Monday, May 12, 2008

Beach time

The following are the two latest columns by Randall Beach

The first thing I saw as I turned onto the driveway for Dominick Farina’s old farmhouse was a large wild turkey strutting across my path.
The next thing I encountered after I knocked on the side door was a kitchen table occupied by 10 men who were shouting and laughing at each other.
What was this? It happens every Thursday afternoon at the old family homestead in Orange. These brothers and cousins get together to drink coffee, eat cookies and doughnuts and hash out the topics of the day.
Generations ago, these guys lived on or near that farm or another one nearby, working the land. Now the only ones left there are Farina and two turkeys.
Antonio and Rose Farina started their farm in 1902. A few years later, Antonio’s daughter, Philomina, married Alexander Salemme and they set up a farm of their own nearby.
“I was born and raised on the old homestead, where the highway (I-95) is now,” Frank Salemme told me. At 92, he is the oldest of the group that meets around the table on Thursdays.
“They took my folks’ house,” he said of the highway bureaucrats. “They condemned the place. We had 25 acres back then.”
Virtually all the farmland has been replaced by corporate office complexes adjoining I-95. Farina’s land borders the property which was once the Showcase Cinemas, then became the Bayer Health Care complex, now owned by Yale University.
“You can’t stop progress,” said Dominic Nacca when asked about the arrival of that highway in the 1950s. “But the way it was done just about killed Joe and Frank’s mother (Philomina).”
Noting the highway planners burned down the house before bulldozing the land, Nacca said, “She was heartbroken when she saw it go up in flames.”
Joe Salemme told me proudly, “We were the biggest growers of berries in Orange. My mother always talked Italian; I learned Italian before I learned English.”
Besides family history (probably a topic last Thursday only because I asked about it) the guys spent a lot of time debating politics, especially the Democratic presidential primaries.
Vinnie Nacca got into the topic of Hillary Clinton with Fran Iadonisi, the only nonfamily member at the table, who has been granted an honorary seat because he used to do plumbing work around the farms.
“She should drop out!” Iadonisi said about the New York senator.
“Why?” Nacca demanded. “They cheated her out of Florida and Michigan!”
Nobody had anything good to say about Barack Obama. They’re mad at him for not wearing a flag pin on his lapel.
Joe Nacca chimed in: “I want Bush for another four years. He’ll go down in history as a great president.”
“He’ll go down in history,” Joe Salemme told him, “as the worst ever! He’s making his own Constitution. Bush has made us a third-world country.”
“Are you living in poverty?” Vinnie Nacca asked him. “It’s better than China!”
“China owns us,” Salemme retorted. “Everything’s made in China.”
Bobby Farina interjected, “The Vietnam War split this country in half,” prompting Joe Nacca to state, “We should’ve never pulled out of Korea.”
Then Dominick Farina started another argument by saying Harry Truman should have dropped the atomic bombs on an unpopulated Japanese island rather than on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“If we didn’t drop that bomb, we would’ve lost a million men!” Joe Salemme said.
When I asked the guys if any of their wives ever ask to come to the Thursday gatherings, they replied that the women sometimes talk about it, but always decide to stay away.
As the session broke up, I asked Farina to give me a little tour of his farm. He and his brother, Bobby, showed me around the greenhouse, where Farina grows vegetables. We could hear the trucks on I-95 as we walked around.
Farina, now 80, who has worked on this farm since age 6, never married. He said he doesn’t get lonely. He has those turkeys.
“I feed them corn,” he told me. “One of my cousins wanted to shoot them at Thanksgiving. I said, ‘You’ve got to shoot me first.’”
Occasionally, Farina gets offers from corporations to buy the farm, but he won’t do it unless they grant him life estate, the right to stay there until he dies.
He said nobody has ever tried to buy the land to continue it as a farm.
He spotted one of the turkeys and clapped his hands. “Here, boy!”
The turkey just kept walking.
Randall Beach can be reached at or 789-5766.

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