GAETANO (Guy) TROPIANO and MARIA DI MATTEO
By Barbara Stefik
My grandfather was born in Teggiano in the region of Campania in the province of Salerno in Southern Italy. My grandmother whose maiden name was Maria Di Matteo was born in the city of Laureana Cilento in the region of Campania and the province of Salerno in Southern Italy. They immigrated to the United States where they had three children, my father being the oldest son. I am very sad to say that my dad passed away Nov 13th, 2003. I miss him a lot.
When my grandfather Gaetano Tropiano, known as Guy, came to the United States he worked as a bricklayer laying foundations for buildings in Oakland California. He was paid 11cents a day. Later he opened up a produce stand on Park Street in Alameda California. After that an Italian friend Pietro Casselli and Guy opened up their own produce market and delicatessen on Park street, P and G market. According to my brother Billy Tropiano, the original market just closed about a year and a half ago. When customers would buy produce or deli items they would take the money and put it into an old cash register, they never rang anything up. Two dollars here two dollars there. At the end of the day Guy would take the money to Wells Fargo Bank in small brown grocery bag, he never counted the money. He would give the money to the teller who counted the money for him and she would deposit the money into their account. At the end of the week the money would go to Pete or Guy whoever needed the money for their family the most.
Guy was well known at the produce market, getting their in the wee hours of the morning 2 - 3 a.m. he would start out with coffee royals (coffee and brandy) and play dice with the other men, and then pick out his produce. When people saw him coming to choose the produce they grumbled. Guy would cut into the bottom of the boxes and check to see if the fruit was as good at the bottom of the box as it was on top. He would say "What are you trying to bullshit(a) me this cantaloupe is no good!"
Guy was known for his generosity. He gave money to my parents to buy their first home in Castro Valley California. He also gave money to his Italian friend Tony to buy a house. Whatever he had he gladly shared with his fellow Italians. I remember he used to call me "old lady", even though I was only about 9 or 10 years old. He would jingle the coins around in his pockets and pull out some money, often 50 cent pieces for me. My grandfather felt content having a home, good food and a successful business. He did not want for more things. My father inherited my grandfathers same generosity always helping friends and relatives.
My grandmother Mary Tropiano worked at the Del Monte Cannery in Oakland California on the assembly line. She would wear large dresses when she was pregnant to hide her pregnancy so that she could work right up to the day that she delivered. Mary was famous for creating the original receipt for "Italian Style" Zucchini for Del Monte. Some of the ingredients were basil tomatoes and olive oil. As the story goes she never got any credit for her receipt. Mary separated from my grandfather and eventually worked for Mannings cafeteria at the Kaiser building in downtown Oakland. At some point she became a manager of the cafeteria. She supported herself and did well for herself considering that she only had a 3rd grade education in Italy.