A Life In Progresso

Posted · 29 Comments

Ever since I was a little, I dreamed of doing something great for the world. I wasn’t a particularly ambitious kid. Besides my nightly prayers for world peace, I was unclear of my personal role in bringing about global harmony. Yet, I trusted that eventually I’d fall into a gratifying line of work which hoped would positively impact the planet.

Since I liked to sing and dance in private, I imagined that someday I would gain the confidence to share my talents publicly.

If all worked out, I’d become an artist of great respect like Olivia Newton John. Then, naturally, everybody would listen to and agree with me, giving me the necessary platform to tell those creating wars and other havoc to go have coffee with a friend, or think of their grandma…or just chill.

I’m not sure where this early idealism came from, given the nature of my ever-collapsing childhood. Ever since we left New Orleans on the Mars Hotel, I was a rather melancholic kid. Presuming there had to be others in the same miserable boat, I held onto the hope that someday/somehow, I might make a difference for all of us losers.

I enjoy being a parts model, but I always hoped my contribution to society would be greater than nice nail beds. I expected to have a career that fulfilled my soul and made a lasting mark. No matter how wildly successful I am as a super hand model, in years to come no one will be talking about how my cheese-pulls and pouring skills changed their lives.

Parts modeling is not exactly a highly sought after career choice for those who land in Hollywood. People come here with big dreams, hoping their talents and all their parts will be seen by the WORLD (or at least their private parts seen in a sex tape).

Point is, most LA imports aspire to BE somebody (not be somebody’s body).

After years of being judged from the wrist-down, I want to be taken seriously. In this town, it’s easy to get pigeonholed and stereotyped. Many producers lack imagination and must see an auditioning actress actually wearing a nurse’s uniform in order to envision her cast as a nurse. So you can imagine that most people who first meet me don’t assume: Hand model…I’ll bet that gal writes novels on the side.

Maybe I wish to live up to the great legacy of my ancestors. My Great Grandfather, Giuseppe Uddo, was from a poor village in Sicily, and courted by mafia.

But with a determined dream, he and his newly wed bride, Eleanora, made an arduous journey overseas, cramped in quarters below the stern of a transatlantic ship. They arrived in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1912, speaking only Italian, with a $30 dowry, hoping to introduce the southern Americans (then accustomed to butter), to olive oil and other Italian imports.

Giuseppe started as push cart salesman. He bought his first cans of tomato paste from Mr. Cusamino, a merchant on Chartres St. who sold Giuseppe the rusty cans he typically discarded.

Giuseppe brought the rusty cans back to his small apartment, which was described as ‘hot enough to melt candles’ – there Eleanora found a loose brick in the courtyard and pounded it into a fine powder. She added a solution of lye and worked long into the night, scrubbing the cans and restoring their shiny finish.

A plain white label was then placed around the can, which read: Progresso.

It’s said that Eleanora spent most of her time “cleaning and praying,” and that her hands never fully recovered from the beating they took in the courtyard and remained raw, red and rough. Not only did I inherit my Mawmaw’s mustache, but apparently some OCD in the DNA.

My other Great Grandfather, Peter A. Chopin, a French horticulturist, was another one who got down and dirty with his hands

His passionate love of the land inspired him to bring the Easter Lily to America, and eventually made him one of the founding fathers and Vice President of FTD.

Peter’s father, Gustav Chopin, fought in the Franco-Prussian war, and was deeply motivated to document the acts of heroism and horror he witnessed in battle. There were no camera-clicking correspondents then, and didn’t have a pen or pencil. But he was so deeply determined to record history, he tapped the veins of his hands to obtain writing fluid.

When the war was over, he traveled to America as an immigrant, with his original manuscript and over one hundred poems, all written in his own blood. Unfortunately, he reached Chicago just before the disastrous fire of 1871, where his cherished book was destroyed three days after his arrival.

The stories go on…and so does my fondness in recalling these great people. Each built their lives and fulfilled dreams with their hands. Like those who came before me, I’m a fervent clean-freak, who loves to toil in the soil, and write with blood, sweat and tears…

Of course greatness comes in many forms and through many expressions. For me, my family inspired a great diligence to fulfill my soul’s ache for purpose.

As I type away, pouring my heart into the pages of my novel-in-progress, I thank god for my ancestors’ influences (and digital backup-storage). Maybe these fine phalanges have a greater purpose after all…

29 Responses to "A Life In Progresso"
  1. Chele says:

    The story just keeps getting more and more interesting. What a life.

  2. Comedy Karma says:

    Wow! What a legacy indeed! (my ancestors are famous for suicide and bad attitudes…I hope I'm living up to it. Or living it down. Haha! 😉

    You ARE doing great things with your hands, miss Adele. This blog is proof of that, for sure. As you tell the tales of struggle – personal as well as familial – your words take root in others hearts as we say: "I've felt that way! Me too!" Keep goin' hot fingers…

  3. Mindschmootz says:

    Jesus Christ! Progresso…FTD? Please tell me you have a great-grandmother Nordstrom…or maybe a great uncle Neiman…Marcus?

    Keep writing, Adele. I can't wait to see more of your great personal purpose behind those parts.

  4. DDavis2 says:

    Isn't it ironic…(that could be a song). Anyway, isn't it ironic that a "hand model" is modeled after her ancestors who were so "hands-on" in contributing to goods that we are so familiar with today?

    The very fabric of our lives…(that could be a slogan). Anyway, the very fabric of our lives shaped by people immigrating to a new world to find purpose, chase their dreams, improve their lives!

    A remarkable heritage, indeed!

    So glad to "meet" you in this way 🙂 Look forward to reading more!

  5. Adele Uddo says:

    Unfortunately there's no Grandma Nordstrom or Uncle Neiman – Damn that would've come in handy!

    Thank you all! More stories (and craziness) on the way…

  6. Anonymous says:

    wow. that was one of the best posts yet adele. so fantastically well-written. had no idea of your great grandfather's backgrounds (except progresso). loved, loved, loved it! read it three times. better than any novel i've been reading lately too. thanks so much for your honestly and loyalty to this blog.

  7. Adele Uddo says:

    DD, one of the "greatest" pleasures this blog has provided has been the chance to connect with wonderful people like yourself. Thanks for showing up!

    And Anonymous, thank you for the "great" compliment. I'm honored 🙂

  8. Sylvia says:

    I LOVE reading your blogs, Adele. Each installment gets better and better. So much so that I wait with baited breath for each new one to emerge in my in-box. If this was already in book form, I wouldn't be able to put it down! You're an amazing writer and story-teller! Bravo!!!

  9. Adele Uddo says:

    Sylvia, before I start pitching the book to publishers, I'm pitching you to be my publicist! Thank you so much my friend!!

  10. Lynn Zavaro says:

    The story of your ancestors brings tears to my eyes. And your great grandmother scrubbing those cans!!! Oh my God! All that hard work producing such legacy.I was fortunate enough to know my great grandparents and was at their 70th wedding anniversary. They died at 99 and 101. When my grandfather visited my great grandfather (who was a tailor) in his last years he could tell who he was by touching and feeling the craftmanship of his suit coat. The ability to have and use our hands to make a living and get a head in life is a blessing. I am inspired by this blog and appreciate you Adele for reminding me of how grateful I am for the appendages that type this comment now. My husband's aunt also an immigrant to the US lost her hand in a tragic accident while working on a printing machine at her husband's plant. This July 4th weekend I am going to remember my ancestors and how much there is to appreciate for all that they did for this country and its descendents. Thank you! Lynn

  11. Adele Uddo says:

    Wow, what amazing stories YOU have Lynn! May you take after your great grandparents and live a long and rich life. Thank you for reminding me of the significance of this weekend!

  12. Julie says:

    Had to read this again make me smile and I adore you and your blog!

  13. Adele Uddo says:

    You made my day mate! I love my repeat customers 😉 Have a brilliant weekend Down Under.

  14. Sundevilgrl says:

    I am so jealous that you know so much about your family history. It's just so amazing that you are a "Hands On" family from generation to generation.

  15. Gina L. says:

    What a fabulous narrative…I wish I was so in touch with my heritage and family history! You're doing your family proud. 🙂

  16. Adele Uddo says:

    Thank you much SunD and Gina 🙂 Indeed I hope to make them proud. I so appreciate you both tuning in!

  17. John Hagerty says:

    Adele You are amazing. Thank You and your family for what you all have built for us. I currently work at Progresso and I strive everyday to keep your familys name proud.

    • Adele says:

      John, I’m touched and honored by your words. Thank you very much for the kind support, and the wonderful effort you put into your work. What a treat to hear from you 🙂

  18. Lori Wrubel says:

    Hi Aunt Adele, this is Lori, Susie Laraja’s old roommate at Tulane. I loved reading your blog and learning more about the family I know well and love so much. You are truly an inspiration! I can’t wait to read more. With lots of love to you and your “hand”some family. Lori

    • Adele says:

      Hi Lori, so great to hear from you! Thanks very much for the kind words. I hope you enjoy the rest of your reading 🙂

  19. Jessica varn says:

    My great grandfather was also Guiseppi Uddo. His daughter Antonina Uddo (Settipani) was my grandmother. Her daughter Theresa Settipani (Varn) is my mother. thank you for sharing this! Do you know how we are related exactly?

    • Adele says:

      Hi Jessica, nice to meet another Italian gal with Uddo ties 🙂 It doesn’t look like we’re related – my great grandfather had one daughter whose name was Rose. Funny that there’s another Guiseppi Uddo out there though. Where does most of your family live, and are there still Uddos?

  20. Jessica varn says:

    I showed the picture of Giuseppi to my mother and she said that he was her grandfather’s brother. Her grandfather was Joseph not Giuseppi… I had always thought they were the same person. Do you know anything about Joseph? My mother Theresa she only saw the relatives in New Orleans (they lived in New York) every once and a while and she had around fifty cousins.

    • Adele says:

      Jessica, I know what you mean about so many cousins…it’s hard to keep up! Giusseppi is ‘Joe’ in Italian. My great grandfather Giusseppi had two brothers named Gaetano and Frank, and two sisters, Chichina and Messina. I just asked my grandmother if she knew any Settipani’s or Varns, and the names didn’t ring a bell. Oh well, let me know if you ever get to the bottom of the mystery 😉

  21. Francine says:

    Hi Adele — it’s a small, small, small world. My grandfather was the other half of Progresso…Francesco Taormina. Very cool to read your blog!

    • Adele Uddo says:

      Hi Francine, thank you very much! So cool to meet cousins this way 🙂 I know Donna very well and I’m assuming she’s your first cousin. I’ve heard many great things about your grandfather from my grandmother Adele. Hope to meet you in person someday. Happy holidays! x

  22. Greg Vinci says:

    Hi Adele:
    My grandmother had a friend named Grace Uddo who used to visit her regularly in LA. I remember meeting her several times. I was told that she was related (wife? daughter?) to the founder of Progresso. Can you provide any additional information.

    • adele says:

      Hi Greg, thanks for reaching out. I’ve heard my grandmother talk about her love for Grace. She was the wife of my grandfather’s brother (the son of the founder, Giuseppe Uddo – which would make Grace the daughter in law I believe). I’ll try to find out more. Sometimes it’s tough keeping all the names/stories straight 😉

    • adele says:

      Quick update Greg – I talked to my grandmother and apparently Grace was Gataeno’s wife, Giuseppe’s brother. Once Progresso was established, Giuseppe sent for his brother and other siblings in Sicily, and they all settled eventually in America, with many helping to run the family business. She explained that every year Giuseppe took out a loan with Bank of America to keep the Progresso plants operating. One season, Mr. Giannini, who was the head of the bank told them the bank wouldn’t renew that year. Giuseppe was so afraid of loosing everything, that he got on his knees and pleaded with Giannini. Gataeno stepped in and said, “Get off your knees. No brother of mine gets on his knees for anyone.” He then told Giannini that he would put up his properties to guarantee the loan -which in essence, saved the company in the process. That season was the most lucrative of all. My grandmother has shared that story several times and always references her gratitude to Gataeno and Grace.

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