyfish Review, along with excerpts from some of her mother’s stories. Hudson is in the process of finalizing a book of them, including many photos. Look for “Paintings of Mama and Papa” (subtitled “Stories of Italian Immigrants Who Through Courage, Strength, and Kindness Became the New Americans”) on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.
Dedicated to Mary Reginato Hudson, 1923-2021
By Christine Hudson
My mother wrote these stories about her parents over a period of many years. After her parents died, my mother was sad and she was grieving, but she did not let it overwhelm her. Instead, she chose to deal with grief by remembering what was good; by remembering cherished moments in her life that brought her joy. And so, she put these memories on paper. She did not write them consistently. One story one week, another story the next month. Sometimes the stories were similar, but different.
My mother never intended to write a book or a novel about her parents. She was just writing down these precious thoughts so she wouldn’t lose them. Mother wrote stories about growing up in Dunsmuir, a small railroad town in Siskiyou County in Northern California. She wrote memories about growing up as a child of Italian immigrants. Her parents, who were uneducated and illiterate, had no real resources. Her family never had a lot of money, but they always had enough. There were many times when life was hard for her family and her parents. …
My mother overcame great obstacles in her adult life. Widowed after seven years of marriage, she was left with a 2-year-old and another baby on the way. Trying to be a single mother in the 1950s, with very little money, and living in a neighborhood of married couples who did not welcome a single woman back into their circle, was an eye-opener about life. So, she started to write. She wrote about everything. … ®
She just chose to leave out and not talk about the hard times or sad times or what was painful. Her stories are written through the eyes of a child who only saw what she wanted to see. It seems my mother truly had a special lens through which she saw the world of her childhood and youth with amazing sensitivity to the deeper layers of life. The result is a beautiful series of precious thoughts and memories that are not dark and isolating, but wondrous and uniting.
She and her brothers and sisters did have a wonderful life. A wonderful childhood. And that is why they all kept coming back to their small town, year after year after year, until they died. Several of them are also buried in Siskiyou County, although they never lived there as adults. Some of them also wrote many stories, just like my mother, about their childhood and about growing up in this wonderland.
Even their children come back now, and the grandchildren. And just as my mother predicted, these grandchildren and great-grandchildren have fallen in love with Siskiyou County. They have fallen in love with their Italian heritage. And just like my mother predicted, they honor it and search for it and yearn for it in today’s very complicated world.
And that is why this book is dedicated to my mother, a woman who lived life with amazing gusto. A woman who honored and loved her parents, her family, her heritage, her children, and everything good that came into her life. A woman with vision.
My mother lived to be 97 years old and was still planning a trip back to Dunsmuir to see the old house and to visit her parents’ graves. Now she’s buried next to them under the beautiful Mount Shasta. And the house she grew up in is still there – as always, quietly and gently sitting with the river.
Stories by Mary Reginato Hudson
Mama and Papa
When Mama was a young girl, she delivered butter to the folks in the outskirts of Venice and herded cows near Papa’s house, so they saw each other often. Mama was a beauty in her young years. She was tall with dark brown hair. Papa was strikingly handsome with thick black hair. …
When Papa turned 15, he decided he would join many of the young Italian men and go to America to find work. Times were hard in Italy, even in Treviso, and many of the young men yearned for the adventure of going to America to find gold in the streets. The plan always was to get rich, and then return home to buy land and live a better life. But passage to America was expensive. Since the family had no money, Papa went to Austria for several months and worked there until he had the money for passage from Genoa to Ellis Island.
When Papa said goodbye to his brothers and sisters, he believed he would someday return. He never did. In the meantime, he planned to work, and send money home until he had enough to buy a farm. The passage across the Atlantic Ocean was long and hard. Papa was in steerage and the trip took two weeks. It was crowded and miserable. When Papa finally arrived at Ellis Island, he was very sick. … When Papa was well enough, he left New York as quickly as possible to find someplace that looked like home. He ended up in San Francisco, which was not much better, and too soon after the 1906 earthquake. The opportunity to go north into the country, and work on the railroad, greatly appealed to him. So, he and his cousin Louie went north to Siskiyou County where they laid track for the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. …
Mama did not come to America until she was 19. Her mother made Mama a new suit and bought her a big hat and put her on a steamer bound for America. She was sent to San Francisco to live with her older brother Giovanni, who paid her passage to America. …
When Mama came to America, she was also expecting to find gold in the streets. Instead, she found Papa. Papa was so excited when he heard beautiful Rina (Antonia) from Paderno was in San Francisco. He left his work on the railroad and immediately went to San Francisco to ask Mama to marry him. Papa was 22 years old. Mama often told the story of how Papa literally threw down his shovel and went to find her when he heard she was in California. …
Mama and Papa had seven children. … Papa built their little house in Dunsmuir, which at that time was the hub of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Papa could walk to work. Papa worked on the boilers when the trains came in for maintenance. The Sacramento River ran right behind the house. They were surrounded by mountains and trees and wildflowers and lakes and waterfalls and abundant beauty. Mama and Papa did not find gold, but they certainly found heaven. Mama and Papa were married 60 years. They died three weeks apart. Papa died first. Mama simply could not live without him. They meant it when they took their vows of “together forever.”
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