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The Iceman Goeth

Savierio Vendemia

Once upon a time in Pittsburgh, an Italian immigrant named Savierio Vendemia was an iceman. He hauled big blocks of ice to residential and business customers so they could keep their perishable foods from spoiling.

Savierio, who was my wife, Jackie Cristiano's, maternal grandfather, was born in Caserta, a little town in southern Italy. He emigrated to the U.S. through Ellis Island at the age of 17, served in World War I, married and raised his family of nine children, whom he supported, initially, by becoming part of the city's ice trade.

He hauled his big blocks of ice on a horse-drawn wagon, and with help from his two sons, used huge iron tongs to lift the heavy blocks of ice and carry them, sometimes up several flights of stairs, to his customers.

But one day, refrigeration came and the ice man's trade pretty much melted. So Savierio landed a job as a tender on one of Pittsburgh's many bridges. He was housed in a tiny wooden shack at the center of the bridge and there he performed his duties, which included keeping the bridge free from ice and snow. His job wasn't nearly as hi tech as the one depicted in the video above!

Today, you can google "bridge tenders" and you will find that some make as much as $50,000 for this service. Some bridge tenders operate the mechanism to lift draw bridges to allow tall masted boats to pass underneath. But we do not believe that Savierio had to do this because as far as we know, he didn't work on a draw bridge.

But Savierio raised his family with pride. He always found a way to support those children, and even though the jobs he had are now pretty much gone, he adapted and succeeded.

Today, we are going through a similar transition. Trump says he's going to return coal jobs and manufacturing jobs, but technology has passed many of them by -- just as refrigeration eliminated the need for the iceman.

What's needed today is for people to adapt, just like Savierio Vendemia adapted. It might take retraining and additional education, but we all need to learn from the determination and tenacity of immigrants like Savierio Vendemia.

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